The Light Beyond explores my 21 years of work with infrared photography. The magic of infrared photography is rooted in how different it can make the familiar appear; it can create images that are dreamlike, if not outright surreal. Although it is over a century old, infrared photography still remains a relatively obscure corner of the photographic world.
My attraction to infrared photography stretches back almost thirty years: in my youth, I loved Simon Marsden’s Visions of Poe, a book of haunting infrared photographs of gothic castles, graveyards and churches. I didn’t know until much later that it was Marsden’s photography that inspired Anton Corbijn’s wonderful infrared image on the cover of U2’s 1984 album The Unforgettable Fire (and the later cover for The Joshua Tree) - an album I bought in duplicate to be able to pin a copy of the cover on the wall of my bedroom. Even before I understood what I was looking at, I responded to the rich contrast and elegant drama of infrared photography.
From my early experiments in 1991, to my work with infrared film between 1998 and 2003, when it became a cornerstones of my creative process, to my current work with digital infrared, there have been few directions that my work has taken that have not been explored by the surreal beauty of infrared photography.
The magic of infrared photography is how different it makes things appear in comparison to conventional images: skies go inky black, skin and trees are pale, almost luminous, and water of any kind changes dramatically. All these elements combine to create images that are dreamlike, if not outright surreal. Part of the wonder of working with infrared light is that often the familiar becomes magical, and this is no small part of my attraction - the sheer joy of photographing something just to see how it looks!
The 17 page exhibition booklet is available for download.
One of the greatest debates during this trip to southern England was if I should go six hours out of my way just to see this castle. In the end, the irony of the debate was that the time it took to drive to the castle was exactly what made the photograph so perfect; if I'd arrived earlier, the light angle would have been different, and while I am sure I would have made some successful images, much that makes this photograph strong comes from the late afternoon light.
This was an early experiment with wide-angle lenses (19mm on a 35mm camera) and the Nude. The combination of a super-wide lens and the stark contrast inherent in infrared imagery made everything come together in a way that wouldn't have been apparent on conventional black and white film.
I have always had a love of claw-footed bathtubs, so when I saw this one, I instantly wanted to photograph a model in it. Fortunately, Tanya was more than keen at the idea, and we spent a couple of hours of a wintery afternoon working with her and the tub.
Almost fourteen years before this image was made, I worked for the first time in Canaan River, and as it’s said, you can't visit the same river twice. I have worked in this spot perhaps a dozen times, and never made an image with such a perfect balance between the water, rocks and model.
For me, images of couples are the most powerful of the figure-based work I do - challenging the notion that images of lovers nude have to be sexual. In this case, the image isn’t even about the nudity; it is the hands, and the obvious affection they convey.
A constant frustration in my work is how difficult I find it to work with direct sunlight, due to how harsh it can look. In this case however, sunlight was exactly what made the image work, when combined with the blinds. The fact that the blinds were deep red made no difference with infrared film – in fact, the more red light, the better!
I was walking along the shore when I saw this lovely rock, wreathed in seaweed. Even before I made the first exposure test I knew how beautiful it would look with the granite emerging from the rockweed.
I usually avoid working with direct sunlight, but in this case the harsh shadows from the light, combined with the luminous skin-tones and dramatic dark lines of the burnt trees seemed oddly appropriate. In order to reduce the confusion of the scene behind Elissa, I purposely made the image with as little in focus as possible, one of the pleasures of working with the right lens at the right time (an 85mm f/1.2 portrait lens).
Like the prow of a ship set against a broiling sky, this nondescript reconstruction of one corner of the Cistercian abbey's cloister was made so dramatic through the combination of the infrared rendition of the scene, and an ultra-wide angle of view. I had to wait for the perfect moment to make this image, as the site was full of roaming tourists (and photo students), but when the moment was right, all I needed to do was press the cable release, and the image was made.
