The Blast

I have been putting some words together for an online magazine about my latest project “The Blast”, and thought that sharing some of them here might give more background to what I have been trying to do with this new work.

Dragging together “landscape” and simple “still life” images has been a real struggle, but something I had to go through to frame the work correctly (correctly in my mind anyway). Perhaps the hardest bit has been editing the hundreds of pictures down to ~60. One can’t show everything and after ten years that it difficult. With that in mind I have attached a few rejects to this post.

In 2015 (after a comment from a friend) I realised that my relationship to Blast Beach on the coast of Durham has informed and almost guided my practice for at least 6 years, and that I had to make a collection of pictures about the space. “The Blast” is where I have visited to gather materials for many of the camera-less works I have made during that time, and it is where I go to walk and think and explore, and I know the area intimately.

It took me years to see past the industrial pollution that blights the Blast, and to see the positive stories that slowly emerge. The passing of time and signs of environmental change are within the pictures for those who care to look in detail, and the decade long duration of this project has allowed me show that.

I wanted the pictures to be true to the place, and to present a collection that anyone familiar with the beach and the unique feel of the space would recognise. But hopefully these images are not just about one small part of the English coastline.

The Blast is a place where you pick things up, where you find things you can’t quite believe or don’t understand, and industrial remnants are revealed by the tides daily. But I did not want to photograph these objects in situ, this was done so well by Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen in “Coal Coast”, and I wanted to change the context of my finds and to explore them visually. I have always been fascinated by the objects we gather and how they can connect us to a place, and how they take on a value as a result.

Whilst walking the Blast I often wonder what would be left if our society ended today, and how our lives might be interpreted by the people of the future. How would they read the cultural objects they found scattered and washed up on the beach? How would they evaluate our relationship with our environment?

For more information on the project please click here.

Bonfire site 2013 and 2016

Cliff top pond June and August 2016

Reed bed after arson in May 2016 & 3 weeks later in June 2016

The first image from 8 hours photography - May 7 2016

Oxide pool with floating debris 2013

Trent Parke

Happy New Year.

What better way to start 2016 than with these two shorts clips about Trent Parke

I could spend many happy hours with his artist’s books.

Bruce Davidson’s London

Bruce Davidson’s Subway

Bruce Davidson

Masao Yamamoto

Masao Yamamoto

Peter Turnley : French Kiss – A Love Letter to Paris

Sublimely Ridiculous

The end of July marked the 12th year that I have photographed at the Sunderland International Airshow. I have been doing it long enough now that changes in fashion are becoming evident in my pictures – mobile phones began to appear everywhere, haircuts changed, and this year beards appeared for the first time. Perhaps the only thing that remains constant is the military recruitment, and the undertones of war and violence.

My picture making becomes sparser each time around, so perhaps I need to take a year off? But there again what might I miss?

I have just started a Facebook page which will feature a wider range of images and more regular updates, so please check it out here and LIKE

Man Thinking Beauty

A Happy New Year to everyone who subscribes to Dark Matters, and also to those who drop by.

Over the last month I have been considering the role of beauty in my images. Some of my recent work has been created to be intentionally beautiful, with warm seductive colours, even when the subject matter, upon closer inspection, has been far from that. Often I have found that it takes a whole raft of things (such as colour, saturation, texture and shape) before something feels that way, and of course beauty is such a personal and subjective quality.

As I have previously alluded to, I have wrestled with “beauty” for many years, and the elephant in the room only gets larger as time goes by. Sometimes I conveniently forget that this mysterious concept was one of the reasons I began to photograph in the 1990’s, inspired by the wild nature of the North-West Highlands of Scotland.

In an effort to better describe what I do, I re-read Robert Adams’ essays in his book “Beauty in Photography”, and he says this…

“…the word beauty is in practice unavoidable. Its very centrality accounts, in fact, for my decision to photograph. There appeared a quality – Beauty seemed the only appropriate word for it – in certain photographs and paintings that opened my eyes, and I was compelled to learn to live with the vocabulary of this new sight, though for year I still found it embarrassing to use the word Beauty, even while believing in it”.

I fully understand his illogical embarrassment, and even recently allowing colour back into my own pictures felt like a dangerous step towards beauty, and worse towards “pretty”. Although these terms are often unavoidable in any visual art.

Adams goes on to say, “If the proper goal of art is, as I now believe, Beauty, the Beauty that concerns me is that of Form. Beauty is, in my view, a synonym for the coherence and structure underlying life….William Carlos Williams said that poets write for a single reason – to give witness to splendor… It is a useful word, especially for a photographer, because it implies light – light of overwhelming intensity. The Form towards which art points is of an incontrovertible brilliance, but it is also far too intense to examine directly. We are compelled to understand Form by its fragmentary reflection in the daily objects around us; art will never fully define light.”

Adams mention of light here is important, as it was that which really motivated me to pick up a camera all those years ago. How many times have we photographers stood outdoors, and commented “look at the light”, or merely “waited for the light”, even leaving a location because “the light was poor”. And often we do this with an amazing landscape around us, as if that by itself was not enough for us, as if that was the insignificant part and not what we came for, merely a stage for the light to sweep across, for it to make beautiful.

