If you have an instagram account and even a passing interest in landscape photography, then the chances are that the algorithms that be have ushered Sam Scales' work into your feed and under your nose. Sam's work predominantly captures the shorelines of the Jurassic coast, that dramatic stretch of beaches, cliffs and dunes on the south coast of England. Sam manages to distill a vast history of tectonic theatre into a single image, portraying the shifting power of the sea in its battle against a stubborn coastline. We caught up with Sam to discuss his work and creative process, his ties with the sea, and what motivates him to roam the lands at all hours of the day for that one indelible image.
Film by mdrnlove (www.mdrnlove.com)
You were born in Margate but moved away at a young age. Do you remember much about that time and how the coastline might have influenced you?
I think it completely shaped my childhood. Every activity seemed to be based around the coast, and as a child I loved sport so I was busy every day. Your environment influences you in every way, whether good or bad. When I moved to Dorset after being away from the coast for about 10 years, I realised then how much I missed living by the sea.
What kind of child were you?
I was a pretty quiet child with a big imagination, so I mostly kept to myself. I would lose hours and hours just drawing by myself. I guess this represents my more reflective side.
How did you first get into photography, or was illustration your initial passion?
My initial passion was drawing and painting from a young age. I had the classic start with trying to replicate comics and drawing cars. Photography came slightly later at around the age of 15 when my dad got me my first camera. He was always into photography so he was keen to help me out with it. The main reason I started taking more photos was because I wanted to be outdoors, but somehow felt like I needed an excuse; my camera was just that. It was when I started living in Dorset that the passion for photography really took off with the dramatic Jurassic coastline.
From as early as I can remember I’ve been drawing. It’s always been about perusing things I enjoy and working the rest out later. Before university I took a foundation diploma in art and design, mainly because I loved so many areas that I felt it was a good idea to try the courses available before I specialised. However, I was still unsure on the direction so I chose to study illustration - this is where I found my love for printmaking and specialised my degree.
The sea plays an important role in your work - have you always had a connection with it?
Over the years I’ve tried to internally work out why the sea has a pull for me. I think it comes down to a few things; when you look out to sea, it's mostly an uninterrupted huge expanse, with a great sense of the unknown. It puts you in your place with how powerful it can be. The smell of the sea always feels refreshing, as if it clears your senses. It's mostly a space you look at from a distance. And then there's the more visceral pull - the feeling of swimming in the sea, and being at the mercy of its energy. It's a place I always feel better after visiting. For me personally, living close to nature gives you a different perspective on life, to really see the changes with the seasons.
Landscape photography by its nature is a solitary process - do you find it meditative or soul-restoring in some way? What do you personally get out of the process, other than the final image?
Although it's mostly a solitary process, I really enjoy coastal walks with other people. A shared experience of a place is usually my favourite because you can witness the change it brings in someone else. I know many people say it, but it’s really not about the final image, I feel so much better after being out in nature that most of the time I still use photography as an excuse to get out.
What is it about the coast (or any landscape really) that makes you want to capture it in art form? What are you trying to capture when you regard a landscape through your lens?
The thing I’m trying to capture most is how it made me feel while I was stood there. It's an attempt to transfer mood and emotion and energy from a single fleeting moment of life into a single immortal moment on a memory card. It's also how the action of getting out made the difference to me, so if I can bring that to someone else via the work I create then I'm pretty happy. To bring peace to someone's day, inspire a connection with the landscape and maybe take a step back and slow down - those are what I shoot for.
Can you talk a little about your process for shooting? Do you have an idea of what you want to find or is the process more exploratory on the whole?
My process is really a journey, quite literally. You have a start; this is the planning. Getting times right, finding a location and checking the conditions. I usually have a rough plan to start my trip but allow enough space to go with the flow when I’m out. Then once on location I have points to head to but at times its the moments in-between that create the best work.
At times I don't script the journey and so it becomes more of a wander, but this also becomes a situation of chasing the light and the right composition. It's a great creative state to be in because you forget about anything else going on in your life and you're simply focused on bringing all of these variables together for one closure of the shutter. Discovering a place for the first time is my favourite thing; you push yourself further, more out of intrigue of how a scene will look over the next hill, or around the next cove.
Any tips for getting up early in the morning?
If I’m honest, for a landscape photographer I’m the worst with mornings! It takes real motivation! But the pay-off for being out for sunrise is always worth it. It starts the day right and you already feel like you’re winning.
Where are your favourite places to shoot?
I usually shoot most in the area I’m living. I’m now based in Cornwall so that’s become my playground.
How does your illustration inform your photography (or vice versa)?
Each illustration is hand drawn pencil on paper so it’s a very slow process. That idea of slowing down influences my photography, to really think about the final composition.
Has being in lockdown affected your creativity, or perhaps even improved it?
When things get disrupted I think as creatives we always adapt and stay malleable. It has pushed me further and made me focus on long-term goals with different avenues. I’ve gone back to previous knowledge and experience with print, which feels good.
What advice would you give to aspiring landscape photographers?
Learn about light, this can dramatically change the feeling of a scene. Take your time to get to know what you like, trust photographing things you have a connection with and the rest will follow.
To learn more about Sam, head to his website www.samscales.co.uk where you can also purchase prints of his photography and illustration work or get in touch on IG @samscales