Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Ice Bucket Challenge

Unless you've been offline for the past couple of weeks you can't have failed to notice the proliferation of videos of people having buckets of ice water poured over them in order to raise money and awareness of ALS, or in the UK, MND - Motor Neurone Disease.

The idea is you succumb to the ordeal, nominate 3 other people and donate a bit of money to the cause, or chicken out and donate a larger sum of money. Film stars, politicians and all manner of celebrities have taken part, along with considerably more people who are not famous, and whose videos will only be watched by their immediate friends and family.

I've been watching and wondering - what would I do if I was nominated?

Do I want a bucket of icy water poured over my head? Of course not.

Do I want to be seen to be a killjoy, spoilsport and uncharitable? Well, no, not really. And of course that's where the strength of this fundraising meme lies - when so many other people have done it, who wants to be known as the one who said no?

If I'm honest, part of me was irritated by the whole thing. Why should I have to join in with something unpleasant, just to be seen as a good sport? Maybe I should kick against the whole thing - show I was not one to be bullied into it.

What to do? Could I write a blog post decrying a meme for excessive peer pressure? Could I claim my ME/CFS was coming back and excuse myself on health grounds? Could I not answer any emails, not post any blogs and avoid Facebook until it all calmed down? Could I cynically use the fact my daughter has Down's Syndrome and say I was already contributing to a noble cause?

Perhaps I would be lucky. Perhaps no one would ask me if I kept a relatively low profile.

Then my son, Rogan, said he'd been nominated and asked if I would pour the water over him and film it on my camera. Momentarily horrified he might include me in his nominations I casually asked who'd nominated him and who he would be nominating in turn. Fortunately it was all happening among his peer group. I was free to drench him with a 2 gallon bucket of water containing a kilo of ice cubes with no repercussions. There was something deeply satisfying about it...


All those nights he kept waking up and refusing to go back to sleep when he was a baby: finally, payback...

And then it happened.

I logged on to my computer this morning to discover fellow Galloway Photographic Collective member, Tom Langlands, had posted a video being coated with water and in it he nominated me.

In the space of a few minutes I ran through the complete gamut of grief emotions - disbelief, denial, anger, bargaining, guilt, depression and finally, acceptance.

Now I was faced with it, did I really want to rant about bullying and peer pressure? Or was it actually more fun to join in, to be a part of it?

And I realised, despite all my worries and fears, there had been another wee thread running through the back of my thoughts. What if no one nominated me? Would that mean I just wasn't important enough to anyone?

Some were clearly nominating people they either didn't like much or were getting back at for past grievances. But far more often people were nominating their best friends, colleagues and family. People they had a strong affinity with. People in their tribe.

So now faced with the chance to nominate people myself, I thought about those with whom I can chat for hours without ever seeming to run out of things to say, people whose company I really enjoy.

This wasn't about punishment or revenge.

This was about belonging.

And all for a good cause.


After you've smirked at my expression as he's pouring the water over me, take a look at his - utter glee...

If you'd like to donate to this cause, with or without the bucket of icy water, then text ICED55 £5 (or any other amount) to 70070, if you live in the UK, or you can donate to their JustGiving page at https://www.justgiving.com/mndassoc/

If you live outwith the UK, then a quick google search will reveal how to donate to your own country's association.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Photography, Woodlands, Sunset and the First Taste of Autumn

When I've not been photographing for a few days, my fingers get itchy, twitchy, restless, fidgety...

Sometimes I can grab one of my children and stick a hat on them and go click, but this has become increasingly rare as they get older. These days I think even if I offered my 19 year old son money, he would still refuse.

On occasions such as these I've started going for walks in the woods, particularly around sunset. As the last rays streak through gaps in the trees and hit leaves, twigs or ferns in a deep golden, almost bronze light, it can sometimes be truly magical.

Big zoom lens. Really wide aperture. Sunset back-lighting. Great combination.

Here are some pics I've taken this month. Click on them for slightly larger versions.









This last one has a sense of the first taste of autumn.

Which is what we are experiencing in Scotland.

Having spent my formative years about 400 miles south of where I currently live, I have never really come to terms with the fact that by mid August, the air has a distinct chill in the morning and evening, the brambles are starting to turn a deep purple and the kids start back at school. Meg started the new term today. She's now in S5.

Every year it catches me out.

