12 photos from an overnight visit to four Munros in the Ullapool area, a pilgrimage to the Northwest for the first snows of the season, and my first camp since Spain, well over a month before. What I appreciated most of all was the silence and solitude, which save for the chatter of an occasional Ptarmigan, reigned complete. A bath of cold silence, enveloping, renewing, an implacable space to empty my own chattery head.
I have a feature in the September 2018 issue of The Great Outdoors, about a journey I haven't really mentioned here, so this is as good a time as any to share a few extra photos. Here's a fancypants quote from near the surprise end to whet your appetite...
We floated in space, among the multi-coloured galaxies of a NASA photograph. The airless vacuum beneath our boats was so dense with life that we moved without splashing, pulling our way gently though this universe of water and timing our paddle strokes to avoid contact.
Richard, David and I set off from Beasdale, paddled Lochs Morar and Nevis and finished in Inverie. It was a WET trip and there was plenty of squelchy walking and camping. The route choice was a little arbitrary and planned on the hoof to accommodate the weather, but in retrospect it's a pretty classic 3 or 4 day paddling route. Using the postie path along Loch Morar, and the crossing point at Tarbet (literally, gaelic for portage) is exactly how some of our forebears would have cut about the place... just with less expensive toys. Our train back was a local diesel, but if you timed it right, you could even return by steam train and keep the old skool atmosphere going right to the end.
Looking through these, I'm feeling all nostalgic for a wet bum and the shivers again. Now that normal Scottish summertime has resumed, a reprise is overdue.
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A few photos from a two day trip in the North-West. Not exactly off the beaten track, but not the usual honeypots either (although you'll see a fair few of them on the skyline). Big, rough and tumble country, a natural circuit around a rugged glen, a high camp and no midges. The sun never quite sets in the mountains at this time of year. It's pretty perfect if the weather works out.
I went with a photography client, but when the company and conditions are this good, it's not work - or at least, it's not hard work! Matt has an interesting job working for the planning department at SNH, and for me personally it was energising to spend time with someone who has a layered understanding and appreciation of wild places. Whatever people come with is great - the range of experience is one of the best things about tutoring - as for Matt, he was pretty familiar with camera technicals, and more than able enough in the hills, which allowed us to cover some burly ground on foot, as well as (I hope) some alternate ways of looking and seeing.
I can't wait to go back for the Corbett, and to camp in the deer paradise underneath, studded with lochans and stuffed with craggy ribs of pink granite.
Some recent pictures and a few thoughts (click on the pics to open)
Since I've been out a bit more over the last few weeks, some thoughts about my photographic footprint have arisen... about what images are for, as well as how I take them. These thoughts aren't new, perhaps just newly expressed.
I have few rules that I don't break myself at times, but in no particular order...
I try not to give away locations on social media without further context or unless it's important to something else the image is implicated in. The modern take on this seems to be to tell the viewer everything about the location and story behind the picture (imagine the horror, being accused of elitism!)... but that might also have something to do with the machinery of awards, tours, personal gratification, dopamine addiction and income generation. The Buachaille waterfall is an embarrassment to us all, and social media has become the bitter end. I'd rather not be part of photography's growing environmental and psychological footprint... or at least, minimise my own impact.
In other words, "Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints" may no longer be good enough. Ethics should be at the heart of how I make pictures, not an adjunct.
Next, access... the last photo in the next small group was reached after a waist high heather wander at 10pm several degrees below zero, before camping and dinner at midnight, to be 'at the location' at dawn (although the photo here was taken much later). Who would have the patience for that on a big photo tour? Personally I try and avoid the roadside shots and give the guidebooks a miss - there's the matter of boots on the ground, and then there's the matter of developing an art of seeing beyond X marks the spot. Besides, sometimes it's not about the pictures for heaven's sake, it's about being there.
Last, picture making can be about joy, self expression and/or have a social and environmental purpose, or it can promote envy and covetousness. This is not a tick list and I am not a miner. If photography becomes another extraction of finite resources from fragile places then we've truly lost our way.