By the shore of Lake Brienz in Switzerland in 2003, I was about to get into my car and give up on a beautiful but impenetrably misty start to the day on the lake. There was no view but sunlight was partly penetrating the low cloud to give a marvellous luminosity in a range of colours. The water was still and silky. Way above me, the tops of the surrounding mountains occasionally cleared the clouds and reached up into a clear sunny morning at high level. Although I couldn’t get the landscapes I’d come for it became clear that I should be photographing here.
A conventional landscape uses atmosphere to complement and enhance the portrayal of a subject. In Nearly Empty I intend the reverse - the atmospherics are the subject, and the spare, exclusive compositions reflect my view that if a conventional “subject” appears in the image too strongly, it would intrude and the emphasis on atmosphere I wish to communicate will be at least diminished and maybe lost altogether. So I’ll use clouds and mist and size to obscure and control the impact of “subject” on the image.
I did consider avoiding subject altogether and titleing the series simply “Empty”. But some of the most effective photographs (my opinion) have a little something of conventional subject, albeit partly obscured – whether it’s a mere glimpse of peaks at the distant end of a Swiss Lake; or the very summit of the Eiger sighted through an unexpected hole in boiling cloud - I hope to get the balance right so I can accept the contribution these make without allowing them to dominate. The atmospherics are my real subject. Conveying that atmosphere is my objective.
And I’d like to do so simply and unambiguously, with no unnecessary complexity, and without any concern over whether folks get it.
So far, most of my Nearly Empty photographs have involved water. This doesn’t reflect a principle that this should be so; it is a practical response to the fact that I’ve found it easier to achieve what I’m aiming for in this series with a reflective foreground, whether water or wet sand or mud.