Every year it feels at least a month too early.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Depression is a lying bastard

A few weeks ago I saw a picture on Facebook of a lovely sunset with the words "Depression is a lying bastard" written across it.

I clicked "like" after an inward smirk - it's something I've written about before.

Depression is something I've had an ongoing battle with over much of my adult life. Currently I'm in the fortunate position to not be struggling with it on a daily level. Many of the techniques I have learned and used to help combat my ME/CFS also work against Depression. But I understand it intimately.

With the recent suicide of Robin Williams, there seems to have been a lot of stuff flying about on different social media sites, from understanding to non-understanding, confusion to condemnation. So I thought I would repost a blog I wrote over 6 years ago - and was titled, "The deepest lie is the one that FEELS true".

Perhaps it will shed a little bit of light on this dark condition.

---


The most insidious aspect of Depression is that you KNOW it to be TRUE. You know in the way you feel it in your bones: the world is not worth living in or making the effort for in any way.

And when you are confronted with this TRUTH, this absolute certainty you are seeing the world as it REALLY is, you have the overwhelming sense the veil has been lifted. Therefore, any time you might have been happy in the past must have been an illusion. Clearly you were distracted, you were being naïve, the happiness was hollow and false and you were too stupid to see it for what it was.

And what this means is that you can NEVER be truly happy in the future. The best you can hope for is moments of distraction when you briefly forget the TRUTH of the world. So is it really worth making the effort for these brief respites in a false reality? Of course not.

You feel all the hollowness, all the grief, all the despair, all the deep, aching pain and you KNOW with every fibre of your being it is REAL and nothing else is.

So when someone says, just pull yourself together, snap out of it, go for a walk – that’ll cheer you up, all you can do is look at them with pity and contempt for their shallowness, their blindness to reality, their assumption that their veiled illusory world is somehow superior to yours.

Let’s face it, they are happier in their illusions. There is no point in dragging them into the TRUTH. You wouldn’t wish this feeling on your worst enemy, let alone your loved ones. Let them stay in the Garden of Eden – it’s only you who really sees it is nothing more than a patch of overgrown weeds and poisonous plants. They are better off not knowing the full reality of it. They are better off without you. That way you cannot INFECT them with the TRUTH and destroy their lives too.






This is what Depression feels like.






How on earth can you battle against that, when you KNOW it’s pointless, that you’ve lost before you even start?





My way has been to deny the TRUTH of ANY reality.






We are 3 (or 4) dimensional creatures living in an 11 (or more) dimensional universe. We exist for a few seconds within Billions of years. We are the smallest speck on the smallest speck in a universe full of trillions of trillions of stars and is billions of light years (or more) across.

Anyone claiming to KNOW the TRUTH is lying or delusional. There is no way we can possibly know the TRUTH about the universe and our existence in it. And if any multi-dimensional being tried to explain to us what it was about, it would be like us trying to explain quantum mechanics to a pubic louse. We are so small, we are so insignificant in the universe, TRUTH is impossible to grasp.

What we do deal with on an everyday level are “truths” (small letters, inverted commas); relative “truths”, convenient “truths”, accepted “truths” which help us to operate in the world, as we perceive it.

All “truths” are man made; all “truths” are human constructs; all “truths” filter our perceptions of reality.

Most of them are created not by one person, but by many: cultures, religions, political systems, relationships, sciences, games etc, all have a set of accepted rules which we abide by (or kick against) for the duration.

None of them have a monopoly on TRUTH. To assume that any are ABSOLUTE TRUTH is like saying football is more true than chess, or yellow is more true than wicker baskets.






So what does this tell me?





It tells me the idea my view of reality when I am Depressed is the TRUE one, is complete and utter bollocks. It is a lie. All it is, is a construct for the duration, which I accept as TRUE. It as a “truth”, not the TRUTH.

Don’t get me wrong, this understanding doesn’t stop me feeling everything associated with the condition, but what it does do is allow me to know it is lying to me: it is NOT the ONLY TRUTH, no matter how convincing it seems.

And this in turn allows me to understand there are other ways of perceiving and interacting with the world, which are just as valid.

It doesn’t HAVE to be this way. It IS worth taking the time and making the effort to try and find a way out, and keep going until you do. The notion that it isn’t - one of the cornerstones of Depression – is a LIE.



In order to combat Depression, I have out-argued reality.



Not everyone’s route, admittedly, but it seemed preferable to suicide.





