Tuesday 18 May meeting – Darren Lewey on New Ways of Representing a Familiar Location

Darren is based in the Moroccan coastal city of Essaouira and was ‘zooming in’ from there. He split his talk into two sections: landscapes/portraits and themes that develop into a project.

Landscapes: Darren said he is inspired by the work of British photographer Dave Ward whose images show expert use of balancing elements in the frame, compositional and spatial awareness. For Darren the challenge in landscape is to simplify the scene and one way he overcomes this challenge is by shooting ‘intimately’ and getting close to the shapes, structures, colours and looking for connections in the landscape. He showed a series of stunning shots of rocks in the Valle Verzasca in Switzerland. He had researched the area on Google and spent a week there. The first day was just to drive the route and get a feel for the area, he then had 4-5 days for shooting. He is not someone who uses burst mode on the camera as he spends a great deal of time on each shot and came away from this trip with 20 images.

Six months later he was in the woodlands of northern Spain looking for autumnal colours, tonal separation and contrast in the scene in front of his camera. He is particularly interested in the light in woodlands – backlit scenes, reflected light, light coming in from the side. If he sees a tree that has potential he will circle round to find the best angle for the light. Colours in autumn are the draw and he will balance green with the autumnal colours.

In 2017 he returned to Spain. This time to Andalusia to shoot the woodlands, rivers and coast. Darren visited Los Alcornocales natural park and the mining area close to Seville. He had beautiful images of the rocks in eerily coloured mineral rich streams in the area and shots of the trees in the forests. He found visual links between different photos and paired them up in a series of effective diptychs as a useful way to develop his compositional skills.

Portraits: In the same year Darren went to the high Atlas area of Morocco to take portraits of the nomadic people there and he showed some very good shots, mainly of women and children. He had taken shots of the men but found them less engaging.

He also showed portraits he had took of musicians elsewhere in Morocco. These musician weren’t playing their music but resting and Darren had placed them indoors near a window. Rather than having ‘environmental’ portraits he was more interested in the light next to a window which was soft and created an atmosphere.

In the second half Darren showed us a series of themes he had been shooting which would later turn into a project. But before he showed these images he went through several examples of photographers who had done similar photographic projects, some he thought worked well and others he thought had not worked so well.

For the last two years Darren has been working on several themes. The first theme was the portrayal of coastal sand dunes which he shot on a large format camera using black and white infra-red film. The results he found were quite different to what he had shot before. He also started photographing salt pans in black and white which allowed him to unlock something colour wouldn’t. The similarities of these two theme were quite clear.

His next theme not so. In Essaouira there is an old clothing factory that has closed. Darren started taking photos with his 4×5 camera, not only of the shapes and structures but also people around the area of the factory. The portraits were not easy as the shutter speed had to be slow and his subjects had to hold the pose. The results were remarkable with very shallow depth of field but both eyes in focus due to tilting the front part of the camera. He also shot images of the lagoon forest close to Essaouira. He would take one shot per three visits to the forest, depending if something he saw sparked his interest.

He reviewed all these theme images and saw the link between sand and salt but then looked for links with portrait and place and also light and shape. The end result was a black and white photo book with text called ‘Tie Your Camel’ where Darren managed to pull together all these disparate themes. Not an easy task but he managed to pull it off.

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Oxford Photographic Society