Joe's Interview

Web site:
Age: 43
A pair of bright blue eyes that successfully found me in a crowd, for our meeting, that's JOE CORNISH. Possibly Britain's most famous landscape photographer. Joe kindly agreed to answer my questions with humour, honesty and professionalism! Lucky viewers! Here is his interview.


Where in the UK do you live? North Yorkshire, England.

What is your background? I’m from the South West of England, born in Exeter, Devon. I was raised & educated in Devon and then went to Reading University, where I studied Fine Art, and it was here that I discovered photography. I had never touched a camera before. After graduating, in which I concentrated on photography though the Uni didn’t like me doing that, I then worked as an assistant in Washington DC for two years and then as an assistant in London for another year.

What is your current job? Or current jobs? Well I’m a freelance photographer concentrating on landscape photography. Most of which I set myself to do for my own publishing company, joeGraphic (for details or information on joeGraphic or on Joe's range of calendars & publications ring 01642 713444 or fax 01642 711177. Have a look at Joe's website - ). But I also do commissioned work, mainly for the National Trust and other environmental agencies. That’s the sort of client I prefer to work for.

I’ve heard you also run photographic workshops. What is your main motivation for doing this? That’s a very difficult question; it certainly isn’t money because it isn’t very well paid. I suppose I do it for the sense of fulfilment. I don’t really regard it as teaching. I can perhaps point out some things people might not have noticed and by being there, sharing my vision of lighting, composition and timing, might help the participants to get a greater sense of achievement in the work they produce. That gives me a lot of pleasure!

All images © Joe Cornish 2001

Your Work:

Lots of people regard you as a master of landscape photography. Do you feel more motivated to do more and better or are you scared to be disappointing? I feel very motivated to do more and better, I feel very much that the best is yet to come and I don’t think there is any photograph that I’ve ever done that I would say is on a level with an Ansel Adams or an Edward Weston. For me they remain a kind of benchmark that I aspire to. I would like to take pictures that move people in the way they did, or make people think about why they live the way they do. There is certainly a long, long way for me to go. But I’ve never been scared of disappointing.

Do you think Mother Nature is fussier, more unpredictable and more versatile than a Top Model? I’ve never worked with a top model! I know photographers who say top models always turn up 5 hours late though I’m sure when they do turn up, they are predictably superb! Mother Nature is a ferocious God in that she gives with one hand and takes with the other and you have to learn that you will not often get what you set out for. It’s very often the case that however hard you plan, you always need to be able to think sideways. The best-planned shot sometimes works as you had hoped, but when it doesn’t, often a better solution arises behind your back whilst you are not looking. It’s a very special kind of relationship. You are subservient to Mother Nature but at the same time she gives you opportunities you just can’t predict!

Because you mainly shoot landscapes, did you have to learn new virtues: patience? Humility? Or something else? I’m as impatient as most people are. I’m a driven kind of individual and very competitive with myself and in my early days I used to get to really get down on myself when I’d missed something. Over the years I’ve learned that there will always be something I’ll miss and that I’ll go on missing things. It’s not so much a philosophy of patience but more a philosophy of acceptance and even of humility! We are very, very insignificant but at the same time If you bring the right attitude to the situation, your chances of success are improved. It’s like the old golfers saying, “the more I practise, the luckier I get”. I think that’s very true in landscape photography!

Is your dedication to “Landscape a way to resist against modernity? I think that modernity is a word that can be misinterpreted but if by modernity you mean the industrialisation of agriculture and by the creeping addiction to comfort and the material world, by which we are all affected, then yes! It is an antidote to that. But I also believe that what is truly modern, is to look into the future and see a way forward for all humanity. I feel that my work is about that; it is about reconnecting with nature. I feel strongly that the only future is one in which we learn to live in some kind of harmonious relationship with the natural world, because the way we live at the moment is not sustainable for long.

Along your photographic career, did you go though different phases, different styles? I have had to do many different kinds of jobs over the years. Simply because of the imperative to make a living! I had very little money when I lived in London and I did almost everything, anything clients would give me to do! Many, many boring jobs but as to whether they changed my style, the answer is no! I think there is a direct link between the pictures that I did as a degree student and the pictures that I do now. There is the same sense of composition and lighting that I use today, except then it was all B/W whereas I now work in colour.

All images © Joe Cornish 2001

What is the strangest thing you had to shoot? OK, well it won’t sound very interesting but you remember the 80’s? When computer paper had sprocket holes down each side. One of my clients needed a really gorgeous shot of this paper. I set it up on a huge sheet of black Perspex as a kind of zigzag line. It was lit in an interesting way, almost like a landscape if you like! Like a mountain range! That’s the strangest shot I can think of anyway!

