Lake District: Mountain Landscape
Displayed at Frances Lincoln
Reviewed byEd Douglas
DateFriday, 26 March 2010
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Pity Alastair Lee's chiropractor. I imagine he has his work cut out. Lee's Roundshot Super 220 VR panoramic camera weighs seven kilograms, and that's without any lenses and the plethora of other cameras he seems to carry with him. Allow for the fact that much of his best work is done in winter, when presumably he carries lots of warm clothes and a thermos, and his rucksack must get him down.
It's worth the trouble though. Some of the photographs in this collection of landscapes of the high Lakeland hills are sumptuous beyond words, and offer quite staggering detail. I don't really care how he does it, that's neither my job nor my interest, but I've seen little else that captures what it's like to be high on the fells with the same expansive pleasure. It's not just that he's a capable photograper, he's clearly in love with these hills.
The very best images, like the view of Scafell and Great Gable from a very cold-looking High Stile, made me envious not of his skill – that would be daft – but of the time he's clearly spent at the extreme ends of the day to record light on the verge of either strengthening into something flat or harsh, or disappearing altogether. I've often wondered what exposure to low-angled light does to our psychologies over thousands of years. Are northern Europeans soulful because the light always seems to be slipping away? That feeling seems doubly strong as the light begins to fade on a winter's afternoon.
That photograph shows the Lakes at their wildest. A 180-degree view of the Langdale, also taken in winter, has the same rich light, shot early in the morning, but the scene is punctuated by small farmhouses, and the unmistakable geometric patterns of dry-stone walls and the hard-worked pastures they contain. At a glance, he captures a feeling that any shepherd or farmer from Hunza or Langtang or any other mountain region will understand, the hard mountains and the tough work it's taken to make a living from them.
Not everything works. Some of the larger landscapes aren't as strong as these images and a few of the drop-in shots he seems to favour aren't of the best quality. He seems to want to throw everything at the subject when often less really would be more, but this is a strong book, and if you find yourself marooned far from the mountains, one that will bring your memories of them rushing back.