When I went to Aireys Inlet on Friday I was discussing with my friend Chris how I didn’t have anyone to introduce to you today. She often gives me the names of people and she came up with another suggestion. She said why don’t you ask Peter Hill. She said his work was amazing, so I looked and she was right. So I asked Peter for permission to feature him here to you.
I wasn’t at all surprised to find lots of black and white images, or waterfalls. If Chris recommended his work then there would have to be a lot of those types of images there. I certainly wasn’t disappointed, there were lots of images like that. Beautiful atmospheric images.
I asked Peter where in the world he was.
I am based in the Blue Mountains, in NSW, Australia. My wife and I have a 100-year old farmhouse on half an acre of gardens and fruit trees. We are surrounded by huge oak trees and clouds. I also spend a lot of time living in inner-city Melbourne.
Recently Robyn Graham mentioned how she liked to see how others photographed New York where she is. I have to say I feel the same way about Melbourne. I like to see how people take photos of my city. I get a lot of inspiration from the images. The infrared that Peter does are just amazing.
The next questions were how long had he been taking photos for and why.
I first got into photography in the mid-1970s when I was awestruck by some landscape and landscape “extract” monochrome images of Ansel Adams in American Photographer magazine. His compositional fastidiousness and control of light was a revelation, and being very young at the time I wanted to “be like Ansel”. I wanted to photograph the natural world and capture its beauty and power and I wanted to do it well, with images that deserve being printed large and hung on walls to be looked at. I am greedy in that respect.
My first serious camera was a just-released Olympus OM-1, which I bought in 1978 and still have and took with me on several treks in the Himalayas in the early-1980s, shooting with Ektachrome slide film.
I was on the verge of creating my own darkroom when I discovered girls and rock’n’roll, which led to my photographic urges taking a back seat. However, the emergence of digital photography 10 years ago saw me succumb once again.
Before long I was regularly arising before 4am to either head to the coast to capture seascape sunrises or, increasingly, to the Blue Mountains to trek down into its many valleys and capture waterfalls and the like. I am never more than happy then when emerging from a long morning shoot soaked wet and covered in mud but knowing I’ve got one or two moments of magic safely stored on a CF card.
You think you know what you are going to find and then you find images like this. I love symmetrical shots and this is a great one.
I asked Peter about inspiration.
Nature being awesome is my main inspiration. When the light is of the dawn or early-morning type, crisp and interplaying with a rich natural environment in some minor or major way, my lens will always be drawn to capture it. Knowing the outcome has only minutes, sometimes seconds, to be captured before the light changes just makes it even more a drug to take right there and then. When at home in the Blue Mountains I am constantly reviewing the prevailing light, cloud and wind for that wonderful mixture that I need to grab the gear and head off and do some shooting, whether it be 5am or 5pm or anywhere in-between.
While most of his work is black and white, there are quite a few colour ones as well. The lush green of a rain forest around a waterfall. The ferns fanning out. So beautiful.
The third question was if there was anything special about the way he worked.
My work has been described by Paul Burrows, Editor of Pro Photo, as “real photography”. That is, I eschew manipulating images with a computer and prefer to focus on the craft of photography as it is done with the camera. Ansel Adams, my first and greatest inspiration (along with Eugene Atget), is sometimes labelled (by ignoramus’s) as a great manipulator, but this is rubbish. Adams was a perfectionist. In the darkroom he used dodging and burning to correct over and under exposures of light on his plates to bring the print back to what his eyes saw. He never replaced a bland sky with a dramatic storm-cloud laden one, or removed a fence line or indeed any objects from the images. He never bracketed or created composite images. He shot what he saw and developed and printed what he saw.
It seems that adopting the same principles in the digital realm, as I do, is “old school”, and it is a bit sad that my photography is labelled as different for that reason. But it does rile me to routinely see photographs I know to be fake to be published, misleadingly labelled, marketed and awarded as “photographs” when in fact they have been created by a computer program. The problem then for me is that when people come to one of my exhibitions and see my images printed large on the highest quality paper and carefully framed, they often ask me what photoshop techniques I used to create them.
The viewer of landscape photographs is becoming attuned to visions of natural perfection – where nothing is out of place and the colours are ….. amazing. It saddens me that this visual vomit is becoming accepted as the norm, as more and more so-called “photographers” seek the nadir of “perfection” in an image when the real natural world is nothing like that.
For example, I often shoot rainforest creeks with tree ferns and such in abundance. The real composition naturally includes some dead brown branches or limbs. I don’t clone such clutter out of the picture in some twisted desire to make the scene “perfect” – I leave them there. At worst my composition of any given landscape photograph will take such things into account. As a result I get suspicious about any rainforest landscape “photograph” that is all green green green.
It is all about the light. And light creates shadows. And light and shadows create depth and body and mood and mystery and contrast and emotion. If I can convey those things in my photography then I feel I have captured something special.
I am creating more B&W photographs and less colour ones. Indeed my next exhibition, in June 2016, will be exclusively B&W. Whilst it grates me to be told “great conversion” when I publish B&W photographs on-line, the truth is I have learnt to visualise my B&W images, I shoot them in B&W (Infrared camera) or in B&W Mode (normal DSLR), and I process them in B&W.
I do love the architectural shots especially. I find them incredibly inspirational and I can’t wait to get out there and start doing some of my own. It has been strange lately I am so drawn to the city. A few months ago I was sick of it.
The last question, as always, was about gear.
I started my digital renaissance with a Canon EOS 10D, and have stuck with Canon bodies ever since. Currently I shoot with full-frames – a beat-up, cracked, old EOS 5D Mark II, a Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III, and a rather special EOS 5D Mark II – this one was converted when near new to shoot Infrared. It has a Deep B&W Infrared Filter inside the body.
In terms of lenses I use Tilt+Shift lenses a lot, mostly the Canon TS-E 24mm f3.5L II, but also the TS-E 45mm f2.8 and the TS-E 90mm f2.8. After curating my last exhibition I realised that every single photograph had been taken with a 24mm Tilt+Shift lens, either the original (which I still have) or the new model. the reasons are simple – when engaging the Shift function I can create distortion free landscapes at 15mm focal length equivalent. I also use the Tilt function (with or without the Rotate function) to carefully select the right field of focus depending on the particular landscape scene I am shooting.
For landscapes I also use the EF 24-70mm f2.8L (when I can get it off my son’s camera!), the EF 24-105mm f4L (when I can get it off my wife’s camera!), and the beautiful Zeiss Distagon 21mm f2.8 lens.
I have a large collection of filters. My favourite filter is the Hoya ND x400 filter which I use to create long exposures. But I also use B+W ND filters, the Lee “Big Stopper” ND filter and about 20 different Lee Grad Nd and other filters, e.g. Coral.
I use 2 Manfrotto 190XB Pro tripods. One is salt damaged which I keep for seascapes, the other I use in the mountains.
I would like to thank Peter for giving me permission to Introduce his work to you, but also for doing it last minute.You can find a lot more of his work on his Flicker page and on his Facebook page, Peter Hill Photography. I have a gallery for you, as usual and I know you are going to love his work as much I do. These are the ones I loved.