What I’ve Learned: A Photographer’s Journey is a Masters of Photography series dedicated to our Masters of Photography community, exploring the stories behind the imagery they have created. For other interviews check out our blog posts.
Rachael Talibart is a full-time professional photographer based in the South of England, specialising in coastal imagery. Rachael creates photographs for the gallery market; in other words, making photographs with the intention of selling them as limited edition prints through galleries and exhibitions. Rachael also owns a workshops business, f11 Workshops, based in the UK, and leads photography tours for Ocean Capture, an international fine art photography business. If people have come across Rachael’s work before, it is probably her Sirens portfolio, monstrous storm waves named after mythological beings. Rachael was actually featured in Joel Meyerowitz’s course in Lesson 20 – Workshop Rachael, where Joel discusses and critiques Rachael’s photos and explores her influences and techniques. We love Rachael’s work and wanted to find out more about her photographic ethos.
“Thank you Rachael for sharing your work and thoughts with us all at Masters of Photography.
How do we define motion and what do we call static? Rachael often makes static subjects blur in her frame and then slides to the other end of the dial… she then takes a moving subject and freezes the motion. Her use of shutter speed and camera movement create ghostly faces in frozen waves in her Sirens work and abstract mists of blur on solid ground beaches. Rachael’s photography explores all of the shutter speed settings. There is danger and drama in her work… then peace and tranquility. This is the story of the sea itself perhaps; one day flat and calm, the next a tempestuous boil.
How long have you been into photography? What made you want to start taking photographs?
I first became interested in photography in my teens when I was given a little cartridge-film camera for Christmas, one of those where the case folded down to make a handle. I can remember becoming enthralled by the creative possibilities of photography, although I lacked the skill or experience then to do much more than record what I saw. The obsession really set in when I took my first 35mm camera on a solo backpacking trip around the world. I’d just qualified as a solicitor and was able to take unpaid leave before settling into the rigours of practice. When I returned, I spent my first pay as a qualified solicitor on an SLR and that was it – completely hooked.
What do you enjoy in photography?
I love the creativity of photography – I find that incredibly fulfilling – and I simply enjoy the experience of making photographs. I know some people complain that photographers don’t experience the world properly because they are always looking at it through a camera but I don’t think that’s what it’s like for me. In fact, I would argue that making photographs connects me to the world. Perhaps I am also becoming more thoughtful as I age – more and more often now, I find myself taking time out during a shoot just to be still and allow my senses to absorb everything around me. I believe I make better photographs when I do this.
What is your favourite piece of kit?
I think I’d have to say it’s my battered old Canon 5D SR, the camera I used to capture Sirens. I have a shiny new one now yet I keep using the old one, hot pixels and all.
What was the most influential moment in inspiring your photography?
A pivotal moment happened in April 2015 and I have a photograph that belongs to that moment. The picture is called ‘Five’ and it is significant for me as I made it on the weekend I decided to try to see if I could make it as a professional photographer. I had been considering starting on a PhD. That had been my intention for a long time, but the lure of photography was pulling me more and more in another direction.
This was the turning point. I’d been in Venice for the weekend. On the last morning, there was mist. Everyone was out, of course, and they were all photographing gondolas in the mist, as you do, but it just wasn’t working for me. I mooched off on my own and then the atmosphere of the morning started to make itself felt. It was still pre-sunrise so everything was quiet; the water taxis and buses weren’t running yet. It was at the top of the tide, slack tide, so the water was still, and everything was further softened by the mist. It was so peaceful, being there, alone, in that moment, and it gave me the space to make the decision that had been nagging in the back of my mind for a while. I tried to communicate that feeling, of serenity, relief and clarity of purpose, in my photograph.
What does your photography say about you as a person?
Interesting question! I think my photography says a lot about me but I prefer to say it in pictures, not words, and viewers are free to interpret my photographs as they wish. I am often pigeonholed as a landscape photographer but that’s an uncomfortable fit. When I go out on location, I am not trying faithfully to show the scene as it might have appeared to you if you had been standing next to me. In fact, I’d rather capture something you might have overlooked if you’d been there. I want to show you the one thing in the scene that appealed to me, personally, and to try to convey how I feel.
A couple of years ago, I was lucky enough to meet Joel Meyerowitz, during filming for Masters of Photography. After reviewing some of my prints, Joel observed that I wasn’t a landscape photographer, I was a photographer of phenomena. I think he showed great insight. So, in conclusion, my photography says that I am drawn to nature’s phenomena, waves that look like monsters, islands that seem to be evaporating, rocks with faces.
Which photographer or book has had the biggest impact on you? Why?
So hard to pick just one! I am going to choose Jonathan Chritchley, because not only does he make beautiful photographs, he has been my mentor and I have benefitted greatly from his guidance and advice over the years. The best thing he did was to help me understand what it was that truly motivated me to create. His book, Silver, is achingly beautiful and I recommend it.
Are you working on a photography project? Or do you have one in mind or one that you’d like to start?
I’m always working on projects, with several on the go at any one time. My head is always buzzing with new ideas and I can’t wait to work on them. Not every idea will result in published work but I believe all these projects are connected and one may lead to another and so on, until something really clicks. I try not to set goals or worry about the next body of work. It has to happen naturally.
In the immediate aftermath of Sirens, I was so busy that it was hard to make time for new work but, this year, I have started to schedule time deliberately for personal work and I’m really enjoying that. I’ve a solo show in Massachusetts at the moment and will probably have at least two solos in the UK next year. There’s also a book idea on the back burner (but I’m taking my time with that) and some really exciting new workshops coming up.
What are your favourite photographs that you have taken?
It has to be Sirens. I have individual photos from other portfolios that I like as much but Sirens is my favourite body of work, so far. The connection with mythology seemed to capture people’s imagination and the portfolio’s reception has, of course, been marvellous. But, above all, the experience of creating this portfolio was utterly rewarding. During a category 10 storm, when it’s so windy you can’t even stand, you don’t always know what you’ve got until later but I have a strong memory of seeing ‘Poseidon Rising’ as I clicked the shutter and knowing I’d got something special. Photographing the sea in those conditions is so exhilarating. Even though I am moving on with new work now, I will still go to my beach on stormy days, if I can, just for the sheer fun of it.
What is your favourite photograph (that is not from you)?
One of them has to be Jean Guichard’s famous photograph of La Jument lighthouse, off the coast of Brittany, in France, being engulfed by an enormous wave while the lighthouse keeper stands in the doorway, utterly dwarfed by the power of the ocean. It’s an incredible moment that evokes so much of what I feel about the sea.
What is the best piece of photographic advice you have come across?
I use this one when teaching on my workshops, although I don’t know who coined the phrase (if you do, please tell me!): ‘I would rather make a rare photograph of something common than a common photograph of something rare’.
To purchase the Joel Meyerowitz masterclass that includes the lesson where Joel discusses Rachael’s work, click here
Photos 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11 By Rachael Talibart
Photo 10 By Jean Guichard