Robert Walker: Discovering Britain’s Only Desert

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Robert Walker is a self-taught fine arts photographer based in the UK. Born in Manchester, Robert first discovered photography at the ripe young age of eight. He initially learned the craft by being an assistant to two photographers and eventually took over their studio on his own when he was twenty years old.  Robert’s personal work has been exhibited in renowned galleries in New York, London, Manchester, and Florence.  In 2012, two of his works were selected for the permanent collection at The National Portrait Gallery and in 2014, he was selected for the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. This week Robert speaks to atlas about his long career in photography and what initially drew him to explore and capture the magnificent landscape at Dungeness, also known as Britain’s only desert. (Editor’s Note: We are showcasing again one of our favorite features on Robert Walker. Enjoy!)

How did you first become interested in photography?

Robert Walker: I was about 8 years old and on a family holiday. When we returned home we went to the local chemist to collect my roll of film and my Dad’s. We were told only one roll had any images on it. Everyone looked sympathetically at me, only to discover it was actually mine that had come out. I think my future was decided that day!


Were you self-taught or did you have a formal education in photography?

Self taught, no photographic qualifications. Worked as an assistant / dogs body. I think there are pros and cons to this method. In my opinion, photography is not a theoretical pursuit. The only way to learn is to take pictures. If you spend too much time thinking about it and looking at other people’s work, it can then be intimidating to get out and make your own.

When I left school, I knew I wanted to be a photographer. But I did not know what field of photography to pursue. I worked for three years as the only assistant to two small town industrial/commercial photographers. After the second year, they started sending me to do the jobs on my own which increased my confidence and made me interact with clients face to face.

After a year of doing all the photography on my own, the company went bust (the two photographers were not good at business).  I bought all the equipment from the liquidator for £1000 and started on my own the next day. All the clients stayed with me and I was up and running at age 20. Over the next thirty years, I steadily built up a small bespoke advertising studio in the UK. In 2007, I decided to concentrate purely on my own work.

Your “Fifth Continent” project is a collection of brilliant and stunning images you took of Dungeness, which is off the coast of Kent in South East England. Dungeness is known as England’s only desert. What drew you to Dungeness? Why the desert?

The landscape is an expanse of flat shingle which runs for approximately three miles. The English Channel is on one side separating the UK from France and the rest of Europe. Dungeness has two nuclear power stations, two lighthouses, and a miniature steam railway which chugs along the coast. The area’s main industry used to be fishing. The majority of residents now tend to be artists, writers, and those escaping conventional life.What makes the place photographically interesting are the clusters of buildings that sit on either side of the single track road and the constantly changing weather.

Many of the huts started life as old railway carriages, which were used as shelters for the fishermen or modified into basic living accommodation. Most of these have been abandoned or have literally blown away, leaving just a baseplate and a stain on the shingle. Others have been slightly gentrified and some have been rebuilt in a very exacting contemporary style. Being only two hours from London the area is becoming a weekend retreat for creative individuals.

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How would you describe the landscape at Dungeness? What was it like to shoot and explore there?

The main challenge with any photograph you make is not to repeat too closely what has gone before. Dungeness has been photographed many times over. In the summer, there are swarms of day trippers all with cameras and all photographing the same thing.

I decided from the start that my project was not a record of the place. I did not feel the need to document every detail. Instead I wanted to capture the essence, the emotion that I felt the first time I went. I deliberately chose days when the sky was not blue and the grasses were not at their greenest. I wanted to evoke the feeling of desolation and isolation, deliberately not including people in any of the work. It is an accurate reflection of a Dungeness that does exist much of the time.

When I worked in advertising everything was shot on large format, big tripods, cases of dark slides — you name it we used it. Now I have pared my equipment down to the absolute minimum. I use a Canon DSLR, a 24-105mm lens, sometimes a monopod and very occasionally a tripod.

Did you encounter any challenges while shooting in Dungeness?

The only problem with shooting there is the weather, which ironically is one of the reasons I was first attracted to the place.


Your project is currently on exhibit at Touchstones Gallery in Rochdale. Lancashire? What do you hope your viewers will take away from your images?

I was fortunate to get the show at Touchstones, which is a public gallery close to where I live. There are 21 images, most of them printed 1 meter wide. I had the walls painted a dirty grey and I commissioned a composer friend to make a soundscape which accompanies the show. The sound was important to me because at Dungeness all you can hear is the wind, the sea, the birds, the creaking of the nuclear power stations and the occasional blast of a fog horn from the lighthouse.

