Astrid McGechan, Shed Artist of the Week on her Photography.

Having settled in Surrey with my family in 2004, we started exploring the countryside, both in Surrey and further afield.

I now greatly enjoy country-walking and climbing hills and mountains. Those early walks fuelled my desire to preserve what I saw and felt, and making photographs of the land around me gave me great pleasure. By now, making photographs is a way of balancing life for me, it counteracts the hectic and stressful working week and has a very calming effect.

Light and Shadow by Astrid McGechan

Light and Shadow by Astrid McGechan

One of the most memorable moments for me was photographing the Northern Lights in Norway. I was with a group of photographers; it was freezing cold and obviously dark as it was almost midnight in late November 2012. When we started seeing the colours moving in the sky, we were all struck by the beauty of this natural phenomenon. Initially we were all silent, just taking it all in and in the end there were shouts of joy and excitement as nature’s display reached a climax. I’d love to go back and experience it again. It was awesome. I am not sure I managed to capture the whole beauty of it in my photographs, but I love them dearly as they bring back beautiful memories.

Aurora Borealis #5 by Astrid McGechan

Aurora Borealis #5 by Astrid McGechan

I love the work of many photographers and it is difficult to pick one as a favourite. I really like the work of many of my fellow contributors at the ‘Landscapes by Women’ group, such as Beata Moore, Vanda Ralevska and Sue Bishop. I often find images that explore smaller details in our surroundings more interesting than the grand landscapes, perhaps because they are more difficult to see and many of us would simply walk past them. I admire Charlie Waite’s work – his images often appear simple in composition but perhaps that is what makes them so appealing, and the story they tell is easy to grasp and enjoy.

St Michael's Mount by Astrid McGechan

St Michael's Mount by Astrid McGechan

I often think I’d like to use one of the small compact system cameras that have become so popular in recent years. But despite the advantage of less weight and bulk, I haven’t been happy with the one I used for a while, my work didn’t seem to benefit. I love my Canon 5D MkII, it does all I want and need. Using it on a tripod slows me down, and that is necessary for me to be able to immerse myself in the world around me and make photographs that give me pleasure. The only thing I’d like to be invented is a tripod as light as the one I have but with a bit more height. Tripods are either too small, if they are light enough, or too heavy, if they have a good height.

The way I feel about my own work changes all the time. Often, I come back to older work and either discover exciting images that I have overlooked initially, or I dismiss work I found pleasing earlier on. Perceptions change all the time, we develop, and this influences how I view my own work. I am currently exhibiting at the Riverhouse Barn in Walton-on-Thames, which is my third large solo exhibition. When people say that a particular image reminds them of something, or they feel calmer and happier, having looked at my photographs, then I think I have succeeded in sharing with them what I felt at the time of making a photograph. Once, a lady looked around for a long time and then said that she was currently going through some difficult times with her family and that looking at my work made her feel much better. There is no greater pleasure for me than being able to reach people with my work.

I have just published a photographic book about my local borough, the Borough of Elmbridge in Surrey. Having determined the area I wanted to explore, I was not at all sure I would be able to find one hundred photographs I needed for this book, but having spent almost two years crawling into every corner of the borough I discovered places I never knew existed in this urban environment. This project inspired me in a way I will try to remember for the future. We can find beauty to photograph in every corner of the land, it is not necessary to travel to far-flung corners of the world, sometimes it is found right on our doorstep.

Between A Rock and A Hard Place by Astrid McGechan

Between A Rock and A Hard Place by Astrid McGechan

I am most creative when I manage to remove myself from the everyday pressures of life. I find it difficult to see and feel and make photographs on the way to work or similar journeys. I make my best work when I am away from all that, which doesn’t mean going long distances, just having time and space to explore.

Many people have attempted to define what the important elements are in a good photograph, but I think this is futile. I may make an image without depth, or lead-in lines, perhaps intentionally blurred, without any of the commonly accepted “ingredients” of a good photograph, maybe just exploring a colour, or movement. But if it speaks to a viewer and moves them, then it is a successful photo. The criteria change depending on each person’s perspective.

How to pick a favourite photograph? This seems impossible. There are some for every mood. But if I had to choose one for my lounge, it would perhaps be Charlie Waite’s image of hay bales and corresponding clouds, taken somewhere near Stonehenge.

Hay Bales by Charlie Waite

Hay Bales by Charlie Waite

It is such a simple scene but moves me deeply. Mother Nature seemed to comply and send along some clouds to perfectly mirror the shapes of the hay bales. I could look at this image every day and never tire of it.

An ideal creative day for me must start with the great effort to drag myself out of bed for the sunrise and the return from that shoot to a steaming pot of coffee and breakfast! When exploring a location, it often takes me a while to get a feel for it, but once settled and tuned into the place, I could spend hours without noticing how time flies by. I also love having a companion on such outings, another photographer. Bouncing ideas and feelings off one another often adds a different angle to my perspective.

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