For many photographers, Iceland offers endless possibilities for capturing compelling images. This also applies to Joe Clarke. However, sometimes the most memorable photographic experiences can come from unexpected places, finding opportunities in the often overlooked.
“It’s hard to find things that don’t intrigue you in Iceland, hence its renowned popularity amongst photographers. Still, it has to be how the whole landscape can change in a split second. Extreme and frequent variations in light and weather result in striking scenery, often transforming mundane locations into captivating scenes in the blink of an eye. This sense of anticipation as to what might happen next is something I hadn’t experienced before and left me in a state of constant reactivity, ready to capture a fleeting moment before it disappeared as swiftly as it came.
Before Iceland, I never booked a trip specifically for photography. I only took snapshots during the summer holidays or while walking around my hometown. However, I distinctly remember leaving the airport at Reykjavík and being struck with an overwhelming sense of adventure and excitement as the biting winds ripped off my cap. When picking it up, I hooked onto the scene instantly as I noticed the setting sun casting a pocket of light onto a mountain range in the distance, bringing life to the view. Something else that intrigued me throughout my time in Iceland was the indescribable energy of its otherworldly landscapes, a sense of all-encompassing power that is impossible to ignore. Incredibly humbling by nature, the sheer scale of the surroundings and the isolation I felt when standing alone in its vast and endless expanses will stay with me forever.
“The whole landscape can change in a split second. Extreme and frequent variations in light and weather result in striking scenery”
“Incredibly humbling by nature, the sheer scale of the surroundings and the isolation I felt when standing alone in its vast and endless expanses will stay with me forever”
Despite the numerous extreme events that seem to occur on most of my expeditions, one photographic experience that left a formative impression on me happened much closer to home. It was deep into the lockdown of 2020, and I had been in central London for months, unable to travel. Given that all of my work was travel and landscape based, I was in a bit of a creative rut, unable to explore far-away destinations and shoot the subjects and locations I had planned for that year. So I decided to take my camera on a short walk around the neighborhood. Passing a building site behind my flat, I noticed the intersecting mass of red steel construction beams catching a brief pocket of warm sunset light. I took some photos, downloaded them that night, and felt inspired and enlightened by the experience. My photographic focus had shifted overnight. I began to seek beauty in the mundane, telling stories of everyday moments and no longer relying on the innate beauty of a landscape to create satisfying work. Since then, this image has been nominated for several awards and serves as a reminder to experiment continuously with new ideas and seek opportunities every moment.
Another photographic experience that left a deep impression was returning from a short trip to Scotland the week the UK lifted the last lockdown. Before heading home, I’d had three days of limited photography due to non-stop downpours and thick grey clouds. On the drive back, I made the spontaneous decision to stop in the Lake District as the weather looked to be clearing up. I parked my car, hiked up the nearest hill, and couldn’t believe the view from the top. The rain and clouds had cleared, and the sun was setting, casting a warm orange glow over the fields and lakes below. People were dotted across the landscape, walking, swimming, and enjoying their freedom following months of darkness. I felt a wave of emotion watching all these stories playing out in the valley below and tried to capture them as best as I could in a single frame. It was a moment that encapsulated everything I love about photography – spontaneity, adventure, emotive storytelling, and nostalgia.
“The natural world became my first photographic interest, specifically the changes of the seasons”
“I never had formal training, which allowed me to learn from trial and error to find a process that works for me naturally.”
“I’ve had the same DSLR for eight years and don’t plan on upgrading any time soon”
I’ve always had a strong and deeply personal relationship with nature and the outdoors. I was fortunate enough to grow up in the middle of the countryside in the South East of England. I spent my childhood outside, climbing trees and exploring lakes, rivers, fields, and farms. The natural world instinctively became my first photographic interest, too, as I began to document the environment around me, specifically the changes of the seasons – I became obsessed with the passage of time, a theme I still love to explore. My feelings towards the outdoors are the same today, if not stronger, though my relationship is somewhat different. Living in a city means spending far less time in nature, so I take every opportunity I can to get back to the countryside, the essence of my time there acting as a form of therapy. This almost meditative experience grounds me and clears my head in a way nothing else can.
“I take great joy in venturing into the unknown and discovering subjects or locations that might often be overlooked.”
I take great joy in venturing into the unknown and discovering subjects or locations that might often be overlooked. By planning as little as possible, I feel more open creatively, free from the constraints of trying to capture an image I might have had in mind. My favorite photographic experiences have always resulted from a spontaneous, unplanned venture, with little expectation and no end result in sight. It is these such trips that always lend themselves to the creation of the more ‘unseen’ images. My gear choice also helps. I often favor a telephoto lens and tightly cropped framing over the more obvious wide-angle ‘hero shot’ others may have taken.
I’m still figuring out my creative process, but it’s rooted in experimentation. I don’t follow a specific approach when making images, and it’s generally spontaneous and fluid, depending on the situation. I never had formal training, which I feel has played a hugely positive role in how I work, allowing me to learn from trial and error to find a process that works for me naturally. It’s undoubtedly very intuitive and will continue to evolve as my interests and style develop, but it’s not technical. I’ve had the same DSLR for eight years and don’t plan on upgrading any time soon!”