Joe Cornish - A Photographer at Work

I'm sure I'm not going to surprise many of you nor I'm going to be very original when I say that Joe Cornish is one of the few photographers that I have been looking at in search for inspiration for the past few years. I've been a happy owner of couple of Joe's books with The First Light sitting in my bookshelf on a special place. It was the very first book where I could find exactly what I was then looking for - stunning images in combination with educational stories. Even now, it's never boring to browse through it and enjoy photographs full of colors and empathy for various subjects, just to use some of superlatives one can say when looking at Joe's work.

Joe Cornish

Cornish, perhaps the most recognized landscape photographer in the UK today, actually caused me to consider and eventually make an odd move from digital to film few years ago. His images made on Fuji Velvia seemed to me far superior in color rendition and mood representation from what I could get out of my Nikon D70. Obviously, only after I had shot my first roll, was I able to appreciate the full beauty of the process of using transparency, the way it let you focus on a scenery itself rather than of the display of the camera. Examining transparencies with the loupe is another out-of-this-world experience. I'm grateful to Joe Cornish for opening a door for me to this joy. I've been following Joe and his work closely ever since. So I could not miss his new book named Joe Cornish, A Photographer At Work (further "APAW") that I got few weeks back. In fact, it was mostly written by Eddie Ephraums, the book maker and photographer and apparently a very good friend of Joe. Firstly, I must confess that I got somewhat disappointed and a little bit anxious to get to read it when I saw what Cornish is saying on the backside of the book - "Working on this book with Eddie Ephraums, being 'the photographer. photographed', has coincided with an intense period of change, as I have adopted a digital workflow. Many of the chapters tell that story." That's it. The film seems to be the history for Joe. The King is dead. Long live the King!

Though this is exactly NOT what this book is about, I could not help myself but took The First Light off the shelf and confronted images in both of them. While a soft eye for composition clearly remained intact and so did the appreciation for large landscapes as well as detailed studies, The First Light (published 2002) is doing a great justice to its name. Packed with pictures that are vibrant and deep, it easily beats its younger brother as for the impact of the images collection. However, I admit this comparison is very UNFAIR as the two differ fundamentally in the concept. The First Light was much more about the result, with breathtaking presentation of photographs that I dare to say mostly belong amongst the best of what one can get to see in this category of landscape photography. Texts attached made the book even more compelling but I perceive them as a great complement to its imagery. On the other hand, APAW tells stories of Joe making pictures with quite detailed description of thinking process and considerations behind each of them, which are here only complementing the texts. Images presented are often examples of how to deal with lighting conditions that are far from ideal. I made the comparison only to find out whether I can recognize the change of systems. Like it or not, I can. Even inside the book, where some of the photographs are shot on Fuji Velvia, some on Phase One P45+ (not counting those made with Panasonic Lumix DMC LX-3). The latter seem to me softer in tones as well as in moods. I'm yet to decide which I like more as I think some subjects are well represented in somewhat softer form from what Velvia normally offers. It would probably be much easier to decide if Joe offers an alternative view shot on film, which is not the case.

So let me make it straight - Joe Cornish, A Photographer At Work is absolutely unique in the way it's done. I have refrained from reading any review by the time I make my own judgement, but I can imagine that the opinions will be quite diversified in this case. Unlike any other of Joe's book which are praising his work in one voice. Whoever expects The First Light or the likes (Scotland's Coast in another masterpiece for example) might be disappointed. But for those who are interested in the 'background stories' of making photographs and would like to learn how Joe is working on location, this in my opinion highly inspirational reading. The texts are well written and reveal plenty of details as well as some philosophical thinking behind the process but not too much. There were bits and pieces I was amazed about. I believe any landscape photography enthusiast will find his own passages to like. You will need to deal with the fact that most of pictures are Eddie's documents showing Joe working. Sometimes maybe too many but I enjoyed some of them a lot and not only for their documentary value but also for their form. And yes, you will get a good explanation of why Joe is moving to digital. :-)

It's clearly the beginning of another of Cornish's creative ventures. Let's see where he ends up. Can't wait to see his newest work! In the meantime, you may want to read the interview with him here.