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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

Matt Wallace: Adventure in the Bolivian Highlands

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Matt Wallace is a photographer based in Switzerland. He first became interested in photography at age eight when his parents took a photography class. Since then, Matt has never looked back.  Trained as a health care professional, Matt’s interest in indigenous health motivated him and his spouse to travel to Bolivia. He often photographs during his travels around the world. Matt talks to atlas this week about how he came to capture profound images of the indigenous culture and the vast and gorgeous highlands of this South American country. (Editor’s Note: This week we are sharing another favorite feature of ours from Matt Wallace. Enjoy!)

How did you first get started in photography?

Matt Wallace: My interest in photography started when my mother and father took a photography course together when I was about eight years old. I recall them taking pictures all the time and I was fascinated by the entire process. Later I was really into skateboarding and my friend and I used to take photos of each other doing tricks. I think this helped me learn about composition in a very organic way.  It made me visualize how to best capture a scene and made me aware of how certain techniques can dramatically influence how a picture turns out. This led me to take up photography in my final year of school (2000). It was in school I learned about the chemistry of film and basic developing techniques in the darkroom. I loved working in the darkroom so much that I would cut class to develop prints and became obsessed with all aspects of film photography.

How would you describe your photography?

I do not think photography can be easily defined as one particular genre. They all overlap. Landscape can be documentary, documentary can be street, and street can be travel or portraiture. I just take photos of things that interest me or are related to a particular topic or project that I am working on.

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You have travelled all over the globe, including Bolivia. Your images from Bolivia, including images from Salar de Uyuni are spectacular and masterfully composed. Can you tell us a little bit more about your photographs from Bolivia? What inspired you to travel to Bolivia in the first place? How long were you traveling in Bolivia? How did you decide which photos to capture while you were there?

Thank you, I think you are too kind! Bolivia is a very amazing place. It is extremely photogenic. At the time I had just finished working in remote indigenous communities in Australia where I specialized in indigenous health. My wife was interested in child labor and indigenous rights and in the process of writing her thesis. Bolivia is known for its strong indigenous culture, so this made it a place of interest to both of us and we spent a few months there. I was most interested in the remote highlands, very vast empty spaces. In these areas, I find that you can see how people interact with their environment. The photos I took in these areas felt more genuine because they are more obvious. They are about these empty isolated spaces that portray a sense of isolation and being alone. The photos are generally composed very simply and often with a central focus.

Did you face any challenges while shooting in Bolivia? If so, what were they?

No, not really. Like anywhere you have to be respectful. One can sense if it is the right time and place to take candid street photos. I think if one is respectful, confident, and able to read people and a scene you will not have any problems. I feel most people do not mind having their photo taken. But if you are disrespectful about it or intrusive then they may feel you are taking advantage of them and will take exception. Basically, do not think you are Bruce Gilden. Battery life was a challenge as it was cold and we often had long intervals between having the opportunity to charge. Also it was very dusty in some places, so my gear took a bit of a hammering.

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You shoot exclusively in black & white. In fact, your Instagram page is filled with stunning black & white images. Do you prefer to shoot in black & white? Do you ever shoot in color?

I do really like color photography. Most of my favorite photographers shoot in color.  I am never satisfied with the photos I take when I shoot in color. I go through phases when I shoot only color but I always find myself returning to black and white, even my digital cameras are set to monochrome at the moment. I still shoot a lot of film, and black and white is easy to develop. Overall, I like how it looks and the feeling photos have in black in white. I think by shooting in black in white you are not making an exact replication of the scene. Instead you are simplifying it and bringing the elements that you want to be exhibited to the forefront. This attracts me as I like simple composition and simple photos.

Are there any photographers whose work have influenced you? If so, who?

So many! There are too many to mention.  I find myself reading American Power by Mitch Epstein over and over. Another book I come back to is William Eggleston’s Guide. I am a fan of topography photography, particularly Bernd and Hilla Becher.  Other photographers whom I admire are the New Typographic exhibitors such as Robert Adams, Stephen Shore, and Nicholas Nixon. In addition, the Swiss photographer Ludovic Stefanicki has been a source of inspiration recently. The great photojournalists from the Vietnam era have also been and remain a huge influence on me.