What changes would you make in your method of work, if any? I think the answer to that is that I wish I could take the unreliability out of film processing! If I could, I would be more secure about the whole experience with labs, which I find a bit worrying. Shifting no blame onto any particular lab, I know all labs’ get occasional problems with chemistry. I love film, but there is a hit or miss element to it’s processing. Not that I would want to get involved in processing it myself!

As we said, the category “Landscape” is your first choice. What would be your second? Tough question. I also love shooting architecture and people. But I think I’m not so good at people! Whereas I’m reasonably good at architecture, I think it would be a tougher challenge for me to shoot people. Editors note: Regarding Architecture, Joe chose to show us his shot of Tomar, Portugal, which brings him fond memories of that building.

All images © Joe Cornish 2001

Your Gear

Your equipment? I do almost everything on a lightweight 5x4 Ebony view camera. I take as many lenses as I feel I would need on a shoot, might be two or three, but sometimes five or six, if I feel I need more scope on a shot Editors note: Joe told us that on a difficult shoot he might take as many as ten lenses for his 5x4 view camera but these six are the most used 58mm XL f 5.6, 90mm f 4.5, 120mm f 8, 150mm f 5.6, 210mm f 5.6, and 300mm f 8 (telephoto).

Black/White or colour? What do you prefer? That is an impossible question to answer! I love B/W, I was brought up shooting B/W and I feel a deep attachment to the great American photographers of the Mid-West. But having said that, since Fuji Velvia appeared in 1989, I believe that this was a significant development for landscape photography. This film has such a magnificent emulsion for recording colour landscapes it’s actually inspired a new wave of colour photography which I certainly feel part of!

All images © Joe Cornish 2001

Do you have a digital camera? Why yes, why not? I don’t have a digital camera. If I wanted to buy a snap shot camera I would be perfectly happy with a digital, I have no prejudice against digital technology it’s a matter of the right tool for the job. After all that’s what a camera is! At the moment I require two things from my equipment – one is very high quality reproduction and the other is the flexibility and control of the view camera. The digital solution means much more weight and a huge investment because high quality digital backs are so expensive. Also they aren’t actually practical for short exposures, they require longer scanning times. So, at present, the technology doesn’t suit my needs!

Your Pictures

What was your first step in photography? I remember my Father had a camera and it used to take him a year or two to get one film through! He would only take pictures at holiday time. I always wanted to take pictures which was considered “inappropriate” at my age then. I never touched a camera until my gap year, before going to University. My Father actually lent me his, when I went to New Zealand where I took snaps with it. But photography didn’t really start for me until I bought an SLR when I was at University.

What is your favourite picture? Can you tell us the little story to go with? JC. I don’t have a particular favourite; I’m not very good at making that kind of selection. My pictures represent a particular experience for me, I have perhaps ten that are my favourites because they are associated with happy memories.

Are you the type of photographer who just takes one shot on a subject? Simple answer yes, but also no! There are times when I do more. That phrase of Edward Weston, you know, the “climax of emotion” that’s what I am aiming for. I try to get the best moment at any given time, the best perspective, the best composition, best timing. So I focus on one thing at a time. I don’t rush around trying to get lots of shots. I try and make every shot the best shot I can do. I might take three or four different shots at a good dawn with two exposures of each. If the light was very difficult I might end up taking two more at a different exposure.

Do you like to show your pictures? Yes I do, I’m unashamedly proud of my pictures! I love showing my work and generally I get good feedback about it. I think it’s because I feel a passion about the places I shoot, I tend to go to places I like and that I have a feeling for. It gives me a chance to talk about the place as much as my work.

Do you think you have a fair opinion on others photographer’s work? I believe I do. I have a great respect for other photographers and I have been highly influenced by a number of photographers who have given me guidance, deliberately or otherwise, in the past. I have been inspired by the work of Charlie Waite, Paul Wakefield and Denis Waugh. Also the Americans David Muench, and Michael Fatali. However, the one I hold in greatest esteem is Peter Dombrovskis. And as to whether I exaggerate the importance of other photographers, as some suggest, I’m not sure. I’m confident in my own work but I hope I’m also scrupulously fair about others work. I try never to denigrate another photographer’s work!

Do you keep all your photographs even the junk? No!

Your “biggest disappointment” in photography? The most recent huge disappointment I’ve had, is that we had superb snow conditions for landscape photography just a couple of weeks ago. I’m sure all landscape photographers reading this will remember! But because of the Foot & Mouth outbreak and restrictions, I was unable to go out onto the hills near my home or to go to Scotland where I would have loved to have been. Obviously my disappointment is irrelevant compared to the suffering of the farmers but that’s my example!

What is your favourite “ingredient “ for a good photo? It has to be a lighting thing. If I look at other peoples work there’s a little thing with me, if I see something about the lighting that moves me or lifts my spirit then that’s what I go for every time!

