Nigel Ferris

Landscapes captured my imagination early on. I grew up near Avebury stone circle spending my time playing amongst the stones. As a child, my instinctive response to an intriguing landscape like Avebury made me ask basic questions like “Why are the stones here?” or “Who put them there?” With time, and a more analytical perspective, these questions become more complex, particularly given my interests in geology and history. These are questions which I like to explore in my photography.

The creative process for me, as a landscape photographer, involves capturing the unique synthesis that occurs between the physical landscape and the ever-changing aspects of the weather, light and natural forces. These considerations have become ingrained in my psyche and influence my choice of subject matter which, in turn, determines the images and locations that I choose to photograph.

Revisiting places at different times of the year is something that has always preoccupied artists and photographers and I am no exception. The time of day or the season will obviously influence what I decide to photograph. However I consider landscape photography a more intuitive process, observing the landscape that I am in, trying to capture the feeling that I have while standing there. There is this vast expanse in front of me and I want to recreate the experience and my ideas for the viewer, and evoke commensurate feelings of why I initially took the photograph.

In landscape photography, I react intuitively to the elements present. I am always thinking about the foreground leading the eye in, about points of interest, the qualities of the sky and light, and I react to all these factors. It is partly conscious, partly unconscious. Initially, aesthetics would guide me when capturing a shot whether a landscape, a portrait or, indeed, any other image.

Then, over time, the influences of life, such as where I grew up or the things I have seen and done, studied and felt passionate about, are combined within an image. Hopefully, people will see an individuality and what is unique to one’s particular creativity.

Quirkiness and the unusual in a landscape always capture my attention. Landscapes, especially, show us the geological history of landmasses, perhaps a chalk hill that used to be the bottom of an ocean. The Trotternish Peninsula, on The Isle of Skye (Ill/Pl. 02 ), for example, has spire shaped pinnacles formed from ancient lava flows, its geological history in front of your eyes. Lava is not the hardest of rocks and so crumbles and causes landslides, parts of it having come away, sliding down to form cliffs. These become weathered over time, leaving the pinnacles in what is an extraordinary landscape. 

I find I am often drawn to a particular feature in the landscape and, later, I will study its geology, clarifying why I was driven to photograph it in the first place. Interesting geology will often inspire me to visit a location too. Perhaps a passion for walking and the outdoors is a help as a landscape photographer, that total immersion in nature which can be intensely tortuous while camping on the side of a mountain but also deeply satisfying when capturing the shot.

As a result of my photographic training using black and white film, I translate the world into its relative tonal values, looking at it in terms of weight, line and form. My use of colour, particularly over the past twelve years, is a progression and continuation of this approach.

As in the study of classical composition, there are formulas and methods that work, various rules of thumb that can be good starting points in terms of understanding proportion. In classical architecture, where there were certain prescribed relationships between a column and a façade on a Roman classical building, it is all linked to mathematics and ratios, to principles often found in nature that can be applied to art and which, ultimately, all reflect an inherent rhythm, order and harmony that exist in the universe, of which we form an integral part.