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Myth and the Mountain

© Charles Emerson

Mountains defy us and define us. They are a backdrop to our lives, they are a timeless and formidable power and they have long been the home of legend and myth and the spurs of imagination and aspiration. Not surprisingly, mountains have been the haunts of deities in almost every religion throughout the world. Their daunting cliffs and powerful weather systems makes them unattainable by ordinary mortals and has invested them with a sense of the sacred and mysterious. It is on mountain peaks that we can envisage the marriage between the heavens and earth and in many civilisations they have duly become associated with both life and death.

In this project, photographer Charles Emerson has set out to reawaken our sense of the power and the changing character of the great mountains in our landscapes. He draws out the complex and mythic nature of these mighty forms by using multiple exposures on film, digital shots and through a process of collecting light.

Emerson has been preparing this on-going photographic essay over a period of four years, travelling in the UK, Romania and Jordan to assemble photographs which represent different cultures and environments, but all of them sharing the theme of mythic power and a sense of the numinous. His fascination with the subject stems from his frequent travels, from a young age, to a family home in the Western Highlands, a journey which took him directly passed the intimidating pyramidal presence of Bauchaille Etive Mor, the Great Herdsman of Etive, a mountain which stands guard at the southern edge of Glencoe. This mountain is beautiful, menacing and mysterious in equal parts. The huge cliffs on its north-east side, visible in Emerson’s photograph, have claimed many lives.

Emerson’s technique of ‘collecting light’ onto film subtly embeds each of his mountain subjects with a composite of layered imagery that builds the mythical presence of the subject. He comments: “Through this process I physically capture available light from the atmospheric conditions at each specific location. By opening the camera back, I flood the film with light; I then shoot continually over with scenes and details at each location. I’ve adopted a variety of methods including the use of a spherical solid glass lens which further adds abstract light effects and elements to the finished work.”

This technique produces vividly coloured, textured and abstract imagery, which stand up in their own right as works in the series. “Once the films are scanned,“ Emerson observes, “I use these as a ‘digital palette’.” By overlaying the film elements onto a highly detailed digital back plate of the mountains, each final piece has a unique treatment directly linked to the light and conditions that prevailed at the specific location and time. These composite images become palimpsests of the scenes photographed, communicating more dimensions to characterise and identify the mountains, and transporting the viewer beyond the sense of their physical presence.

Emerson’s father was a fine art painter; he grew up surrounded by his fathers work and now cites paintings as his main inspiration when starting new projects. It is clear to see the influence painters such as Turner, Caspar David Friedrich and John Martin have had on the Myth and the Mountain works. Emerson’s early images of mountains, particularly of Bauchaille Etive Mor I, were showcased in a number of awards and this launched his subsequent passion for mountains and strengthened his sense of their mythic quality. His photographic expeditions to Jordan and Romania, as well as those in Scotland and Wales, have been physically demanding and memorable. In each location he has worked hard to earn the picture and with each mountain his respect for their power has increased.

Born in Devon in 1982, Emerson earned a Photography BA (Hons) at Falmouth College of Art in 2004. He lives and works in Bristol, UK. His fine art work has featured in AOP Awards, The Sony World Photography Awards and The Creative Review Photography Annual. Emerson’s flower works have been exhibited widely and gained a number of solo shows, in 2013 the band Editors used White Rose I on their album cover The Weight of Your Love. His on-going project Myth and the Mountain was commissioned by Intelligent Life magazine (UK) and first published in Jan/Feb 2015.

click to view the complete set of images in the archive

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