Perhaps as Robert Adams suggests it is light that is at the root of all this, somehow inseparable from what we describe as beauty. It is light that allows us to see shape and form, it defines line and texture; yet it is even more elusive, as we can never even begin to describe its intensity (or splendour) within an image.

Robert Adams – “Beauty in Photography: Essays in Defense of Traditional Values”. Published by Aperture


As WordPress seems to be sending out old blog posts at random, I thought it was time to send one that is intended.

During the last year my attention has been drawn away from this blog, largely as I have concentrated on my portfolio and reviews. In March I visited Format Festival in Derby, and then in July I was lucky enough to go to PhotoIreland in Dublin with my work.  Even though the Irish trip meant re-printing most of my portfolio just so it physically fitted within the airlines hand-luggage policy.

Since 2008 I have had several “camera-less” projects burning away in the background, and last year these have really taken over my practice. There is more information about what I have been doing over at Shutterhub.

Many of these images are abstract or hard to read, and putting these into the public (and professional) domain has been a real challenge to me, as not everyone gets what they are seeing. I find it odd how we will accept abstraction in a painting much more readily than we do in a photograph, besides why do we have to immediately understand everything we see? But I like the fact that people engage with and interpret the images in their own ways, even though some cannot see past the point when they discover that I haven’t used a camera or a lens to create most of my new work.

My own natural tendencies are to experiment, to constantly evolve and to keep learning “new” skills, always trying different ways of making images. So during 2014 I have really had to curb my natural instincts whilst trying to pull together coherent bodies of work, some of which have already been going on for 6 years, rather than spin off onto something else. It is so tempting to see a collection of images as finished after just a few months, but is anything ever complete? I guess I don’t want to ever say that I wish I had stuck at a particular project for longer.

Something I have found particularly compelling about my current imagery is that the prints are by nature very seductive, even beautiful, although I struggle with that word. The technology I use to create them responds to items that are contoured very differently to a camera, and the resulting prints are not as two dimensional (flat). I have even had people touching a print to see if there is a physical edge or ridge on it, which is unusual (a bit annoying too, as I rarely handle my pictures without gloves). But these pictures are made to be hung on walls and enjoyed, so I can tolerate the odd inquisitive fingernail raking their delicate surfaces!

Spore Print 2014

I hope you find the time to see more new images at

3 Days in Burgerland

A new collection of images has been added to my website here .

3 Days in Burgerland casts a hard glance at the Sunderland Airshow.

I hope you will find the time to take a look at the other 70 images in the series, and as always your feedback and opinions are welcomed.

Thanks for taking the time to visit. If you enjoyed this post or others on the Dark Matters blog, please help and send it to a friend. And don’t forget to visit here

Robert Frank

A rare documentary with Robert Frank

William Klein

A great documentary about William Klein

If you enjoyed this post or others on the Dark Matters blog, please help and send it to a friend. And don’t forget to visit here

Your thoughts and comments are very important.

James Nachtwey

A thoughtful 2007 talk by documentary photographer James Nachtwey

If you enjoyed this post or others on the Dark Matters blog, please help and “pay it forward” and send it to a friend. And don’t forget to visit here

Your thoughts and comments are very important.

Elliott Erwitt

Five instructive minutes with Elliott Erwitt with some classic advice for young photographers.

NOTE: Apologies to everyone who has signed up for a direct feed from Dark Matters. Feedburner has deleted my subscriber list, and there is no way I can recover it.

If you enjoyed this post or others on the Dark Matters blog, please help and “pay it forward” and send it to a friend. And don’t forget to visit here

Your thoughts and comments are very important.

Masao Yamamoto

The thoughtful and captivating images of Masao Yamamoto

Alex Majoli

The powerful images of Alex Majoli

Edward Burtynsky

Whilst accepting his 2005 TED Prize, photographer Edward Burtynsky gives a talk about rethinking the landscape. He presents some of his images that document humanities impact upon the world.

If you don’t have 35 minutes to watch the entire talk, skip to 18.20 (minutes) to look at the work of a Chinese woman assembling circuit breakers.

For more of his thought-provoking pictures go here.

If you enjoyed this post or others on the Dark Matters blog, please help and “pay it forward” and send it to a friend. And don’t forget to visit me at

Your thoughts and comments are very important.

Ragnar Axelsson

Stunning pictures from “Last Days of The Arctic” by Ragnar Axelsson, who is one of Iceland’s best known photojournalists.

Here’s an interview about the same project and Axelsson’s work.

See more at

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Leica Camera Blog

I am delighted to have written my second blog piece for Leica. Todays post is about the importance of developing your own photographic style and putting together cohesive bodies of work, areas I have battled with over the years.

The blog post features pictures from my Burgers & B52′s gallery

You can read it here and I would love to hear any comments you may want to leave there.

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Don’t forget to visit me at

Pretty Pictures And Elephants

Since November I have been working on a commissioned project, photographing the landscapes of Northumbria. This is my bread and butter commercial work, and is not often featured on this blog.

