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Allan Pollok-Morris has been a passionate photographer for 30 years. His professional work is best known for his large format, exclusive photography of landscape, land-art and design. He has worked internationally for a wide variety of high quality media and private commissions, as well as recent solo, public and private gallery exhibitions in some of the most visited institutions in the world.
From October 9th 2013 to March 12th 2014 the New York Botanical Garden will exhibit a solo exhibition of photography by Allan, celebrating the work of artists and designers in the landscape.
We caught up with Allan to get an insight into his work:
The work of a photojournalist
As a specialist photographer its incredible the variety of subjects and media there are to work with. This means never knowing what I’ll find and having to be prepared for a very wide range of photography, but the variety is one of the most enjoyable aspects of photographing the creative works by people in the landscape. I’d particularly highlight places where new art and design are being made amongst different layers dating back over history as the complexity of the photography takes on a whole new level.
I’m lucky to work with a particular group of artists, designers and architects well known in this field and I have the privilege of visiting some of the most stunning examples of their work.
The pleasures and challenges of capturing the night
I really enjoy the results from photographing trees at night in winter, partly for the atmosphere, but also to single out their stunning form against the simplified surroundings. The sublime feel of night-light can be quite surreal so to help with the authenticity of the scene it’s best to make most of the photograph in-camera. This is quite a challenge given the lack of light in the winter countryside at night. In part I paint light on-site with very large light-balanced flashlights, but I also like to work with ambient moonlight with very long exposures, drawing in more subtle details over a scale of space impossible to light artificially.
Add to those technical difficulties my compulsion to make night photographs on the lowest possible ISO to maintain the highest quality capture and it’s hard to contemplate successful results. In the past I have to admit I have shared the fine art world prejudices that shooting on film is the best way to achieve quality. So I would make these photographs on ISO 50 slide, possibly ISO 100 negative, but with all the issues of reciprocity failings of film on long exposure in limited light, even with high ISOs, it meant that the Phase One P45+ back was an absolute gift. With its unique 1-hour exposure without digital noise on ISO 50, it made film and other digital capture look like a very blunt tool.
Moving on from the Phase One P45+
Working with subjects that evolve over many years means you have to play the long game in all your working practices and while I enjoyed the P45+ I continued to look for the highest quality capture in the rapidly progressing digital arena. I wasn’t purposefully loyal to one maker, but after researching what was available I kept coming back to Phase One.
In 2009 I moved to the P65+, which was the first full frame medium format digital back. This gave me more of the landscape format I wanted to work with at the time, moving further away from the more traditional square shape of medium format. At the same time I changed my Mamiya cameras and lenses for Phase One models. I expanded my range of lenses, which made it possible to shoot a wider range of subjects without too much extra gear. These are a couple of pictures from 2011 at Helmingham Hall for a feature in the highly respected British magazine Country Life. Helmingham Hall, is a stunning moated house in Suffolk, which has been home to the Tollemache family since the 1400s. The landscape around the house has many centuries of visual, man-made layers dating to different periods as far back as the 1100s. Additionally it has one of the finest gardens in Europe by the acclaimed resident designer Xa Tollemache, which we have photographed as it has been re-worked over the last decade.
Bringing medium format on the road
I never stop being amazed at how I can get my medium format camera, the digital back, 5 lenses, endless batteries, cables, cards, documents, a 17” laptop in a solid flight case with quite a lot of room to spare in the hand luggage allowance of even the most budget of airlines. When I get to my destination I have to work on a wide range of shots, macro, landscape, interiors, people, even animals, underwater, aerial shots and working tethered to a computer. The dead of a harsh winter or up a cherry picker in the hot mid summer sun, I may have to hike in mountains, go to the water, perch on a high cliff, work with acclaimed artists, meet with royalty or work at the home of an A list celeb more often than not in remote plces where they have a secluded private property. The contents of that case tend to see me through without any difficulty, but whenever I’ve had problems in remote places, Phase One and Dtek in the UK have done their best to get a quick resolution for me on-site.
Brining photographs to the top level
The argument that the largest format, highest definition photographic original is to be achieved with 10x8 film was finally put to bed when the Phase One IQ180 digital back arrived, with its enormous capture, high definition and ISO 35. The way images can be previewed and controlled from a laptop or iPad using the IQ backs gives a similar working practice to traditional large format. I moved to the IQ180 in mid-2012 and it has worked very well as a simple add-on to my existing equipment.
Back in the studio the workstations are fed by a central RAID library of large digital originals, which can be worked on by secure access from anywhere in the world. I try to recruit assistants with experience of working in Capture One Pro as I find this is the only post-production software I need now, but when someone comes new to the software, its not long before they are up to speed. This is probably common practice for most serious professionals these days. For anyone contemplating this move, the concern that Phase One RAW files are so big is not to be seen as an obstacle in terms of workflow as it’s just a question of scale. Budget is always an issue, but with the large, inexpensive disk storage we have now and with most graphic studio workstations being geared to larger scale of HD video files these concerns are less and less of an issue.
The photographs in this article have been used across the whole spectrum of media scale. From large format museum exhibition prints to gallery shop postcard. I don’t submit to stock libraries, but the growing range of medias I collaborate with never fails to surprise me. It’s often the beginning of a little adventure when a new request pops up in my inbox. My work puts me in touch with a very wide variety of commissionaires and art directors from around the world. I have worked with some of the best book publishers, magazine & newspaper editors, art directors and private collectors. The budgets, working practices and experiences of the clients range dramatically, which means a vast variety of expectations to manage.
Put simply my aim, as a photo-journalist in a specialist area, is to show people something of interest that hasn’t been brought to their attention before. A wanderlust and open mind are probably the most important tools for this kind of photography however, at the end of the day the answer to constant advancements in technology and the unpredictable, full range of clients, commissions, medias and locations has to be to capture the best quality original possible in the most portable way. I’m yet to find a client who doesn’t appreciate a photographer who goes the extra mile, even those working with Internet publishing with low-resolution displays.
It’s hard to say what the future will bring, but at the very least I’m confident the work captured on the Phase One will continue to give long term consistency in working with the highest quality picture sets.