Our occasional series of interviews with photographers living and working in Scotland continues. David Lintern speaks to Cairngorms afficionado, Anke Addy.
You are originally from the lowlands of the Netherlands. How did you end up living and working in Scotland and what attracted you here?
As is often the case, it was for work. First, a short-term job at a field centre in South Wales, and from there to Scotland. Having arrived in the North East, more than 35 years ago, we soon appreciated the varied landscape and spent a lot of time out of doors, and still do.
How did you get started as a photographer?
Photography was a very natural progression from observing the landscapes while walking, and picking up a camera to preserve experiences on the hill, on film. Once I got the bug I mainly concentrated on monochrome images, including learning the process of hand developing and hand printing. From thereon I studied at Aberdeen College to broaden my approach and became a freelance photographer in 2000.
Your book ‘The Living Cairngorms’ is framed by the work of Nan Shepherd. When did you first come across Shepherd’s ‘The Living Mountain’ and how is it significant to you?
My book ‘The Living Cairngorms’ was published in Summer 2018. I first came across Nan Shepherd’s book’ The Living Mountain’ in the mid 2000’s when I was engrossed in a Black and White project on ice.
I loved the focus on water and ice in the book…
I recall I had spent several hours on the banks of the river Dee while the temperature was dropping to -13C. The moving water in front of me became ice in a very short space of time and built up into amazing shapes and patterns. Around that time, I’d read Nan Shepherd’s description about ‘… the struggle between frost and the force in running water …’ The written description of this process is what I had closely observed while taking the images and this mutual experience was a defining moment.
One of the amazing aspects of frost is that it changes the world around us and keep changing while the temperatures flucuate. This excites me. It also resonated with Nan Shepherd, hence her vivid and sharply observed descriptions in her writing, for example ‘Frozen Carrots, or ‘An Ingenious Glass Toy.’
A fair bit has been said about how Nan Shepherd’s writing is informed by her gender – that there’s a different narrative in her book compared to more traditional mountaineering stories. Is this an important distinction to you personally?
Yes, there is a difference between the male perspective of writing about mountains and Nan Shepherd’s. What is different about Shepherd’s writing is the creative expression of every aspect of the mountain environment; the plateau, the birds, the plants, the air, the water and the mammals, while the male perspective has traditionally tended to be on’ how to get to the top’ and ‘bag another Munro’. Of course, both are valid. When Nan Shepherd wrote ‘The Living Mountain’, she showed the overall mountain and that is what set her apart – certainly at the time she wrote the book.
Can you talk about the role of the other elements in your Living Cairngorms book? The ‘air and light’ chapter finds the focus above the horizon line, for example.
This was a lovely chapter to photograph as one hardly ever totally concentrates on the air and light in a landscape setting. As you say the focus is above the horizon; the land area is minimal, and the sky is the main subject matter.
You are described in your book as an environmental teacher as well as a photographer. How does that inform your photography?
Before I became a photographer, I was a teacher, and for a number of years ‘my classroom’ was outdoors. I taught upper Primary classes environmental studies while hill walking, did pond and tree studies, and created opportunities for youngsters to find out more about the natural world they live in. By spending a lot of time outside and in the same places our observational skills develop, which in turn make us feel more connected and for me that also means taking photos of natural aspects which attract me.
Do you think of your work as documentary or ‘art’? Does that distinction even matter?
With this project I think it is mostly documentary, I am recording the local environment, but whilst doing so my photographic response could have a creative slant rather than a straight forward representation of say a tree. Looking at the rowan tree I could have photographed a trunk, branches, leaves, and with or without flowers or berries. Instead I found a tree with only red berries while all leaves had gone already. To show off Autumn and its wild weather I choose to photograph this tree on a very windy day with along exposure.
One of the things I love about living in the Cairngorms is the mix of rock and wood. How do you experience the forests, and the relationship between hill and glen?
Hill and glen inevitably go together, but they look very different. Unfortunately, the hills are often artificially kept treeless because of land management issues. The glens which are mostly forested feel more natural. I would like to see more trees germinating and growing up the hillsides for a more natural habitat.
The photos of animals feel very intimate and natural. How were these taken?
I only used a hide to photograph the black cock (grouse) in the book. All other birds and mammals I photographed in the open air and often without camouflage. Of course, over the years I have learned where to find certain species and although you are not always successful at the first attempt; perseverance usually does pay. The very young roe deer was a happy and totally unexpected incident.
What’s so special about the Cairngorms, for you?
I have walked in many places, but the Cairngorms is on my doorstep and very attractive, so I tend to spend more time there. My two main photography subjects – landscapes and wildlife – are well represented in this area, and as each day, any weather, season, or indeed any hour can bring changes and challenges, I am unlikely to get bored.
What’s next for you?
I keep on taking images, mostly about landscapes and wildlife, as I enjoy them both.
Somewhere along the way I’ll find another project or theme to concentrate on. For the time being I am still giving talks about ‘The Living Cairngorms.’
The book is available in selected independent bookstores and galleries in and around the Cairngorm National Park, or direct from Anke – email via her website.