One of my favourite quotes comes from architect Frank Lloyd Wright. “Study nature,” he said. “Love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.” When I look at the body of work photographer Richard Gaston has created over his career thus far, I can only suppose that he, too, is a student of that very same school of thought. “There’s a feeling that comes with it,” the Glasgow-based documentarian says. “The feeling of doing something productive, something healthy. And also getting to know Scotland. Which is an important value of mine too.” Gaston’s work is a close study of nature, particularly the Scottish Highlands. With a wilderness calling card that’s caught the attention of clients such as Apple, Mercedez Benz, and Arc’teryx, Gaston has also published two guidebooks on the northern kingdom. With fellow photographers Kimberley Grant and David Cooper, the aptly named Wild Guide Scotland records hundreds of rugged hikes and hidden locales across the country.
When I met Gaston in 2015, we were both living in Copenhagen. Working then in-house for Norse Projects, Gaston was already entrenched in photographing the outdoors and mountaineering. When asked how he got into it, it was rather unintentional. “I met someone working at American Apparel who was a photographer interested in the outdoors. Doing the kind of thing I’m doing today,” he says. “We got on really well, and one day, they just asked if I wanted to go on a walk they were doing. I didn’t have any hiking or photography equipment, but I decided to go. I remember doing it and thinking this is insane.”
Quickly becoming gripped with the outdoors and photography, Gaston pursued the new interests with dedication and by any means necessary. “In the beginning, I would do it on a budget,” he remembers. “I’d go up on a bus early in the morning and just wait for hours. Transport in Scotland is kind of unreliable, which is such a stress. Thankfully I have a car now, and that is such a luxury. But that was the way I had to do it. I would go out every weekend regardless of the weather. It was very pure, and I just loved it.”
From persistence, perseverance, and patience. I’m sitting, waiting, connecting with something spiritual. That's the connection I feel to the Highlands.”
— Richard Gaston
Today, Gaston’s portfolio is, of course, full of landscapes. Muted mountain tones and dusty-coloured skies create one serene image after another. Repeatedly showcasing vast sweeping valleys whose scale can only be conjured at the sight of a tiny rustic bothy dotted somewhere in the distance. It’s almost ironic that his images would convey such tranquillity because often, the effort required to capture them is hours, if not days, of hiking in sometimes gruelling conditions. Yet, patience is of the utmost. “Every time I ask myself, ‘What am I doing? I could be in bed with a cup of coffee. This is ridiculous.’ I’ll keep roughing it, then get back to the car and think, that was amazing,” he laughs. “I don’t know how to explain it because I’m not a religious person, but it’s a very spiritual experience.” Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. “From persistence, perseverance, and patience,” Gaston says. “I’m sitting, waiting, connecting with something spiritual. That’s the connection I feel to the Highlands.” It will never fail you. ■