“The rocks, trees, rivers, the people, eventually blend together to make a landscape in which each is a part of the whole”: photographer Sophie Wedgwood and stylist Cristina Firpo speak to AnOther about their new project
In the north of the UK lies the Highlands: a fiercely beautiful landscape defined by imposing green mountains, stretches of dense pine forest, and dramatic coastline cliffs. “We were both drawn to something about the expanse of Scotland,” photographer Sophie Wedgwood and stylist Cristina Firpo tell AnOther of their collaborative project, which documents both the area and the seaside town of St Andrews on Scotland’s east coast.
A previous recipient of the prestigious Magnum Photos Emerging Artist Award, Wedgwood’s photography is rooted in the documentary style, with a focus on the subtle beauty found in everyday living. Whether it be London parks in lockdown or the vibrant streets of Havana, where her husband grew up, Wedgwood has an ability to capture the easily-missed magic in the unremarkable. For this, and the project in the Highlands too, spontaneity is key. “I’m a big believer in taking creative risks where possible,” says Wedgwood. “Overplanning can sometimes stop the surprising from coming through.”
Upon arriving in Scotland, Wedgwood and Firpo teamed up with street casting director Lisa Dymph Megens. “The people were strangers, street cast by Lisa Dymph Megens, so there was an element of chance at play,” the image-maker recalls. “People were kind enough to trust us, which was an important part of it. When Lisa and I work together we are both interested in the entirety of that person … I think great portraiture often lies in that interest in human character and emotion.”
Interspersed with sublime images of Scotland’s natural landscapes and ancient ruins, the portraits in the series capture locals simply posed in front of traditional rock walls. For the styling, Firpo wanted to keep with the heritage of the area and the autumn season. “I was influenced by traditional Scottish fabrics and prints, mainly focusing on knitwear, using a mix of vintage and young designers to incorporate these themes in a more contemporary way,” she says. “I wanted the clothes to be rich in textures and the colours of the clothes to match the autumnal surroundings.” For both Firpo and Wedgwood, a feeling of authenticity was important. “It feels like the clothes belong to the people wearing them, and that way they take on the person’s identity,” the photographer says.
Though much of the process was experimental, Wedgwood was in part inspired by the concept of repeating structures in art, which gives the series a lyrical feeling in its presentation of people and place. “I’d recently watched a documentary that had mentioned how repeated notes in the classical music of Bach had inspired repetition in the way Hemingway writes,” she explains. “How he created connection through repetition of a word or phrase in his novels. I found that interesting and it made me consider repetition in art forms, like Rothko’s paintings or how Rodin made multiple copies of his work. So this idea of repetitive structure was in the back of my mind when we went to Scotland.”
Looking back at the project, the pair see the series as both a love letter to Scotland’s wild natural landscapes and as a visual study of “collective identity”. “In these images it feels like the rocks, trees, rivers, the people, eventually blend together to make a landscape in which each is a part of the whole,” says Wedgwood. “It’s interesting to think about how the landscape can mould people’s habits and their looks.” Firpo adds that they are “hoping to continue the series over time, either going back to Scotland or focussing on other parts of the UK with similar terrain.”