There are other benefits to this approach too, the most notable one of which is you don’t have to accept other people’s constructs of who you are. You are in fact free to become who you wish to become - you don't have to stay being the way you are.

But I’ll leave that one for another day.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

An Analogy, of sorts...

Imagine for a moment, there is a tall building, packed full of ordinary people going about their lives. A criminal gang enter the building. Perhaps they are even let into it by a few of the residents who feel they have been poorly served by the police in the past and are looking for an alternative source of protection. Some members of the gang, perhaps as a show of strength, or even out of a bloody-minded fanaticism, decide they will take shots at people walking past on the street, and especially any policemen, who happen to come near the building. In fact, they proclaim loudly and clearly all police, their families and anyone who supports the police should be killed.

Before you know it, the building is surrounded by armed police and virtually all of the exits are completely sealed off - either by the gang, or by the police. Everyone is now trapped inside, whether a member of the criminal gang or an ordinary person just trying to get on with their life.

The police decide to shoot grenades into the building through any window from where they think a shot might have come from a gang member. If there happens to be an innocent family in the room where the explosion takes place, the police say it is an unfortunate outcome, but the innocent people were not deliberately targeted. The criminals were clearly using them as human shields, so the blame lies completely with the criminals, not the police.

Let us step back for a moment.

Would they be allowed to get away with this behaviour? Is the killing of innocents ever justified in the pursuit of criminals? If you are prepared to kill the innocent, does that not make you as bad as those you pursue? Does that not make you a hypocrite of the worst kind?

To continue our scenario. Imagine, when questioned about their justifications, the police were to excuse themselves by saying they text the people living in the room they are about to shoot the grenade into, to tell them to leave right now. The family in the room have less than a minute to grab any possessions they might have and rush into a neighbour's room. Family photo albums, children's toys, clothes and anyone just a bit too slow, are all destroyed.

And when people who don't live in the building become outraged with the police's tactics, they are told they are being anti-police and pro-criminal. The police point out that there are other places in the world where the authorities don't send warning texts and are far more indiscriminate with their killing.

The idea seems to be we are not allowed to condemn their practice, which results in the deaths of children, because there are other people who kill more children.

I wonder if there is any court in the world that let off a thief, rapist or murderer because the defence claimed there were other people out there who stole, raped and murdered more than their client?

Now before anyone accuses me of being one-sided or anti-this-or-that, let me say one of the things I am most proud of, with regard to the regular visitors to this blog over the years, has been the sheer variety of backgrounds people have come from: Christians (many different flavours), Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, Pagans, Atheists, fence-sitters, teens, middle-aged, retired, singles, couples, parents, gay, straight, black, white, Asian, American, European, African, Australasian, Middle-Eastern, and the full range of social, economic and educational backgrounds.

Variety and inclusiveness are at the heart of my love of people and the world. On the flip side of this, I condemn us-and-them mentalities, because when difference is not celebrated, but used as an excuse to dehumanise and attack, the worst of atrocities take place.

As I have said before - whether you are a member of Al Qaeda, The US Army, the IRA, The Israeli Army, Hamas, The British Armed Forces, or any other armed organisation - if you kill non-combatants you are a terrorist and a murderer. There is no justification, ever, for killing innocent people to satisfy your political leanings.

And I am sick to my stomach at hearing the constant barrage of apologists and justifiers when the remains of small children are splattered among the rubble.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Top Hat and Shades

I've bought the top hat, now I need a pair of sunglasses. Round ones.

Yellowy-gold ones? Not bad.

Silvery mirror ones? Nah.

Black ones? Bit too demonic undertaker.

What about these with the little covers on the side? A bit steampunk. Is that a bad thing?

Blue... ah yes. Blue feels good. I like blue. A touch of Gary Oldman in Dracula. Even if his top hat was grey, not black like mine.

They are a bit small for my head though. The gold ones fit better.

But they don't look quite as good as the blue.

I have to be backstage in 4 minutes and it's a 5 minute walk from the trade stalls. I don't have any more time to agonise.

I hand a fiver to the stall holder and head back up the hill with the blue ones on my nose.

It's only our 5th gig as The Cracked Man, but we've managed to secure a slot on the Acoustic Main Stage at The Wickerman Festival.

I've decided I need a "look".

Of course music is about the sound, but a live gig is also a performance - a bit of theatre - otherwise you might as well just stick on the record. And a little touch of costume or accessory can add to that sense of show-time.