This commission has made me reconsider why I almost stopped outdoor work around three years ago. It has also reminded me that it is easy to take the lot we have for granted, and that my day job is a pretty good one. And at 7.30am on the beach at Bamburgh, I considered that the miles of deserted apricot coloured sands ahead of me were a pretty cool office, and that I was actualy getting paid to walk along it with my tripod slung over my shoulder! Although maybe it was just the euphoria of actually being paid for landscape work?

Apart from the joy of 4.30am alarm calls, I have been reminded that the part of the photographic process I really enjoy is the moment at which the elements and nature take dramatic control of whatever vista is in front of me. This is normally the point when a sunrise becomes dramatic, a shaft of sunlight bursts through a cloud, or a sequence of waves break perfectly.

Bamburgh Castle, Northumberland Coast

I have also realised that nature does the hard bit, and the act of making the picture is a thoughtless one, merely a way of grabbing that moment; yes the picture may be considered, but it is still just a record of what I saw, and this throws up a host of questions. So how is it possible to then claim that the photo tells the viewer something about a place? Does for example, a “beautiful” colour photograph tell you anything more about a place than a simple cheap snapshot of the same location? Can it? In my mind this does not devalue the perfectly composed and printed image, but perhaps its dubious claims to “show” (or more pretentiously to “teach”) should be challenged?

Yes, the photographer has made the picture in a certain light, from a certain angle, and at a particular time, and those choices make the picture “easier” on the eye, more “beautiful”, but again surely it is merely a record? I once heard someone claim that their pictures showed the “spirit” of a place, but that was just a vain attempt to try and add weight to pretty landscape pictures, by claiming something that does not exist.

To me the thrill is in being there, feeling the bite of the wind on your face, being engulfed in the sound of the breaking waves and the seabirds. The euphoria we all feel when being in the natural environment or seeing something of natural beauty (maybe a sunset or a wild animal at close quarters) rarely translates into our pictures. How often have we been disappointed by holiday photos that don’t do justice to our memories; and how often have we said or heard things like “well it looked much better than that” or “I wish I had a better picture of it.” Once we are not physically experiencing the environment and that pleasure is removed, we look at things differently.

Perhaps I find it hard to engage with my landscape pictures because I know what it felt like to be there when the photograph was made, and then have had to deal with the change in emotions when I am faced with a two dimensional representation of that experience. I rarely enjoy my pictures after I have made them, unless they have intriguing subject matter, and editing a days shot can feel disappointing, as the pictures on my screen are never quite what I remembered.

The River Breamish in the Ingram Valley

When people view a picture of a landscape I have heard them say that they have “never seen it” looking like that, but that’s perhaps just because they haven’t seen it at 5am, or in the dramatic fleeting light than can exist at that time. Worse is that they may not have seen it through the high saturation/contrast filters that we routinely apply, and they never see it burned and dodged, with unsightly features cropped or even cloned out, fully sanitised and packed for consumption.

Perhaps the landscape is just a fictional notion, always viewed in the past tense, through rose tinted glasses that remind us of a collective history. It has to be clean and neat, it has to be non-threatening and calm, as anything else is dangerous and harmful, outside of our control. My weather pictures used to get “it’s lovely to see, but I wouldn’t want to have been there”, or “ooh it looks so cold….brrrr”. One only has to look at how anything “wild” is quickly removed from our towns and cities to see how important controlling and regulating nature and landscape has become. Our lives are all about limits and controls, often state sanctioned, so maybe the rose tinted ideal is required to remind us that something better did once exist, albeit fleeting.

Maybe I just have a problem with the way that colour dominates certain pictures, and how often pictures are considered of value just because of a certain colour.  Take away the dominant colour in many images and little remains of any interest. Saying that, black and white images are often seen as passé or nostalgic, but at least that may remove the “pretty picture” tag that I struggle with. After all what makes a strong image should be the content, even though at times colour may be part of that.

To illustrate my point try blocking out the bright red at the bottom of this picture with your hand. Thankfully the strength of the ladies contemptuous stare is as bold as the colour.

Prague, Czech Republic - Canon EOS1N - Kodak EBX

As I was writing this post I came across a very relevant piece by David Parker relating to beauty in art, which highlights some of my own personal struggles with pretty pictures.

“Beauty has been described recently by the English sculptor Grayson Perry as ‘the elephant in the room that many artists find difficult to ignore’. Beauty requires no commentary for its appreciation and no validation by a priesthood of academics…”

Parker goes on to say that “many artists remain deeply suspicious of beauty and ignore it altogether, and for fear of being misunderstood are eager to have the subtext of their ‘difficult’ work explicated rather than risk it being judged only at face value”.

So maybe I am just suspicious of the beauty within my landscape work, and soured by encounters with curators and “experts” who have described my landscape portfolio as “of no value”, “not relevant to anything related to art ”, and that old chestnut “not critically engaged”.

But bills have to be paid, even though every time I go out the door to work these questions go with me, and that proverbial elephant keeps nagging at me…..that is until the elements take over.

Happy New Year.

The last pretty picture of 2011 - I promise. Druridge Bay, Northumberland.

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