Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Pursuit of the Line

Back in April I wrote about my experiences of life drawing (see Life Drawing, Panic and Exploration).

After 2 excruciating terms of trying to coordinate my eye with my hand via a pencil and pad of paper, I suddenly hit upon distilling the line - rather than seek ever more detail, I decided to strip it back. It was quite an exciting discovery, marred only by the fact it was in the last session and it would be nearly 6 months before I'd get the chance to pursue the idea further.

A couple of weeks ago I completed the autumn run of sessions, where I took the opportunity to explore the flow of line. With each pose of the model, I would begin with a more formal, rough sketch, then start to try and work out where I could sweep the line in a satisfying curve. I would then keep running over the line with my pencil until the flow felt right. If there was time I would then see if I could repeat the pattern on a new sheet of paper.

Often it ended in frustration, and at once every session I wanted to run screaming from the room and never pick up a pencil again.

But every now and again something clicked and it felt wonderful, like I was tapping into some primeval delight our ancestors must have felt creating animal representations with sticks of charcoal on cave walls.

I have no desire to abandon my photography in pursuit of the drawn line. But as another creative outlet that forces me to view the world in yet another way, I am content to continue with it.

Below are a few of my favourites from the last 10 weeks.

Feel free to click on the images for larger versions.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

London, Andrzej Dragan, and meeting old friends for the first time

What on earth is an Oyster Card and how am I supposed to use it? On the Underground I recognise all these places from the Monopoly Board. On the bank of the River Thames I see all sorts of buildings from TV and films.

The last time I was in London, I was 15 years old and on a school trip to watch a play. This time I'm there for a seminar by polish photographer Andrjez Dragan, and to meet up with some old friends I'd not actually met in the flesh before.

Andrjez Dragan changed my approach to photography when I came across his work 6 years ago. Although I had been experimenting with portraiture, my general understanding was I needed to make my subjects look good, ideally in a flattering kind of way. Dragan made me realise I could move in the opposite direction towards engaging, characterful and edgy images.

My first big success was the creation of a photo of my friend, the poet David Mark Williams, which generated a great deal of feedback, was used on the front of issue 3 of Prole Magazine and was my first accepted image on the curated photo website, 1x.com

The Poet

At 1x I met many superb photographers who were generous with their time and knowledge and over the next couple of years my understanding of photography leapt forward.

It's fair to say without the initial trigger of Andrjez Dragan and the help and support of members of the 1x community my photography would be of neither the standard nor style it has become.

So when I discovered Andrjez Dragan was holding a seminar in London I had to go. But I also realised there was an opportunity to meet up with some of the photographers I had met online at 1x. A few emails and Facebook messages later and Andre Du Plessis, Gerry Sexton and Chris Dixon started arranging a get together (click on their names to see their superb photography).

Andre went even further and helped arrange accommodation for me, collected me from the station and ferried me about a few times. The warmth and generosity of these guys was amazing, and we spent most of Sunday out with the cameras along the South Bank of The Thames.

Here are a selection of the photos I took. You can find more on my Facebook album here:

It might look like Mediterranean sun, but it was only about 3C

Andre with vapouriser

Gerry behind a wall


"It's the real thing"

Hoping we can do it again some time

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Macmath: The Silent Page

As Claire picked up her crying baby from the travel cot, the rest of the assembled gathering of some of Dumfries and Galloway's finest, internationally renowned, traditional musicians started singing lullabies to help Caitlin drift off.

It worked and we were able to resume the photo shoot.

There's a project underway called Macmath: The Silent Page, where the aim is to bring to life a series of songs, many of which will not have been heard for over a hundred years.

It all stems from the Macmath collection of songs, held in the archives at Broughton House in Kirkcudbright. To swipe from the blog where Ali Burns is writing about this project:

William Macmath, 1848 – 1922, grew up in Galloway before moving to Edinburgh as a young man and his huge and largely unacknowledged legacy was in helping the great American ballad collector and academic Francis Child with his definitive publication: English and Scottish Popular Ballads 1882 – 1898. Although working entirely in his spare time, Macmath worked tirelessly and meticulously over a period of almost thirty years, to track down and verify details relating to the Scottish ballads included in Child’s collection. Broughton House holds many of the letters between Macmath and Child written over their long association. More pertinently to our project there are also two books of unpublished songs and song fragments written down by Macmath. It is these two volumes that we’re looking at in this project.

