Photo Essay: All That Is, Toby Trueman

Capturing passing clouds, changing light and slowly shifting tides, Toby Trueman builds a photographic portrait of a single stretch of beach in East Lothian, Scotland.

Quietly observing a single location, from the same elevation and viewpoint, Toby Trueman’s mesmerising photographs reduce the landscape to smudges of earth, sea and sky. Watching as the tides shift, weather changes and signs of life flick in and out of frame, All That Is is a celebration of nature – inexorable, powerful and permanent.

Deliberately minimal, Trueman used varying exposures, from 6 minutes to a fraction of a second, to break the landscape down into its basic elements. Passing clouds, rolling waves and the rising and setting sun form broad strokes of painterly colour where land meets water.

 “The coast is where the planet is laid bare, consumed by the shifting face of time” – Toby Trueman

Five Questions with Toby Trueman

What is it about beaches that draws you to them?

In a way, for us land animals beaches are the meeting point between everything and nothing. The complexity of the natural landscape crumbles into grains of sand which themselves retreat into an endless expanse of blue green.

I find the experience of being on the coast incredibly calming, and quite emotionally powerful. The pressures of life fade away when you reduce what you’re looking at to two colours and a wash of cloud. It’s a minimalist aesthetic, yet at the same time you’re seeing everything that forms the bedrock of our world; land, sea and sky. It’s a view that has remained the same ever since our world was covered in water, and it’ll continue to be so long after we’ve disappeared. I’m quite happy sat on the sand, looking out and thinking about that.

How can we benefit from being immersed in the natural landscape?

I think it’s absolutely vital that people find at least some time in their lives to peel away from whatever screen they’re looking at and walk out into nature for a bit. It’s very easy to get caught up in modern living, moving at 400 miles an hour to get on top or make sure your social media feeds are looking as good as possible. I don’t think that’s a healthy way of living.

As a society we’re forgetting about the natural world, we’re becoming too drawn into a digital life. I’ve never found greater peace than being out on a mountain ridge, or in a forest or on the coast. I work with screens constantly; I’m a filmmaker and run a video production company in Edinburgh, so I’m constantly thinking about and making stuff for screens. I find I’m far more creative, far more productive, and certainly far happier when I balance my time with getting out into the natural world as often as I can.

What’s so special about the beaches and landscapes of Scotland?

Scotland is without a doubt one of the most beautiful countries on earth. There are so many magical places. Its landscape is ancient and incredibly varied, from the lowlands up to the dramatic west coast and into the unique wilderness of the north. There’s also only 5 million people here, and most of them are in the central belt, so you can go to a lot of absolutely stunning places and not encounter a single soul. It’s this combination of majesty, ancient beauty and rugged, raw natural world that makes Scotland so special.

Where are your favourite places in Scotland?

I’m lucky enough to live next to one of my favourite places; Tyninghame beach in East Lothian. Only 25 miles from Edinburgh, it’s a stunning beach of golden sand, with an approach through varied woods. Its 2 miles from my house, so I go there a fair bit with my daughter. Further afield is the Lochaber region up on the west coast. That whole area is amazing; with Glencoe and the coastal road between Oban and Ballachulish harbouring so many experiences.

Then further north you have Glenfinnan with the Jacobite Memorial at the head of the loch, flanked with mountains and looking like something right out of Lord of the Rings. Finally there’s Plockton. It’s a stunning village on the mainland just north of where you can take the bridge to Skye. It’s protected from winds by the topography, and the North Atlantic Drift keeps it comparatively temperate, so you’ve got palm trees growing along the sea front. It has three pubs and each of them do an amazing seafood platter. Plus they filmed parts of the Wicker Man here, whats not to love?

Where else in the world have you felt particularly inspired by?

I’m lucky enough to have travelled a reasonable amount with my work, and no place has had more of an impact on me than Africa. There’s something about Africa that just gets under your skin. It’s an astonishingly beautiful continent. Kilimanjaro is a mind blowing experience; no where else can you walk from a jungle to a glacier in a couple of days, and hiking the summit in the middle of the night, seeing separate storms flicker below you out over the savanna, is astonishing.

I worked on a documentary in Namibia, where we spent some time with the Himba in the north of the country. Their way of life hasn’t changed in thousands of years; living off the land in quiet, peaceful valleys. Like many areas of Africa, they struggle with water and are very susceptible to drought, but even so there’s a sense of harmony in these communities that isn’t present in cities and towns. I was shocked at the level of poverty across Malawi, where the majority of people live as subsistence farmers in huts without electricity or running water, and yet still the people are positive, warm and welcoming. Being in Africa, with its people, sunsets, storms and wildlife – there’s nowhere like it.

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