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

I did photography at high school (a long time ago) but other than that I am very much self-taught.

What advice do you have for aspiring photographers?

Read and study photo books! Be obsessed. Do not just take photos. Think of projects and topics that interest you and then take photos that demonstrate these things. Start with film, learn good techniques, and then move to digital. Have fun. Don’t submit photos to critique groups on social media. Get critiques — get a lot of them — only from people whom you respect.

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

For more information about Matt, visit his website and Instagram. All images © Matt Wallace.

 

 

 

Derek DiLuzio: High on Action and Adventure

Landscape image of Craggy Gardens

Landscape image of Craggy Gardens

Derek DiLuzio is a highly regarded photographer based in Asheville, North Carolina.  He has shot images for some of the top editorial and advertising clients, including Bike Magazine, Men’s Health, Patagonia, Sotheby’s International Real Estate, and Teton Valley Magazine. After a few stints of guiding trips in New Zealand and Central and South America, Derek decided to devote full time to photography. This week Derek speaks to atlas about how he transitioned from guiding trips to photography, what a typical day is like for him on one of his shoots, and what he’s working on next. (Editor’s Note: As we enjoy the holidays this week, we revisit one of our favorite features from the past year. Enjoy!)

How long have you been shooting outdoor adventure photography?

Derek DiLuzio: Until I was about twenty, photographers bugged the hell out of me.  I would watch all these people take pictures and completely miss moments going on all around them.  Around that age I guided a trip abroad in New Zealand.  I brought two disposable cameras and rather than just taking a picture of what was in front of me, I tried to be different.  The images I made were unlike everyone else’s.  I was hooked.  I continued to photograph trips I was guiding to Central and South America and quickly realized I was so focused on photography that I was not giving my clients the experience or care they needed.  I quit the guiding business and jumped into photography.  I have been doing it professionally for just over ten years now.

You shoot landscapes, lifestyle, portraits, and adventure. Which genre do you enjoy shooting the most?

Must I pick one?  Most of my work begins with the landscape. That being said, as soon as an athlete begins to interact with the landscape whether it be on foot, pedaling a bike or simply having a cup of coffee, the picture truly comes to life.

Dani Giannone mountain bikes near Brevard, NC.

What is a typical day like for you on a shoot?

It is a very long and physically demanding day.  As photographers, we live and die by the light.  That means I have be on location not only from sunrise to sunset, but twilight to twilight, setup and ready to go.  Often that means getting out of bed at 3:30 am, loading the truck, driving an hour to the trailhead, pedaling or hiking to a remote location by twilight. Next, setup and be ready to shoot as the sun is cresting the horizon, and that’s just the morning.  Typically we will have a second location for the afternoon and evening and we will not break down until after sunset.  It is a ton of hard work but it is truly exhilarating to create images in those types of environments.

Zachary Simon ski's off a cliff at Grand Targhee Resort.

What kind of camera and equipment do you use?

I have used Canon equipment for years and it has served me well.  However, the systems are going smaller and lighter as technology continues to evolve.  I have been more and more intrigued by the Sony systems and seem to be moving in that direction.  Right now, it is a combination of Canon and Sony gear.

Are there any photographers whose work inspire you? If so, who?

Yes and no.  Lately I have been moved by the work of Parker J. Pfister, William Huber, and Sterling Lawrence.   I tend to gravitate towards other mediums of art for inspiration, including music and fictional storytelling podcasts. Tanis is one I have been listening to most recently.

Will Harlan runs at Lake James, North Carolina.

Are you working on any new projects?

Yes, but they are under wraps as I am currently rebranding and redesigning the website.  Hopefully, everything will go live towards the end of July with plenty of new and exciting images.

Auroras over Grand Teton National Park

If you had one piece of advice for an aspiring photographer, what would it be?

Do not show up to your next dinner party.  I have found the best light to shoot is often at the most inconvenient times.  Cancel your plans, get out, and create!

Thanks for being our photographer of the week, Derek!

For more information about Derek, visit his website.  All images © Derek DiLuzio.