CD: Iain, many thanks for participating in the FUSEVISUAL project. Very glad to have you on board. Let’s start in the beginning with a brief bit of history, where in Scotland do you live and how you got into shooting landscapes?
Iain Sarjeant: Hi Cameron – I’m delighted to be part of FUSEVISUAL.
I’m based in the north of Scotland – the heart of the Scottish Highlands. My interest in photography really just developed from growing up in and spending large amounts of time exploring the amazing landscapes around me in the Highlands – and a growing wish to express the way I see and experience these places. My father is an architect and I think I have him to thank for my interest in composition. He bought me my first 35mm camera at quite an early age and encouraged me.
CD: You are part of the Document Britain project. How was that formed? How were the original members chosen? Where do you see it going?
Iain Sarjeant: Document Britain was formed last year by Alastair Cook, an artist friend based in Edinburgh. It’s a co-operative of filmmakers, photographers, archaeologists and writers focused on telling stories and exploring issues throughout the British Isles. It’s early days – it officially launches later this summer – but with such a diverse mix of styles and interests coming together I’m very excited to be part of it and see where it goes. Initially, we are all developing one project which will be showcased through Document Britain, and while I am still working up ideas, my project will probably look at remote communities in Northern Scotland.
CD: I like your colour and form series on your website. The images are quiet and gentle. Where does this come from? Who were your influences? Were they photographic or painters?
Iain Sarjeant: I get inspiration from a wide range of artists – photographers, painters, poets etc.
My photographic influences early on came from Scandinavia – two photographers in particular. Firstly, in terms of landscape, I was very drawn to the work of Swedish photographer Jan Tove. His images were very strong compositionally but were also subtle, quiet & contemplative. The second was Keld Helmer-Petersen – a Danish photographer and a pioneer of colour work in the late 40s and 50s long before Eggleston and Shore. He was a master of graphic compositions, seeking out interest in ordinary, everyday places. His work and way of seeing the world around him had a big influence on the direction of my photography.
CD: How much does living in the Highlands impact your vision and your interaction with clients?
Iain Sarjeant: I have lived in the Scottish Highlands for over 40 years, grew up here, and have a very strong personal relationship with the area – it’s landscapes and culture. I will always work on visual projects exploring the Highlands, but I enjoy working further afield as well.
From a commercial point of view, the internet has really opened up opportunities for photographers like myself who are based in remoter areas – allowing me to reach clients, make contacts and sell stock imagery easily. But despite all the benefits of the online world, many of my clients are local to the Highlands, and I still think face-to-face contact is extremely important. Living in a more sparsely populated area has it’s disadvantages in terms of a more limited client base – but also advantages in terms of lack of competition, and the ability for me to specialize and be known for my local knowledge.
CD: If you were given a grant to shoot anywhere in Scotland for six months, what would be the subject and where?
Iain Sarjeant: Well, that’s a tricky one. One place I have visited but never spent time photographing is the Shetland Islands in the far north. I would love to visually explore these islands, but that leads me onto a wider long-term interest that ties in the north of Scotland to other locations in Northern Europe – The Faroes, Iceland, Norway and even Greenland. I hope one day to have the time (and money!) to explore these regions in one bigger photographic project.
CD: What advice would you give a young person about to embark on a career as a landscape shooter? How would they go about entering this part of the profession?
Iain Sarjeant: I think it is very difficult to make a living out of landscape photography alone – so an ability to diversify into other areas is important. Work hard, make contacts (communication skills are as important as artistic ones) and try to find a niche for yourself.
From a personal photography viewpoint, I would strongly urge any young photographers to consider working on a longer-term project – to choose a theme or subject that interests them or that they have a passion for or knowledge of, and spend time exploring it and building up a body of work. The resulting work will reflect your relationship with the subject as much as the subject itself and teach you a lot about yourself and your approach. Ultimately I would say work slowly, get to know your subject matter, and avoid the obvious.