LAND, SEA, SKY: An interview with TPOTY winner, Craig Easton
One of the many exciting aspects of sponsoring a prestigious photography competition such as Travel Photographer of the Year (TPOTY) is being privileged to talk to the photographers who created the winning shots, and to discover first-hand the stories behind the competition entries that often capture Earth both at its most majestic and brutal.
We talked to Craig Easton, winner of the Land, Sea, Sky portfolio about his 4 images of West Kirby Marine Lake on the Wirral, UK. Craig splits his time between the North West of England and the South West of France and, when not ‘working’, regularly gravitates back to the north of Scotland. Voted Travel Photographer of the year in 2012, Craig Easton is well-known for his dramatic landscape work and intimate portraits of real lives.
Jules: “Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you discovered a passion for photography?”
Craig: “I first started taking pictures seriously in Central America after leaving University. I’d studied Physics, but during my time at college I became more and more interested in politics and in particular global and development issues. This was in the mid 80s, a time of heightened political divisions in the UK and around the world. I was interested in journalism but knew I didn’t want to be a writer. I began looking at art books and found my way to the early pioneers of documentary photography, Cartier-Bresson, Capa, Eugene Smith, Robert Frank etc. It was then that I realised there was another way of telling stories, a language that didn’t need translating. I picked up a cheap camera and spent the rest of my college days pouring over photography books in the library or ‘trial and error’ printing in a rudimentary darkroom – I passed my degree, but in my head I had moved on, I was going to be a photographer. From the very beginning I was drawn to real stories and current affairs, photographing student rallies and poll tax marches, it was always about the subject more than simply about the aesthetics of photography. When I left college I travelled for a year through Central America ending up in Nicaragua during the first democratic elections under the Sandinistas. With a mix of youthful bravado and naivety I found myself variously held up at gunpoint at the Honduran border and then two days later taking photographs of the Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega. The travelling was fun, but looking back it was just the first part of a long journey. I had a bag full of unprocessed film and no one was seeing the pictures. I came home, printed up a portfolio and went to do a one-year post-grad in photojournalism (remember this was still ’89/’90 so I wasn’t saddled with student debt and so was able to follow my dream). The admissions tutors were expecting students with art degrees and politics or philosophy degrees, but I think the pictures of Central America, which was a hot topic at the time, swung it for me.
That year I threw myself into everything: demonstrations against the first gulf war, the resignation of Mrs Thatcher (I was in the BBC World Service newsroom with a friend at the time and an audible cheer went up when the news came in!), Princess Diana, the world arm-wrestling championships, Appleby Horse Fair etc. Anything and everything. I spent Christmas in Western Sahara photographing refugees from the war with Morocco and Easter in Liberia and Sierra Leone photographing children caught up in conflict for UNICEF and UNHCR.
By the end of the year I joined The Independent newspaper in London. Then the real learning began….”
Jules: “How did you plan your shoot for the photos you entered into the TPOTY competition?”
Craig: “The series of four pictures that make up the winning Land, Sea, Sky portfolio in the Travel Photographer of the Year awards are from an ongoing and occasional series called ‘The Lake’ – it’s where I go to get some ‘head space’ when I’m home and to practice and try out new ideas. One of the things I love about TPOTY is that they recognise the work for what it is, you don’t have to travel half way around the world to shoot ‘travel pictures’.
So it’s not necessarily a special trip to make the pictures, I’m just drawn to this location when I need time to think or when the weather is interesting – I’ve been there on balmy summer mornings at 4.30am and waded through 12 inches of semi frozen slush in mid winter. The light is always changing and it is a magnet for people to get out and clear their minds, get some exercise – seems to me in some senses to be the equivalent of the great Victorian public parks, something that is free, provided by the public purse and somewhere that people gather to talk, meet, walk their dogs. These spaces are central to community and mustn’t be taken for granted – I think there’s a bit of that in my reasons for photographing there too.
As it’s a place I return to again and again, I use all sorts of different cameras depending on what I’m doing and what the weather is like. I usually have a Leica or a small DSLR over my shoulder, but when it’s a more considered attempt to shoot something new I use a Phase One medium format digital and sometimes a large format film camera – a 1952 Deardorff 10x8.”
Jules: “Where are you hoping your next journey will take you with your camera?”
Craig: “Although I’ve been very fortunate and travelled extensively with work, there are still many places I haven’t been. There’s been talk about a project in Peru that I’d really like to do and people who know my work always tell me that I should go to Greenland and New Zealand, I’ve not been to either of those places so who knows….one thing is for sure, I’ll always find myself back in the West Highlands and Western Isles of Scotland.”
Jules: “How do you usually approach photographing new locations?”
Craig: “Feet on the ground is my usual approach. It’s important for me to find my own way of seeing a place and developing my own understanding of what I want to say. Every shoot is different of course, but often I start by reading. Novels, poetry, news, politics, history…anything that’ll give me a flavour of where I’m going. Even if it’s on a commercial shoot, I want to know a bit about the culture and history of the place. I tend not to look out what other photographers have done, unless it’s a particular work that has drawn me to the place in the first instance: the work of Werner Bischoff and Irving Penn for example is what made me curious about Peru and led me on to Martin Chambi….all very different to what I might shoot, but it ignites an interest and a desire to learn more.
On commissioned shoots, there is usually a tighter brief and schedule so a lot of pre-planning goes into it, but I always want to keep as open a mind as I can – the more you can leave to chance encounters and following your nose the better (as long as you’ve covered what you’re paid to do of course!). I’ve never really considered using an app like SNAPP Guides before, but I can see that there are many people that would like the guides and I’ll certainly download the app and take a look!”
Craig Easton’s winning Land, Sea and Sky portfolio of four pictures is taken from his ongoing personal project ‘The Lake’ and you can see a wider selection from this and his landscape and travel series on his website:
The prints will be exhibited as part of the TPOTY exhibitions to be held in 2017 in Hull, City of Culture, 18th May – 30th June and Greenwich, London, 4th August – 3rd September.