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From new to old

Posted on May 17, 2022

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Arriving in the UK to live with his wife’s family during 2020’s first lockdown, Canadian photographer Kyle McDougall has acclimatised through a series of photo projects, aided by acquisitions from MPB

Bio: Kyle McDougall is a contemporary landscape photographer from Ontario, now resident in the UK. His work is driven by a fascination with society, the flow of time and changing environments. He runs a YouTube channel focusing on the craft of image making, and is publishing his first book, An American Mile.

“My first year in the UK was slap bang in the middle of lockdown,” McDougall begins. “And that was hard for all the same reasons as everyone else. Plus – as a photographer – I really wanted to get out and explore my new home. So, when restrictions were lifted, I started to travel – particularly to North Wales and Snowdonia. From near Reading, where I was living with my family, it’s a good drive, but nothing compared to getting from one part of Canada to another. There, I’d have to drive for days just to reach the mountains. 

“Even so, my wife’s family thought I was crazy, waking up at 5am, driving to Llanrwst or Beddgelert, sleeping overnight, then coming home the next day. Here, everything feels close, and the novelty for me is that the landscape can change so quickly.” 

The North Wales landscape is certainly a change from leafy Reading, but it was in the misty peaks and high lakes that McDougall found inspiration for his latest project, Reappearance. “I didn’t know the area until I moved here,” he explains. “But it was a nice contrast to my most recent project, An American Mile.” Indeed, with the latter focusing on dusty dereliction in the warm, dry south-west of the US, Snowdonia’s shivering and waterlogged hillsides couldn’t seem more distant. 

“It felt like a clean slate,” McDougall continues. “That really appealed to me after the confines of lockdown. There are similarities with my previous project, though, in that it’s concerned with these remote places that also have a very visible human impact. In North Wales, it’s the scars of mining and industry. Although you can feel alone and isolated in the wildness, you’re also surrounded by remnants – remains of churches and houses, or the twisted machinery of a deserted quarry.”

In terms of equipment and approach, there was a further departure. “I shot my previous portfolio on colour film,” explains McDougall. “For this project, I’ve been working with a Fujifilm GFX100S and shooting in black & white.” It is a shift in tone that suits his new subject matter, and comparing An American Mile to Reappearance is like moving from the sun into the shade. 

Kyle-McDougall-Reappearence-4-copy-mbp

McDougall’s shift to monochrome was both a natural reaction to his environment and also “part of my adaptation to living in a new place”, he says. “It wasn’t a deliberate choice, but more a way of coming to terms with a new landscape. I tried to apply my previous way of working, but it didn’t seem to make sense here. I’d never been a black & white shooter previously, but in experimenting with it and taking some inspiration from British photographers who worked similar landscapes, it felt right. And as a simpler expression of a scene, it makes sense. It’s like you’re learning a new language and starting with the most important words. With black & white, it’s stripping an image down to its essentials to make sense of it, concentrating on light, tone and texture.

“That’s an approach that some people overlook,” he continues. “It’s not about giving up or forcing an approach, but more about figuring out how to communicate what you’re feeling.”

McDougall finds the same organic success when it comes to picking projects. “It’s about discovering patterns,” he explains. “That was certainly the case with this latest project. As you make work, it’s important to stay open to things. I follow my eye in a non-judgemental way, and then in a few months time, I sit down and see where it’s taken me. On reviewing images, you notice little patterns emerge. So you don’t always need a hard-and-fast idea to follow. Sometimes the idea finds you later.”

As a photographer who enjoys using vintage film cameras, McDougall is no stranger to buying second-hand. But with the Fujifilm GFX100S, it was a cutting-edge digital body he opted for from MPB. “I absolutely love it, and that’s because a big part of photography for me has always been the process,” he proclaims. This camera has brought a lot of that back. It handles beautifully and gives very filmic images straight out of the tin. I’ve used its ACROS mode for this project, but its 102-megapixel resolution was also a big part of picking that camera. It meant I could trade in my Nikon Coolscan and use the GFX100S for that, as well as general photography.

“Along with the GFX100S, I’ve been using the GF35-70mm f/4.5-5.6 WR, which is optically very good, and also compact, so perfect for all hiking. I also use older Pentax 645 lenses via an adapter.

“Buying the GFX100S second-hand from MPB ticked all sorts of boxes for me,” McDougall says. “One of the main attractions was the amount of choice. MPB always seems to have plenty of options across condition and price. Each item is individually shot, so you end up with exactly the one you ordered. With the GFX100S, I think they had three in stock, even when they were out of stock at regular retailers!

“There’s also a lot to be said for picking up older bodies and lenses,” McDougall concludes. “As technology has become so good over the past few years, you can go back a few generations and still get great results. I’m as tempted by the latest gear as anyone – hence the GFX100S – but I believe that most gear from the past five years is going to do a fantastic job. And, of course, there’s a world of vintage cameras and lenses beyond that, too. There’s so much great kit out there, just waiting to be put to good use.”

Images © Kyle McDougall

Article originally published in Issue 99 of Photography News.

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