Paul Hill: landscape photography is just not about the land – or photography

Another Paul Hill post – he’s struck a chord with me! I spotted this video when looking for something on John Blakemore, but a fellow student’s referencing of it in her Paul Hill study visit write-up prompted me to spend an hour or so watching it. It was time well passed

Notes taken as I watched are below. I’ve only typed what are the relevant points for me at this time.

Paul’s thinking about landscape and genre is unconventional and refreshing. He dislikes the concept of genres, describing them as ‘ambiguous and vacuous compartments’, suggesting that work should be ‘driven by the desire to say something, rather than to show something’. This is contrary to the view expressed by Bate considered in an earlier exercise. I’m with them both – they are necessary and useful in some contexts, but not to be taken too seriously or something to become too attached to. However, he does offer a description of landscape photography as, ‘everything you can see when you look across imagination and reality’. This reflects a psychogeographic and mindful approach to photography.

Towards the end of the video, Paul summarises his thoughts (after having bemoaned the clichés of landscape photography and ignorance of what it might be):

What you point your camera at is, of course crucial, but it is only the starting point of what could be a journey of self-discovery, rather than an exercise in making decorative clichés.




Paul Hill : study visit

Paul Hill in archive room of Birmingham Library
Photo by Andrew Fitzgibbon

Here are my reflections on the excellent OCA study visit to the Paul Hill archive in Birmingham library on 6 April. Thanks to Amano for organising it! Thank you to Paul for giving his time – I felt privileged to experience such an influential photographer speaking first hand about his work and photography in general. The notes include only points that I feel a need to address in my own practice – a full account of the day’s discussions and information that I absorbed would be too time consuming.

Hand written notes are below. I found the discussions around Paul’s monograph White Peak Dark Peak particularly valuable and focus mainly on those.

The monograph includes work made over a period of 10 years and is centred around Paul’s walking around his local Peak District Hills. It is shaped by a local perspective on the landscape – a connection and understanding developed through recurring visits over a long period of time. The antitheses of a photographer who might visit with the sole purpose of seeking the spectacular (for example the ubiquitous wispy waterfalls that frustrate Paul). Paul talked through individual photographs (shown as prints) and a mock up of the book. Printed versions of the book were also displayed.

In terms of Paul’s practice, he mentioned several times during the day ‘zen-like’ work. This, combined with photographs made during long walks and an instinctive reaction to what he sees, placed his work in the psychogeography genre in my mind. A place where I increasingly see my own work located, while struggling with the cumbersome term (one that Paul did not use himself). It is perhaps timely to revisit books on ‘zen’ photography and the relationship of psychology and photography as context for psychogeography. Paul also recommended looking at the work / practices of a couple of other photographers: Paul Capinegro and John Blakemore (10 minutes of eyes closed before photographing in workshops).

The work is all in monochrome, though Paul commented that he hasn’t shot monochrome since the 1990s and now works with digital colour. At the time, he was exploring the patterns in the land and worked on a post process that retained details in the mid-tones to reveal those patterns. This was also why skies were mostly absent – they weren’t his interest. Paul described himself as a formalist, interested in the visual appearance and not so much driven by the conceptual. Though acknowledging that there is inevitably an underlying concept, even if it is not the primary motivation for the work. I have a visual preference for full tonal ranges and enjoy that some areas might be lost in shadows – adding a sense of mystery or foreboding perhaps. However, Paul’s explanation of his practice at the time allowed me to understand why he chose to process the images how he did.

Paul spent considerable time talking through the mock-up of the book and his process for arriving at the layout and sequencing of the photographs. Including details of why he chose to place certain photographs together on spreads and when he chose to leave the space of a blank page. Much of this was to do with the subtle connection of form revealed in the photos. Central to the process was printing of images and laying them out on an open floor to take in an overview. He still works in this way today, despite being a big fan of Blurb for sharing personal work and making a mock up of his later monograph Corridor of Uncertainty , which he also talked through during the day. I’d been considering printing postcard sized versions of my own project work as it progresses – Paul’s practice has given me the final nudge.

A thoroughly enjoyable (if long day with my travel) that happily connected well with the current direction of my own practice.




Paul Hill, MBE

I’m beginning to think about the upcoming study visit, OCA Study day: Library of Birmingham archive room with photographer Paul Hill. Before thinking about any work in progress I might like to take along to the event, I’ve looked at Paul’s work. I have his book Approaching Photography and Hill’s own website is generous in sharing information and examples of his work .

My notes from a quick reading of the book are attached. It is intended to be a primer and the material dates from the 1980s (reissued 2004), but includes advice and suggestions that I still find relevant. Hill concludes by reminding us that the authenticity of our way of seeing is pivotal to the value of our photographs – after an earlier caution that ‘intention can be destroyed by flashy techniques that have little substance …’. In the upcoming study visit, it would be interesting to ask him, what advice he might add to the book now we are immersed in an internet and mobile media age.

Hill’s website includes some of his writing as well as examples of his work. What he has to say on ‘style’ is important to the idea of ‘finding a voice’. He says ‘Style gives an image that visual impact that acts like a magnet to the eyes . Stylists make ‘showstoppers’ through their command or subversion of conventional techniques that expose us to unique ways of seeing . Their personal signatures are more compelling than the subject matter alone .’ . I feel this could add a critical perspective to my upcoming consideration of ‘genre’.

I enjoyed viewing Hill’s work online – it looks like an embodiment of the advice he offers in his book; unique and authentic. There is a good online display of his White Peak Dark Peak work at the Hyman Collection . The sky is absent from many of the photos, giving a perspective on the land without the drama and distraction of sky. Incomplete from the perspective of the eye in an actual landscape, but more complete as a photographic perspective.

Notes on book