An Evening with Peter Leeming …

an appreciation by John Cogan

The Peter Leeming lectures, “Mountain Landscapes & “Searching for Depth”, were to Durham Photographic Society 16th January 2014

“For those of us who have stood on the top of Great Gable and heard the wind riffle through the stubby tufts of grass or watched the rabbit-tails of bog cotton dance, last night was to be savoured like a fine wine or a dram of the best whisky.

Climbing is an esoteric pursuit at best and an obsession for some.  Very few of us could claim to be mountaineers.  That appellation goes to those who find favour at great heights and understand the pain of facing a cold morning from inside a warm sleeping bag.  But being “on the hill” is a privilege and has to be earned.  There is a difference between taking advantage of what the mountain landscape offers and becoming a part of the mountain.  Talk with great climbers and they’ll tell you they can “feel” the rock, they can sense the way a mountain feels.  Those feelings change all the time.  You are tolerated by “the Hill” only so far and that comes with respect for you will never fight the rock and win.

So, Peter climbs and with him goes a simple 35 mm point and shoot in which there is film.  It is his way of not intruding.  Climbing is hard enough without having to worry about an expensive camera or “Chimping” the digital display.  “Back in the day” my chosen camera was a point and shoot Olympus Pen… the one with the light metre bubbles around the lens… no focusing required.

Considering the limitations on what can be carried and used and the climatic conditions prevalent, you can only wonder at Peter’s results.  The majesty of the rock, the sheer power of the Andes (for those who know Joe Simpson’s “Touching the Void” will appreciate how Peter must have felt seeing a 1,000 foot drop open up beneath his feet after punching a hole in a cornice).

But, for those who enjoy the mountain landscape and are comfortable with the vagaries of its weather the rewards can be beyond gold… the photograph of the Langdales and the view of Great Gable were sublime. As was his love letter to North Yorkshire.  Couple all this with his choice of music… and the marvel is that he’s able to share it with us.

Those I spoke to after the presentation had nothing but positives to say.  Such scenery evokes strong responses and the care that Peter employs was apparent.  And in what is the power of Peter’s pictures rooted?  For many of us his lack of guile and the absence of manipulation was a bonus.  He carefully introduced his philosophy with easy-to-absorb ideas: be motivated by the image; develop a respectful relationship; think like a painter; look at the textures; have a vision to think big; work at the edge of your technical abilities; be persistent; do your own thing and don’t try and follow the “Big Boys”; leave room for the viewer; the more you know the less you need; be soft and respectful; work on images that announce themselves slowly; create and don’t copy; become invisible!

There are images from last night that will stay with me for a long time… they opened doors into memory and led me to distant lands.  Peter is an explorer.  He has gone where none have been before.  He has seen detail and experienced fully… we are now vicarious travellers in his world.  Thankfully, we will never become that next stage in the cycle… tourists.  Our viewfinders keep us, as committed photographers, from being tourists.  We have been blessed with the gift of seeing and it is people like Peter to whom we owe thanks for showing us how. “

John Cogan ARPS

January 2014     


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