Photographer of the Month – Veronica and Alan Barrett
Anyone who follows this blog knows that Veronica and Alan Barrett came on two back-to-back winter tours with me. I was impressed not only by their wonderful attitudes and great company but also by their fine eye and the resulting images each of them made. They continually inspired me with the images they pulled from every location no matter what the light or conditions. What better photographers to feature this month than this wonderfully intrepid couple who were always joy to hang out with.
Interview with Veronica and Alan Barrett
Darwin: First of all congratulations on stunning portfolios and images on both of your websites. It was a real joy exploring your fine images. I noticed that both of you have some very specific themed galleries like Veronica’s Shells and Windows and Alan’s Slate and Shaky Trees portfolios. Are these portfolios accidental or purposeful in execution? By accidental, I mean have you over the years shot shells, slate, windows, and blurred trees and then grouped these images together? Or was the work more purposeful and you shot with the portfolio in mind keeping the look and feel of the images consistant within each category?
Alan: Both the slate and “shaky trees” were specific projects, undertaken with the hope of self-producing a book. The slate images were all made at an abandoned quarry in Wales which we stumbled upon when walking the Pembrokeshire coastline. The first images I made there were medium format capture – and a real struggle, as there was no firm footing for the tripod. When I saw the results though, I realised that the location had huge promise and I have been back there twice, photographing over six days, using a small digital camera with a flip out back. The “shaky trees” collection was inspired by an American photographer, William Neill – a couple of years ago I saw, and was captivated by, some of his images of movement in trees that he had included in one of his books. Never having had any problem taking an out-of-focus shot, I set out to photograph the woodlands of Surrey, the county in which we live, over the four seasons. In an eighteen month period I took close on 20,000 images – most, of course, were rubbish and went straight into the digital bin, but out of the morass I selected 160 shots that pleased me and which have formed the book. All that walking didn’t do me any harm either!
Veronica: The Windows portfolio grew when I decided to make it the theme for my application for an Associateship of the Royal Photographic Society. I enjoy photographing architecture and windows are particularly interesting because I’m a bit of a nosey parker and am always wondering what’s going on inside places I can’t get into! They can be very decorative, either structurally or because of personal touches, and I often see them as ‘frames’ for pictures in their own right. The Shells portfolio was accidental. I was washing my shell collection one summer and realised that the collection itself had some beautiful specimens in it that might be worth photographing and experimenting with in Photoshop during the winter. Then one of our daughters decided she would like some of them for her newly-decorated stairway, so I developed some of them into a set for her. I quite like photographing themes, though, and also have an on-going collection of fire hydrants and drains. I know they sound like odd themes, but I started both collections while in Chile because so many pipes and outlets, and fire hydrants, had been decorated. It’s a means of keeping my eyes open to photo opportunities!
Darwin: Based on your images, you seem to have travelled widely. Where are your favorite locations and why?
Alan: Since my retirement from business we have indeed been fortunate to travel widely. Without a doubt my favourite photographic region is the US, and within that country, the red rock areas of Utah and Arizona, and narrowing it down even further, the Paria Plateau. America has a diverse range of landscapes that as an overseas visitor we can never hope to do justice to photographically, but nevertheless it is almost impossible to make a trip to that country without coming back with some very rewarding images. The Coyote Buttes and White Pocket areas on the Paria Plateau boast some quite remarkable sandstone cliffs, the colours and patterns of which are almost unbelievable to someone who has not seen them for themselves.
Veronica: I love San Francisco, New York, Las Vegas and London, especially the last two which always give me a buzz. I enjoy photographing the modern architecture, especially reflections of old buildings in the glass of the new ones, in the case of San Francisco and NY in particular. London is so much fun to photograph on a Saturday, along the South Bank where there’s so much going on, and then walking along its length to the Tate Modern, and on to Tower Bridge and More Place where so many beautiful shiny office buildings are going up. I don’t get my best images from these places but just enjoy my surroundings. I also really enjoyed the two trips to India that I made, first with a friend to Rajasthan, then with Alan to Kerala. I would really like to go there again as the people are just so lovely.
