Well renowned Snowdonia based landscape photographer, Nick Livesey joins us for this Q&A session where get a little bit deep and meaningful, but chat about the outdoors as well.
Revered throughout Snowdonia, Nick is well known in outdoor circles for his stunning photography that is much more than your typical blue sky mountain view. He manages to capture the mountains in their glory at the best and worst of times; using light in a very interesting way. Heavily showcasing the effect that it can have on an otherwise drab and dreary landscape (arguably), turning the view into an intense and atmospheric moment. Nick Livesey also works in the Moel Siabod cafe at the foot of its namesake lump of Snowdonian rock and co-runs the gallery that can be found there also. If you’d like to see more of Nick’s photography, you can head to his website at nickliveseymountainimages.co.uk
1. Could you give us a little introduction?
Hello, my name is Nick Livesey and I am a semi-professional mountain photographer living in Capel Curig, Snowdonia. I work at the Moel Siabod Cafe where I am also a partner in the ‘Soul of Snowdonia’ photographic gallery. I lead photographic walks in Snowdonia, run photography workshops and provide images for the national outdoor press including Trail, TGO and Summit magazines.
2. Did you have any formal photography ‘training’?
No, I’m completely self-taught and have relied mainly on trial and error, that’s how I learn best. Becoming a master at anything is a life-long journey and although I have reached a high degree of competence I’m still developing and year on year I see a big difference in the quality of my work. I suppose when that stops it’s time to find something else to do!
3. What do you enjoy doing outdoors when not doing photography?
When conditions are not conducive to good mountain photography, a blue-sky summer day for example, I still like to be out on the hills; especially with friends as when I’m shooting it’s usually a solitary affair. I get a real kick out of exploring the quiet, ill frequented areas, I love scrambling and although I don’t climb anywhere near as much as I used to I still like to get out and do a long, easy multi-pitch route now and again. In terms of how I like to spend my spare time I’m pretty one dimensional in that as long as I’m out in the mountains I’m happy.
4. Aside from Snowdonia, where is your favourite place to be outdoors?
Since I moved to Wales over two years ago I haven’t left the country once! Before that I used to go all over the place walking and climbing. Of course Snowdonia is my greatest love but if I had to live somewhere else it would be the Lake District which is very special to me and where I started my hillwalking adventures.
North of the border I would say that Torridon, Glen Coe and Arran are the places that have made the biggest impression on me.
Closer to home I have always loved the Peak but that has always been from a climbing rather than walking perspective. I have so many wonderful memories of weekend camps and long days on the grit.
One hidden gem that has long been very close to my heart is the Charnwood Forest in between Leicester and Loughborough. It’s an incredibly beautiful area, totally unique, of ‘itself’ and there is even some climbing, albeit of a fairly esoteric nature in places!
5. I’ve read in other interviews and seen in a video interview for UKC that the outdoors steered you away from a dangerous path in life. What was it about the outdoors that did that for you?
Throughout my entire life I’ve always felt that I didn’t fit in with what societal norms have expected of me. Some might say I’m non-conformist but I think that would be too simplistic as there are many different ways of seeing the world and your place within it.
When I was younger these expectations weighed heavily upon me because I am a creative rather than a practical person, a dreamer in a society where solid, demonstrable skills are valued much more readily than thoughts or feelings which are more difficult to qualify.
As I reached my late teens I felt shoe-horned into a system that I struggled to operate in and found solace and escape through drugs and alcohol which ultimately resulted in me feeling even more weird.
In discovering the outdoors, or more specifically the mountains, I realised something very quickly, which is that all the things I felt alienated from were human constructs of the particular civilisation and era I was born into. My musical hero Brian Wilson expressed it beautifully in the Beach Boys song ‘I just wasn’t made for these times’.
In the hills I felt a freedom I’d never before known. The wild places and even wilder weather are a great leveller. You can be a tramp or a millionaire but nature has a great way of stripping away pretentions or your standing in a social hierarchy, revealing important truths and recalibrating perceptions. You can be any ethnicity or sexual orientation, listen to Richard Clayderman or Slayer and the mountains couldn’t give a shit. I’ve always liked the egalitarian nature of outdoor pursuits and the opportunities for spiritual regeneration and healing they provide for anyone willing to take a step closer to the natural world.
