Getting Lost... with Infra Red ICM

“Leave the door open for the unknown...

… the door into the dark.  That’s where the most important things come from, where you yourself came from, and where you will go.”  Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost

In any creative endeavour, getting lost is arguably one of the most rewarding things you can ever do.  There are various different phrases for it: focus, flow, in the zone,  and in my own line of work, being “in the moment”: the feeling of being present, but elsewhere, totally absorbed, so engaged with your subject matter that you feel completely able to react organically and instinctively to whatever happens to present itself, as it presents itself.

It’s a feeling that you often wish would last forever, and in many ways it does: anyone who has ever experienced it, talks of the same thing – time takes on a completely different dimension.

For many of us…

…photography in general, and ICM in particular, is a portal to such a world .  Staying out all day, losing track of time, forgetting to eat etc. are occupational hazards.  Getting lost is good.

The idea for this series of photographs came from such a session.  I’d just finished a very long acting job, and was desperate to spend some time on my own, with Mother Nature, with a camera.  I also had an overwhelming feeling of needing to do something different. I wasn’t quite sure what.  Something.  Anything.  So I headed off into the woods.  And to ring the changes, I took my Infra Red converted camera with me.  

Doing something you haven’t done before can often be a useful, if occasionally obtuse, starting point .  When I worked in Advertising, there was an agency (HHCL) who, before starting work on a new campaign, famously looked at every other advert in the category, then deliberately did the opposite.

So that afternoon I decided to do exactly that.  I did something that (at the time) I’d never seen done before: IR ICM.  I’ve been doing it ever since.  I wasn’t at all sure how it would turn out.  I was, though, mighty curious as to what the results might be.  

There’s something innately fascinating about Infra Red: literally light that you can’t see.  And the transformative effect it has when all of a sudden you CAN see it, and it strikes something that you would ordinarily take for granted, forcing you to reappraise it and look at it in (literally) a new light, can be profound.

What struck me immediately about IR ICM was not just the overwhelming sense of light, but also shade.   

In terms of style, it reminded me of charcoal sketches with sugar paper – the kind of thing that I was absolutely hopeless at as a kid, but which I so admired in others who could do it.  In particular the visceral bold rough brush strokes, that in the right hands can summon up atmosphere in a matter of seconds.  

At a technical level, the obtuse part of me liked the fact that it took away the one thing that is often synonymous with ICM: bold use of colour.  

But I was also particularly struck by what happened if you took away not just colour, but (by blurring lines and shapes) form too, the two main anchors that the human eye uses to decipher the world around us.

At a sensory level, the result was revelatory: I found myself thrust into the slightly spooky world of being lost in the woods, that genuinely unsettling sense of something rather unpleasant but as yet unidentified, silently watching you over your shoulder.  And equally, that joyous, almost Biblical notion of the Divine, awe inspiring shafts and circles of light, portents of good things yet to come, the sense that help is almost at hand if you could only somehow reach out and touch it.  Good vs evil, darkness vs light, oblivion vs salvation.

And I found myself transported to a place I hadn’t been before, somewhere between reality and the imagination… the space between what IS and what COULD BE.  A murky, shadowy world of the unseen, a world of suggestion and half light, where you’re never quite sure exactly what you’re looking at, what might be right behind you, and what may yet be lurking just around the corner…

* A version of this article appeared in the March Issue of The ICM Photography Magazine