Darwin: Both of you seem to be able to handle any subject matter from the grand landscape to intimate details to wildlife and more. Do you think photographers are better off shooting only one genre and mastering that specialty? Or do photographers grow more as artists being generalist shooters?
Alan: I suspect that most photographers start off with one main interest and then develop. In my case, I started photographing the “big” landscape – but as I developed my ability to “see” the image, I became aware of the smaller, intimate landscape. It was a small step to take that attribute to photographing details in cities or other manmade scenes. I think that dedicated photographers love the challenge of making an image in any situation, whether or not it is in circumstances alien to their normal environment – rising to that challenge undoubtedly enhances ones seeing ability which can only improve work in one’s core interest.
Veronica: I don’t see myself as a landscape photographer, really. I take them because I take photos wherever I am. Many people think that anybody can go out and shoot a landscape but, actually, it takes as much skill and patience as shooting nature. Light plays an enormous part in a stunning landscape, which involves being in the right place at the right time, or an awful lot of luck, and exposures and filters also have to be chosen and set correctly. I don’t have the patience for it at all, although I am trying to acquire some! I do, however, enjoy shooting the more intimate landscape where I can see the picture more easily than in big vistas. I also like to pick on subjects where I can make a close-up picture, either with a telephoto lens or my G11 set to macro mode.
My nature images are as opportunistic as my landscapes – if the creatures are there, then I’ll take the picture, but you won’t find me waiting for hours to get the right shot! We’ve been lucky enough to go on safari in Tanzania twice, which was really good fun and I got some animal images from those, and also to the Pantanal, in Brazil, where the caymans are fairly tame, so easy to shoot. I had to be quick for the bird shots, but was ready and set up for them – and was lucky! I think that if you like making pictures, then you will do so wherever you happen to be…keeping to one genre would restrict my creativity.
Darwin: You both have a fine eye for abstraction. Did this ability take long to develop or was it an innate skill? Who were your influences in the visual world?
Alan: In my case it was most definitely not an innate skill. Like most beginners, I suspect, I had great difficulty “seeing” the image – if I was with someone and they set up their camera then I could immediately see what to photograph, but left on my own I could not pick out the image from the general clutter of the landscape. As part of my self-teaching I started studying photographs – I have probably the largest collection of landscape books in private ownership, over 300 – and I gradually came to recognise that the intimate landscape could be just as captivating as the big picture. The slate portfolio was my first attempt at abstract work and its success led me to persevere until it is now almost second nature to notice the smaller scene.
Veronica: It might be innate for me – I’m not sure. I used to do a lot of dressmaking in another life and particularly enjoyed drawing and cutting patterns and choosing fabric – so already had an eye for shape, colour and texture. Well before I took up photography Alan was already in full-swing and his photographic friends, all cracking photographers, often came over so that they could ‘critique’ each others’ images. I often sat in and listened, and I think perhaps my eye for a composition developed from that, as did my understanding of light and colour. I love colour, texture, lines and shapes, the more graphic the better, and that is what I look for when I am out with my camera. I get a really good feeling from a simple, uncluttered picture that has a flow about it.
Darwin: Photographers are often most excited by whatever they are currently working on. What new projects or locations or types of images have got you all fired up lately?
Alan: You’re right, you always think that your latest work is your best, so it will be no surprise to you to learn that I am currently excited by the Canadian Rockies. As you know, our trip with you in February came out of the planning I was doing for an autumn trip later this year. Despite the challenging weather in February (and despite our frostbite problems), I was captivated by the magnificent mountain scenery and cannot wait for September to come around. The Canadian Rockies do not seem to feature much in UK photographic circles, partly I suppose because if we are going to cross the Atlantic then America offers more diverse opportunities, but that is short-sighted in my view. I definitely can feel another book coming on!
Veronica: I agree with Alan – I currently think that the Canadian Rockies have pulled some of my best images out of me. But then I thought that about Boston and the leaf close-ups which I shot in other places in New England! We are shortly going off to shoot some derelict buildings somewhere not far from Berlin, and I’m looking forward to that. I want to take the opportunity to experiment with some HDR as I really enjoyed Bruce’s images of dereliction which he showed us during your last photo tour. I think that if it’s done gently and not ‘over-egged’ with the saturation slider, as so many images are, it is a very effective treatment.