Many people have found my decision to move from a human geography background into the world of visual media as illogical and strange, but personally I will always view it as one of the best decisions I ever made. I consider the skills and knowledge I gained through my geography studies to be invaluable for developing my communication skills and in many ways transferable to the field of photography and video. I have often said that It is much easier for geographers to learn their way around a camera and think like photographer than it would be as a photographer/film-maker to learn how to think like a geographer.
Upon completing my degree and briefly running through the options for a related job in the UK, I began to feel that a career in geography would not particularly satisfy my creative drive. At that point, I had already started making short videos for my youtube channel, so when I found information about a course in Digital Documentary, I decided to go for it! When I started the course I was more interested in the film-making aspect, as my relationship with stills photography hadn't fully taken off yet. After starting a module called "Photography: Documentary, Landscape, Politics" and purchasing my first DSLR, I was hooked. Back then I would buy up to 5 different photography magazines per week as well as take as many books as I could carry home from the library, read them cover to cover and "pick the brains" of everyone in my circle who knew something about photography.
Back then, I was mainly interested in shooting landscapes or documentary photography/photojournalism and had almost no interest at all in photographing portraits, to the extent that when we had a class on studio lighting in the university's fully equipped photographic studio (complete with an infinity curve that I've found myself dreaming about since), I wasn't paying the slightest bit of attention and instead spent the first part of the class shooting candid images of my classmates to pass the time, before volunteering to be the "model" for the session (it's not every day one gets a chance to be photographed with a medium format camera!). At the time I didn't expect that I would ever need to know about studio lighting, as I was bent on pursuing landscape photography, but to this day (although I believe I've done pretty well in gaining that knowledge for myself over time) I have tried many times with no success, to dig through my subconscious in the hopes that I might be able to recall some of the methods and lighting techniques that we were taught...
Out of everyone on the course, I was the only person who chose to undertake a landscape project. My lecturer was apprehensive about my choice at first, telling me that simply photographing landscapes for their aesthetic value would not be sufficient and that landscapes would need to have some sort of political aspect to them. This is where knowledge from my previous degree came in. I proved her wrong and was awarded a grade of 95%!
In the final year of my B.A. Geography degree, I had taken a class on wetlands (land inundated by water either seasonally or permanently, creating a distinct ecosystem) which had a focus on a nearby park located at the mouth of the Cuckmere River in Southern England. The area is called Cuckmere Haven and is part of the Seven Sisters Country Park. Although the park appears to be an almost idyllic natural environment made up of a meandering river, marshes etc. and livestock grazing freely on the pastures; few people know and realise that the processes which have made it what it is today have occurred almost entirely as a result of human activity, through alterations made to the hydrology in their attempts to minimise flooding in the area. These alterations, over time have been hugely detrimental to the local wildlife as well as plant species. The changes resulted mainly from the diversion of the river, which occurred years ago when a canal was created leading it more directly to the sea and thus cutting the flow of water through the wetlands.
I feel as though I applied myself to this project more than any other I undertaken until then and according my photographic library, I went to the park (which was one hour away from Brighton by bus) a total of 10 times between February and April while working on this project (pretty much every day that I was available and the weather was good enough). On each of these visits, I was on my own with nothing but my camera bag and tripod. It was through this project that I fully realised (as is commonly claimed in the world of photography) that although the speed of light may be constant, its quality certainly is not! While at first I aimed to arrive at the park in the early afternoon to give myself plenty of shooting time, I found that the vast majority of usable and visually striking photographs were taken during the last two hours of daylight before sunset (known as "golden hour". This meant that given the size of the park, the number of locations within it that I could photograph on each visit was limited. As a result, my trips had to be planned out (to a certain degree) in advance and I often found myself rushing from one location to another to set my gear up before the sun went down.
There was something about being in such a place and "chasing the light" that would make for a good photograph that spoke to the nature-lover inside me. I often lost all sense of time in my determination to get the shot I envisioned and often found myself having to walk the entire distance from the far-side of the park to the bus stop in the dark.
It was through this project that I realised I had found my true passion in life!
This project also helped me see the extent to which humans can add an extra layer of interest to a landscape photograph, as I often spent ages standing by, with my camera set up on a tripod, waiting for someone to cross my frame to snap the shot. Eventually the human aspect began to dominate my landscape photos, gradually becoming the main focus to the point where I eventually realised that I had almost unknowingly entered the realm of portraiture! My favourite genre of photography is now portraiture shot in natural areas, but my focus is now entirely on the human model rather than the environment, meaning that my geographical knowledge is rarely called upon any more...
I do intend to revive it sometime in the future however and plan on starting by "translating" my dissertation from my geography degree (which I wrote on the different factors that influence agricultural practices in Costa Rica) into a photo-story or multimedia project. All I need is time and money, seeing as I already have most of the information and contacts gathered up from back then!... And then who knows, maybe I'll one day have the honour of working for National Geographic!
Peace Advocate Blogography
Welcome to the Peace Advocate Photography blog, where you will find everything from gear reviews to my opinions on photography and recaps of my recent shoots!