I had been called in to create a photo that could be used for publicity and the CD cover, once the songs have been recorded.

Broughton House itself seemed the ideal location to shoot the photo and on an earlier trip there, Ali and I had explored the house and gardens to find the best spot. Fortunately we decided on an indoor scene as it was chucking it down with rain on the day of the shoot.

Arranging 7 people in a way that flows is not an easy task. This wasn't to be some all-in-a-line press shot, but an engaging photograph where the eye needs to be led into, round and through the ensemble and their surrounds. Given the historic nature of the project, I wanted the final image to have a feel of a classic painting with finely tuned arrangements of people, objects and setting

Wee pin-man sketches done beforehand will only get you so far. It's not until you put everyone together can you start to get a sense of who needs to go where. Not just due to height, but also where the splashes of colour of clothes, instruments and hair might compliment or clash.

Take a photo - rearrange the group. Take another - swap two people about. Take another - swap them back but move someone else. Take another - ask this person to lower their head and that one ro raise their left arm...

And so it goes on. Each time refining and finessing until you reach a point where you feel you're as close as you're going to get before mutiny sets in.

But that's just the first half of creating a photo such as this. There's still the editing.

Inevitably there is not a single photo that has all the elements just perfect. In one someone will be blinking; in another the fiddle is at an angle that throws the compositional lines out; in another someone's arm is casting a shadow over someone else's face. So the ideal combination has to be created from several photos. In this way it is much more akin to the processes used by the old master painters.

And then there are subtle tweaks of hue and saturation, brightness and contrast, levels and curves, while unwanted reflections are painted out from the glass panels on the bookcase.

Finally, to enhance the narrative I decided to overlay some of the handwritten text and music from photos I had taken directly of some of the pages of the Macmath volumes.

Click on the image for a larger version.

Left to right: back row: Emily Smith, Aaron Jones, Jamie McClennan
front row: Wendy Stewart, Ali Burns, Claire Mann, Robyn Stapleton

For more about this fascinating project, head over to Ali's website about it and read her blog posts:
Macmath: The Silent Page

Saturday, November 29, 2014


The internet connection is appallingly sporadic. Mostly it isn't there, then it appears for a few seconds - enough for an email to pop through - but then it disappears again before you can open it.

I've set aside the day to respond to a backlog of emails, but after unplugging and plugging back in the router several times and attempting to contact my broadband provider (which prefers me to email, or use online chat rather than call - pretty useless when my internet connection isn't working), I give up and decide to work on something else instead.

I've been meaning to update the front page of my website, perhaps I could...


I know, I could learn how to use that video editing software I downloaded.

Crap! The instruction manual is online.

Never mind, I'll use tutorials on YouTube...


Right. I'll get round to making that book of photos I've been meaning to do for about a year, using the Blurb software. Hmm... why can't I find it on my computer? It seems last time I created a book it was using my old laptop.

I'll have to go to blurb.com and download the latest...

[insert long line of expletives...]

Sod it - I'll go and watch a movie. There should be something on Netflix I've been meaning to catch up on...


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Gift Vouchers for Photo Sessions

Would you like a photo shoot gift voucher with 50% added on for free?

After various requests this year, I've decided to offer gift vouchers as an option to put towards photo sessions - from headshots to families to full on epic fantasy shoots.

Because this is new and I need to test the system, for a limited time I'm going to add 50% extra to the value of any vouchers bought through my website:

For example, buy a £100 voucher I will increase the value to £150 towards a photo session. All you need to do is email or call me to let me know how easy it was or any problems you might have run into.

