Glyn Davies is a photographer brought up in rural Cornwall in the South West corner of the UK but he now lives on the Isle of Anglesey in North Wales, with views to the magnificent Welsh mountains of Snowdonia.
From a family of fine-artists and art lecturers, Glyn’s background was in drawing and painting before he went to university in London to study photography and television. He started his freelance photographic career in the autumn of 1987 following graduation.
In 2002 he took a very brave step in opening a photographic gallery on Anglesey, in which he concentrated on producing, printing and selling more personal landscape work than the commercial and industrial commissions he had been shooting up until then.
Some of your landscape work is very striking, it reminds me of the romantic era. Does your experience in painting influence your images?
Without doubt my family background in fine art has had a major influence on the way I ‘see’. When drawing and painting you don’t start in the middle and work outwards, you have already planned your composition in advance, knowing what ‘has’ to fit the space available, and that discipline has stayed with me ever since, with most of my prints presented as the same crop I composed in camera.
In University I was very impressed to learn that the master of photo-documentary, Cartier Bresson, adopted the same discipline about composing accurately before pressing the shutter. Light, colour and form were intrinsic to many great painters but there was always immaculate composition.
I used to love looking through art books and going to art galleries, even if I didn’t always understand some of the meanings and concepts behind some of the great painters of past and present.
In my gallery so many customers discuss my ‘paintings’ when they are actually looking at photographs, and so your observation is quite valid, that maybe my fine-art background has had a deeper influence on my images than even I had imagined.
When it comes to taking photos, do you have more of a controlled or spontaneous style?
Strangely both, in that I don’t venture out to shoot specific images, but when I stumble across an amazing subject I will be very focussed on the perfect composition and the perfect balance of light, shadow and form within the frame. I am absolutely the opposite of the crowd who claim to spend a week rooted to one rock waiting for the light to change in order to shoot their ‘masterpiece’ - I work quickly and respond quickly to events and situations as they happen.
My reason for leaving drawing and painting behind was my own impatience. I used to sit for hours out in the landscape with my parents with a huge drawing board across my lap, jars of brushes in water on the floor and boxes of charcoal weighed down on the paper, as light and landscape changed before me. However I always wanted to know what was across the next headland, around the next corner or in the next cove. I was always itching to move, to wander and to travel so even today the idea of waiting for one pre-planned shot bores me, for I know there can be perfect compositions at any time and in any place. If the light isn’t right at one location I may wait 5 or 10 minutes for the light and weather to line up, but any longer than that and I’m half an hour closer to God’s waiting room - life is too short.
In the digital darkroom, the same as in the film darkroom, I am a very fussy perfectionist and I believe in the absolute beauty of a perfect print. In college many years ago I learned about D-Max and getting the finest range of tones from maximum black to maximum paper-white from the developing and printing process, and I used to use all sorts of toners on my black & whites prints afterwards, from selenium to gold. These days I absolutely love the ability to print exactly what I want, no errors, no accidents, and no emulsion-based shackles. Some people love the vagaries of old chemical processes but I love being in the driving seat, in total control of what colour and contrast is laid down on my archival papers. I have already envisaged what my print will look like even when I am taking the picture, so I don’t want accidents in between, I only want what I have visualised.
What advice can you offer on finding a personal aesthetic in photography?
So many hundreds of visitors to my gallery have asked the same thing, and my answer remains the same. The subject has to grab you, utterly. You need to have passion for the subject, for when you do the final results become obvious. I don’t believe in crazy processing, montaging, double exposures, HDR or photo illustration. Yes there may be places for all those techniques but they have no place in my own head or heart. It’s all about love and passion for me, as if I don’t have a real and deep connection with my subject then it all becomes about photography, not communication of ideas or feelings.
