West of the Sun – Introduction

A COPY OF THE INTRODUCTION INCLUDED IN MY BOOK ‘WEST OF THE SUN’

Knowing you want to be a photographer and knowing what you need to do in order to become one are two completely different things. The day I realized how to achieve this was the day I first saw Josef Koudelka’s photographs.

I have always studied and admired and been influenced by others of course. Sebastião Salgado, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Mario Giacomelli to name a few. But it was Koudelka’s photographs that helped me understand where my visions were coming from, where they lived within me, and what I needed to do to set them free.

His images were raw and grainy and broke rules. Their composition was natural, yet they played with your eye. And they were taken by someone who lived the life he photographed. He was there, amongst the tanks, he was a traveller sleeping in the fields, a nomad, an exile and a gypsy in spirit. To me Koudelka and his work seemed to be everything I wanted to be, both as a photographer and a person.

I chose to travel light and, so as not to be burdened by an expensive camera or many lenses, I used an old Nikkormat body and just one lens, a 24mm. I tried to become a part of the image as it entered the camera, close and involved. The wide angle lens I used allowed this, letting me play with the compositions and geometries and letting me push their boundaries. I soon became obsessed with composing the photograph as I took it, wanting to get it right, instinctively, in the heat of the moment. I stopped cropping them in the darkroom, relishing the completeness, wholeness and even purity that shone through the photographs as a result.

Gradually, with time, I became increasingly aware of the discomfort I felt in photographing people. More and more landscapes were appearing scattered amongst the documentary and reportage negatives, until finally I stopped forcing myself to photograph people and accepted the pleasure I felt working alone with nature. Yet I had no intention of changing my approach to my work. I did not want to buy a large or medium format camera and I did not want to wait for hours for the right light. I was too impatient. I wanted to take the picture and move on. So I told myself I was documenting the landscapes in the same way I documented people and events. I still used the 24mm, I still felt no desire to crop and I still worked, immersed in the moment. I took photographs, created miniature worlds with what was in front of me as I passed, be it in the fog, rain or sun. I still wanted and found the adrenalin and satisfaction of working in the heat of the moment, getting caught up in the beauty around me, and framing quickly, instinctively and, I hope, uniquely and personally.

I have always found it extremely difficult to explain this state of mind I enter, this zone I work within. It does not happen every time, but when it does it feels like I am chasing my tail, seeking perfection, looking for that perfect image, that world just out of reach. Something that’s always just beyond the horizon, over the rainbow and west of the sun.

Yes, West of the Sun. The phrase that provides the concept behind this book and the glue that holds together its collection of images. I took it directly from the title of Haruki Murakami’s 1992 novel South of the Border, West of the Sun. While reading the novel and the descriptions of hysteria syberiana, the condition Murakami describes when explaining the phrase west of the sun, I was left with this powerful image of someone chasing the sun, always trying to overtake it, trying to find a land forever out of reach. Suddenly this abstract state of mind I often found myself in, that I had always found so hard to describe, had been put into words for me. I had been provided with, thanks to Haruki Murakami, an umbrella under which I could finally group together my work. I hope you enjoy it.

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