Iain Sarjeant captured landscape photograph who considers everything from wild, isolated mountains to the tiny cracks of pavement on the edge of town to be equally deserving of the landscape photograph. Although his commercial work — intended for stock agencies — is stunning, it is in his personal work where Sarjeant’s passionate eye for the environment around Scotland shines. Whether photographing alleyways in Inverness or decaying military structures along the Scottish coastline, Sarjeant is able to capture moments that seem too good to be true. It is as if these landscapes, buildings, and plays of light were all waiting only for Sarjeant’s camera.
However, it’s not by coincidence that Sarjeant has been able to find these moments. His work is devoted to the Scottish Highlands. In fact, he has spent the last 40 years living and working there. Not surprisingly, Sarjeant has released two books about this land, Orkney: A Celebration of Light and Landscape and Among Trees. In addition, he has worked with many stock agencies and clients around the world. He has also had his personal work exhibited in galleries across the UK.
In this interview, Sarjeant talks about why he became a landscape photographer, explains how he approaches his personal work, and gives some insights into his unique photographic style.
All of your landscape photography is wonderful. How did you get your start? How would you describe your work?
Thank you. My interest in capturing a landscape photograph really developed as a way of expressing my passion for the landscapes and culture of the Scottish Highlands, where I grew up and still live with my family. But it was also very much affected by 12 years working as a graphic designer, in terms of style. My work is predominantly landscape based, although I consider landscape to be anything from wild isolated mountains to the cracks on a pavement in an industrial estate on the edge of town.
Why landscape photography?
The landscape of the Scottish Highlands is very dramatic and beautiful, and initially I was drawn to capture this. But over the years I have become more interested in a much wider view of landscape, incorporating urban places – and in particular the interaction between people and their environment, the affect people have on the landscape.
You’ve probably developed a working knowledge of weather to help figure when best to go out. Do you have any practical advice about seeing the land you could share with other landscape photographers?
The weather in Scotland is very changeable and the seasons very obvious, and both these factors provide excellent conditions for clicking a landscape photograph. You have to be prepared for all types of weather in one day, but it’s this variety that leads to the most interesting opportunities.
There are gorgeous photographs in Land & Light. Some of these places seem remote. How do you explore and find these locations?
Thank you again. The Scottish Highlands are not big in world terms – you can drive across them in a couple of hours. I have lived here for 40 years and know the area very well – but there are still many places I have not explored. Many of the more traditional landscapes on my website are the images I produce commercially – for magazines, design agencies, and other clients. However, more and more my personal work explores much less obvious or iconic landscapes, often very close to home.
Your Other Side of Town project showcases your love of light. There are many photographs of light glancing off various objects: concrete, walls, water, windows. Could you explain your process of selecting what to capture for any project?
Ultimately a photograph is about light and I am fascinated by how it interacts with the lie of the land, whether in wild places or, as in this project, in man-made places. Light can create interest from the most ordinary of subjects.
Other Side of Town is about Inverness, your hometown. It is interesting to note how clean the town seems despite how glumly the tone of your images are. Could you explain your aim with this project? How did your approach differ from other projects?
This project is ongoing and represents a very different approach to my more traditional Scottish landscapes, both in terms of subject matter and way of working. I wanted to revisit the streets of my hometown both to see how it had changed but also just to see what now catches my eye. Instead of planning things in advance I wanted to react spontaneously to anything that caught my eye. No research, no route plans – just wandering with a camera. It’s a way of working I enjoy more and more.
I love Echoes of War. Instead of nature, your eye focuses on abandoned buildings. How did you make a photograph just as interesting as your landscape photography? What guided your camera?
During WW2 the landscape in Scotland, particularly along the coast changed a great deal. Many military structures were built, from gun emplacements to airfields – the substantial infrastructure of the war effort. After the war these buildings were just left and form a very visual reminder of an important part of our history. I have spent many years exploring these structures, drawn to the stark utilitarian design of them and how out of place they look in the natural beauty surrounding them. I am also fascinated by the gradual decay, of nature reclaiming – again the interaction of natural and man-made.
All of your projects seem in love of Scotland. Your intimate knowledge of the land must help you in clicking a cirquit photograph. Do you think an intimate awareness of a particular location is required for a great shoot? How might an outsider understand a location better?
Indeed I feel very passionately about my local area, and yes, much of my work is the result of a personal relationship with a place I know well – knowing a landscape intimately. However, I also find it fascinating to explore new locations – reacting spontaneously to new situations and experiences. It can also be fascinating to see what a visitor makes of a place you know well, and what they are drawn to – a different perspective. There are many different approaches and ways of working and I think it depends on what you are trying to achieve with a certain project.
What was the greatest lesson you learned that helped improve your landscape photograph?
I think we all learn a great deal from the work of other people who photograph and artists, and two who influenced me greatly were Swedish photographer Jan Tove and Danish photographer Keld Helmer-Petersen. I don’t know about improving my clicking a landscape photograph, but working on long-term projects has changed my approach and allowed me to tackle subjects in a personal way.