There are times when I need to be alone to make pictures. This is one of those times. By alone, I don’t mean just physically alone. I also mean culturally alone – away from the photographs and influences of others.
Cedric Wright understood this:
The quality of emotional knowing has a finer integration with our spirit than anything that comes from barren intellectual processes. This point of view only accumulates slowly, out of long experience and contact with wordless influences. Under the spell of solitude and of natural beauty the root system of this kind of awareness establishes itself.Cedric Wright, 1941 quoted by Galen Rowell, Mountain Light, Yolla Bolly Press 1986.
I have never been able to take good pictures when out walking with someone. The business of taking pictures is totally immersive. It is as if you either inhabit a world of language or you inhabit a world of the senses, but the two worlds cannot co-exist at the same time. This is why group photography walks have never worked for me.
Such a position has been held by many. Göethe said
“Talent is nurtured in solitude … A creation of importance can only be produced when its author isolates himself, it is a child of solitude.” ~ Johann Wolfgang Von Göethe
“My work is always better when I am alone and follow my own impressions.” ~ Claude Monet
Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk and writer who spent years alone, held that “We cannot see things in perspective until we cease to hug them to our bosom”.
A particular influence for me, Ludwig Wittgenstein, placed himself into self-imposed exile in Skjolden, Norway to make a decisive break from the Tractatus Philosophicus.
And we have Heidegger’s hut at Todtnauberg and of course, Henry Thoreau … The list is long.
It is as if internal exploration requires solitude and perhaps a little hardship. At times this can be uncomfortable and perhaps not everyone has the capacity to be alone. But I feel the need to shut out this loud world to better see through the lenses of my camera.
So my agenda this winter: Badger, my Border Collie, and me alone in the Welsh hills; minimal equipment; all weathers. When I was in my twenties as a mountaineer I spent many nights in the hills sleeping rough. Nearly fifty years on it will be interesting to see how I fare.