This month’s Olaf Willoughby interview is with Per Bullough, a photographer based near Sheffield, UK. Per’s work takes us to the mountainous places of the world where he shows us the visual common denominators which bind together the appeal of higher and lower mountain ranges and landscapes whether near or far. This is a beautiful and sensitive approach to a traditional subject.
To start can you give me an overview of your project, its title & what is its main theme?
The theme is ‘High and Wild Places’ and it’s really an attempt to convey my passion for mountains and wilderness. These are all places I’ve visited in the last two or three years, not specifically to take photographs, but because they are places that excite my passion; the photographs are almost a by-product, albeit a very important one. When I’m in the mountains I really feel alive – perhaps what I’m trying to do is show everyone else what wonderful places they are! They are places of excitement, places where you see nature so raw and harsh and yet places of intense solace and tranquility. That’s what I try to convey in my pictures. And I just love the shapes, the curve of a ridge line, the splash of light on some great precipice, the silvery glint from a snaking river, the mystery of far-away peaks— these things excite me.
And how does that theme develop as a story throughout the project?
Well the story I’m trying to develop is one that shows the mountains in their different moods. I’m also trying to convey a feeling that is universal to all wild and high places; our humble British mountains can be as wild and awe inspiring as the most remote regions of the high Arctic. There’s a sort of universality that binds the tundra of Greenland with the moors of my Derbyshire home, the relatively low but craggy peaks of western Scotland with those of the high Alps.
Is the project purely for yourself or do you have a commercial or cause related end in mind?
It is first of all for myself- it has become an essential part of every trip I have to the hills. But it is also to show other people how wonderful and special wild places are; to make them aware of a world that transcends that of our day-to-day lives.
What photographic choices have you made; colour palette, composition, use of flash….etc.
Historically I haven’t found it necessary to use a tripod on any expedition. Tripods just get in the way when you are trying to move fast through the mountains. The location and time of day are dictated by the itinerary, and I’ve found that there is no point in shooting when the sun is high and there is not a cloud in the sky. Luckily mountains often have bad weather and this can yield the most interesting light. Sometimes it is so fleeting that you’d never catch it if you had to set up a tripod anyway.
What is your vision for the project and how will you judge if you’ve been successful?
I’m trying to experiment more with black and white now- this is a learning experience, especially learning how to visualise in black and white. I also have a new project which is to photograph my local hills more methodically- I have slowed the pace, I go out on my own and I take a tripod. I hope this will build up into a bigger body of work. I’ll be happy if it helps me see the familiar with a fresh perspective.
Did any particular person or body of work influence or inspire you?
Well of course Ansel Adams is the supreme master of landscape photography; he had a deep understanding of high and wild places. His use of black and white has certainly influenced me. I’m a great admirer of Colin Prior and Joe Cornish; in particular their images go well beyond the cliche- they are prepared to enter deep into the landscape, a long way from the nearest road. Frank Hurley’s images of Antarctica are outstanding. Ragnar Axelsson is really exciting- he uses a simple Leica and a couple of short lenses to reveal the Far North and its people in the most beautiful and sensitive way.
Not all projects are smooth sailing. Have you had any setbacks and what were your learnings?
It’s taken me a long time to realise that you should just photograph what interests you, not what other people photograph. I’ve wasted a lot of film in the past before coming to this realisation.
Are there any technical or workflow challenges you’d like to mention?
Most of my pictures are taken whilst on active climbing or hiking trips, where the primary purpose is not photography. This can be challenging, where there is usually the imperative to keep moving and not hold up the rest of the party! There isn’t the luxury of waiting for the ‘golden hour’ or setting up on a tripod and waiting for the perfect moment. You have to work with what you’ve got and make very quick decisions about composition or catching a fleeting moment of beautiful light. In north east Greenland, we were hundreds of miles from the nearest habitation and a couple of weeks without access to power- I had to take a lot of batteries! We were in essentially unexplored territory and sometimes photography was a rather low priority.
What Leica equipment do you use and how is it particularly suited to the needs of this project?
Currently I’m using a Monochrom and an M but before this I used an M8 and M6; may favourite combination of lenses is a 24mm, 50mm and 90mm. The 50mm is not usually thought of as a landscape lens but I find it stays on my camera more than any other these days. I’ve tried a few different systems, but finally settled on the Leica M system; the cameras and lenses are small and of outstanding quality- this makes them easy to pack away in a rucksack and also tough enough for the inevitable knocks and scrapes. I love the rangefinder view of the world- it suits my way of seeing. The X Vario is a handy compact for skiing, where the pace is such that it’s hard to change lenses.
Please tell us a little more about yourself
I’m a professor of molecular biology, working in Sheffield. My passion outside my work and my family is wilderness. My father took me across a glacier in Norway when I was 8 years old and I’ve been hooked ever since. It’s only relatively recently that I started to regret that I hadn’t been keeping a record of the wonderful places I’ve visited so that I could show other people. So after experimenting with various camera systems, I finally settled on the Leica M system and here we are. And that led me to the Leica Meet which I found on Facebook!
Thank you Per!
Olaf Willoughby
Olaf Willoughby is a photographer, writer and researcher. He is co-founder of The Leica Meet, a Facebook page and website growing at warp speed to almost 9,000 members. Olaf co-teaches with with Eileen McCarney Muldoon. They have recently taught, ‘Visual Conversations’, a creative photography workshop at Maine Media College in Rockport and ‘Destination Brooklyn, Unlocking Mysteries’ in Brooklyn, New York.
If you have an intriguing project or body of work that we might feature, completed or in progress, contact Olaf at: or