Winter blues (and pinks).

It’s barely light but already I can feel the heartache creeping through my veins. The landscape whistles past in a streaky blur but the tendrils of freezing mist stroking the white ground – attractive on their own – are made doubly so by the vivid pink of the dawn sky. It’s painfully beautiful and it’s painful not to be out there with my camera.

I’m on a train. I’m on a train to London. For a meeting. 9 hours there, 9 hours back and I’m feeling as far from being a nature photographer as I have since I first picked up a camera two decades ago. The last 5 years have seen me working on ambitious communication projects trying (and some might suggest for the most part, failing) to be a marketeer, an accountant, a business analyst, even a politician. In so many ways the results of these endeavours have been rewarding and certainly educational, but it’s not what I do; it’s not what I want to do.

The very kind waitress with a broad Northumbrian accent and a crisp ‘East Coast Trains’ uniform brings me sausage and mash, a perk of an expenses-paid first class seat. The sun is now up and the snow-laden Berwickshire coastline zips by glistening under an azure sky. My meeting is important, don’t get me wrong, but God I wish I was out with my camera, away from the inane chatter of slightly pretentious businessmen on their phones, away from first-class sausage and mash.

Loch Insh/River Spey in Winter, Scotland.

2013 is going to be another busy year but it will be my last busy year in terms of big photo projects with the attendant sitting on planes and trains. I want to go back to sitting in a cold hide, waiting for a creature, or shaft of light that might never appear; smelling the pine, tasting the peat. I want to craft new images, stretch my creative boundaries and tell new stories. I want to drink cold coffee from a cold flask not be served sausage and mash. And I want to laugh again.

As the train moves ever southwards towards the English capital, my heart drifts ever northwards to the Highlands and it’s my heart that I intend to follow in the coming years.

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12 thoughts on “Winter blues (and pinks).

  1. Well, Pete… what a post!!! Honestly it is difficult to know where to start and what to say, in this that, al least to me, is one of your best, still “rebel”, posts from all I had the privilege to read. Still, the one that I probably like the best.

    And to be honest I am (was) having one of the worst days of my “2013 still short life”, until I read this… considering what I do have to schedule, do, pay and accomplish till the end of the month, I just stopped for a moment to read your words. And what a good decision I just made.

    In fact, as you say, it was a long time since you first started, and many “suits” you really dressed. But it is really important, despite all of the rest that we still can laugh, (even when we take portuguese guys to the mountain to find that little white “rabbit 😉 and mainly, we still can follow our heart – your words. And it is pretty nice that I can now realize that we all should do the same, or, in other words, that we should not “move away” from what we really are.

    Once, someone told me: “Put yourself where your mouth is!” … and another friend just told me two weeks ago: “Change, change before you really have to.”

    With all these words, I would just like to thank you for keep being one of my inspirations, not only in photography, but when everything seems to fall apart.

    Glad to read your words and thoughts. And glad to know you will be “back in track”.

    All the best,


  2. If I’m honest Pete, this post has given me mixed emotions.

    Chiefly, I’m excited for you and that you will hopefully be returning to what you enjoy doing the most, rather than having to travel for 18 hours for one meeting. It’s almost like a reward for the hard work you’ve put into other areas of work over the decades.

    Yet, at the same time, I can’t help but feel a little anxious. Your career map and previous posts suggest that as time passes, doing exactly what you’ve described – the sitting, waiting and anticipating, the parts that really get our hearts thumping – aren’t enough to sustain an income. In order to ‘make it’ photographers and, indeed, all visual artists need to involve themselves in these large projects and meetings to remain at the forefront of their industry. Perhaps even then, this isn’t always enough.

    It’s a little bit daunting from where I’m standing and yet my stubbornness and determination always prevent me from giving in to the doubt, no matter how slow the progress seems to be.

    At the end of the day, I know I’ll always be able to immerse myself in nature, no matter where I am or what my circumstances are and, whether or not I’m making a living from it, I’ll always be able to cherish those moments. I believe that’s something worth keeping sight of.



