The Photography Blog: A quick chat with… Charlie Waite

Alex Hare
photography 300x225 The Photography Blog: A quick chat with… Charlie Waite

(c) Alexander Hare

Charlie Waite is one of Britain’s most successful and well known landscape photographers. We catch up with Charlie as he enjoys a quiet few moments at the National Gallery in London to talk photography and learn something about Charlie that no one knew before.

You’ve been interviewed countless times now, I wondered if there are any aspects of your career or your photography that you haven’t talked about yet?

It’s an interesting question, I think if I was to tell you about my personal favourite photograph it would be one which has rarely been seen, has never sold and which often repels people. But I love it.

It’s an image I took of the Somme during a foray I made a few years ago. I had just returned from India and was in a good frame of mind and so I went to the Somme with just my camera and a sense of adventure. I didn’t have any plan whatsoever, not even a map. Anyway, I settled on this particular idea for a photograph and ended up waiting days on end for the conditions I wanted. People think it reminds them of bars in a prison.  For me it’s the colour components that I like so much.

waite 300x225 The Photography Blog: A quick chat with… Charlie Waite

(c) Charlie Waite

Why is landscape photography meaningful to you? What is it about the landscape that makes a photograph worth you taking it?

I’m fascinated with what lies behind the impulse to take a photograph. I’m deeply interested in the construction and production of a photograph.

By this I mean I care about seeing the photograph as much more than just an impulsive snap because often people have put so much time and effort into planning their photographs. The worst thing you hear is people saying after they’ve taken a shot ‘oh well, I hope something comes out.’ You wouldn’t hear a brain surgeon say that about his work so why should we? So, for me, the careful process of construction and production is what makes a photograph meaningful.

What is it about your photography that makes you happy?

I think there’s much more about producing and enjoying a landscape photograph than just what we see, I honestly think there is some greater, almost spiritual connection we feel when we see something that really strikes us and we capture it in an artistic form.

I am always looking for something I can best describes in the following phrase: ‘nature suspended in one of its most perfect performances’. Too many ‘P’s’ but you get the gist! It’s that special moment that one is waiting for; it’s personal to each of us of course, some of us want to see the scene with a blue sky, others with a milky way above it but, when it happens, there’s a very deep sense of happiness and satisfaction to be had just as you press the shutter to make the image.

waite 2 300x225 The Photography Blog: A quick chat with… Charlie Waite

(c) Charlie Waite

What about the picture making process itself, what do you enjoy about this and how does this make you feel?

I think it’s almost entirely about being there and experiencing the loneliness, planned loneliness, and feeling the natural world around you. But it’s also seeing materialise what you imagined would really make the picture work. It’s so satisfying to see your plan come together; photographic ecstasy in many ways, completely wonderful, enriching and rewarding. The rest is merely getting the technical side right and nailing it once you see everything coming together.

I have to admit, I’m not very good at doing it with anyone else around, much as I love being with other photographers, part of the joy is that it’s happening for no one else on this planet, only for you and you are in readiness for that to happen and that’s a wonderful thing to experience. But I am equally hugely happy to be with photographers when they are experiencing this same joy and to see their sense of enrichment and achievement and I receive so much pleasure vicariously through them.

What’s your method for producing your landscapes?

I work very much along the lines of the great Ansel Adams approach, that of recognition and pre-visualisation.

So, as a working method, I tend to find something I like then pre-visualise how it might look in certain light or weather conditions and pre-create the image in my mind before waiting for those conditions to arrive for real. The criteria you apply to say to yourself: “yup, that’s it” is different for each of us but I will know when I see what I’ve already planned in my mind.

waite 3 300x225 The Photography Blog: A quick chat with… Charlie Waite

(c) Charlie Waite

So, how do you know when you’ve seen something with the potential to make a great photograph?

Again, I always think about what Ansel Adams said; ‘recognition and visualisation are often blended together in one single moment of awareness.’  It sort of all happens at once through an instinctive response I have to the landscape before me. I suppose if you break it down it’s; yes I recognise there’s something good here, yes I can pre-visualise what I want it to look like and now I have to work out the complications. The scene is perfect in my head, it’s about then resolving the issues that are there before me; the quality of light, the position of the clouds, the moving branches – anything that is in the way of capturing that image I’ve got in my mind. I have to try and identify what compromises there may be then see to what degree they result in a ‘straying’ from my intention.

How often does it come together, working in this way?

Obviously, it can be time consuming but I would also say not frustrating. For me the wait, the time spent watching and waiting for those images to come together is part of the process, part of the journey which derives that deep sense of pleasure we discussed earlier when it does finally come together.

I have to admit to even once or twice not processing some rolls of film, I knew it wasn’t right there at the time and I shouldn’t have taken the exposures. There’s a lot to be said for this; Ansel Adams once said ‘12 a year and you’re doing well’. I often wonder in our digital age where we can shoot almost endlessly if this discipline might not be the way forward in terms of increasing our quality through decreasing our volume.

waite 4 300x225 The Photography Blog: A quick chat with… Charlie Waite

(c) Charlie Waite

What’s next for Charlie Waite? What can we look forward to from you in the future?

I think I need to return to the heady days of spending longer in one place immersed in the landscape. I always felt that was good for me.

I’d like to go back and revisit my book Landscapes of France knowing what I know now. Experience has taught me much and knowing what I know now I would enjoy revisiting that with a fresh approach and set of ideas.

But worry is the opposite to creativity, it kills it, so taking the financial burden out of producing landscapes is the key to having the creative freedom to do one’s best work. So I feel a challenge to secure this. I guess I am looking for a means to return to an inner stillness.

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  • RedMartin

    Wonderful always to come across Charlie Waite’s approach to photography, whether in writing or on video. Truly inspirational to me as I develop as a photographer.

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