Alter Egos in the Dunes

Part of the 'West of the Sun' series. B&W analogue landscape photography by Toby Deveson. Taken with a Nikkormat, a 24mm lens, Kodak TMax 400 & Fomatone 532. September 2016I have often wondered what it was in particular that attracted me to photography. What it was that made me suitable for photography.

The broader brushstrokes of the issue are fairly simple – I never had the patience to be a painter. The stamina needed to work on a single canvass for the days, weeks or months that it deserved, was much more than I could ever give.

Photography on the other hand allowed me to work in short bursts of contrasting emotions and skills, all of which offered a variety of challenges, fears and satisfactions.

This fragmented way of working suited me perfectly, with each new image taking me on a journey that could last mere moments or countless months. From the thrills of releasing the shutter, to the joy of seeing the negative for the first time, and onwards, through that long process – both psychological and physical – that is the birth of an image, emerging shy and tentative, from your minds eye, before blossoming into the reality of the final print.

And this was the answer I have lived with and accepted for years.

Until recently when I was hit, square between the eyes, by a magical eureka moment.

Selfie in the darkroom. Personal I-Phone image by Toby Deveson. May 2017A moment that occurred in the darkroom as I was seeing the latest batch of negatives for the first time. A moment filled with cliches and truths. A moment that lifted the clouds and weights from my mind, as my comfortable assumptions were shattered.

A moment that was five months in the making, stretching back to a day in the sand dunes of Colorado…a connection through time so perfect that it took my breath away.

Back to a magical September morning in the Great Sand Dunes National Park…

It had been a long, hard and productive climb to the top of the enormous dunes, laced with some stunning photos along the way.

I stood exhausted and high, with a view across the valley towards the mountains. The wind blowing violently through me, the sun rising relentlessly around me – there I was, a tiny, insignificant me, with more energy running through my essence than I knew what to do with. A swirling vortex, a gift from the universe entering me, mixing dangerously with my creativity…and there was nothing I could do about it.

It had to come out, it needed to come out.

I had to let it out, I needed to find an outlet.

So I laughed.

Sunrise on top of the Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado. Personal I-Phone image by Toby Deveson. September 2016I stood there, head thrown back, arms outstretched, completely alone. A speck, barely bigger than a grain of sand, laughing like a maniac.

And as the energy coursed through me, convulsed out of me in hysterical spasms, I thanked the universe. For everything, absolutely everything. I thanked it for the good and the bad and above all, I thanked it because I wanted more. More of everything. Much more. I was ready. More. More. More life.

I was at one. With everything. I was ready.

Ready for life. Ready to create more images. Ready to stumble, slide and slip back down the dunes, back into the arms of time. I walked, hand in hand with my future, towards whatever it was I was now ready for. Towards whatever it was I had asked for, whatever it was the universe was sending my way. Exhausted I fell back into normality.

And so life went on. As it does.

Until 5 months later and that magical eureka moment in the darkroom.

A cold dark day in February, weeks into the long, slow process of developing the 70 or so films that had been sitting in the darkroom waiting for me, calling to me and itching to be born.

Negatives drying in the darkroom. Personal I-Phone image by Toby Deveson. February 2016As usual, before putting the newly developed film away safely into it’s sleeves, I was viewing the negatives in the enlarger. A first chance to explore what I had created.

I was excited. I was impatient.

I wanted to see the images from the dunes that had, at the time of taking, helped tip me over the edge, into my moment of hysterical intimacy with the universe.

As the negatives slid through the carrier, light bringing them to life, the anticipation hummed. A connection started to form as memories of my moment in the dunes started to swirl.

Slowly, on the edges my consciousness, I could taste my revelation approaching from the peripheries of my awareness, subtly taking seed.

Here they were, images of a moment I had been wanting to revisit and relive for five months. A moment during which Mother Nature and I had shamelessly flirted, knowing we were about to give birth to something special.

I remembered vividly and was filled with hope and excitement…this was going to be good.

Reality though didn’t want to play with hope.

The first few images I was seeing weren’t quite there. Not as perfect as I remembered…then clearly, a voice in my head muttered…

Part of the 'West of the Sun' series. B&W analogue landscape photography by Toby Deveson. Taken with a Nikkormat, a 24mm lens, Kodak TMax 400 & Fomatone 532. September 2016“Its ok – I trust you, you adjusted the framing, you improved it, it’ll be ok, those wonderful creations will be there, they will come to exist, as hoped.

I trust you.

I trust you.


And there it was, it happened – ripping and echoing through time. A powerful, perfect connection, a vortex, a worm hole. The energy gushed out of me as my laughter in America, thrown forward in time, contacted my now, my anticipation in the darkroom.

My revelation, merely tasted moments before, hit me full force as echoes of my past unbridled creativity mixed with a plodding and considered darkroom in the present, all of it coated in hopeful anticipation. My mental taste buds slipped into overdrive as abstract concepts solidified into deep, personal understandings, steeped in self awareness.

There I was, then. Another person. Back there in the sand dunes, a different me. The one lost in the moment, using the tools needed to take the photograph. Exhilarated, possessed by mother nature – the power of the wind, the depth of the sand, the strength of the sun, laughing – lost to his emotions, lost in the moment, living by the seat of his pants, instinctively, a mad professor.

Here I was, now. Calm, collected, the person I became the moment I left the dunes. The person I become when, exhausted, drained and spent I stop taking photographs, pushing the emotions away, not getting my hopes up. Calm and confident that I had the image, yet Not. Getting. Carried. Away.

My revelation.

“I trust you.

I trust you.”

I was two people. I was more than two people. I was many people. I had split myself for my art. Or perhaps it was the other way around. Perhaps I had chosen an art that allowed me to satisfy my extreme characteristics, the extremes of my personality.

And this was what made me perfect for photography – what made photography perfect for me.

It wasn’t as straight forward as I had initially thought. That simple need for short bursts of activity to suit my short attention span was not the complete answer.

It was also, it would appear, about the multiple skills, for the multiple facets of my personality.


I trust you.”

I have evolved into my art. The different, varying aspects of my creativity have all evolved separately to match the skills required for analogue photography. I have become a convoluted complicated, symbiotic life form, my photography existing as a separate life form within me.

Cause and effect – one cannot exist without the other.

My alter ego. Alter egos. All living within me, coming to life at the various stages of my photographic journey. Has photography created them? Or did they create my love (and need) for photography?

I am an eco system of creativity and creative activity. Dozens of life forms feeding each other – feeding off each other’s ideas, needs, desires, wants, ways, habits, each of them blossoming when called upon.

Finally I knew why I loved photography.

Finally I knew why I needed photography.

Finally I knew.

After nearly thirty years of considering myself a photographer, wanting to be a photographer, I had become a photographer.

I had accepted it.

I understood.

And all it had taken was a vortex of energy. A wormhole through time.

Related Images

Part of the 'West of the Sun' series. B&W analogue landscape photography by Toby Deveson. Taken with a Nikkormat, a 24mm lens, Kodak TMax 400 & Fomatone 532. September 2016

Part of the 'West of the Sun' series. B&W analogue landscape photography by Toby Deveson. Taken with a Nikkormat, a 24mm lens, Kodak TMax 400 & Fomatone 532. September 2016

Part of the 'West of the Sun' series. B&W analogue landscape photography by Toby Deveson. Taken with a Nikkormat, a 24mm lens, Kodak TMax 400 & Fomatone 532. September 2016

Part of the 'West of the Sun' series. B&W analogue landscape photography by Toby Deveson. Taken with a Nikkormat, a 24mm lens, Kodak TMax 400 & Fomatone 532. September 2016



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