Artist in the Spotlight: David Magee
"I aim to portray not just what exists, but what is not obvious; that imperceptible element that stirs emotion..."
By Chelsea Moore
This week we caught up with fine art photographer David Magee. Born and raised in Cork, Ireland David has been creating images in the landscape for the last 25 years.
Whilst David works within the landscape, he prefers not to think of it as the ‘subject’ of his work. Rather he aims to create a sense of the atmosphere and feeling within the places he visits. ‘To engage the viewer with the experience of being immersed in the landscape and the spirituality of nature.’
Travelling around Ireland and countries further afield, to places off the beaten track, away from obvious landmarks or locations, he ‘immerses himself in the landscape’ and photographs the natural elements he experiences there.
Earth, water and air are these recurring elements that form the basis of these images. It is his relationship with and interpretation of these elements, in whatever form they take, that really underpins his photography. For David, it is the combination of these elements, of light, tone and movement and the passage of time used through extended exposures, that stirs emotion and creates feeling...
You grew up in Ireland and studied in Scotland. Both these places are known for their beautiful and rugged landscapes. Do you think these places have had an influence on your love for nature and why you photograph what you do?
In Ireland where I was born, and especially on the west coast of Ireland, the land and sea are wild, ever changing and wonderful. When I was young, I was never happier than when I was by the sea.
My photography answers an overwhelming longing to satisfy my creativity and to spend more and more time outside by the sea or in the landscape. It’s where I’m happiest, alone with the elements.
There is a special feeling that I get from being and working in the landscape, I think the pursuit of solitude, and time to reflect is a big part of the reason I feel so focused when photographing. It is very much a solitary experience and one that I seem to thrive on. It helps give me perspective. Spending a day alone working outside without any other human interaction is very uplifting. It helps me re-calibrate.
I hope that in turn my photographs can offer the viewer the opportunity to reflect and be drawn into this world, to experience perhaps what I experienced at that moment. I want the photographs to evoke a feeling in them, whatever that may be.
Lightscape Study II
Give us an idea of a day in the life of David Magee on location. Tell us a bit more about how you work, what you look for and how you capture the final images?
Invariably, the process starts with a journey to a location I want to explore, or re-discover. Sometimes I have something specific in mind that I want to achieve, sometimes not. I like to keep more of an open mind to potential possibilities once I have spent some time at a location. The element of chance is always exciting. A lot of the time it’s the weather and the changing elements that create the opportunity.
Sometimes it takes many visits to a place before I create something that I am happy with. Each time I visit a place, circumstances may be different. Be it the time of year, the light, the tide, or my frame of mind, it’s these changing elements that need to be in synergy in order to make a truly emotive image.
The challenge is in being patient and spotting the opportunity to create something memorable from what may not be instantly visible. Many of my photographs are taken using long exposure times, so it’s not something you or I, whilst at the location could immediately see ourselves.
On many occasions it’s about realising the difference between when to take a photograph and when to sit it out and plan the next trip. There have been countless times when I sit in the landscape, potentially after a long journey, and study the surroundings only to realise that it’s maybe not the right day, due to the weather, light, tide or so many other potential factors.
As much as you can plan and prepare for a trip, nature can have an agenda all of her own. On days like this, it’s important to keep the camera in the case and enjoy simply being there.
The obvious benefit of being an artist who works in the landscape, is that you get the chance to travel to some fantastic landscapes to work. How do you choose these countries and locations?
My photography has been a great impetus to travel. I consider myself very lucky to have visited some wonderful countries and to have met some fascinating people from different cultural backgrounds.
However, in my photographs I have always tried to avoid representing the actual location and instead use whatever features presented themselves to create an image that sits comfortably with my early work photographed in Ireland.
For me, it’s not about the place, it’s about the feeling and the atmosphere that the place creates. Consequently, I shy away from recognisable structures and landscapes that are associated with a specific country or region, but just choose places I want to visit whilst enjoying working in a different climate, light or setting.
How do you respond as a professional photographer to a world in which technology has enabled everyone to become ‘photographers’? Has it changed the way you work?
In this digital age, when all mobile phones also contain a camera - everyone, is a photographer of sorts. However, when people view a framed piece of photographic fine art, they invariably remark on the probability of the photographer having a “professional” camera.
The inference being, that the standard of the equipment is more relevant than the ability of the photographer. I like to think that the advent of digital has not really changed my way of working. It has however, made the processing and archiving of images more immediate and controllable. To me, it’s all about the visualisation and creation of the final image and not the equipment used, that is important.
What are you working on now and what can we expect from you in the near future?
I have found that the process of editing my images for my book 'Outside' has been a great form of focus for the direction of my photography in the future. It has been refreshing, looking at the work as a collection, rather than as individual images.
Accordingly, I would like to build a collection of images around a specific geographic area. I have somewhere perfect in mind...
We hope you enjoyed this insight into the work of a fabulous artist. With his 25 year retrospective just published, we can't wait for what the next 25 years have to come!