Photography first captured my attention as a child back in the early 70's. Both my Father and Grandfather where keen amateurs, and I loved our 'magic lantern' evenings when they projected slides of our family adventures in glorious Fujicolour (or Kodachrome in my Grandfather's case) onto a big screen. One of my Father's pictures remains vivid in my mind's eye to this day. Taken on an idyllic Summer's evening while we were fishing up in the Surrey Hills, he captured Old Bury Hill Lake's mirrored surface. The lowering sun set the water afire and seared the clouds overhead. The glowed glorious scarlets and gold, and seeing this image sparked my passion for photographing the natural world. On my tenth birthday I was given my first camera and it all went from there.
As a family we holidayed extensively at Pevensey Bay in East Sussex and went on to tour around the UK as my brother and I grew up. My parents shunned busy resorts and packed tourist beaches, preferring instead remote, isolated bays and coves were we could fish, swim, snorkel, surf, camp and explore to our hearts content. Scotland, Wales, Norfolk, Dorset, Somerset, Devon and eventually Cornwall... It was these travels that instilled my love for the coast yet Cornwall for me was a revelation. The stunning scenery, clear sea and fantastic colours. At the age of 13, I made a promise to myself that one day I'd live there.
At school the brilliant Head of Art, Mr. Bowerman, took me under his wing and gave me free rein of the Art & Photography department. With an Olympus OM1, a well appointed darkroom and endless rolls of Ilford film, I developed my camera and processing/printing skills. Experimenting and pushing my photographic and artistic boundaries, I learned to use a camera as a creative tool and and not a scientific instrument. Flouting many rules, I used it to create and capture a 'fine art' atmosphere. When I left, Anthony Bowerman's shining reference secured me a place at Epsom College of Art and Design, and thereafter a career in London's Advertising industry.
Art directing many leading photographers and working with top colour houses gave me invaluable insights into alternative approaches, formats and developing processes. My career was the driving force behind my days and I soon became a Creative Director and went on to set up my own design and marketing agency. I had a couple of Nikon SLRs and wherever I travelled around the world, they came with me. When I was 29 I returned to Scotland for the first time in 20 years. When I drove through Glen Coe I was simply awestruck. The incredible scale and magnificence of the Highlands had a seismic effect on my psyche and I had reached at a turning point in my life. Prior to this I was more in to adventuring up mountains and rock climbing, yet I was now appreciating the true majesty of my surroundings and my ropes and climbing shoes gave way to my cameras.
Yet times were changing at work and the new 'Digital' medium was rearing its head. I was in a photographic studio back in 1991 looking sceptically at a Nikon/Kodak DCS 100 hybrid, with its tiny 1.4mb images and eye-watering price tag (+£20k). Being involved with top, blue chip brands, I could never see digital ever extending beyond basic pack shots. I insisted on commissioning film shoots and my head remained stuck in 'analogue sand'. Yet all the time the 'Digital Studio' was evolving. Apple Macs were turning my creative department from a bustling, paper strewn garret housing an array of colourfully talented artists, into a sterile computer room. I watched on as good design, typography and artwork, was undermined by limited 'computer skills', low processing power and trendy fads based on this new technology. Soon my Visualisers, Typographers, Designers and Finished Artists were all replaced by a Mac Operator with myself as the creative guide. However, operator skills evolved and the new Power Macs soon let Adobe Photoshop's amazing capabilities take flight. I was fascinated and eagerly learned its graphic and imaging capabilities. Yet I kept away from digital cameras, and apart from a couple of Sony 'point-and-squirts' for family snaps, I stuck with film for another 19 years.
Then came the day in 2009 and I'm hanging around for a delayed flight in Stansted Airport. Wandering down the racks in W.H. Smiths, after checking out the motorbike and diving mags, I vacantly pick up a copy of Digital SLR Magazine, and suddenly my whole world changed! I was looking, awestruck, at RAW file imaging and presented with this new-found imaging brilliance and creative versatility, I knew it was time for change.
After some in-depth investigation, I e-bay'd my beloved Minolta semi-digital set-up (for a pittance) and dived headlong into full frame DSLR. I invested in a Canon EOS 5D MKII, which at the time was a field leader, along with a range of lenses. Not only did this move expand my commercial design and marketing offering but it turned my passion for landscape photography on its head.
