JOSH HARRISON INTERVIEW
Hi Josh, how are things? How’s 2013 treated you so far?
Hi Steve, 2013 has been good so far, thanks. It’s been a very busy year with a lot of commercial work, but I managed to get three great trips in. My girlfriend and I went to stay in an Ice Hotel in the Romanian Mountains at the beginning of the year which was a great experience. Then I was in Florida briefly doing some commercial photography, with a bit of spare time to photograph the wildlife. Then I spent most of June travelling around the North Atlantic, and around Spitsbergen in the Norwegian Arctic.
You are a wildlife and landscape photographer based in East Yorkshire, England. How old were you when you first picked up a camera, and was it a case of ‘love at first click’?
I think I was about 12 or 13 when I first got a camera. I had irreparably damaged a remote control car by driving it into a river, so I dried it out and sent it back saying it had stopped working, and I exchanged it for a basic film camera.
As a youngster, what attracted you so much to the art of photography?
I honestly don’t know what the initial attraction was; I think it was just fun taking photos if we had a family trip up to Dalby or the Lake District. I was always interested in wildlife and nature. As I got older, my friends and I spent most of our time riding BMX bikes. I started doing more sports photography because we all wanted to see how good, or not so good, the tricks we were doing looked on the camera. I think I was always better with a camera than I was on a BMX.
Did you always hook designs on the idea of becoming a professional photographer, or have you ordinarily viewed photography as purely a hobby, nothing more?
I think, for many years, it was just a hobby. I didn’t really want to study it as I was afraid I’d just be taught to take photos the same as everyone else. So I just took photos that I liked, and if other people liked them, then great. If not, I wasn’t too bothered. Eventually people started asking me to photograph things for them, and then it just evolved into a business. I think I have been lucky to have met some very good local and international photographers over the years who have always given me great advice regarding my work and making a living from it. In a way, I still just do it because I enjoy it, but making it into a business gave me more opportunities and new challenges that help me improve my work and help me learn. I like to think I have managed to keep my own style with my work as I always try and keep any editing to a minimum. I prefer to get the image right on camera; after all, that’s the challenge of photography.
As much as you love photography, you love travelling. Which of all the places you’ve visited have had the most impact on you?
It’s difficult to say. I didn’t actually start going abroad till I was 22, but ever since then I have been hooked. I think every place you go has an impact on you, but the Arctic has probably had the biggest impact because it’s such an incredible and unique place. I decided it was somewhere I had to visit in 2009, and I rang up a company called Aqua-Firma that organised trips there and asked them for a price. They told me how much it was and I said I would ring them back next year. Consequently, I worked pretty much non-stop for 6 months to get the money together, and in 2010 I went to Spitsbergen for the first time.
The first time you see it is something you will always remember. The landscape can’t really be put into words. Even photos do not do it justice. It is just endless, and it is hard to even comprehend the scale of what you see because there are no reference points like trees or buildings. You can be travelling on the ship towards something that looks a few miles away, but it could be 3 or 4 times that distance, if not further. If it’s a trip you have always wanted to do in life, I would recommend doing it sooner rather than later: ironically, it is a once-in-a-lifetime trip that you can’t just do once!
As a photographer, is it possible for you to go about your day-to-day business without a camera on-hand at all times, or do you prefer to take your camera practically everywhere with you?
It depends on where I am heading. If I don’t take a camera, I usually regret it. If I am going somewhere scenic or somewhere I know there is wildlife or extreme sports, then I always take my camera. I usually try and have a bit of time away from the camera as well, though, because I think if you do something ‘all day, every day’ you can lose your creativity a bit, so it’s nice to have a break and come back to it with some new ideas to keep pushing yourself to create original work.
What kind of camera are you currently using, and what’s the easiest way for amateur photographers to get a handle on which equipment will be best for their needs?
I currently use a Nikon D3s which is great for sports and wildlife. I would say the easiest way to find the equipment that’s right for you is by doing research, so go to trade shows and try the equipment and find online reviews and samples of images taken with that equipment. Don’t get too caught up on getting a camera with the highest megapixel, because it’s how the camera works overall that matters. Highest megapixel doesn’t always translate to the highest quality image.
You have spent a considerable amount of time in countries such as Norway and Iceland. Why is it that you’re so drawn to ‘working’ in cold areas?
My first trip in 2007 was meant to be to Africa for a safari, but when the professional photography guide had to drop out, everyone else on the trip cancelled, even though I was still happy to go. As a result, I booked the first trip I could find: a week in Iceland. I think it is just the crisp serenity of the cold places that attracts me to them, as well as the surprising abundance of life in places like Spitsbergen. Nothing compares to being out in the middle of nowhere on a snow-covered landscape where the only sound you can hear is the snow compacting under your feet as you walk. I just feel very free and relaxed.
Which kinds of wildlife do you most enjoy ‘shooting’ – and why?
I enjoy photographing the bigger mammals when I can because they are amazing to see up close. With species like polar bears, you don’t really imagine them to be as big as they are. Seeing them face to face gives you a completely new understanding of the animal and how it behaves, as well as that individual’s character. Having said that, I am happy photographing almost any wildlife. A lot of times, I won’t get the shot I am after, but if I have spent the day outside and got to observe wildlife – or just nature – doing what it does, I would never consider that a wasted day.
You are presently gearing up for a photography exhibition in York this October. Please tell us more…
Yes, my exhibition – “79° NORTH” – will be on show at York Theatre Royal from the 15th October to the 24th November. It’s a free exhibition and will feature images of the wildlife and landscapes of Spitsbergen. All the images are available to buy either as an original or limited edition print, and there will also be a launch night (also free) for the event with some of the bigger original prints and canvases on show. If anyone is interesting in attending the launch night, they can contact me via my website. If nothing else, I hope people come down and enjoy looking at the photos, and I hope it inspires them to go visit somewhere they might not have considered visiting before.
I am also hoping to help raise awareness about the Arctic and the endangered wildlife, so there will be collection set up for WWF and a bit of information about the work they do there.
Do you have any more foreign photography assignments rearing up on the near horizon?
There are a few ideas in the pipeline at the moment, and I am also in talks with a few companies about doing trips with me as a photographic guide, so if any of your readers would like to accompany me on an Arctic trip, then feel free to get it touch via my website, and I will provide you with more details.
I was also recently offered what would be a trip of a lifetime, so I am waiting for details and prices to come through for that. I fear it will be well beyond my price range, but if it’s a possibility, I will be looking for sponsorship to make it viable. However, I think I would be more likely to head back to Norway for my next trip. I am determined to capture the Northern Lights. I would also like to spend more time photographing British wildlife over the next couple of years.
Finally, how can people learn more about – or, even better, see – your wonderful photography?
The best way is to visit my website at www.joshharrisonphotography.co.uk or to come down to my exhibition in York. You can also keep up to date with the latest photos on my Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/InnovationPrints
(Questions by Steve Rudd; Answers by Josh Harrison)
This interview was conducted on 7th September, 2013.