Tell us a bit about yourself and how your photography journey started. Can you remember the first photo you took?
My background has been mostly in the educational field with time also in the para medical field. Photography has been a long time interest and would you believe started with the old box brownie, as that was all I could afford. While I cannot remember the very first photograph I took, I do remember subjecting the family to my first attempts, and later at secondary school recording many people situations.
I also used photography to stimulate creative work in the classroom. Recently I have been scanning some of those very old photographs for a book my wife and I putting together, at the request of our family. I even scanned an old family 4x5 glass plate negative with excellent results that we estimate was taken around 1915.
How did you learn photography and would you agree that people are always on a learning path?
My learning journey started with the basics, but it taught me what worked, especially from a composition point of view.
The desire to improve on many aspects, shifted me to a new camera namely a medium format Rolleiflex 6x6 This intensified my desire to learn, because of the wonderful results, developing one’s own negatives and printing in my darkroom. From there I learnt from a very good photography friend who worked as a freelance photographer, as well as indirectly from Spencer Digby studios in Wellington.
In later years I have been fortunate to continue learning with close personal, professional photography friends like the late James White. Overall it was a self-learning process. I cannot remember a time when I did not learn something new, as my wife says I am a perfectionist. The aspect of continual learning never changes for any photographer, and never will.
Your Excio profile says you have been a portrait, weddings, press and landscape photographer. Which style do you find most interesting?
The Rollei was such a great camera that I found huge excitement in the quality of prints I produced. This meant that I was asked to do all sorts of challenging photography. Press work was a little different, but when it came to weddings and portrait work a new challenge arose. That being to capture the real essence of the people involved in say a wedding as well as record an historical and memorable event for the group concerned. Portrait photography was and still is my most exciting challenge/s. One has to get to know the person, draw out their personality or that something special about the person. It is a special relationship that you develop.
What's one piece of advice you would give to your younger self regarding photography?
The advice I would give to myself then and now is learn early to take a conceptual view of what you are photographing, and visualise an end result where possible. What is it you want to say, or express after consideration of the photograph being taken, whether landscape or portrait.
Would you agree that photographers are "lonely wolves"?
Yes, to a large extent photographers are lonely wolves as each photograph is a personal expression of whatever is in your mind or whatever presents in front of you.
One of your recent photographs on Excio is "Living in Cappadocia". Can you tell us why you visited Cappadocia in Turkey and what this place has to offer from a photography perspective?
Travelling through Cappadocia was part of my journey through Turkey to capture my feelings about my grandfather surviving Gallipoli along with a small group of soldiers who were shipped back to parts of Egypt, and other areas in the region.
My grandfather, prior to leaving New Zealand, was a blacksmith and from Gallipoli was sent to France as a Sgt Farrier. Unfortunately he was killed six weeks prior to the end of the war while taking ammunition to the front line.
He is buried in the “Queant” Cemetery at Arras. New Zealanders and the people of Arras have a strong link because the New Zealanders were instrumental in saving the city of Arras from the German invasion. This they achieved by tunnelling under the city through limestone caves and quarries. These tunnellers from the Wellington Engineers, Maori Battalion, and Kiwis from the West coast coal towns and goldmines helped hollow out the most ambitious underground network in British Military history.
While the work was exhausting there was still a great deal of humour. New Zealand names were often put around the tunnels like Waitomo, Wellington, Nelson etc. Within the tunnels there were latrines and even a hospital. At one stage there were 24,000 troops underground and on April 9th 1917 at 5:30am they broke through, and saved the city of Arras.
Wellington New Zealand Road TunneI is important to record the building of the road tunnel under the " Pukeahu National War Memorial Park" in Wellington. This tunnel named "Arras" is the link with the tunnels in Arras France.
This amazing sculpture, “Falls The Shadow” stands at the entrance to the Arras caves and tunnels. It depicts The Men, The Mud, and Destruction of the battle fields near Arras. It was made by the well known Wellington artist, Helen Pollock.
Cappadocia was such a unique area both from its geological nature, to the way people lived and how they made the best of what nature presented. It would have been easy to have stayed a week in this area, because there were so many photographic stories to tell, to hear and observe. It was a journey back in time but living in the present as well. The fact that people were still living in these unusual rock faces was unique in itself.
What are we seeing on this particular shot - is it a normal standard house for this location?
This photo is real in the sense that people are still living in these unusual rock faces. They are using all the available land to crop and maintain a living. Also around, modern style houses are being built, with a few rock homes developed into small hotels.
Erosion shaped the incredible landscape of Turkey's Göreme valley, Cappadocia but thousands of years ago humans took a cue from Mother Nature and began carving an incredible chamber and tunnel complex into the soft rock. Beginning in the fourth century A.D., an urbanised—but underground—cultural landscape was created.
Human hands performed equally incredible works here. The rocky wonderland is honeycombed with a network of human-created caves; living quarters, places of worship, stables, and storehouses were all dug into the soft stone. In fact, tunnel complexes formed entire towns with as many as eight different stories hidden underground.
Ancient volcanic eruptions blanketed this region with thick ash, which solidified into a soft rock—called tuff—tens of meters thick. Wind and water went to work on this plateau, leaving only it’s harder elements behind to form a fairy tale landscape of cones, pillars, pinnacles, mushrooms, and chimneys, which stretch as far as 130 feet (40 meters) into the sky.
The monks excavated extensive dwellings and monasteries and created Byzantine frescoed paintings in cave chapels beginning in the seventh century, which endure in well-preserved isolation to this day.
It is a World Heritage Site and is threatened by erosion which created it in the first place, as well as the tourist trade.
View more work of Don's work on Excio: albums.excio.io/profile/Don McLeod