August 1998. It was a nervous morning as my old mate Mark Hamblin and I sat in my kitchen drinking coffee, awaiting the arrival of our very first guests on our very first photo tour in our very first year of collaboration. We had no track record, no model on which to base the tour content and no idea how we would be received. It was all very wing-and-a-prayer. By late afternoon the guests had arrived and we nervously struck up conversations about anything that came into our heads. Seven days later with a sigh of relief, it seemed like we’d got away with it.
As the rain hammered relentlessly on the windscreen and the headlights barely penetrated the gloom, the sense of trepidation and dare I say it, helplessness, was palpable. After a long day of trains, planes and automobiles, this was not the Icelandic welcome our guests had in mind. I made an inadequate attempt to lift the mood but only as the lights of our hotel came into view with safety and sustenance assured, could I sense a collective sigh of relief.
Any tour guide with even half a conscience will recognise the gut-wrenching feeling of lying in bed listening to the wind howling and the rain pounding outside. If it happens once or twice on a tour, the guests will likely sympathise but night after night and I start to stress. Arctic Norway is never going to be straightforward in winter and that’s why we go, but a constant near-gale south-westerly with all that it brings, isn’t good news.
It is entirely possible that Iceland will be unkind to you. Not that the Icelandic people are unpleasant you understand, far from it, but the island can serve up copious helpings of rain, snow and wind followed by more rain, snow and wind. Did I mention that it might rain? On the plus side, it is that very changeability that makes Iceland such an exciting place to photograph. Continue reading “Extreme Iceland”
Fat is a delicate word in our house. You see I’m not 18 any more and thanks to middle age (plus a few cream eggs here and there), I’ve put on a few pounds in recent years – only a few mind! Pete is very sympathetic to my (temporary) bulging midriff (not) and tries his best to avoid the ‘F’ word as much as he can. But then that’s his trouble of course, he can’t resist stirring the hornet’s nest, poking jibes at the afflicted amongst us. I can hear him now with his (not so) subtle hints: “That’s a FAT lot of good.” There’s not much FAT on that idea.” You get my drift? Nothing direct, just little digs here and there; I wouldn’t mind but he’s hardly Richard Gere now is he?
And so to the latest excuse for the ‘F’ word. Crested tits and Great-spotted woodpeckers eat alot of fat, my fat, the fat that I make from bread, lard and peanuts each winter to feed the greedy so and sos. With our Winter Wildlife tours going at full tilt for almost a month, and photographers lining up in our hides to photograph them, alot of fat has been needed. It started off: “Amanda, could you mix some more fat?” but gradually degenerated into, “Fat for Fatties from the Fat Factory please.” He even got our other guides involved! Now again, there’s a deliberate and cynical avoidance of any direct reference to my own body but I can see it in his eyes – I know those eyes – he’s having a dig. Now of course he will deny all of this saying I’m being over-sensitive, paranoid even, but I know, I just know.
The Fat Factory is now winding down for the season as the birds go off to make new fat addicts. I’ve given Pete ‘the stare’ more than once, just waiting for him to cross that uncrossable line but sneaky as he is, he stays just the right side. He claims he’s sympathetic to my complaints about excess body baggage; he claims he still loves me as he did when I was 18; he claims he’s a mature, modern man. Fat chance!
The look on his face said it all. Fixing the icy strap to the front of his icy bucket, his eyes rolled as he climbed back in the icy cab of the monstrous snowplough before pulling my little tin box of a van from the snowdrift in just a matter of seconds. I wanted to explain about the fantastic light and the need to seize the moment; I wanted to tell him that the bus stop was the only place to pull off the road but I decided just to shake his hand and offer a sheepish “tack”. Bloody tourists.
The Lofoten Islands are part of Norway’s rugged northwest coastline, hanging out into the sea catching all manner of weather full in the face. If you don’t like weather – all sorts of it – don’t come here. It’s a roller coaster: snow that stings your face one minute, sun that blinds you the next. But then that’s the deal and if you accept the terms, this can be one of the most exciting landscape photography locations anywhere. Saw-toothed snow-cloaked mountains rise vertically from the sea; secluded coastal inlets cosset sandy beaches lapped by aquamarine waters and most of all, arctic light. At times, arctic light like I’ve never seen before.
Any landscape photographer worth their salt (that’s me out then) will tell you it’s all about light and that’s because it is. I told our tour group this as we travelled the blizzardous road from the airport to our base in Reine but at the time, even I didn’t expect four days of such intense photographic drama and sublime light.
This tour booked up quickly, no doubt due to the potential for some spectacular aurora photography. We weren’t that lucky in the lights department if truth be told, but the drama that unfolded each day more than compensated. I don’t think I can remember as productive a short period in a very long time.
I hope you like the images and they offer a glimpse into one of the rising stars on the landscape photography circuit. Lofoten smells of fish (obsessed with cod, the Norwegians) and fried cod tongues are definitely not for me but then, I can live on a diet of light, drama and mood – real fuel for the soul. This place is straight up my photographic street. Don’t expect fancy hotels and cosy coffee parlours but do expect drama.
My thanks to our hardy group who were deprived of sleep but still managed to maintain good humour and in a separate incident to the bus stop drama, the energy to help dig the van out of a ditch after a near miss with a 40-tonne Scania. Bagman Alex, Arla, Jackie, John, Kin, Dangerous Mel, Paul and Pauline – all top people and damned fine photographers. We’ll be doing it all again next year if you fancy joining us for a winter bout of wild and wonderful. Book here.
It’s been a bit of a haul this one! From an idea that started way back when, we’ve had false starts, funding letdowns and above all, just lots of other time-consuming things going on. But we’re there now and it’s shaping up to be a really nice book (and we’re planning a few side products too!).
Written by colleague Niall Benvie and illustrated by yours truly, CALEDONIA is an unashamed emotional plea for a fresh and more ambitious outlook towards forest restoration. That doesn’t mean that Scotland should be covered in trees tomorrow; it simply means we should perhaps take a renewed look at what the landscape can offer us against a backdrop of increasing biological uncertainty.
CALEDONIA will retail at £20 and will be available only from the NORTHSHOTS website (from June 23rd). Advance orders are being taken now (just e-mail Amanda). Corporate customers (ordering a minimum of 10 copies) can buy the book for just £12-95 per copy. Branded books (with your logo on front cover) are available at the same price (min. order 100 units) but must be ordered before April 30 2011.
To get a feel for what CALEDONIA will look like, download our promo-flyer here.