If that all sounds a bit highfalutin then the simple answer is that having always been an aesthet and a romantic, the sheer beauty of the mountains is something that touches me very deeply, even after many hundreds of days spent with them.
6. What would you say is the best way to enjoy the outdoors as an escape from the day-to-day?
Although I know what works for me I wouldn’t want to be too prescriptive as we’re all slightly different and have our own ideas about what makes being in the outdoors enjoyable. Some folk like to push themselves physically and mentally on a hard rock route, others like to bomb around on mountain bikes, paddlers enjoy the rivers, wild swimmers the mountain lakes and hillwalkers the summits and ridges. What we all have in common is that we love the outdoors and want to enjoy them in our own way so it is unfortunate that different factions sometimes come into conflict.
With that in mind, I think a healthy attitude is to respect each other’s right to enjoyment but even more so to respect the environment itself, doing what we do in appropriate places and trying as much as possible to leave it as we find it so others can enjoy it too.
7. As you are often out in all weathers and at all times, what would you say is the best way to be prepared when going out in the hills?
As a hill-goer in the 21st century I have good kit which isn’t cheap and although I’m pro-freedom and in no way a gear snob I’m as guilty as the next man of raising an eyebrow when I see flip flops on Crib Goch. But when I think back to years past and the gear the Victorian pioneers used right through to the early Everest expeditions it’s clear that space age clothing alone won’t keep you safe in the mountains. If anyone knows of a modern waterproof clothing system that will keep you dry in 50mph winds and horizontal rain in the Carneddau I’d like to know about it!
Apart from gear, the best way to be prepared in the hills is to start out with modest ambitions, increase your experience incrementally, learn to navigate even at a rudimentary level and take responsibility for yourself. Becoming a safe hillwalker is usually achieved by experiential learning and you will make mistakes, get lost, get wet and sometimes scared but in this game there are no short cuts. It’s a great journey, enjoy it!
8. What would you say is the most essential piece of kit to anyone who spends a lot of time in the hills?
Hmmm…what piece of kit would I be least likely to omit from my sack? As a mountain photographer who spends a lot of time sitting still my life would be much more uncomfortable without my down jacket which goes with me everywhere, even in summer.
Other essentials for me are Harribo/Wine Gums/Jelly Babies for a morale boost on long dark descents, gaiters for boggy areas are a must and I like a buff for keeping the wind out and for that fetching ‘Pirate’ look on sunny scalp-burning days!
9. Who would you say is your biggest inspiration in terms of photography?
This is a tricky question to answer because although there are a number of landscape photographers whose work I admire I have never felt the need to try and emulate any of them. That said I was introduced to the mountains through the books of Walter Poucher who, in his day, was the pre-eminent British mountain photographer. His work looks really old fashioned now but it opened my eyes to the superb scenery we have in Britain so I suppose you could say that he was my biggest inspiration apart from the landscape itself of course which after all these years I still find hugely inspiring.
10. If you could choose anywhere in the world to photograph, that you have not already – where would it be?
The answer to this should be very straight forward but for me it is far from it! Most of the photographers I know seem to have a wish list of locations they want to capture, Iceland being the current favourite. In Britain alone there are countless well known or iconic viewpoints which have been done to death and for very good reasons as they’re usually stunning places. In fact I have one of them about ten minutes’ walk from my door, the classic view of the Snowdon Horseshoe from Llynau Mymbyr where more often than not you’ll see a tripod or two come sunset.
There’s nothing wrong with travelling around to photograph the classics but my motivation as a photographer has never been to amass a portfolio of random locations just for the sake of making pretty pictures. What I have always tried to do is express my connection with and passion for my subject matter which is the mountainous areas of the British Isles. Latterly I have concentrated solely on Snowdonia and I am exploring my relationship with this one area through the seasons and in all its moods which I’ve have found to be a very rewarding experience.
There are of course places I would like to visit such as Norway and Canada for example, but if and when I do, I don’t think I’ll be thinking about photography, I’d just like to go and do some mountaineering without worrying about light or any of that stuff as it can really get in the way of truly experiencing a place and moment for what it is.