Pretty postcards versus electric blue
A fragment of Torridonian sandstone rests on the bookshelf above my desk. I snatched it from under a breaking wave on the shore of Upper Loch Torridon after splashes of saltwater had revealed a delicate palette of apricot colour on its surface. Still wave-wet in my hand, this surprisingly heavy heart-shaped relic worked as solder to fuse a connection to Liathach, the sandstone monolith on the far side of the loch that was quickly disappearing behind long, grey skirts of rain.
Liathach is considered by many mountaineers and hillwalkers to be Scotland's finest mountain, a claim challenged perhaps by An Teallach and the Cuillin on Skye. I have yet to stand on the summit of any of them so I am far from qualified to judge, but after reading WH Murray's gripping essay about a 13-hour January traverse of Liathach I have to agree with his initial observation that Liathach "looked a mountain to be watched from afar, but not one inviting so slight a thing as flesh and blood to the summit".
I view most mountains from a distance and derive my pleasure chiefly from their sculptural qualities. I have never been one for rating the natural world in league tables because I find every part of it awe-inspiring, from the most delicate wildflower to the bulk of a 500 million-year-old Scottish mountain. As my creative eye continues to evolve I also feel less inclined to record and romanticise these pristine landscapes with my camera, preferring instead to simply walk among them and respect them as uncorrupted places for admiration, contemplation and, as much as you can in a 60mph wind, a source of relaxation.
When nature is this majestic I increasingly feel I have little to add as a photographer. In the early days of my on-going landscape photography apprenticeship I did succumb to presenting these larger landscapes with a formulaic mix of foreground interest and benign blue-sky beauty (nothing wrong with that, you may reply). A few of these early ultra-wide angle images remain on this website, but most have been culled.
It was through spending considerable time looking at the work of photographers who avoid the formulaic and opt instead for a more individual approach to Britain's upland landscape that I began the development of my own interpretation. Today I still enjoy the inspiration that Colin Prior's early panoramic work brings, although my own style is heading in a very different direction. If you are familiar too with David Ward, Paul Wakefield and Joe Cornish's excellent Scottish mountain series you will understand why I find it stimulating when a photograph tells me as much or more about the person who made it rather than merely the destination to which they travelled.
Those grey skirts of February rain were eventually chased away from Upper Loch Torridon by a favourable front moving in from the Atlantic and a cloudless sky took their place. The vivid cobalt blue now above me excited my eye, but I could not raise the same level of interest in the view to Liathach. Higher altitude rain had fallen as icing sugar on the mountain's summit and the picture across the loch now matched the postcard I had seen in a Shieldaig gift shop a few hours earlier.
I chose to stay in woodland close to the loch's foreshore where I had enjoyed some shelter during the downpour sitting alongside a moss-velvet tree stump. As the sound of the rain ebbed away my ears soon began enjoying the hasty music being made by a fast-rising burn close by. Whenever clouds retreat I always endeavour to find a surface that can reflect the pure blue that appears above and I hoped the burn would have potential.
Being winter there was no leaf canopy to sap the strong directional light now streaming down on to the burn and as I stepped slowly alongside its rapid flow my eye was caught by the swirling movement of some winter grasses entwined around a sunken twig. I bent down to enjoy their corn-coloured beauty trapped and magnified under the rising flow and as I did the surface of the burn instantly reflected the sky above and exploded with the most fabulous electric blue.