Photographer Charles Twist likes to employ an old-fashioned approach to his work. Yvette Huddleston spoke to him.
The Yorkshire landscape has inspired a number of artists over the years – Turner and Hockney to name just two – and a new photographic exhibition at the Inspired By... gallery in Danby takes the North York Moors as inspiration, but presents them in a quite unique way.
The series of striking sepia images of the Moors, on display in the gallery until the end of the month, have been created by photographer Charles Twist using Victorian photographic equipment and printing processes. Twist is a passionate advocate of vintage cameras and lenses and for the Moors photographs he used a wide-angle lens from the 1880s. “I have been using bellows cameras since 2005 and the vintage lenses for the last two or three years, mainly for portraiture,” he explains. “I had never tried sepia with landscape images and I thought it would be an interesting method to try.”
Twist set out to create pictures that held as few traces of time as possible and the resulting images are testament to his success in this respect – they look like photographs that could have been taken a hundred years ago. That is also partly due to the generally unchanging, or ‘timeless’, nature of the landscape. With no human figures or buildings in shot, the photographs are pure observations of the land itself – its contours and particular characteristics. Twist was careful to choose very specific conditions in which to take his photographs in order to maintain this sense of timelessness. “I know the North York Moors very well but I had to find them in the right mood,” he says. “I had to wait for the weather to be right. I know exactly the kind of weather that works – cloudy and when the wind is quite low. I was looking for very flat light. If you have sunshine in the picture then it is possible to tell what time of day the picture was taken and I didn’t want that. These images talk about time in a way that is actually quite provocative.”
Once he had captured the images he wanted, Twist then made the prints using a printing method originally developed in the 1840s and now known as the Van Dyke Brown process. “It is very time-consuming,” he says. “Each of those images took an hour in the dark room. What’s interesting is that with a digital camera you might take 200 to 300 images and then adjust them afterwards; with these I took 12 pictures, ten of which are in the show. It is a very deliberate and thought-through process.” Twist says that he prefers this approach – deciding what it is he is trying to achieve and working out what he needs to do in order to accomplish it. “I think with a digital camera you can almost end up chasing the pictures, trying this and that.”
Twist intends to continue exploring the techniques and processes he has been using, as well as experimenting with the concept of time both in portraiture and landscape photography. And he will go back to the Moors. “It is a landscape that fascinates me,” he says. “It is bleak and flat and because of that it creates a huge horizontality. It’s a landscape I will return to.”