In 2017 I decided to do something bigger with my photography. I wanted to challenge myself creatively and produce a body of work to which I was proud to put my name. I settled on completing the Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB), a 170km hike circling the Mont Blanc mountain range in France, Italy and Switzerland.
I went into this not knowing what to expect, and as such I over-packed and had to leave some things behind at the hotel in Chamonix, including my 4×5 camera and associated equipment. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, and I ended up very grateful that my naive ass didn’t have to lug the extra weight up and down mountain passes for 14 days. I ended up shooting this series with my Mamiya 7.
Hiking and photographing was a juggling act to say the least. Time spent behind the lens was time to make up on the hike.
I generally gave myself up to 10 hours to complete each full stage. Depending on that day’s task this was usually enough time, except for one particularly arduous 26km day featuring a 1500m ascent that left me broken and battered. My pains were soothed somewhat by a nice American couple who bought this “crazy Australian with the tripod” a pint of beer to say thanks for taking their picture earlier on the trail. Erin and John, if you happen to read this, thank you sincerely for that.
Shooting was made easier through the use of a waist bag in which I stored my Mamiya 7 body with 3 additional lenses, rocket blower, assortment of coloured filters and step up rings, external spot meter and some rolls of film. This means I could stop, quickly access my camera, shoot hand-held, without having to take off my hiking bag. My tripod was strapped across the top of my pack to balance out the weight. I used it maybe four times.
I think that to truly excel at landscape photography one ought to make a study of their subject.
Rarely do I ever come away with my best images the first time I visit a location.
Subtle details are sometimes lost on me. I may be rushing to catch the fading light after arriving a little too late. Other times I’m just not 100% mindful of what I am doing, or I just don’t have an intimate connection with the location straight away. Photographing a landscape is like courtship. You may approach it one way at first, and find you come away with nothing. Next time you might try a different approach and see progress. It’s a slow and thoughtful study that yields results.
This means returning again and again, in different seasons and at different times of the day in the hope that maybe, just maybe, you might see a sunrise that lights the sky like fire, or the wind is so still that a lake reflects it’s surroundings without disturbance. It’s rare that you turn up right when everything is perfect, and you, to quote one of history’s greatest landscape photographers, Ansel Adams:
“…arrive just when God’s ready to have someone click the shutter.“
These moments happen, and luckily enough it happened once or twice on my trip.
Perfection is, of course, not always possible. Some days the weather was so poor I could see no more than 100 metres in front of me tdue to low-lying cloud. Rather than pack the camera away on these days I switched my focus to picking out details in the landscape since there were no grand vistas to be seen.
The most valuable thing I’ve taken away from this trip is the way in which it has changed my understanding of landscape photography. The fact that I had to keep moving coupled with the variable weather conditions meant that, almost without realising it, I was taking a documentarian approach to my work; I was photographing each location as it was at that time, not always under the best conditions. It’s a concept I will be sure to develop in the future.
At the end of the day, the reason I do what I do is because I love being outdoors in beautiful places. The solitude, the mixture of natural sounds and smells; they all mix together to create a unique sensory experience in each place I visit. The camera is a tool to record what I see and feel and, as I progress in this craft, what I see and feel will become what you see and feel.
Farley is a photographer based in Melbourne, Australia. He loves black and white film and enjoys printing his work in a traditional photographic darkroom. This series of images was photographed on Ilford FP4+ and HP5+.
You can see the rest of his Mont Blanc series on his website at: www.farleywebbphotography.com.au
Follow him on instagram at: www.instagram.com/farleyflex
He sometimes updates his Facebook page at: www.facebook.com/farleywebbphotography
Farley’s work is available to purchase as silver gelatin prints (where applicable). Please contact him for pricing information. Follow his socials to keep up to date with his future projects. In a few weeks he will be taking a trip to outback NSW to photograph Lake Mungo.