  3. Looking forward to what you’re going to create Pete. And I share your feelings. Spent al week in meetings as the snow came down, you envision all the photos you could have taken. The world is cruel!
    Lets hope the rest of 2013 compensates for it!

  4. Live it, be there, feel it!
    How much my soul echoes your sentiments, how much the demands of everyday life takes one away from what the heart wants to see.
    I hope you achieve your vision after so many years helping others to achieve theirs. M

  5. Wow, Pete, this is quite a shift in position. But I can completely understand. The depressing thing is that we all believed the cooperative model would bear fruit but none, I think, realised that it would be such a big boulder to roll up hill – in this country at least. For my part, working with other creatives has been an entirely positive experience – but working for nothing for long periods without a stock subsidy isn’t sustainable. I’m not sure that going back to being a stills photographer is a viable model either, but perhaps with video and the hides and the tours and some new approaches to the blue chip species on your doorstep, it will work. The great shame is that if this really is the end to big cooperations in this country – I can’t see any of us committing what you and Mark especially have during 2020VISION – I don’t think it will happen again, at least for a long while, and nature photography will take a backward step.

    My best


  6. Thank you for your very kind and supportive comments folks.

    I don’t want to give the impression that I’ve undertaken a seismic shift in perspective, just that on a personal level, I need to do more of what I started off doing – simply for sanity’s sake. I think the days of being ‘just’ a stills (nature) photographer have indeed passed but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a role for stills imagery and I’m very much focused on visual project work – perhaps just not with the bureaucracy and financial burden of WWE or 2020V (and there’s still a huge amount to do with the latter).

    Anyway this started as a bit of a whinge from a train, rather than a philosophical shift in lifestyle! I’ll shut up now, it’s all getting a bit self-focused!!

  7. “As the train moves ever southwards towards the English capital, my heart drifts ever northwards to the Highlands and it’s my heart that I intend to follow in the coming years.”

    And all will be well laddie if ye’ll just go canny wi thae fat-laden sausages; we’d like yer drifting heart tae keep pumping in fair fettle for a guid few years yet, ye ken!

  8. Hi Pete
    I see you’re back in the real world – I mean, trying to get away from the high pressure campaigns that wildlife photography has led you into. I’ve been saying this for several years with regard to my bat survey work. I still haven’t been able to get out of it entirely. And my photography seems still to be limited to those times I get well away from home/office, when I can sit in a hide, when I can stare through the viewfinder with time to look for the best composition, point of focus, light and all those other little things that make a photograph rather than a snapshot.
    If only we didn’t have to actually earn a living . . . . .

  9. Peter
    Having only recently become aware of 2020 etc. and been amazed and impressed by the level of commitment and sheer overarching vision of yourself and your colleagues in those projects, this post which I came across by accident, really makes me wonder where this craft of landscape/nature photography is heading?!

    Those of us for whom it works – ie. fays freezing in the hide at the sharp end of creating an image, are probably not the sort to be in the world of ‘suits’ and bureaucracy – but if thats the only way to make a living in this visual world which is drowning in images – then we have to accept that. More worrying for me, is that if YOU feel that way having embarked upon that route – then there probably is NO hope for any of us???!!

    This may have just been a ‘let off steam post on your behalf’ – but either way I wish you luck and a peaceful outcome.

    Kind regards

    Jonathan Avery

  10. Hallo Pet. You have been doing a he.. of a job! You,me and all of us knows that. I remember the first meeting and i know the road. Get out and live for some week,months or years. I will make a special hide for people like you:-) Take care my friend!!!! Eagleman of Norway

  11. Pete, I thought you were following your heart with 2020 Vision. You certainly put enough passion into getting your point across, but if you feel the need to laugh again then it sounds like a change is really needed. I love what I do because of the fun I get out of it and I would stop doing it the moment I felt it becoming “just a job”. Sounds like you’ve reached that point.

    Don’t panic though as I’ve got some new jokes for you and you can look forward to a good laugh in Lofoten.

    All the best.

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