Artist in Focus - Joe Cornish
A working photographer since 1980, Joe Cornish is based in North Yorkshire and has devoted almost all the last four decades to landscape photography, especially in the north of England and Scotland. He is the author of the celebrated landscape photography book: First Light, a Photographer’s art.
Joe seeks to translate a sense of connection with the natural world through the careful study of its texture and colour, space and light. Joe is a renowned thinker on the role of photography, especially in environmentalism and has written countless articles on the subject.
For someone discovering your work for the first time, can you paint them a picture of your background and your style?
Growing up I had one distinguishing talent…an ability to draw, and actually to “copy” really well. Perhaps it was inevitable that when I did a degree in fine art that I would be drawn to photography, which draws/copies really accurately, and really quickly!
As a photographer of forty-five years experience I still love “copying” aspects of the world, especially landscape, with my camera. But there is much more to seeing, framing, composing, editing and printing an image than merely copying. It is translating, interpreting and re-imagining the world, however literal the photographic approach.
Have you always been creative? And is there a particular moment you realised you were?
I don’t see myself as especially creative, but I am especially determined. And over the years I understand my own creativity is simply the reflection of a search for beauty…in landscape, in nature. On creativity I recently wrote:
“Nature is far more curious, incidental, intuitive, organic, asymmetrical, inventive, extravagant, unpredictable and experimental than I could ever be. All I need to do is truly pay attention to it with my whole being.”
What are the main themes behind your work?
Complexity and relationships within the natural world. Bringing light, colour and texture to life in a print. Spatial and emotional depth and atmosphere. A feeling of connection. Energy.
What is your creative process - how to you begin a new piece of work?
My creative process almost always begins with walking. Walking starts the process of observation, of becoming tuned in. To an extent it is a form of meditation, and if alone my mind may wander quite aimlessly, processing random thoughts and memories; but gradually I become more aware of everything around me: the sounds and smells, the dampness, or aridity, the temperature, and the wind or lack of it. Eventually I may become fully part of the place, dissolving into the landscape, no more significant than any other animal or insect present. The photography will always depend to some extent on the light and the conditions, but if I am fully present and connected that is usually better photographically.
Who have been your biggest influences in your career? Artist or otherwise.
Artists of all kind have inspired me, sometimes with their work very directly, or at other times the things they have said and represented. In poetry it has been T.S. Eliot. In nature writing, Barry Lopez and Robert Macfarlane. Music has always been a big part of my life as I come from a family of musicians, and so it’s hard to select any one individual. However, undoubtedly Vaughan Williams and Elgar wrote the music which stirs my sense of the English landscape the most; that is why I love them.
In the visual arts it’s impossible to escape Turner and Constable as well as Blake and Samuel Palmer. Among more recent painters Graham Sutherland, Paul Nash, John Piper and Eric Ravilious have all inspired me.
Directly or indirectly the most inspirational photographers have been John Blakemore, Edward Weston, David Muench, Galen Rowell, Paul Wakefield and Ansel Adams.
What has been one of the biggest learning curves you have experienced?
Standing on the rim of Canyon de Chelly in Arizona, looking at a rock wall, and realising that no human made artefact could ever match or even approach the awesome beauty already present in the natural world. That was the key moment that inspired me to be a landscape photographer.