We don't need to be matching. I think there's a sense with The Cracked Man that somehow we need to be different from each other. How different, I don't know yet. It's early days and we're still working on it. In fact, Marcus has just decided to throw on a summery shirt and shorts because, hey, we're at a festival in summer. He's no idea I'm about to turn up wearing a top hat and round blue glasses.

Fortunately he approves and on we go.

Technical problems at the start of our slot (lots of buzzing and sound cutting out) means we lose about 10 minutes of our set getting it sorted out. However, what we do perform goes down really well. I even wonder if wearing the hat helps me get into character a bit more.

I'm not just me up there, I'm one half of The Cracked Man. And while there's obvious overlap, it's not exactly the same thing...

Here are a few photos of us, courtesy of Pete from PR Imaging - www.primaging.net







And this one, taken shortly after the gig by Lee Medd of me with radio presenter and magazine editor, Andrea Thompson, wearing feather earrings that match my glasses



Many thanks to Lee for also shooting a video of me & Marcus using Andrea's Playbook. Sound quality is a bit patchy, but it gives you an idea...




Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Burning The Wickerman 2014

Off in the distance, Del Amtri are playing the last track of their set - a cover of Motorhead's Ace of Spades. The sound randomly seems to get louder and quieter depending on the direction of the wind. 60 meters away up to fifteen thousand people are starting to gather behind a dry stane dyke in anticipation of the highlight of The Wickerman Festival.

Press photographers are filing through a gap in the wall to a fenced off corral so they can get an uninterrupted view of the event. I am standing at the base of the 40 foot high willow sculpture in the shape of a highland dancer.


View of the Festival from the base of The Wickerman (click on images for larger versions)

Since the festival began 12 years ago, every year Trevor Leat and Alex Rigg (leatrigg.co.uk) spend about 3 weeks building a giant wickerman, which is then ceremoniously set fire to at midnight on the Saturday of the festival. Each year has a different theme, and this one was tying in with the Homecoming Scotland initiative. In order for the dancer to be able to balance on one leg, the drape over the shoulder was reinforced with 2 long steel poles.

As Trevor and his assistant, Xander, are putting the last preparations in place - straw at the base, fire rope around the leg, and pouring diesel onto the straw, I am in the unique position of being the only photographer right up there with them.


A sense of scale as Trevor and Xander make last minute preparations

Further down the hill there are professional press photographers who would have chewed off their right arm for the opportunity to be standing where I am. Fortunately for me I've known Trevor for several years and have done lots of photography for him before. Using his special status he's managed to take me up there with him.

Despite this being the 4th time I've been in this position (see my posts from 2013, 2011 and 2010), I still get a childlike thrill when the lights go out. For about 20 minutes I'm just watching Trevor and Xander moving around with wee head-torches bobbing in the darkness. The rain from earlier in the evening has stopped and a few stars are showing through the clouds. Periodically an excited voice carries over the noise of the crowd as someone screams, "burn it!!!"


The crowd is gathering

I remember I have a camera over my shoulder and start fiddling with the settings.

"What time is it?" asks Trevor. I pull my phone out my pocket.

"11.57"

Over the next three minutes, I'm asked again about 4 times. The anticipation is building and building. The crowd is getting louder, with sections of it chanting.

"Ok, it's midnight!" I say.



Trevor and Xander light their long poles and walk round behind the sculpture, aware the crowd will see the movement of light. They take up position either side and stand for a few moments, building the tension. Then they turn and place the flaming torches onto the straw.

It catches immediately.



We move away as the flames start shooting up the legs.



I'm now firing off the camera at an extraordinary pace, constantly checking the small images on the back, continually making adjustments to the settings.

Because the fire is so much brighter than the surrounds, the basic problem is if you expose for the flames, then the wickerman doesn't show up, but if you expose for the willow, then the fire just becomes a white blur.

It doesn't hang around - I only have a few minutes to get as many photos as I can at as many different exposure settings as possible in the hope that some of them will work.

Fireworks are now going off too, although at this point, I'm too close to be able to get a good photo containing them and the wickerman together. The press photographers down in the corral are in the prime position for that - and it is their photos that will be filling the papers over the next few days.



