The experiential photograph

by Paul Maharg on 29/09/2015

A couple of folk have asked about the banner photos.  The one above, an autumn photo, was taken at the weekend on the Cuillins, Skye, near the cloud line, from the shoulder of Sron na Ciche, on our way to climb Sgurr Dearg and An Stac (in English, the rather grandiosely-named Inaccessible Pinnacle).  You’re looking at Loch Bhreatail (aka Brittle, but the anglicisation is such a silly rendering of the original Norse name [possibly braed + dalr, ie wide valley] that I prefer the Gaelicised version) and the Sea of the Hebrides, the isle of Canna just visible on the horizon with the hills of Rhum to the left,  and further left and closer to Skye, the north end of the isle of Soay.  A wonderful day.

Last season’s, below, was a late winter photo, taken from the top of a gully Euan and I climbed on Stob Coire Nan Lochan, Glencoe, looking north and west to Loch Leven, and further back, Loch Linnhe and the bridge across the lochs at Ballachulish, just visible.


I’m no photographer — the photos are mostly taken with an iPhone camera, usually on panorama mode (though I notice that the Glencoe photo was taken with Euan’s Canon camera, to get the depth of field right down Loch Linnhe, if I remember, before the clouds closed in).  Just being there was the experiential photograph, where the analogue development process of the experience takes place before the photograph is taken, in planning, imagining the routes, laying out the equipment, packing the rucksack and above all getting physically fit (balance, endurance, core & climbing muscles, etc).  I remember once on holiday in Greece many years ago, when a student, I teamed up in Athens with a Swiss student who was doing the rounds of the Peloponnese sites, like me.  He drew and painted with watercolours.  When we came to a site, Delphi, Sparta, Olympia, Argos, we’d look around, then he’d look for a good view and sit down to sketch, patiently.  Only when he had learned the landscape in this way would he take a photograph of it.  Alas, I have no skill in the visual arts, nor in travel description; climbing has become my way of dwelling upon and memorialising land, sea and sky as they are on the day; and the photograph is an eye-blink of both the experience of getting there and being in it.

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