This is something I have not done before, but it really helps people to feel more immersed in the work. The most popular comment in the visitors’ guest book has been how they want to make the trip to Dungeness, how they want to experience the landscape for themselves. I just hope they do not go on a sunny day.


How do you see your work evolving over the next few years?

To be honest I am not sure how my work will evolve. I guess that is the nature of evolution. Change happens slowly and it is only when you look back at your work over the years you become aware of this. I do plan to be more proactive about getting my work shown. I also aim to invest some time to try and understand social media, which is something I have ignored to my cost so far. I do have an Instagram page (@robertwalker100) and would welcome more followers.

What is your next project?

First, I would like to get The Fifth Continent into a gallery space near to Dungeness. Second, I have a project which is very close to completion with a working title of “The Art of Escape” although I mostly shoot single “stand alone“ works.


If you had one piece of advice for a novice photographer, what would it be?

My advice for a novice photographer would be not to get hung up about equipment. Owning a certain bit of kit will not make you a better photographer. The only way to improve is to take pictures as often as possible. Learn about exposure. Do not just set your camera to “Auto“ and do not be afraid to make mistakes. It is the only way to learn.

Thanks for being our featured photographer of the week, Robert!

For more information about Robert, visit his website.  All images © Robert Walker.




James Mason: Nostalgic for Cars

James Mason is a UK-based photographer.  After obtaining his fine arts degree from Camberwell College of the Arts in London, James discovered photography was far more rewarding than drawing or sculpture. He loves to travel, walk around cities, and take in the environment around him which feeds his visual storytelling instincts. He has traveled to multiple countries across Asia, Europe, and North America capturing everything from simple street scenes to the delightful interplay of light, shapes, and style.  This week atlas speaks to James about his love of vintage cars and what inspired him to start shooting them.

Your collection of car images is masterfully brilliant yet fun and whimsical. Tell us a bit about this collection.

I’ve been photographing cars for about nine months. The first was a green Moskvitch that caught my eye in Sofia, The boldness of the green paintwork and cars elegant form stood out against its muted backdrop. Since then,I have been photographing similarly attractive cars with the same approach to technique as and when I see them.

Did you originally have a project in mind to photograph cars or did you start taking random photos of cars one day?

This was never supposed to be a project. The first image I produced was on a whim just to see how it would look. Since then, I have produced around 40 such images.

What was your creative approach with these unique images?

I am drawn almost exclusively to vintage cars. Unlike modern cars, vintage cars tend to have very distinctive forms that are evoke sophistication and the promise of a certain kind of lifestyle that may be synonymous with owning such vehicles. In this sense, they are historical objects with deeply inscribed meanings that go beyond their everyday usage.

I produce these images with an eye towards making these cars stand out, so the relationship between color and backdrop is important. It is not satisfying for me to merely photograph a car that I like.

What is it about cars that motivates you to photograph them? Were you big into cars when you were little?

I have never owned a driving license or even driven a car but have always been drawn to them as objects, specifically their aesthetics and connotations. As a child I was obsessed with drawing sports cars. I would sit and fill entire sketchbooks with pictures of an imaginary red sports car with pop-up headlights. These drawings were all near identical and would be composed side-on just like my photographs. They even included details of the cars setting such as curbs, walls, and street lamps. I had never considered the connection between this and my photographs until now.

How was are these images of vintage cars in line with your other photography work? Is it more of a departure or getting out of your comfort zone?

Most of my photography centers on the act of walking. For me the cars function as a kind of habit or exercise that takes place in-between what I think of as my ‘real’ photography when I am on these walks.  I never set out to look for these cars but will just photograph them when I see them whether in London or traveling elsewhere.

While I will not always find interesting subject matter, there is a good chance I will see a car that fits this body of work. It is reassuring to have this one thing that I will always photograph irrespective of what project I have in mind and to come away with something I like.

What is your favorite car?

I really love the Porsche 924. I would love to own one in black.

What direction, if any, do you want to take this collection of images? How do you want to further this project?

This is very much a personal collection. I think of these images as souvenirs of my walks and the cities I have visited. I like to print the photos and to have them around. Ultimately I want all my projects to become zines or photography books but I do not think there is anything compelling enough about these as a body of work to warrant a zine or a book. For now I will just continue to enjoy collecting them with no end goal in mind.

Thanks for being our featured photographer of the week, James!

For more information about James, visit his Instagram.  All images © James Mason.

