Sunday, March 8, 2009

"I love the landscape rather than photography"

ALL those who thought black and white photography was dull and uninteresting changed their mind after seeing the work of Mark Lockett at the Department of Fine Arts, Panjab University, sometime back. The breathtaking, monochrome landscapes of the west coast of Ireland were vivid. Mark Lockett, 42, belongs to Shropshire, UK. He is a professional agricultural economist who runs his own dairy farm. The rigours of farm life have not stifled the creative artist in him. In the beginning he tried his hand at painting, but around 1980 he found his m├ętier — landscape photography. In 1990, he had the first place in British Salon of Contemporary Photography. This was followed by Out of the Land, a joint exhibition with calligrapher and letter carver, John Neilson. Mark held his first solo exhibition at Chester City Arts Festival (1996). He was in India with Irene, a friend, at the invitation of the Department of Fine Arts, Panjab University. Mark's exhibition, On the Edge, attracted many viewers when it was held in the city last month. He also screened some of his slides in the seminar room of the Department of Fine Arts. Kuldip Dhiman met him for an exclusive interview, in which Mark talked of his work and life. Excerpts:

Why did you decide to capture the wild land and western shores of Britain, Wales and Ireland on film?

I was inspired by the western reaches of the British Isles, where the land itself is very old, and the weather often harsh and unpredictable. I moved on to photography because I started noticing the changes in the landscape around me. The rapid change in lighting conditions and weather began to interest me and I thought I would try and capture it on film. My photography really started from the love of the landscape rather than the love of the photographic medium. I was never an active member of a photographic society.

Did you attend a course in photography?

No, I have never attended a photographic course in my life. I am totally self taught. I learnt by looking at other work and reading books. I guess I picked information that I really needed, the rest I ignored.

Didn't you have any mentors?

No, nothing like that. I was totally isolated basically. I actually developed my own course. I bought the camera with no real intention of becoming very interested in it. I just thought I will see what comes out and when I saw it I said, oh! these are really good. I must do more. It just developed from there. After about twelve months I became satisfied with the quality of the prints I was getting back. Looking at some of the books I'd bought I noticed black and white work.I thought I would have a go at it myself. I bought a very basic darkroom kit. I was impressed by the results. I thought this was giving me far more scope, and range than what I'd got from the general processing labs. So it developed from there and I became more and more interested in the darkroom side of photography.

A landscape photographer would normally opt for colour, but you chose monochrome. Why is that so?

That's possibly because the way I am. I tend to be somebody who goes against the prevalent trend.At that time it was very unusual, but today black and white is becoming very popular in our country.

Were you influenced by any other photographer?

Yes, by the American photographers,Ansai Adams and Weston. The work of Adams obviously impressed me tremendously as did the quality of the reproduction in the books. I would look at the photographs in the books and wonder how on earth they could be so wonderful.When you look at what is the best, you actually try to reach that stage.

Do you meticulously plan your shoots?

I never plan a trip. If something catches my eye, I take it. If you read magazines or books they will tell you to find your location, study the light, and decide what you are going to take. I am totally unlike that. I will just go for a walk, I will chose a location along with Irene, my friend, who walks with me. And whatever turns up on that walk,I photograph. It is usually at weekends or on holidays, which are often spent in the west coast of Ireland. It is very much a random process I don't have a rigid plan. I know that there is landscape there: what I don't know is a whether the right picture will present itself or not. I know that there are places there that will capture the imagination if the light is right, and if it is not raining. This means driving some distance for a couple of hours. Maybe even a couple of days. When we get there, it could mean walking for one hour or even six hours.At times we have to camp there. My style has very much to do with the way the light affects the landscape.As I mentioned earlier, my reasons for taking landscape photographs is the love of landscape, rather than the love of photography.

You seem to avoid human figures altogether in your landscapes.

Yes, very much so. The only time I include humans is when they are in silhouettes to make shapes. I think it detracts from the beauty of the landscape when one has a recognisable human figure in it.

Unlike most landscape photographers who try to capture beauty it is texture and form that dominate your work.

Yes, I emphasise the shape, the texture, and the form rather than a pretty view. A lot of my work is based on the formation of clouds, the interplay between the sky and the land. I am constantly watching how clouds move, and how the light changes.With black and white this is very obvious. Colour can actually destroy what you are trying to say.

Do you manipulate your images?

It depends on what you mean by 'manipulate' just a little dodging and burning that's all, and of course, sometimes toning. I also sort of dabble with alternative processes. In the exhibition there are a few examples of Gum Bichromate process. This was one of the earliest photographic processes that was very popular in the 1890s.It lay almost forgotten for decades, until its potential received recognition in recent years.

Is there money in such kind of work?

No, I earn my living from farming. Photography is a serious hobby for me. It would be difficult, you would never make a good living from it.

Have you managed to get some photographs here?

Yes, in Delhi I was taking pictures all the time. It is amazing how everywhere looked, there was something different from what I was used to, the colour, the movement, the people, the clothes, I just could not believe it. I would love to take landscape here because it is very different from our own. Certainly, when we get up into the hills of Lahaul Spiti, it's going to be a huge inspiration for me. I have brought plenty of film!
 

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