Of Photography

Winter dawn at Lairig Ghru in the Cairngorms. Joe's move from London to North Yorkshire in 1993 opened up the possibility of regular photographic trips to Scotland and provided an abundant source of subject matter

Winter dawn at Lairig Ghru in the Cairngorms. Joe's move from London to North Yorkshire in 1993 opened up the possibility of regular photographic trips to Scotland and provided an abundant source of subject matter to say with photography,' he later wrote. The feeling I wanted to convey was the energy of nature, its theatre of light, its sculptural power, its patterns.'

After university he devoted himself to learning the craft of photography. He worked as an assistant to a commercial photographer in Washington DC, USA. for two years, then spent a year as a photographer's assistant in London. Studio life, however, didn't suit him. After meeting Charlie Waite in 1986, Cornish began working as a travel photographer and, during the next nine years, contributed the images used in more than 30 travel books. He began producing photographs for the National Trust photo library in the 1990s and became the organisation's first-choice photographer.

During the following years, two crucial developments determined the future direction of Cornish's work. The first was his decision, in 1993, to move from London to North Yorkshire The location not only offered easy access to the North York Moors, Yorkshire Dales and other landscapes in the area, but also opened up the possibility of regular photographic trips to Northumberland and Scotland. Since then, these landscapes have offered Cornish an abundant source of subject matter and inspiration.

The second key development came in 1997, when Cornish chose to put aside medium-format equipment and take up large-format photography using a 5x4in camera. From that time, the vast majority of his work has been produced with different versions of the Ebony wooden field camera, such as the 45SUand45SW.

The 5x4in camera, and the methodical approach it demands, has become an integral part of the way he works and the kind of images he produces. He prefers this equipment because it allows him maximum creative control and produces high-quality photographs. 'The large-format photographer takes total responsibility for all the creative decisions in-camera,' writes Cornish, 'and that develops a real sense of involvement with, and deep understanding of, the photographic process.'

Cornish had arrived at his ideal combination of equipment and subject matter, but now he had to market his work. In 1999, he launched Joegraphic. which started out producing cards and calendars and later included the sale of limited-edition prints at his gallery in North Yorkshire.

In 2002, he published his first book, First Light: A Landscape Photographer's Art. It was the culmination of five years' work. The book contained landscape images from a range of locations including North Yorkshire, America's Colorado Plateau and New Zealand's Fiordland, together with Cornish's essays on what inspired the images and how they were achieved. It has been reprinted five times.

More books have foil wed, focusing on specific geographic locations, including Scotland's Coast (2005) and The Northumberland Coast (2008). These books show a detailed knowledge and deep appreciation of Britain's wild and remote locations, as well as an acute awareness of atmosphere and quality of light. His images sometimes focus on details, such as frost on seaweed, sea shells or tiny plants pushing through gaps in granite. However, most of he photographs are majestic and untamed landscapes. They are carefully exposed, meticulously composed and in focus from the near foreground to the far distance. Although the traces of human presence are recorded in the form of abandoned boats or ruined castles, people are rarely present; nothing detracts from our appreciation of the natural scene.

Cornish has never been a slave to fashion in photography and enjoys the fact that he's more 'traditional' than many other contemporary landscape photographers. His aim is clear and unpretentious: 'I seek to express a sense of wonder, and capture the joy that the landscape inspires in me,' he says. 'I would hope my style reflects my belief in the interconnectedness of things, and a fascination with depth, space, texture and light.' Cornish's passionate environmentalism, his artistic integrity and his unique vision transcend passing fashion and give his work its enduring appeal. AP

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