These days there is just so much emulation, everyone trying to copy what everyone else is doing but never taking it beyond. The pictures can be colourful and technical, sometimes even clever, but often soulless and lacking personality - yet another pastiche of what’s been seen a million times before, every day. Now there is nothing really new in photography (and that may include my own work), but there do remain artists with cameras who manage to create ‘bodies of work’ that reflect their personality and intellect, their passion or sympathy - I hope that’s what others have seen in my own body of work. Interestingly these artists don’t ‘seem’ to impose style on subject, but are being led to an aesthetic by the subject itself. It’s also interesting that those who I feel are the best of the best, such as Nadav Kander, don’t seem to be pigeon-holed by style either. Each project you sort of ‘know’ is his, but the actual aesthetic varies subtly, quite rationally, depending on subject.
I think there is always a real danger that if you impose your own style or ‘aesthetic’ too strongly upon every subject, you may suppress the actual beauty of it’s own reality. That said I have one or two peers who stamp their aesthetic over every single subject, heavily, but they somehow get away with it, it works, simply because their aesthetic is so damned eye-catching, so hats off to those who make it work. I have always been obsessed with dramatic light from a very early age. I even used to build my own basic electrical circuits as a kid and fit bulbs inside Lego buildings just to see how the light was cast across the interiors. When we were kids, our artist parents made us night-lights using coloured acetates around jam jars containing candles, and the memory of their flicker of colours across the night-time walls lives with me to this day. My aunty is an opera singer and we used to go to London to watch her performances and again lighting fascinated me, utterly, the stage lights creating dreamlands and magical landscapes - as if I were watching Rembrandt drawings coming to life. In the landscape I am watching out for beams of light, dramatic black clouds, sunbursts or advancing storms for they all connect in my head, like my electrical circuits, to my past, my family and my history, but most of all to a lifetime of imagination and dreams of what’s beyond.
What I would say though, in simple terms of improving one’s image making, is that composition and lighting are so important. You can go to the most amazing location but if there is midday, cloudless lighting then most topography will look as flat as a pancake and just won't resonate in an image. Equally, even with dramatic lighting there is nothing worse than poor composition where the balance leads to meaningless lines and spaces, which irks me. If the photographer just pauses for that extra second or so, to really consider what should be in the frame and what should be left out then I think that many aspiring photographers would dramatically improve their images. If we move on from basic aesthetics of course, then content is king because without a subject of real interest and a photographer who understands the subject, then no manner of techniques or aesthetic washes may ever make it a demanding image.
For how long have you been using Fujifilm cameras?
What were you using before and why did you decided to get one?
Having been in this profession since the 1980s I have used all sorts of different cameras of course, but the chronology is varied and interesting, having given me an incredible grounding in the potential of what cameras and lenses can really do, and the yardstick by which I even assess modern cameras. When you’ve shot on Sinar large format and have seen the incredible beauty of an immaculately focussed and exposed 5x4 transparency, you sort of know what you’d like to see thereafter!
The very first camera I had whilst still in school was a post war Leica rangefinder that I used with a Weston Lightmeter to set my manual exposures. I soon part exchanged this for my first SLR, a Nikon FM, which I absolutely loved, all manual, simple to use and incredibly sharp pictures. I shot mostly B&W on this camera, which I processed in the darkrooms of the Falmouth School of Art where my Dad lectured. I then had an FM2 (even better) but at University many of my colleagues were shooting on Canon F1s and I loved the size, feel and even sound of them. On the point of turning professional they just looked ‘the biz’. During my degree years I purchased a Mamiya C330 twin lens reflex camera but very soon after swapped this for a Bronica 645 system, with wide, standard & telephoto lenses. I really enjoyed the larger format combined with the ease of use, built in metering and ‘juicy’ Velvia transparencies (I mostly shot Fuji Velvia at that time for landscape work). On leaving University I sold the Bronica and purchased a second-hand Hasselblad system, with 4 lenses and two 500cm bodies, having fallen in love with the square format and the 'ker-plunk ~ wind' action of this phenomenal camera. A year later I also bought a Sinar P2 5x4 camera with a single wide-angle lens for my landscape work but whilst the quality was perhaps the most incredible I’d seen to date, it was just too much of a beast to carry about and without a team of Sherpas, it was ultimately useless for me.
