12th July – COLIN WESTGATE – “The Expressive Landscape”

We look, with intrigue, at the speaker’s subject title and many of us, no doubt, wondered what it might mean. Colin had anticipated our concerns and immediately described it as the “stamp” of the photographer on the way his image is displayed and how the observer feels on viewing its interpretation and processing.
Colin Westgate (FRPS, MPAGB, FIAP) was our guest speaker Monday evening. On retiring from banking in 1993, Colin established a successful photographic holiday, tuition and guidance company (Quest). Many of the vast array of images presented during his talk came through his excursions with Quest.

The author’s journey into the world of photography had begun many years before and his work over more that 60 years was presented to us in sequential order and described in fine detail, often including the time of year (Winter is his favourite) the venue, the time of day (often early morning beginning in the blue hour before sunrise) and capturing, with close observation, the subtle changes in landscapes as the Sun rises in the sky. His parents had given him an Agfa manual camera, with few adjustable controls, and his 1959 image was taken on a road leading to his work place, it had very little detail, was underexposed with little contrast and yet it expressed a mood that inspired his creative skills for a lifetime.

The evening continued with the display of over 130 images and Colin’s enthusiasm, perceptive detail, compositional skills and memory for every shot was magnificent. He had experimented with techniques in his own darkroom, enjoyed the challenge of using filters, all of this following his visualisation of the photograph at the time it was taken. How interesting that the instruction that he was given to “keep the Sun behind you” was disobeyed to such good effect over the years. We particularly enjoyed a number of images, taken from the Sussex coast, of the Seven Sisters and the calm sky and smooth sea but the Sun falling on the white cliffs was magical and the secondary focal object being the groynes supported the image so well. The area around Seaford and Eastbourne in the early morning provided rich pickings for Colin for many years, and during many seasons.

From a technical standpoint the use of Jpg and Raw simultaneously has allowed the exploration and development of areas using Photoshop as well as extensively working, post camera, on the mood of monochrome work, of which we saw many superb examples. Clearly Colin’s appetite has found him travelling widely. We went to the North of England, to Northumberland and Dunstanburgh castle observing it so well at sunrise in November and local moorland. The Farne Islands and guillemots being used as a composite part of a landscape. Berwick on Tweed showing rock pools where the light meets the wind activated water, a view of Pollarded willows with 4 distinct layers which needed a skilled experienced artistic mind to create such a memorable image. How generous to admit that luck can occasionally be involved in achieving a special effect – particularly a reddish pink cloud on Hedgehope hill in the Cheviots.

Scotland also proved to be a happy hunting ground – Rannoch Moor Glencoe where a photographer’s favourite tree is now blown down. Mountains, snow, storms and rain all proved to be props for Colin in his search for another expression. Onward to the Commando Monument North of Spean Bridge, Fort William. North West Scotland, Wester Ross a remarkable view taken 10 minutes after a rain storm as an emerging sun hit the roof top of a small building and who could forget the setting Moon in Glencoe (which a judge implied was imported!) Over the sea to Skye, frequently a wet area but we saw Marscow just catching the light, an image that needed taking at a critical angle to catch 2 trees on an outcrop, a study in light. Few of us would photograph a wrecked refreshment van with a boat trailer and beaten campervan but the statement of such ugliness proved a winner. In contrast we moved on to Egg, Muk, Rum, Harris and Lewes to see the patterns inscribed in the water as the tide receded.
Concluding our tour of Great Britain, we were taken to Wales, Pembrokeshire and the exciting landscapes to be found there, particularly using hand held 1/8 second exposure to just keep the water moving, as well as some soft tones with up to 10 second exposure. Through to Northern Ireland and the inevitable Giant’s Causeway with no particular object of focus and much post processing to eliminate the host of tourists.
Visits abroad included USA and Yellowstone National Park – a much photographed venue also the frightening Death Valley where the terrain defies you to create something new.

It was apparent that Colin’s instructional tours had extensively visited Iceland and revealed this photographers’ paradise in detail. Europe’s highest waterfall, fabulous Icebergs, black lava beaches, isolated deserted agricultural buildings, churches and cemeteries, mountains, wild skies. We recall one particular mono image prepared using PS with particularly striking and detailed blacks. This was prepared by using Tonal Control through Dodging and Burning. A “non-destructive” process that Colin has perfected. Colin offered a copy of this process to all members of SYPC – that was gratefully received.
The wide and stunning variation of this section is best studied on Colin’s web site.
Finally, as this hugely successful and inspirational photographer draws his magnificent talk to an end, we enjoyed Mersea Island this an island in Essex, England, in the Blackwater and Colne estuaries to the south-east of Colchester. A black and white image of the restored sailing vessel Pioneer. Oyster dredging, frosty mornings amongst the bulrushes (retain that luminosity), beach huts after a snow storm – who would have thought of this? Frozen slushy sea ice and evidence of the prolific coastal erosion.
A most enjoyable evening with inspirational content delivered by a man of boundless energy and an enthusiasm for photography that is highly infectious – We recommend a visit to – http://www.questphoto.co.uk/about-quest

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