Man and Mountains: Colin Prior


Image above: Trango Towers, Baltoro Glacier, Karakoram Mountains, Pakistan © Colin Prior

Ahead of his talk The Living Mountain at Fotospeed’s Foto Fest this September, landscape photographer Colin Prior reflects on his most recent project: a four year documentation of Pakistan’s Karakoram mountains.

Early in my career, I realised that mountains offer what I believe to be the ultimate challenge for a photographer. Their vertical nature encompasses powerful graphics and provides a canvas which can only be matched with fine light. My relationship with mountains and my desire to photograph them began after shooting an image from the summit of Ben Starav in Glen Etive, on 10 November 1990. In this moment, I realised what in photography, to me, was trivial and what was important, and subsequently arranged my life in a way that would allow me to pursue this. Now, I am drawn to the mountains that I shoot because, simply put, of the compelling graphic they give out. The opportunity to match these powerful visions with a fine light has the potential of creating moments which ordinarily don’t exist and which are often unrepeatable.

This drive to document these almost antagonistic moments is what informs my criteria when I am searching for a new choice of location. Powerful graphics is one element of this, but so are places that are undisturbed. I seek mountains surrounded by other mountains to give me interesting ridges, arêtes and summits. Some of the best examples of this type of landscape can be found in Pakistan’s Karakoram Mountains. Here, towers, minarets and cathedrals stand next to each other and are so precipitous that they won’t even hold snow. These mountains in particular possess a character that is largely absent in most of the other ranges throughout the world, which is why I was so drawn to dedicating my time to capturing them in this way.

Image above: Trango and Catherdral Towers, Baltoro Glacier, Karakoram Mountains, Pakistan © Colin Prior

However, capturing these moments in camera does presents a few challenges. While I spend a surprisingly little amount of time waiting for the right light, I do sometimes have to camp on a mountain summit to be ready to strike when the light is right. In this instance, you have to be prepared to visit beforehand and establish where you will shoot and when.

Working in Pakistan has its own unique logistical problems and requires committing for a 4-5-week period on the glaciers. This kind of terrain demands a small team of around 10 porters to carry the camping, cooking, and photographic equipment in the thin air. This is really the only way to access the landscape – everything that is required to survive must be carried on a man’s back.

The landscape of the Karakoram is, without doubt, one of the most inspiring in the world and I have many images that I feel are testimony to this.

In terms of the equipment I use when I’m on a shoot, I’ve been using Canon equipment exclusively since the 1990s. For landscape, I predominantly use the 5DSR with a variety of lenses. At the moment I am using Lightroom for post-processing. I think the 50MP sensor, in combination with Canon’s range of specialist lenses, is the ultimate combination for outdoor photography and offers far more versatility than a MF system.

Image above: Namibia © Colin Prior

What’s important for aspiring photographers to understand, and something that I found about myself through my own journey, is the importance of having a burning passion for a particular subject or aspect of life, and that you should set about photographing this in a unique and original way – essentially, from the inside out. Remember, what is important is the way that you see and interpret a subject – it’s this which will potentially catch the eye of an editor. Forget trying to emulate what someone else has already done, despite the obvious temptation – create your own unique recognisable thumbprint and be your own worst critic.
- Colin Prior

  • Colin Prior will be talking at Fotospeed’s Foto Fest at Bath University’s art venue, The Edge, on 10 September 2017.
  • Other speakers include Martin Hartley, Paul Sanders and Ben Hall.
  • Tickets cost £45.
  • Click here for more details.

Colin Prior has documented great mountains of the world for more than 30 years, starting in his home country of Scotland – the imagery he is perhaps best known – to the Karakoram mountains of Pakistan. Prior has spent the last four years documenting these mountains of the Middle East. An exhibition and book of the resulting project is scheduled for later this year.

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