I kept on shooting the Blads and Canon until the first signs of digital blossom appeared. I even played with a 1MB Sony Mavika camera that gave horrendous quality but nevertheless still excited me. I then bought my first Fuji, the S1 Pro. Even as a 3MB camera, (interpolated to 6MB by Fuji’s incredible sensor), and even though it was not suitable for large prints, it did produce the most wonderful A3s. I was therefore able to start using the camera for portrait work straight away. Most of my colleagues at the time were quite anti-digital, slating the quality and so on but I was hooked, and as customers were happily buying prints from me I was happy enough too. I did hanker after a unit that would be good enough for large landscapes though. I tried the Fuji S2 but had major problems with some strange files produced by its sensor and so as has become the norm these days, I started out on the never-ending digital ladder of buy - sell – lose! I shifted to Canon and its 10D unit which was finally able to produce A1 prints, with very acceptable photo quality. Then the 20D came along which was even better but finally and spending more money than I’ve ever done before on any camera I splashed out nearly £5K on a Canon 1DS flagship model – which turned out to be the best move I’d ever made. Finally my A1 prints were ‘biting sharp’ and the tonal range and subtlety was incredible. It had a similar feel to my old Canon F1 but produced images that were infinitely better. In fact I was getting sharper, cleaner and more tonally dynamic prints from the 1DS than from scanned Hasselblad negatives. As soon as the 1DSmk3 came out I bought it and have been using it ever since and it has out performed any of the cameras I’ve ever owned for the type and size of prints I need.
And then, in September 2015, I once again opened the Fuji stable doors and found myself buying a Fujifilm X-T1. I also purchased the XF10-24mm, the XF16-55mm, the XF55-200mm and then the latest, XF100-400mm and although the files did not compete with the Canon by quite a margin, I loved the smaller size and lighter weight of the kit, which as I get older means a lot! Spending most of my free days climbing the Welsh hills in Winter and Summer I no longer needed to sacrifice spare clothing, flask or walker’s axe in order to carry an extra lens. The Canon was starting to become a back-breaker in the hills. I didn’t think I would, but I found myself enthralled by the Fujifilm's EVF viewfinder, which in one way was awful in that it was unable to separate subtle highlight tones at all, but in another way removed the need to ‘chimp’ after taking a picture, which is another blessing as we age and our eyesight deteriorates. In bad weather it’s also great to be able to keep on shooting, with a bag wrapped over the camera, and not having to look at an LCD in the rain.
However its 16mb sensor was just too noisy for me and I also found the tonal separation ‘muddy’ especially in mid-tone to shadow areas of subtle, low contrast landscapes. Even though I always shoot RAW and process in various developers (mostly Adobe Camera Raw) creating quality files from my work was possible, but only after a lot of ‘faffing’ and time consuming hard work. I want to be able to have a file in and out of the developer in around 2 minutes maximum (like the good old days!) I then spoke with a couple of professionals using Fujifilm mirror-less cameras and they suggested that I look at the Fujifilm X-Pro2 as its 24MP sensor seemed to deliver the sort of clean files I was looking for. A local camera store loaned me a brand new X-Pro2 to try and that was it! The files are no noisier than the Canon1DSMk3 and indeed are producing really wonderful crisp, clean, wide tonal images that are printing up beautifully and all without much developing at all. I still have my Canon for studio work but I can see that a total transition may happen soon. I am desperately waiting for the Fujifilm X-T2 and I think that moment will then have arrived.
Where can we see more of your work?
I have an actual bricks and mortar gallery here in Menai Bridge on the Isle of Anglesey where visitors can come and browse, (Glyn Davies Gallery) but of course these days I also have my work on numerous sites. My work is held in several public and numerous private collections. I have produced four books of my images (with accompanying foreword and text) and they can be bought direct from my website or gallery. The Prime Minister bought two of my books as a gift for the Royal Wedding of Prince William to Catherine Middleton. My ‘nudes’ prints are now being represented by an art dealer and collector in Wiltshire who will be showing a select series of these Limited Edition prints in art fairs and exhibitions, both here in the UK and abroad.