Do you have a secret little trick to make your photo always so stunning? You can answer Yes or No! No because it’s an accumulative thing, a combination of a huge number of different elements. I am aware of the factors that come into play, sometimes though things don’t always combine correctly but basically it’s about space, light and composition. It is an unpredictable medium and this makes it exciting however many times you go out. You can accumulate this vast body of experience in your brain and yet if you follow a formula in landscape photography, you get found out very quickly. You constantly have to renew yourself and your creativity.

All images © Joe Cornish 2001

Your Inspiration

Are you just suddenly inspired? Or do you plan a project? I’m very much a planner though I’m very inspired by light! If it’s a beautiful afternoon and I’m working in my office and I see an interesting lighting event unfolding across the hills, I’ll then stop everything, throw a pack in the car, walk up the hill and I’ll see what I find. Even if its just pure sky with a tree silhouetted. But that’s unusual, often I work out in advance what I want to do. Combinations of elements and events to do with the seasons, types of weather, still water or changing leaves, any number of things that you can imagine. I try to catch those things at their most beautiful.

Who is your favourite photographer Black & White, Ansel Adams, Colour, Peter Dombrovskis.

What is your favourite subjects Coastal landscapes

All images © Joe Cornish 2001

What are your favourite spots Colorado Plateau

What is your favourite mood Interesting! Light out of darkness. In a way I can transfer that to myself, having often been despondent because of the weather. And I’m frequently affected by the weather. Then seeing the light changing I find my mood physically change as well.

Do you think overexposed locations have nothing to say anymore, or new talents, new technique can make a difference? I absolutely believe that overexposed locations usually become overexposed because they are the most graphic and dramatic places. Take Bryce Canyon, Grand Canyon, in fact the whole Colorado Plateau! I believe there are always more things to do. The challenge to the photographer is to go to these places with a completely open mind and not to feel jaded by the pictures they’ve already seen. It is harder, much harder to go to those places and be original but that’s what that experience is about, trying to see it for the first time with fresh eyes.

Are you perpetually out and about to find new spots? No I’m not. I guess if I were a single guy with no family commitments I think I would enjoy travelling a lot more than I do. I’ve come to accept that I’m not single. My family matter a great deal to me; I would be a remiss Father if I travelled anymore than I do.

Your view on

What do you think about Contemporary Art Photography? My interest in Contemporary Art photography waned about seven or eight years ago because I realised that I could never be part of it. Whether that’s because I’m too stupid to understand it or because it is a con, I’m not certain! I didn’t see anything that touched me when I lived in London and I did go and see a lot of Contemporary Art shows. Very little of it affected me on a personal level. I can only say no, I don’t think about it.

What changes has fame made in your life? It terms of my daily life it has made no difference at all. I don’t feel any different and fortunately, as a photographer, fame is relative! Fame is only the exposure you have to other photographers and to be appreciated by your contemporaries and your peers gives real fulfillment. Fortunately it doesn’t mean having to cope with being recognised all over the place like celebrities are. I would hate that.

Can you describe yourself in 3 words? Persistent, driven, hopeful.

What would be your advice to a beginner in photography? Don’t do it for the money! Only be a photographer if you feel passionate about it. That’s especially true for landscape photography. If you are passionate about it then you will have the drive to take you through the inevitable disappointments.

Your dream

What is your dream as a photographer? My dream is to be able to make a difference. You can interpret that in anyway you like. I try to connect with the landscape but on a personal level and by doing so I try to express my own spiritual connection or experience of it. If I can do that and move others in that way, if it makes a difference to them then that’s my dream I guess.

We asked you to show us pictures other than landscape. Tell us a little bit more about these shots.

All images © Joe Cornish 2001

As I use my children as models quite a lot. I wanted to show a couple of my favourites of them here.

All images © Joe Cornish 2001

The cactus is a recent shot, done in the Canary Islands. What I like about it is that its quite abstract but there’s enough detail that you can see what it is; it has a glowing quality of light and there’s a tension between the sharpness, the spikiness of the cactus and the soft luminosity of the lighting. The Brass band is a reminder of home, North Yorkshire. I like the lighting in this; it was very high contrast, a difficult shot to do. I was using artificial light and was so thrilled with it when I got it back!

All images © Joe Cornish 2001

This space is not a question. It’s your “Free Speech Space”. Go on! You can say whatever you like! Perhaps I should just say that for me landscape photography is a fusion of everything I love about living. Being outdoors, experiencing the seasons, the light, the colour. I enjoy the physical work aspect of it very much too. The exercise and the sense of being connected, at least slightly connected compared with what most of us are most of the time, to the natural world. I encourage other people to go out and have the same experience.

All images © Joe Cornish 2001

Images other than in "Your Chosen Photos" except Dunstanburgh Castle are from Joe Cornish 2001, a calendar with all the photographs taken within 30 miles of where Joe lives.

To Buy Joe's Book Simply Click The Link

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Roger Voller


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