Albert Watson: A Master of Photography

Albert Watson is truly a master of photography. His work blends the expressive strength of visual art, the glamour of fashion, and the astute quality of commercial photography into unforgettable images that have shaped the contemporary world. In our complex, modern times with a hyper abundance of visual imagery, what does a photographer, who has achieved so much acclaim, from winning the Lucy and Grammy awards, shooting the covers of Vogue and the Rolling Stones, and awarded an Order of the British Empire (OBE), do next?

Going Off the Commercial Grid

As one of the most influential international photographers whose success comes from a lifelong commitment to the relentless pursuit of creativity, Albert Watson’s photographs present the world within a distinctive, remarkable vision. As a personal challenge, Mr. Watson goes off the commercial grid. He has created a project based on nature and the environment on the Isle of Skye. No models, no studio, and no products or personas to sell; this is a personal project in a career spanning 50 years.

The Early Years

Born and raised in Edinburgh, Scotland, Albert studied first graphic design and then film at the Royal College of Art in London. Having vision in only one eye since birth, the characteristically determined Watson decided to study photography as part of his curriculum. In 1970, he moved to the United States with his wife, Elizabeth, who held a job as an elementary school teacher in Los Angeles. Albert would travel with her and, initially as a hobby, start to take pictures of his surroundings.

Watson’s First Test Session

Later that year, Albert met an art director at Max Factor, who offered him his first test session. Albert’s distinctive style caught the attention of European fashion magazines and, soon after, would be booked for a shoot with legendary filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock, the first celebrity Albert ever photographed. After this fateful encounter, Albert began commuting between Los Angeles and New York.

Watson’s Commercial Success

In 1976, Albert landed his first job for Vogue, and with his move to New York that same year, his career took off. Eventually, Watson’s captivating images appeared on more than two hundred and fifty covers for Vogue as well as featured in Life, Time, Newsweek, Rolling Stone, and Stern. Albert Watson remains one of the world’s most compelling voices in contemporary commercial, fashion, and fine art photography.

Albert Watson, Red Cuillins Road, Isle of Skye, Scotland
Albert Watson, Red Cuillins Road, Isle of Skye, Scotland, 2013, Archival Pigment Photograph

The Isle of Skye

Continuing to explore his creative desires, Albert Watson decides to embark on a project to explore his native country’s majestic landscapes. For the Isle of Skye pictures, Watson presents the landscape through his distinct vision; the images act as open-ended sketches of a mysterious and ancient landscape, all delivered through a bold visual approach. In Watson’s photographs, Skye’s landscape is transformed into stark, vivid colors. The settings become painterly environments emboldened with an energy of romanticism, while the beauty of nature is abstracted and reinterpreted into poetic works of art.

Reimagining His Surroundings

For Skye, Watson must reimagine his surroundings; being a Scotsman himself, he aims to see these familiar surroundings anew. Through the personal dedication that Watson puts into his projects, the Isle of Skye is transformed by the photographer’s virtuous eye for discovery, making almost certain that the famous, often photographed scenery is seen through his unique vision. The result is a mission that is romantic in its pursuit and faithful to the versatility that so characterizes Watson as an influential photographer. Striking colors, reinvigorated perspectives, and a natural beauty, these photographs are meant to connect with the senses of any lover of nature (and naturally, any Scotsman.)

Albert Watson Skye Reeds, Scotland
Albert Watson, Isle of Skye, Reeds, Single Patch, Scotland, 2013, Archival Pigment Photograph

“When you spend the first 25 years of your life in a particular place, it never really leaves you… In Skye, you never quite know what you’re getting.” – Albert Watson

The Theater of Nature

Watson’s Skye images become dramatic stages within the theater of nature. Like “Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog” by Caspar David Friedrich, the Skye images inject the viewer into the natural environment, transporting them into the rich vastness of the green highlands, the absorbing stimulation of color, and the humbling magnitude of nature. The photographs explore space, mood, and the search for a very different kind of connection. In Skye, the landscape is universal and apart from the temporal world.

Albert Watson, Ullinish Point, Isle of Skye, Scotland
Albert Watson, Ullinish Point, Isle of Skye, Scotland, 2013, Archival Pigment Photograph

A Salute to the Timeless Aspect of Nature

Watson is well aware of our fascination with celebrities, fashion, style, and tastes that are seemingly transitory and become a part of society’s consumable nature. This body of work marks a distinction for the photographer because it looks beyond the ephemeral and provincial confines of cultural trends and reaches further to fathom the more extraordinary powers of nature. The Skye images are a salute to the timeless aspect of nature as well as photography.

Albert Watson, The Quiraing, Isle of Skye, Scotland
Albert Watson, The Quiraing, Isle of Skye, Scotland, 2013, Archival Pigment Photograph

With a deep love for the Scottish Highlands’ captivating rugged beauty, Watson returns to Scotland to challenge and expand his repertoire and capture this body of work as a poetic ode to his homeland. Ultimately, Watson’s Skye photographs use this specific landscape as a conduit to connect in a deeper and more profound manner.

“Even the most stylized of his photographs possess a quality of being snapshots from a journey, an adventure, a quest. And not the usual kind of snapshot – more like the single, searing image that is memorized at the moment one wakes from a particularly intense dream.” – James Turman, Editorial Director, Conde Nast, on Albert Watson