The Mountain Man: Colin Prior

Posted by Peter Burnside on 13/04/2017
An Teallach from Fisherfield. Photo: Colin Prior

This Easter Monday, watch the new documentary of one of the world’s most acclaimed landscape photographers, Colin Prior, on BBC 2 Scotland.

After finding fame in the highly successful film, Mountain Man, which showcased him working in both Scotland and Pakistan’s Karakorum mountains, Colin is back for a fresh feature. This new hour-long documentary portrays the photographer and his subjects, some of the UK’s finest mountains. 

Painters have a luxury – they can create a landscape; Colin has to find it. Throughout Colin’s life, he has searched for the perfect moment to record our finest scenery in the special light of dusk and dawn. After imagining the perfect shot, he often has to climb to the summit of a mountain many times, like a most devoted pilgrim, before the elements and timing converge perfectly to form the image he holds in his mind. And then he captures it.

“My interest lies in the relationship between the elementals of the natural world, and mountains provide the raw material in abundance,” says Colin. “To know a mountain is to understand its rhythms and then become part of them. To photograph them successfully demands what the Arctic Inuit refer to as ‘quinuituq’ which translated means ‘deep patience’ – literally waiting hours for one second, or in my case, years for one second.”

 

A post shared by Colin Prior (@colinprior) on

The programme, presented by Cameron McNeish, focuses on three Scottish mountains, including the iconic An Teallach. And to achieve success Colin has the help of those who know this landscape inch by inch and whose knowledge has been built up over a lifetime.

An Teallach – the blacksmith’s forge – is for many, including Colin himself, Scotland’s most spectacular mountain range.  He’s made the pilgrimage back to take what he plans to be a definite set of photographs that capture these hills of north-west Scotland in all its many moods and forms.

“My passion for the natural world inspires me,” says Colin. “I am continually thinking about how I can interpret it in new ways. I am particularly drawn to Scotland's north-west Highlands, where the graphics of the mountains tend to be more angular and the spaces between them more irregular, which help to create interest in the two-dimensional world of photography.

“I moved away from underwater photography as I felt that the scope for creativity underwater was extremely limited, particularly in Scotland where there is low visibility – one is forced to work with close-up subjects and flash is mandatory. I also recognised that, as a communicator, my work was appealing solely to a very narrow group of people and that I needed to broaden that appeal.

“Now I spend as much time as I can commit to in the mountains. But my commitment and passion is unwavering to my personal projects. It’s hard to know how long you’ll end up working on a project, it varies depending on what your goal is. But with most landscape you really need to be thinking four years as a minimum – I’ve made five trips to the Karakoram Mountains and I could keep going back because there is so much to do there.

“Given the plethora of images on the internet, it’s crucial to create a body of work with depth- the project needs to be explored from the inside out and this is a great challenge, simply because depth requires time and time requires money and photographer’s, myself included, are having to work harder to keep the boat afloat.

“Recently I started work on a project that explores the landscape from the perspective of bird habitats, of which mountain and moorland will be two. It has taken more than 25 years, but I’ve shot most of the big pictures in Scotland and the panoramic format, for me, had become a bit of a creative straightjacket, so it was time for a change.

“I’m now focussed on channelling my energy into a project that will help raise awareness of the demise of our wild bird populations. Working closely with the RSPB, we’re hoping to address the many issues associated with habitat loss and restoration – it’s a project that goes beyond views.”

Colin Prior’s photographic and artistic talent will be explored in the new Adventure Show to be broadcast at 8pm, Monday 17 April, on BBC 2 Scotland.


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