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The topographical photography of Peter Holliday combines remarkable landscapes alongside focused portraiture of the inhabitants that dwell within them. The Glasgow-based photographer has a sincere understanding of people and how their surroundings can inform and alter daily lives. He represents this understanding visually by considering, “the symbiotic relationships human share with the environments we find ourselves in.” Here Peter discusses what got him interested in photography and the various locations he’s explored in his work.
What was your introduction to photography?
I must have been about ten when my parents gave me my first camera to use on a family holiday, a simple Kodak disposable. Later, when I was around 15 my father passed down his Minolta X-700 SLR and a roll of 35mm black and white film to experiment with. With his help we successfully developed the negatives together in the kitchen using some old chemicals he had. When I saw the results, I was immediately hooked.
Your portfolio is a lovely balance between portraiture and landscape photography, how do you find jumping between the two?
I’m interested in the landscapes we live in and how we dwell there. Through a combination of landscape and portraiture photography, I wish to emphasise the personable experience of the landscapes that humanity discovers itself within. I want to reveal nature as a material entity that exists in relation to the human gaze by exploring landscape as a feature not only influenced by human intervention, but as something that has always been there.
How did your interest in topography develop?
I remember when I was very young I wanted to be an archaeologist or historian. I grew up in the Scottish countryside close to the remains of a Roman fort built 2000 years ago by General Agricola’s army during their campaign of Scotland. Despite being a place I initially associated with home, I soon became intrigued by the site and began to reinterpret it as a past landscape of military conquest. I would play there as a kid, and although I was yet to pick up a camera, I was already interested by the lasting marks this ancient culture had made on the land that were still visible despite the passing of two millennia. On reflection of my practice now, I suppose my work is inspired by the anthropological curiosity I had as a child. My photography is an interpretation of the physical world we live in, our place in it, and its cultural significance.
Your series Where the Land Rises depicts vast environments interspersed with portraits of the inhabitants. Could you tell us more about the location?
Where the Land Rises is a series reflecting the legacy of a volcanic eruption of Eldfell on Heimaey, the largest island in the Vestmannaeyjar archipelago, which lies six miles off the south coast of Iceland. On 23rd January 1973, Heimaey suddenly erupted, leading to its immediate evacuation, destroying many homes as well as violently altering the island’s geography. As the lava flow crept nearer to the harbour it threatened to destroy the island’s economic lifeline. Interventions were made to divert the drifting lava, including a dam of solidified basalt created by spraying the flow with billions of litres of seawater. As a result the harbour had been saved, but the island’s landscape had been changed forever. Five months later in June the eruption had ceased and many of the island’s inhabitants began to return to a darkened landscape that they hardly recognised as home.
Within this series I investigate how the eruption, a sudden geological trauma to the symbolic order of existence, affected the collective psyche of the island’s inhabitants. They continue to live in the shadow of the 43 year old volcano, many of whom remember its eruption.
What is your set up when shooting on location?
I find that the most productive way to take photographs is a combination of walking and taking time to observe the landscape around me. I try to keep my setup light, I currently shoot with a Mamiya 7II medium format rangefinder camera that almost never leaves my tripod.
What consideration do you take into account when designing a website to showcase your photography?
When I was considering my current website I wanted something with a minimal aesthetic and an interface that was easily navigable by the viewer. I found Squarespace very simple to use, with a great range of customisable templates to choose from. I also find it very easy to manage and update my online portfolio as I gather new work.
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