Chris König: The Faces of Morocco


Chris König is a portrait and outdoor photographer from the Netherlands. He is a gifted visual storyteller with a keen eye and a unique style for capturing people during his travels around the world. While other photographers have difficulty interacting with strangers, Chris has a talent making connections with people by using simple eye contact, a smile, and patience. He makes people or street photography seem like an effortless yet masterful exercise.  Chris talks to atlas this week about why portrait photography resonates with him the most and how he was able to capture these brilliant images while in Morocco. (Editor’s Note: We wanted to showcase again one of our favorite features on documentary photography.  Chris Konig is one of the masters!)

How did you first get started in photography? How long have you been shooting?

Chris König: Around four years ago, I bought a camera to film some of the sports like climbing and running that my friends and I were doing. After a while I found myself constantly taking pictures of them and forgetting to film the whole thing. From there, my interests expanded into travel, adventurous lifestyle, and definitely the human interest such as in my Morocco photos.

You enjoy taking portraits the most. What is it about portraiture that appeals to you the most?

It is absolutely great to make that connection with someone. In the beginning I tried to capture people with a long telephoto lens so they would not notice I was there. I wanted to capture genuine emotions and day to day life. However, it was absolutely not satisfying to take pictures in this ‘sneaky’ way. So more and more I tried approaching people and asking to take their photo. The more I took photos, the more I found that you can put people at ease in a really short time and let them just do their thing without them paying attention to you. Of course, not everyone is interested in being in my photos. However, when they are it is so satisfying to have that interaction and connection with them, to share a laugh and to give them their own picture afterwards (by mail usually when possible.) I just love to capture emotions and show people how similar everyone is in certain ways all over the world.


Your “Fez: A Moroccan Experience” series is fantastic with vibrant light and skillful composition. How did the Fez project come about? What inspired you to go to Morocco and take these images?

I think it is important to keeping working on personal projects to improve yourself. At the same time, I just love to experience some new adventures. When you are flying in between seasons, tickets can get fairly cheap and I arrived in Morocco basically not knowing anything. Of course, it is useful to know how to get around, where to sleep, what kind of money you need, etc., However, on previous trips (including six months in South East Asia), I found myself in the most amazing situations when I did not plan ahead and just went with the flow. I like to think of these projects as small personal challenges.


While making this series, did you encounter any challenges? If so, what were they?

Although it is great to not have a plan, it can also work against you. The Medina (old centre) of Fez contains more than 8000 small streets and it can be quite tough to find your way around there. Sometimes I thought to myself, “I have to go back to this place during the sunset because it will be perfect with the right light!” But of course I could not find the place afterwards anymore. During those times, GPS can be helpful. On the other hand, the unsuspected situations and getting lost might get you into some perfect moments as well.

What was your experience like photographing strangers in a different country such as Morocco? How did you connect with the people?

When I arrived in Morocco and spoke to some people on the bus en route to the city, more than one person told me that it was difficult to photograph people in Morocco as they generally do not like it and think all pictures are going to be misused. In the end I did not come across people who were reluctant. I think the lesson I learned from it is that the connection you make with someone is even more important than what is ‘normal’ in their culture. Even though there is a huge language barrier (I do not speak French or Arabic and they did not speak English) the moments of eye contact, a little smile, and patience bring you quite far. Usually I just wait around a little bit when I see something interesting happen. By being interested in the actual moment while your camera tucked away inside your bag, people tend to be more open for interaction. I found that walking up to someone with your camera already in your hand makes it so much more difficult to get the picture. Just go for genuine interaction and something good will come out of it. It is more fun anyway to work with ‘real people’ instead of just seeing someone as a subject for your picture. As I mentioned before, handing them their own picture whenever possible is a great gift for most people.


Are you currently working on any new projects that you can tell us about?

Since I just returned from another project in South Africa, there are fewer projects scheduled in the portrait category for the next two months, but I hope to go to a nice Scandinavian country in January or February to capture those beautiful snowy landscapes. It is so relaxing to just hike all those kilometers in order to find the perfect moment.


Are there any photographers whose work have influenced you?

Portrait-wise a huge inspiration is Joey L. He is only 26 years old, but he has already done so many amazing projects. Earlier this year he went to a war zone in Syria to portray the women fighting on the front lines. I think the combination of his beautiful lighting/composition, willingness to take risks, and passion for human emotions is just amazing. It is a true inspiration for me.

If you had one piece of advice for a novice photographer, what would it be?

Do not think too much about what you want to achieve later on. Just go out and shoot a lot and along the way you will find out. I spent so much time watching tutorials and learning about everything, but I think it is much better to just learn while doing.

For more information about Chris, visit his website. All images © Chris König.