Vertical Landscapes

If I ask you to close your eyes and describe - in detail - the room where you are right now, you will probably recall what you last saw at eye level, but may have difficulty remembering the subtleties of the ceiling or the floor. Aren’t we usually just too busy to notice anything that’s superfluous to our immediate environment?

Walking along a city street we are aware of the pavement in front of us, the people nearby, the cars alongside and the shops within the periphery of our vision: we seldom look up. At street level, most shops have an essentially uniform appearance. If we have time, we peer beyond the glass at artful displays designed to catch the eye, but rarely would we notice the - sometimes exquisite - architecture above, and we’re probably the poorer for it.

The variety of shapes, styles and decorative details in familiar buildings can be fascinating; even though nowadays they’re often unloved, forgotten and in effect invisible. Merchandise in the shop windows fluctuates with the seasons but the essential form of the premises may have been unchanged for centuries. Many were built at a time when construction cost was not the prime criterion, affording a wealth of intricate detail and diversity in the design. This is an example of the richness of the ‘vertical landscape’: take a ride on the top deck of a bus to see what I mean.

In nature, the traditional concept of ‘landscape’ suggests the horizontal: miles of gently rolling hills, bucolic meadows disappearing into the distance, the sun setting behind a distant ridge, perhaps a sailing boat drifting in a glistening cove.

In cities, the ‘natural’ - as distinct from the ‘built’ - vertical landscape can be best represented by trees; the taller the better. In rural locations, especially where the elevation is physically higher, there is more incentive to glance upwards; mountains, especially their cascading waterfalls, are visual treasure. Over millennia, the weather has modelled the terrain into sharp escarpments, galleries galore of vertical landscapes.

Following my Dry Stone Wall series, where, reproducing their shape, I created images to be displayed as wide, lateral panoramas, I wanted this new project to study the idea of looking up (and sometimes down) rather than sideways, then to exhibit the result as tall, narrow prints.

The Alps seemed a good place to start, so off I set to source ideal locations. I studied the contours on large-scale maps, trying to evaluate the topography. I spent days scouting the terrain for the optimum viewpoint to determine precisely where best to place my camera to capture the view as an upright.

As the change in elevation from top to bottom is so vast - up to a perpendicular mile in some cases - the photographs are the result of my combining a number of individual frames taken from the same point. There is no camera yet made that can record the whole scene in a single shot with sufficient detail at the resolution I demand.

The prints can be up to 8m high. Displaying them at full-size does sometimes prove a little problematic, as not everyone has an 8m high interior wall, so I produce more manageable, domestic-size editions, too.

I spent many months perfecting the method of creating the very large prints for the earlier series, so this time I simply turned my camera 90 degrees. These pictures employ the same camera and lens combination as before, so when viewed close up, they exhibit a similar extraordinary depth of detail, only visible using this technique.

Most cameras record pictures in either square - if it’s for Instagram - or rectangular format. The naming convention for upright photographs is ‘portrait’ and if it’s on its side, ‘landscape’. The prints in this series have an aspect ratio of about six or seven to one, so ‘vertical landscape’ is an apt descriptor.

I’m keen to challenge the way we conventionally regard the concept of landscape photography, and to discover alternative ways to present our natural environment in a framed print on the wall.