You can find the rest of my photos from the weekend on my Facebook photography page here:

Friday at The Wickerman
https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.888871944460844.1073741852.114749591873087&type=3

Saturday at The Wickerman
https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.889727161041989.1073741853.114749591873087&type=3

Setting Fire to The Wickerman
https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.890801784267860.1073741854.114749591873087&type=1

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Joan Lennon and Howl's Moving Castle

I met children's author, Joan Lennon, at Wigtown Book Festival last year, and was chatting to her about the "Authors as Characters" series of images I've been creating. She was interested, enthusiastic and said she could feel a wide range of possibilities all bubbling up.

One difficulty was she lived about 150 miles away, but we kept in touch after the festival and ideas were bounced back and forth. Eventually we settled on Sophie from "Howl's Moving Castle" by Diana Wynne Jones, and last month Joan came over to this corner of Scotland to do the shoot.

It wasn't a story I was familiar with, however it turned out to have been made into an animated movie by Hayao Miyazaki - the man behind the Oscar winning "Spirited Away" - and I enjoyed watching it for research.

Although the heroine of the story is a young woman, she is transformed by a witch into someone much older. Seeking a cure for the curse, Sophie wanders into the mountains where she encounters a living scarecrow, and this was the scene we decided to recreate for the photo.

Needing someone to play the part of the scarecrow, there was only one person I would think of turning to - the wonderful author, storyteller and good friend, Renita Boyle, who has helped me on many of the photos in this series.

Costumes at the ready, we met up in Gatehouse of Fleet in the evening, and drove up a narrow back road into the hills where I wanted to get the shot near sunset.


Joan dressed up as Sophie

It took a while to get the light balance right. With the sun directly behind them, Renita and Joan were thrown into silhouette, so I needed to use an off-camera flash to light them back up again. By the time I'd worked it out, the sun had already stared to disappear behind the hills and we were plunged into shadow, so we had to climb further up our side of the valley to catch it up again.

We were rewarded with a rather lovely view once we reached the next plateau, though didn't have much time to get the shot done before the sun disappeared once again.


View down over Gatehouse to the Irish Sea beyond

With the shoot over, we were able to relax, enjoy the light and carefully work our way back down the hill to the car.


Quick group photo as the sun disappears

However, it wasn't completely over for me. Back home editing needed to be done and Renita needed to be transformed a little more convincingly into a scarecrow via Photoshop.

Looking at the final image, Renita commented she was delighted for once in her life to be "stick thin"...


The final photo - Sophie encounters the scarecrow

As always, feel free to click on the photos for slightly bigger versions.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Finding the story

Sometimes when I set out on a photography shoot, I know exactly what story, mood or emotion I'm chasing. This has usually come from a discussion between myself and the client.

Sometimes, however, the client doesn't know what they want and it's short notice so I haven't any clear ideas myself. I found myself in this position on Friday when I was doing a photo shoot with the young and talented, Georgia Gordon for The Mill Sessions. She was playing at The Mill in the evening and we'd agreed to meet up for the shoot in the afternoon before hand.

It was all a bit last minute and in the absence of any other ideas, and as it was a sunny day, the beach was chosen as a location.

The tide was on its way out and we headed for a rocky outcrop along a causeway revealed by the low water. Georgia stood calf deep in the sea with her guitar round her shoulder and the sun half behind her, while her boyfriend, Isaac, kindly held the reflector for me to bounce light back onto her so she woulldn't be completely lost in silhouette.

I took several photos with different angles and postures, but they just looked like a girl standing in the sea with a guitar round her neck.

Fighting off a rising sense of panic I looked up at the rocks and thought she could stand up there with a blue sky backdrop. The wind was catching her hair and I felt we were on to something. There was more of a mood, an attitude going on.



I then got her to turn her back to us and raise the guitar above her head and felt there were some lovely shapes happening



Back off the rock I did a few close-up headshots with varying degrees of moodiness and smiles, then we headed back to the cars and went for something to eat before the gig started.

The following day I downloaded all the photos to my computer and there was one that leapt out at me, or rather a section of it did - something that I'd missed just flicking through them on the back of the camera the day before.

When we were initially heading out onto the beach, I'd taken a couple of quick photos of the beach and sky, and Georgia took up a small portion of it as she was walking across the wet sand ahead of us. But when I zoomed in on the photo and got a clearer look of her with her guitar case in one hand and Doc Martin's in the other, I realised there was something special.

This was a photo that had mood, emotion and story to it.


Click on the images for larger versions

If only I'd realised at the time, I would have taken more like this...


For the full set of photos, visit the album on my Facebook page:
https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.881618011852904.1073741851.114749591873087&type=3