When Joe and I arrived at Martinique beach, I’d envisioned us making images that focused on the ocean, waves and the beach. Instead, we ended up working on the back side of the dunes, exploring the possibilities of the setting sun raking over Joe’s body, and using the lovely sky above completing the image. The rich contrast and luminous foliage inherent in infrared photography only added to the strength of the image.
I had hoped to work Selina posing within Dunscaith castle, but it turned out to be full of nettles, so we shifted to working with the stairway and drawbridge. The final set of images were made under the drawbridge - and it was there that I saw Selina’s body set against the distant mountains, and made the best image of the day.
There is nothing quite as magical as the body combined with living water. Liam’s patience (as a stitched image, this photograph took a little longer than normal to create) went a long way to making this image, with his wing-like arms pressing into the water flowing around him. What working in infrared contributed to the final image was the incredible contrast between the water and the model's skin.
There is a deep resonance I feel with ancient sites; the age of this stone circle was palpable, even with the dozens of tourists milling about the site. Fortunately, within ten minutes of my arrival (a time during which I made some landscape images of the surrounding hills), the entire circle magically emptied of people, and I was able to make an image of the circle as a whole, underneath a great summer sky.
As soon as I saw the bridge between these wharves, I knew I wanted to make an image from the middle of the bridge overlooking them both. The late autumn sky was relatively bright, and would have been pretty featureless when viewed with a conventional camera, but in infrared, the scene changed dramatically, shifting the sky towards a much more threatening role in the final composition.
While I had expected to spend this session working on water nudes, Christine and I spent far more time out of the water, working along the riverbank and in the woods. The late afternoon sun was back-lighting the foliage beautifully, and casting the most lovely light upon Christine as she lay on a soft bed of moss beside the river.
There’s a simple beauty in this portrait, made a little over an hour into our first time working together, that can only be rooted in Claire’s enjoyment of the process. I have few smiles in my portraits but this one is just perfect.
As soon as I saw a wispy cloud drifting through the deep blue evening sky towards Ely Cathedral, I knew it would look perfect in infrared; I put on my widest lens, found a composition with the cathedral’s central tower and began to wait. Within minutes, everything came into place, and the deepening evening sky was set alight in infrared with the perfect cloud!
As soon as I came around the point and looked back, I knew I had the potential for a striking image; the sky was slowly clearing up, and the breaking clouds above the rock would look lovely in infrared. With a single frame, I could either have the entire rock formation, and a little of the sky, or the sky and top of the rock, but no beach. By stitching two framed together however, I could have it all!
Light and shadow are what make this image sparkle. If it had been made with conventional film, the with the pine trees would have been dark and murky, but with infrared film, the pine needles and Yvette’s skin are both luminous and bright, giving the image a totally different feeling.
I love the soft gradation of the sky set above the brilliant white of the grass around the Celtic cross. In colour, the eye would have been drawn to the deep blue of the sky and the brilliant green English grass, but in infrared, it is the carvings on the stone, and the lichen growing upon it which commands attention.
One of the highest compliments I have ever received for my work was having Victoria ask for a print of this image, to gift to her grandmother. Made during a beautiful afternoon in mid-summer, Victoria’s use of the leading line on the granite rock makes the image.
There is a simplicity to this image that really appeals to me. Early in my photography, I discovered a strong attraction to centering my subjects. I think this lends a clear focus to this image when combined with the beautiful luminous foliage that is inherent in infrared photography.
This is one of the first images I made with the infrared-enabled Sigma SD10, and one of the photos that showed me the potential of digital infrared photography. The image lacks the grain and glow of infrared film but the luminous skin and dramatic eyes lie at the core of why I find infrared appealing. Seeing this only fuelled my interest in pursuing digital infrared imaging.
This image came from an unexpected source; the model’s mother. She’d come to observe the process, and spent most of the time quietly in the background. Towards the end of the session, Christine and I both were surprised when her mother asked if we’d considered an image in a window, silhouetted. Although the final result was far from a silhouette due to the unusual contrast of infrared light, the photograph wouldn’t have been made without the suggestion from the model's mother.