Freed from carting rolls of assorted film stock around. Or sorting through endless contact sheets and shelling-out on expensive prints. My DSLR now put me in charge. I already had all the studio hard & software to truly get the best from RAW and I felt like I was back in the 6th Form dark room, where I could shoot as many exposures as I wanted, and 'develop' them just the way I liked using RAW and Photoshop. A new window of opportunity opened-up and I jumped through headfirst! I expanded my camera gear with a superb EOS 1DS MKIII and my commercial work boomed.
I'm not interested in conjecture around which format is better. I learned my craft using Film, then evolved into Digital. I got to grips with manual camera operation using the constraints of film and now extend this knowledge through the expansive freedom of the new medium. For my seascapes, digital simply has no equal. No more hesitation and missing 'the shot' because of frame count shackles. Or opening the camera on a storm-swept beach to reload film. Now I am able to change the ISO at will... what a blessing! Suddenly the 'Exposure Triangle' became wholly manipulable. What I do say to those who protest digital can make a bad shot good, is that they can't have seen what colour houses do with film. In much the same way as professional photographers manipulate their film developing, I will consider every tool available in my digital studio. However, I don't do HDR, cut & paste, or use stitching other than for the occasional panorama. What I do, is use a range of manual handling and filtering skills to capture the image 'In Camera', then refine it using post-processing, stock choice and print settings, to give me the image as I saw it.
As for my choice of subject matter, I hark back to my childhood days. The great outdoors draws me like a magnet and the sea with its many moods and states with the interplay of light on water, fascinates me. Only my horizons have broadened and I've been lucky enough to travel right across the UK and extensively abroad to shoot some fabulous locations. Yet through all my wandering, Cornwall's magnificent coastline and Scotland's glorious Highlands & Islands inspire me most. A thrill runs through me every time I set out with my cameras to wander across a deserted beach or through a remote Highland glen. I love to spend days on end amongst these stunning surroundings, seeking new photo opportunities. Climbing towering peaks, wading deep margins or clinging to surf-battered rocks, waiting with my camera... watching... hoping for that split second when the elements to come together and... 'Click'... the moment is captured!
By the very nature of my approach, I usually witness these moments in wonderfully detached solitude. Therefore I strive to impart the same feeling of splendid isolation in my images. To draw the viewer, 'in'
to the picture by conjuring the same sense of tranquility or visual excitement on a singularly exclusive level. As if You
alone where there to witness the event. Hence I rarely feature people or structures in my pictures. Because such detail dilutes the seclusion I seek.
As for my approach, nothing excites or challenges me more than watching nature play-out in my viewfinder as I try different ways of capturing it. Going back to Mr. Bowermen's teachings, this considered experimentation means my photography is more creative freedom than a strict, technical exercise. I enjoy trying to capture the texture of a rushing wave... or a sun-lit crest frozen as it explodes over barnacled rocks... or the billowing ranks of clouds scudding high overhead as a storm brews on the horizon... Composing with the light, reflections, colour and textures... All coming together in a single, fleeting moment. This is what inspires me.
Back in 2011, I was delighted to win the annual 'Cornish Point of View' photographic competition. The first I had ever entered. This spurred me on and in 2012 I had encouraging success with my first solo Seascape exhibition. All this along with growing sales from my website, pushed me ever onwards. In February 2013, keeping the promise I had made to myself as a boy, I left London and the home-counties behind and moved to the tucked-away village of Crantock on the Atlantic Coast of Cornwall.
I pinch myself every morning when I look out my studio window. Each day offers a new photographic opportunity and to have such magnificent locations on the doorstep is a true blessing. As is going out to explore new places around the county's remarkable coastline. It was this unfettered access that led to my being shortlisted for Outdoor Photographer of the Year, two years in a row.
Today my commercial photographic activities now often go hand-in-hand with my passion for land and seascapes and much of my work appears in photo libraries, travel directories and in the marketing and communications materials I create for my clients.
In line with my move to the Cornish coast, alongside my commercial commissions and fine art print sales, I run One-to-One, B&B Workshops for photographers wishing to develop their own Seascape skills. This has proved both hugely rewarding both in personal and financial terms. Many clients, of all ages, abilities and experience levels have left with some stunning images and fond memories. For me, nothing could be better!
© Chris Simmons - 2019