I have a beautiful book: cloth-covered and filled with photographs and a few heartfelt words. It is ‘Brighter Later’ by Brian David Stevens. His images are of the sea and are presented in pairs. In most of them there is no land to be seen save a pale smear of beach, though some have birds and a few are streaked by groynes. Each square photograph, taken with great skill and care, has a twin; not an identical brother or sister but one that is ever so slightly and lightly different in its perspective. They remind me of my student days peering through stereoscopic lenses at paired black and white photographs. Those ‘practical’, pre-satellite geography lessons showed how, through the miracle of photography coupled with polished glass, two-dimensional flat images could be transformed into a strangely satisfying 3-D rolling landscape.
Somehow Stevens’ pictures, taken over the course of a year from around the UK coast, have given me a similar stereoscopic unsettling (you can find his work here: http://briandavidstevens.com/albums/pFVx2/brighter-later) . His captured views look out at the sea and sky, something I do myself every day. They are unusual because there are no seaside towns, piers or people; rather, they are crammed with clouds and water, waves and mists. Their altered perspectives persuade the viewer to retrieve memories of looking out to sea; it is almost possible to feel the salty air and hear the swash of water. And they remind us of what we do more often than not when visiting the coast: we gaze outwards to horizons, to watch the waters, assess weather conditions and, maybe for a short time, simply pause.
I live close to the gentle waters of the Inner Sound and the turbulences of the Minches. The sea is my daily companion and at the top of a small cliff close to our croft I pause and attempt to judge sea state and cloud types, and the likelihood of rain. And, wind strength permitting, if I can stand, I’ll take a photograph.
I started recording cloud and sea colours because I wanted to paint. I had been introduced to the works of American painter Jon Schueler who stayed for a while at Mallaig. He lived and worked in small cottage overlooking the Sound of Sleat, a vibrant stretch of water that runs between the Morar coast and Isle of Skye. His paintings were mostly of sea and sky, often horizon-less, yet filled with rich colours, and I became fascinated by what and how he was seeing these landless places. He, like Stevens, always looked outwards, away from land and at times his paintings are unsettling for their lack of grounding, of earth. He wrote at length about the lure of the sea and how, in trying to understand light and colour, became certain only ocean and atmosphere could teach him. His output was prodigious. And so, with Schueler’s paintings in mind, I tried to catch the elusive colours of sea and sky in watercolour and acrylics. Inexperience with paint prompted photography; if I took a photograph, I reasoned, I would at least be able to reproduce the colours I was seeing.
When I received ‘Brighter Later’ as a Christmas gift I was enchanted and remembered then my Schueler-sea-sky-pictures, taken from the same cliff-top spot.
Here are just a few. They are undoctored; colours, tone and texture are as captured by my old camera. They are cup-filled with water in almost all near-oceanic and atmospheric states: liquid and aerosol, mist, cloud, wave, slick sea surface and mysterious haar. There is stillness and motion, calm and quiet fury; there are horizons and yet in some, no discernible edges at all. They are paint-filled with vibrancy and colour: blue, green, grey, purple, pink, orange, yellow, silver, magenta and even near-black.
I am emboldened and will try brush on canvas again.