Meet Adrian Houston, the photographer capturing the power and fragility of nature

Adrian Houston has travelled the world photographing breathtaking scenes of powerful nature and its underlying fragility – something that compels him to create projects that display its beauty and promote ways to protect it.

To mark the launch of his print collection with King & McGaw, we met up with Adrian at Kew Gardens to discuss his practice, his series of artworks that display the beauty and grandeur of ancient trees, and how we should all spend more time connecting with nature.

Q: You have travelled around the world capturing breathtaking photographs of nature. What have been some of your most memorable experiences? 

A: One of the most memorable experiences was on the Big Island in Hawaii, I was shooting a campaign for a large American brand. We had a Geologist with us who took us across a fresh lava field to an area called The Vent, where the lava runs straight into the Ocean (the Big Island was getting bigger). 

We set up and after a couple of hours we noticed that the activity had increased, suddenly the fissure that had formed under the sea creating new land collapsed and the whole thing erupted. I turned to my crew and said there was no point in running, we stayed and luckily the steaming rocks and lava never came our way. Five miles of the coastline collapsed back into the sea. This was a moment of understanding raw beauty, and the natural power of the Earth and the realisation that we have to protect our planet, as if we upset it there is nothing we can do.

Also standing on a mountain peak in Alaska at 10,000 feet, looking down on the Mendenhall glacier. The thought in my mind that I was the first person to stand on this peak, made it very special. The unusual thing when climbing a glacier is only hearing the creaking of the ice and seeing the rich blue colour of the deep crevasses.

Q: Do you work in digital photography? 

A: I shoot with a Hasselblad H6 which is digital, I would prefer to work purely with film and my 4 x 5 Cambo camera (traditional large format) is the purest form of photography. It makes you understand about light and composition, as you have to be very precise with everything you do.

Anthony House Cork Oak

Q: Could you tell us about how your photographic journey began and your early career?

A: I decided I wanted to be a photographer having done a part-time degree, so I got a list of the top ten photographers in London and spent the next year making tea or clearing up, mainly for free as that is the only way into their studios. Eventually one of the assistants left and I got a job with Micheal Joseph who shot campaigns for all the top advertising agencies. Working across all forms of subjects and learning from the best prepares you in the best way to succeed.

Q: Your mother Esther Craig was an artist herself, and the muse of Salvador Dali. Do you have any anecdotes from her time with him?

A: My Mother met him walking along a beach below his studio in Cadaques. He invited her and my father to his studio where he had the picture of the Last Supper on his easel. The only bit of the painting that was unfinished was Christ’s face. She learned later that he had painted her face as Christ’s face.

Q: Your most recent book commission ‘The Queens Green Canopy’, features written contributions by celebrities including Dame Joanna Lumley, Dame Judi Dench and Alan Titchmarsh. Could you tell us more about this project?

A: This was commissioned by the King as a celebration of Her Majesty the Queen’s 70 years of reign, a committee was formed to choose 70 ancient trees and 70 ancient forests, ‘Natures  Crown Jewels’. The original idea was to present Her Majesty with a special version of the book. It is now with the King, who wrote the first foreword as King for the book. It helped The Queens Green Canopy tree planting campaign plant over 1.8 million trees with after care.

Alladale Scots Pine

‘The most important thing for us all is to connect with nature. It is part of us and we are part of it’

Adrian Houston

Q: Your photography beautifully depicts the grandeur of nature. What do you hope that audiences will take away from your work? 

A: The most important thing for us all is to connect with nature. It is part of us and we are part of it. Spending time in nature is so beneficial for your wellbeing. I would hope that my work inspires people to understand the importance of connecting with nature.

Q: Could you tell us about your new collection of prints produced in collaboration with King & McGaw and the donations from each sale that will go to the charity, The Tree Council?

A: All these works were the favourite trees of different people and probably have been for hundreds of years. They were able to tell some of the stories about the trees’ lives, in a way giving them a voice. Some have stood for nearly 1000 years in the landscape. For example the Chirk Sweet Chestnut would have seen many battles over its 600 years or the Elephant Oak, which has stood in Windsor Great Park for around 800 years. The ancient Scots Pine halfway up the valley in the Scottish Highlands, the remnants of the Caledonian forest which dates back 10,000 years.

Chirk Castle Sweet Chestnut

Q: Do you have any exciting projects that you’re currently working on? 

A: ‘Faith in Trees’, all religions and faiths have a sacred tree. I am working on an exhibition book and documentary. We will be photographing and filming each tree and interviewing the custodian or head of the Faith about why their tree is spiritually and environmentally so important. By recognising the profound connection between trees and humanity, we can learn from each faith the correlation between indigenous cultures and their reverence for trees highlighting a diverse array of practices that demonstrate a shared respect for the environment.

A percentage of all sales from this collection go towards the work of The Tree Council.

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