Simon Butterworth is a professional photographer based in the Scottish Borders. His photographs are represented by Getty Images and SuperStock USA and can be regularly seen in publications ranging from The Jewish Chronicle to Time Magazine. He also performs classical music professionally, and has played clarinet in major cities of five continents and performed at thirty consecutive seasons of BBC Promenade Concerts at the Royal Albert Hall, London.
In 2015, his series 'Blue Fields' was shortlisted in the Professional Landscape category of the Sony World Photography Awards.
Hi Simon, please introduce yourself and tell us a little about your photography
After studying at the Royal Academy of Music in London, I spent several years working as an orchestral clarinet player, mostly for the BBC. Photography only started to become important to me in 2003 when I moved to Scotland - mountain climbing has always been a big part of my life and I wanted to live closer to the finest ranges in the UK. At first photography was all about documenting trips to the Highlands, but within a matter of months my expeditions were being planned purely around taking photographs. Very soon the range of subjects I was photographing began to expand; architecture, the built environment and particularly industry became important in addition to more traditional landscape photography.
After several successes in photographic competitions I won UK Landscape Photographer of the Year in 2012 which raised my profile enormously. It was at this time that I began to work professionally. Although my photography has been steadily gathering momentum, music making is far too important for me to stop working at a professional level, and I now have what is fashionably called a portfolio career. The two disciplines complement each other perfectly - when I play music I go blind, and when I take pictures I go deaf! A few years ago I was photographing an orchestra and one of the musicians asked me how it sounded, I had to admit that I had no idea, I was so wrapped up in the photography that I hadn’t even noticed what they were playing!
Why photography? What does the medium mean to you?
As a committed project photographer I love to explore a subject down to the nth degree and learn as much about it as possible. Getting under the skin of something can require months or even years of careful thought and research, one picture is never enough. My work always has a factual or documentary basis, even though I try to give images an abstract twist if I can. Much to my frustration, hard-core conceptual photography often leaves me scratching my head.
Remind us of your successful series 'Blue Fields'
In 2015 my series of Australian salt pan images 'Blue Fields' was shortlisted in the Sony World Photography Awards, Professional landscape category. These were shot from a light aircraft over Shark Bay, the westernmost point of mainland Australia. It’s impossible to overstate the importance of this achievement to my career, the global coverage was amazing, in fact, interest in my work as a direct result of the awards continues to this day.
Do you have a photographic philosophy?
After discovering the joys of drone photography at the end of last year, I have been regularly using one since. Part of this infatuation is no doubt novelty, but it has also made possible shots that I had previously only been able to dream about. My latest completed project, ‘Architecture of Ovis Aries’ used a drone to examine sheep folds in the Scottish Borders region. These fascinating structures have been an enduring subject for me - last time I tried to make a series about them it involved carrying a large pair of step ladders across miles of open hillside in order to get an elevated viewpoint. More recently the drone has been used to look at industrial reclamation, some of this is on such a vast scale it’s just not feasible without some form of aerial photography.
What's next for you?
Future plans include a mix of work abroad and at home in the UK. Orchestral life has good travel opportunities and I can often combine an element of music and photography, for instance, after a recent concert tour of China, the rest of the orchestra flew home and I stayed for several weeks to work on a photographic project.