We are honoured and excited to have Alister Benn coming to ExploreLight for a small group online workshop later this month. We are massive fans of Alister’s work and the deeper perspective he promotes through the medium of landscape photography. We love to delve deep into all facets of landscape photography and we embrace photographers that help us to gain new perspectives on this art we love. Alister certainly fits that bill. With his upcoming workshop with ExploreLight what better time to celebrate some of Alister’s unique vision on the ExploreLight blog. We managed to catch up with him this week to discuss his approach to landscape photography, his upcoming book on the Gobi Desert, and lots more. Read on and we hope you enjoy these stunning images as much as we do!
Read on to get an exclusive discount on Alister’s ebooks and tutorials!
ExploreLight: When I think of Alister Benn as a photographer I think of more than just image-making. Your philosophy to photography digs deeper than pixels. Was this always the case?
Alister Benn: Thanks for that. I was a thoughtful child and read hugely all through my adult life. I travelled a lot with work and spent a lot of time in airports and hotels; a book was always in hand. I dug deeply into philosophy, psychology, meaning, personal development and of course nature, travel, climbing, adventure and bird-watching! In hindsight, all this input and fascination with life and the world around me provided a strong foundation of the inquisitive, even before I started making photographs at a serious level.
When I got back into photography in 2001, it was my love of birds that prompted it. I was quite driven to improve and to my detriment, I was quite competitive. Over the past 20 years my relationship with why I make images and what they mean to me has changed enormously, and what you are referring to has been my default state for perhaps the last 5 years. The trips to the Gobi desert changed everything for me; image style, meaning, introspection, epiphanies, and of course, lots to write and talk about in my eBooks and videos.
ExploreLight: The work I’ve seen thus far from your upcoming book on the Gobi desert features some stunning imagery. What inspired the project and when can we hope to get our hands on a copy?
Alister Benn: Thank so much again! I lived in China between 2000 and 2013, mostly in Yunnan and Tibet. The Himalaya and the mysterious hinterlands always appealed to me. Ironically, it wasn’t until I had come back to Scotland that I had the opportunity to travel back to China and explore the deserts of the far north and west. Most people associate the Gobi Desert with Mongolia, but we travelled deep into it from the Chinese side, starting in January 2017, and my last trip there was in February 2019.
The project has evolved in the past couple of years. Initially the images I was making had a profound impact on the way I see the world. I simplified my approach, changing from a subject driven approach to an aesthetics focus. These aesthetics have an emotional impact that transcends subjects. Deserts are brutal places and we camped out in -26C temperatures, and were often more than 200km from the nearest road. That sense of fragility and vulnerability was really evident and I believe the images reflect that (to me at least!)
I suffered for decades with panic attacks and depression; it was just a part of who I was, but I have changed so much in the past couple of years, finding peace and a more harmonious life. I look back at the images and perceive the transition that took place. The book is called Out of Darkness, and is an evolution of that change in my life. Many of the images are very dark, but there is always a ray of hope, a thread to hang on to.
It is a book of hope, not despair. The timeline is well under way. I am taking a short break while I deal with a lot of online workshops (which I am very grateful for, as we haven’t run a face to face workshop in over a year now and we have to make a living.) I hope to have the images finished in May; the design is well advanced and I think realistically the book will be published in the first few months of 2022. I had hoped for pre Christmas that year, but I feel that is unrealistic now, and I wouldn’t want to cut corners to bring that forward.
Peter Gordon: Your YouTube Channel has been a huge success and I know from personal experience purchasing your literature that you also make a series of ebooks and video downloads. What is your preferred medium for communicating your photographic philosophy and why?
Alister Benn: YouTube is a blessing and curse; I’ve seen some good friends of mine get completely burned out from the relentless pressure to make new content and post new videos on a regular basis. I have enjoyed the opportunity to run the Vision & Light conversations, and believe that unscripted, chatty style is a great way to get into fresh and exciting conversations with creative artists.
That said, I do simply love talking about photography with people. Face to face is great and I miss running workshops. I have been working with students since January on a mentorship program, and watching them develop and blossom has been massively satisfying.
I do love to write to, and I think I would like to spend more time writing creative development books where photography is more of a metaphor and a catalyst, rather than the objective. We make ourselves miserable trying to be popular, or putting too much emphasis on the external validation.
At the moment, the combination of theoretical eBooks, practical, instructive video and the YouTube channel is a good balance. I expect that to change a bit when we can start up face to face meetings again.
Use the discount code: EXPRESSIVE25 for a 25% discount on Alister’s ebooks and downloads. Link’s below..
ExploreLight: When we contacted you to do an online workshop for ExploreLIght we did so on the basis of an admiration for you as a photographer, and a person, with a deeper philosophy around your work. Will your workshop blend image-making and philosophy?
Alister Benn: I have to keep thanking you for the kind words! You know most photographers are deeply embarrassed by this type of thing! 🙂
I am really looking forward to the workshop, I think the format is great, and I like to commit to a deep dive session with people who are committed to their own development. As I eluded to above, photography is just a catalyst for our personal development. Our images are a function of us, and as we grow, our images grow. Techniques are just tools, like words in our vocabulary. With nothing to say, a gigantic vocabulary of techniques is meaningless. What I want to bring to the workshop is passion: A passion for life, a passion for being us, unique and self-actualised. We have the whole world at our fingertips, yet we still allow others to tell us what our creativity should look like. As I work with the mentees, I can see each of them developing their confidence of individuality, sharing some similarities in terms of the tools, but each having very specific individual objectives.
I encourage people to shed conventions, boundaries and limits, especially those imposed on us by others. I also advocate freedom of expression and allowing emotions and aesthetics to drive creativity, rather than process, repetition and societal norms.
In short; yes, the attendees can expect loads of energy, passion, philosophy, psychology, emotion and humour!! I am from Glasgow after all, and laughing is our default setting 🙂
I can’t wait.
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