Get a little extra for your Christmas spend this year

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Photographing for Dumfries and Galloway Life

"Gorgeous girls to photo" was the subject line of a message I received from Andrea Thompson, commissioning editor for Dumfries and Galloway Life magazine. With an invite like that, how could I refuse?

And so it was on a wild, stormy Sunday afternoon in October I found myself in a house with hairdresser, Nicola McMinn, makeup artist, Hannah Mason, and their models, Aline and Kayleigh, doing a photo shoot for the Christmas edition of the magazine.

Hannah and Nicola

Sometimes it's a tough life being a photographer.

A range of photos were needed. Nicola was being featured in the "Inspiring Entrepreneur" section with her business "Curl up and Dye," while Hannah had been asked to provide 3 different make-up looks for the festive season. Additionally, Andrea was hoping we might get a cover shot.

At this point, thanks need to go to Lindsey Mason, Hannah's mother, for putting up with us filling her house and moving her furniture.

A few days later, Andrea came round to my studio and we went through all the photos together, and it was a fascinating experience. I'm in little doubt that had I been choosing the photos to edit and send to her on my own, I would have picked a different selection - some overlap, but not all.

While there were various photos I was pleased with from a photographer's viewpoint, Andrea was, of course, looking at them with an editors eye. This meant there were images we both liked, but they just weren't D&G Life photos so were dropped from the selection.

However, in the end about a dozen of my images were used, including the front cover, featuring Nicola.

Nicola makes the front cover

Nicola with Kayleigh in the Inspiring Entrepreneurs section

Group shot of all 4 for the start of the Christmas section of the magazine

And I think this might just be their first cover girl with tattoos and piercings...

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Jacquies Beauty

Jacquies Beauty is a salon in Dumfries offering a wide range of beauty treatments including facials, hair removal, nail care, toning treatments and many more girly things that, being a man, I didn't know existed.

Although having said that, apparently male grooming and treatments are a growing sector.

With an attention to detail and customer service, Jacquies Beauty has become a multi-award winning salon. And it was for the winning of the Guinot Crown Award for Excellence - for the 4th year in a row - I was asked to come and take a photo.

Jacquie had shown me a couple of basic press photos - everyone standing in a line with her holding the award - and felt they were uninspired. But with a press release deadline of only a few days away, there wasn't time for us to set up something like a trek out to a waterfall to photograph Jacquie washing her hair in it while her treatment therapists were dipping their feet in a pool of water.

Instead we set up inside the salon with Jacquie herself on one of the beds with the rest of the team around her.

Left to right: Jacquie, Karen, Iona, Hayley and Kerry

It's not uncommon in a situation such as this - where the boss is wanting a group shot - the team members all look distinctly uncomfortable and trying to get them to relax can be difficult. They are there because they feel they have little choice, and it shows.

However, to my delight and relief, on this occasion everyone was up for it. Banter was easy, smiles were unforced and the general atmosphere was one of playful fun rather than dutiful chore.

Rightly proud of her achievements, Jacquie also wanted an image of her holding the award aloft, and for this an outside shot was called for. Although the sun had disappeared by now, we went up onto the old Devorgilla Bridge, which crosses the River Nith, and photographed her with the lights of Dumfries behind her.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Seasons of Galloway

Every now and again I post photos on this blog that are not of people.

Although portraiture, performances and events are how I make my living, it's not unknown for me to point my camera at a leaf hanging off a twig, or sunlight hitting a mossy branch.

Over the past couple of years I've built a collection of images I really like, but have had no idea what to do with them. Whenever I have posted such images here I've always received comments or messages from people asking if they are available as prints, but the practicalities of printing, packaging and posting has been something of an obstacle.

However, last month I created a site on Zenfolio to allow owners who stable their horses at James Ewart Racing to purchase prints of the photos I take there. The advantage of setting this up via Zenfolio is there are fulfilment options - meaning people can order various size prints and they are printed, packaged and posted out directly from their suppliers and to a high standard.

With the site already there it seemed an ideal opportunity to put up my collection of non-people photographs too.

Below are a couple of examples from the collection, but to view the full set, head over to http://kimayres.zenfolio.com/p521253307