Casting a northern light

The very first Joe Cornish calendar came about as a way of showcasing those images of Joe’s which were either the wrong aspect ratio, or the subject matter was just not a good fit to feature on our range of greetings cards. It was created for 1999 and there has been one every year since then. Those familiar with Joe’s work will not be surprised to learn that an image of the distinctive Roseberry Topping featured on the first ever cover.

Selecting which images to use always takes some time and involves not just Joe but the whole gallery team, and the initial impact of the calendar is a very important factor. As Joe Cornish himself confirms this can be a daunting task,

Each image needs to be an accurate reflection of the month and season in question. It needs to express something of the feeling of the time of year, as well as the place. Each image plays a part in giving variety and regional identity. A sequence is required that works visually, yet is also a geographical journey. And each image has to be able to stand the: “is it interesting enough to look at for thirty days in a row?” test.”

We try to select as many images taken the previous year as we can, but factors such as, whether and when it snowed, or not, will have an impact. Another consideration is the fact that some images such as those containing moorland heather or bluebells will naturally be season or month specific.

Once we have finalised the images and Joe has painstakingly prepared them for printing, our paramount concern is the quality of production. We insist on using higher quality paper than that usually used for calendars and we ensure that we always print in the UK, using printers that we know and trust. This is currently Johnsons of Nantwich and it is literally a case of Joe travelling down there and supervising the printing on the press and making colour corrections as necessary.

Since 2000, we have used an approximately 5×4 ratio for Northern Light, our signature calendar. However the 2019 calendar is our 20th edition and so in honour of the first ever calendar, which featured landscape format images, we have improvised the design .

Our aim is that twenty years on from the first calendar, the 2019 calendar still captures the landscapes that we all enjoy here in the north of England, the open moorland, rocky coast, sandy beaches, lakes and tarns, limestone pavements and mixed woodland.

The 2019 Northern Light calendars are now available both from the gallery and via our online shop. 2019 Calendars

By purchasing Northern Light you are supporting the work of the Joe Cornish Gallery to bring the work of contemporary photographers into a public space in the north, and to prompt conversation about, and consideration for, landscape and nature. Thank you.” Joe Cornish




iPhone prints exhibition

For some time Joe Cornish has been using his iPhone both as a visual diary and as a sketchbook for exploring compositions. After discussing whether gallery visitors might be interested in the results, Joe and the gallery team decided to create a small exhibition. Our hope is that eventually we will be able to display Joe’s initial vision captured on his smartphone and then complete the journey by also having the finished large format composition exhibited in the gallery.

In the meantime Joe and our curator Jo Rose have put together a selection of his iPhone images to display in the gallery. The exhibition is designed to be an illustrative eclectic mix of subjects that underlines the spontaneous nature of a smartphone, from Rodin’s The Thinker in San Francisco to woodland in Ryedale and even breakfast in Borrowdale.

Joe has provided further context to the collection in a written text on display with the images that explains in more detail his inspiration behind the exhibition:

In the visual arts, practice and preparation are essential. In sculpture that means making a maquette. In painting, the process is characterised by drawing or sketching, whether with pencil, charcoal or watercolour. Eventually the process leads to a definitive piece, perhaps a bronze sculpture, or a major easel painting, incorporating many of the ideas explored in preparation.

Perhaps photographers have always practised too…by making photographs. The evidence for this is preserved in the rolls of film and contact sheets of famous photographers. We see many ‘almost-but-not-quite-moments’, but there is one where everything seems to come together. The definitive exposure’s special status is then reinforced through the interpretation of the printing process, which becomes the finished work.

For all the years when I worked on large format film, such a liberated approach would have seemed an indulgence. The cost of the materials and processing was so high that it was (of economic necessity) important to make every exposure count. Since I wanted to make immersive images that conveyed depth and detail this was a situation I had to accept.
Only large format could deliver sufficient quality. And it also had the advantage of instilling a rigorous technical discipline. As large format film was always an aspiration in making a finished work, sketching was done in the mind, or maybe with a rectangular black window card!

However, the most obvious drawback was the lack of freedom to experiment. The inability to simply try and, to paraphrase Gary Winogrand,‘see how things look photographed’. Digital technology revolutionised photography by making the exposure process essentially free, at least in terms of money. When I started making pictures digitally I began to play with different ideas, where previously I felt obliged to stay in my comfort zone, with what I knew would work. It was possible to see the precise effect of wind or water motion on the LCD playback. Exposures could be checked for tonal accuracy. Focussing errors could be corrected. The rendering of the image provided ideas for interpretation, or for alternative compositions. Previously that feedback would have to wait until the film came back from the lab, far too late to make changes in the field. Digital inspired a more creative, ‘what if?’ mentality.

Yet my desire to continue making ultra high quality prints still meant
– still means – that I use large, heavy and cumbersome technical cameras, especially when using a medium format digital back. These are at least as difficult to set up and operate as a 5x4inch (large format) film camera, so limiting some of the spontaneity that digital makes possible.

For several years I carried a compact digital camera with me, a useful notebook. (As a bonus I was delighted to find I also now accumulated pictures of friends and family, whereas previously I had none!) Over the last four years or so my sketching process has been done with a smart phone. These remarkable hand-held super-computers make more sense than a digital compact because they are almost always with us. The screens are far larger and brighter than a digital compact. And finally, the phone manufacturers have revolutionised the technology, so that their native jpeg image output is more appealing than that of any conventional camera.

Even so, one wouldn’t expect to make a high quality, large print from a smartphone image; the laws of physics make that impossible (at least for now). But printed quite small they can still be perfectly acceptable. Perhaps more importantly, they illustrate a vital stage in the creative process.

Some of my personal favourite pictures of recent years were shot with my phone, and the reason is simple…they are responsive, spontaneous and fresh. Sometimes they show a unique moment of light, never to be repeated. At other times they reveal a perspective which, for reasons of convenience or risk, are unobtainable with a ‘proper camera’.

Sometimes my phone compositions inspire me to set up my tripod and use the technical camera. This is the best example of a sketching process in action. Occasionally the phone image is still superior because of the light, or the feeling of the moment.
More usually, the technical camera version is not only better composed (or at least as good) but will be of far higher quality for printing. Nevertheless, the value of the phone as an instrument of composition is proved through the process.

The exhibition aims to acknowledge the value and significance of the smartphone, at least as it relates to my creative process.
We enjoy and appreciate sketches, drawings and cartoons of artists from history, so I feel it is only fair to ask, in the context of contemporary stills photography, has the phone now become the sketchpad and notebook of our time?

Joe Cornish, February 2018.
Images made on an iPhone 7 Plus






Welcome to #ArtCraftSoul

#ArtCraftSoul is our new blog where we will aim to bring you a variety of stories and insights into life here at the Joe Cornish Galleries.

We will introduce you to the gallery team, showcase the artists whose work we have on display and keep you updated with exhibitions, workshops and events as they happen.