The essays in this book are presented in order of writing with the first being written in 2007 and the last during 2010. The first three were published in various issues of Ag magazine; all appear here in revised form. In particular the opening essay is presented in full length, the magazine version was necessarily somewhat condensed; the last two have not been published elsewhere. Two essays concern the work of John Blakemore and both were written with his extensive cooperation. I admired his work before we became good friends and so feel no conflict in writing about it in such positive terms; in any case I would not be interested in writing about work that I do not enjoy. I have had many rewarding discussions with him that have informed the essays presented here either from the start or during revision; I am not thereby claiming that he endorses all the views expressed.
The remaining three essays concern various aspects of photography, concentrating on landscape photography. The opening one is a somewhat extensive discussion of the way I see the pursuit as part of a whole involving mathematics, art and music; I owe a debt to Joe Cornish who convinced me that I should write such a piece. It has at times been fashionable to appeal to mathematics as a justification for various pictorial concerns, for example fractal geometry. For me this is not a strong argument, why is something interesting because we have a mathematical account of it? Its nature is in no way changed and the photographs we can make are also in no way affected. The mathematical account itself is usually of great interest and often requires extensive technical knowledge to appreciate. My concern is with the deeper connection of mathematical creativity and the activity of image making as a means of exploring the world.
Of the remaining two essays the first addresses the thorny question of image manipulation seeking to avoid a doctrinaire position. The final essay, which lends its title to the collection, is the one that took the longest time to produce. It is not a polemic against beauty as such but rather against the all too easy adherence to it as some primal notion. It seems to me to be much more of a derived notion, at least so far as landscape is concerned; our not too distant ancestors would have been bemused by our modern devotion to wilderness and praise of its beauty. At one time people looked at the Alps with horror.
The intention in writing most of the essays was to subject various views to close scholarly scrutiny, providing supporting material and context wherever possible. As a result there are many references as well as footnotes. Without relevant evidence and sufficient nuance we are left at best with opinion pieces which might at times be entertaining but are, for me, of little interest. This is not to say that every reader will agree with with every point made.
Apart from the essays on John Blakemore's work I concentrate on landscape photography, as mentioned above. This is not through any lack of interest in other areas. However there I am a spectator rather than a practitioner and do not feel suitably qualified to discuss them in any depth. If time permitted I would certainly explore other areas of photography with my cameras though I cannot foresee working in more than one genre at the same time. I am not claiming that the only people qualified to comment on some type of work are its practitioners. The alternative is to steep oneself in study of the subject and ideally have as many discussions with practitioners as possible. Regrettably, lack of time prevents me from studying other areas to the necessary depth.
Finally I must warn readers that the essays are not always about unearthing some indisputable truth but about presenting the case for or against some notion (however, as will be clear, I reject notions of rank subjectivity; long live Immanuel Kant). There is no question of sitting on the fence, rather an acknowledgement that on many matters under discussion there is no theorem to prove only various positions to assess; the crucial requirement is to do so in a scrupulously logical manner rather than some impressionistic fog. This does not rule out poetic metaphor, but I maintain that this is more effective if its construction is subject to rigour.
NOTE: if you preview the book on a smallish screen you will see some sharpening artefacts. This is because the images have been sharpened for printing to allow for the fact that ink spreads a little; the printed images do not have any artefacts.