Saturday, October 25, 2014

48

48 has a nice round feel to it. Divisible by 2, 3, 4, 6, 12, 16 and 24, it feels inclusive and encompassing - a big, friendly number.

47 hasn't been particularly bad to me, but somehow I feel glad to have past it.

But whatever colour, aura, vibration or superstition any number might induce, I've had a good birthday today, surrounded by people I love and taken for a wonderful hot chocolate by my daughter at In House Chocolates (which does the tastiest hot chocolate for at least 100 miles in any direction), and fed with the most richly indulgent chocolate torte made by wife who is one of the worlds most amazing creators of such things.

As my birthday draws to a close, I feel warm, contented and stuffed.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

James Ewart Racing

The November issue of Dumfries and Galloway Life magazine hit the shelves today. It has a special business supplement magazine, which is running a feature on James Ewart Racing - and it includes one of my images on the front cover.



James Ewart Racing is a racehorse training facility set in the beautiful hills near the Scottish Borders town of Langholm.

I met James Ewart himself at a networking event back in early summer and he invited me out to Craig Farm to see the place, which I did a few weeks later when running my son back from Edinburgh after his exams. Suddenly a whole new parallel universe opened up to me.

My equine experience up to this point had been pretty limited, but now I became aware of a entire world where people live, breathe and dream horses - more specifically, racehorses. The attention and detail going into their care and training is nothing short of mesmerising. He has an impressive set up with around 50 horses in the stables, and facilities that include a 5½ furlong (about a kilometer) long racetrack a meter deep in sand for resistance training.

Needless to say it wasn't long before we started discussing photography. The vast majority of racehorse photos tend to be at the races with jockeys in full colours and crowds of excited viewers, but for those whose lives are enriched by them, there is precious little in the way of "behind the scenes" images.

I was invited back with my camera where I took a selection of images of 4 specific horses, including horse portraits, training on the track and washing down afterwards. These photos have now been put into a website where prints can be bought in various sizes and formats - http://kimayres.zenfolio.com - a selection of which I've included below.

If all goes to plan, more photos out at Craig Farm should be forthcoming.














This one is my personal favourite

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Fred & Ginger

When I contacted Lynn to let her know she had won the draw I held over the Spring Fling weekend for a photo session, her initial reaction was it must be a set up by her husband, Chris. I had to spend a few minutes convincing her that had I known bribery was an option I would certainly have taken it, but no she had definitely won fair and square.

It took a while to decide what kind of photo she would like, and we had regular meetings over hot chocolate to discuss ideas. At one point being a trapeze artist was mentioned. Eventually Lynn said they were going to Edinbugh in the Autumn to see a production of "Top Hat" and thought it would be fun to do a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers theme.

Initially I thought it wouldn't be too difficult to find an old Art Deco building to stage the shoot. Unfortunately the small handful of period buildings in this region of Scotland were only styled this way on the outside. In the intervening 80 years since they were built, all had been refurbished at least twice, meaning 1930s interiors were nowhere to be found.

However, another solution was presented when it transpired Lynn had a connection with Titan Props in Glasgow. In addition to props for every kind of set you could imagine, it also has an infinity wall - something every portrait and product photographer craves - and this would allow us to go for one of those stylised studio shots.

So last month we all headed up to Glasgow to do the shoot. Lynn and her friend Margaret found the items they wanted for the set, and I finally got to see the outfits Lynn and Chris had created. It's when the people I photograph go to such lengths to really make it work that I feel I have the best job in the world.

Here's a selection of my favourites taken from the session.






Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Up In The Air With Mrs Green's Tea Lounge

Mrs Green's Tea Lounge has a wonderfully retro feel to it - from the menus tucked inside vintage children's books, to the 50s style clothing Mrs Green herself is usually wearing. It's not theme specific, or nailed to one particular decade - items of décor range from pre-war to the 70s and beyond - but a general sense of nostalgia hits you at every turn, triggering memories from childhood or even visits to grandma.

The atmosphere and staff are warm and friendly so once discovered you keep going back. For a place that's not been open that long, it has an intensely loyal customer base. A quick check on Trip Advisor shows it ranked number 1 of all the eateries in Dumfries, and it doesn't surprise me at all.

With her love of dressing up and attention to detail, it felt like an ideal match when we started discussing doing a photo shoot.

Chatting with Mrs Green it became clear her tea lounge wasn't so much a place as a state of mind. This opened up all sorts of possibilities - we didn't need to be restricted to the café itself.

Across the summer ideas were bounced back and forth, dates were pencilled in and then rubbed out again, and for a wee while I was beginning to fear it might never happen.

However, I needn't have worried. Not only did it all come together, the time and effort put in by Mrs Green and her staff to make it work, blew me away.

The photo shoot took place at the Dumfries Aviation Museum and involved not just Mrs Green but 6 of her staff who had also gone to great lengths to find retro outfits. The fact they were not only all dressed up, but had given up their Sunday afternoon for the shoot was testament to the passion they all have for the concept.

Editing the photos was a bit of a challenge. I decided I wanted to give the photos a retro feel, which involved playing around with colour overlays, hue and saturation adjustments as well as fading the contrasts to a degree. Additionally, the original seat covers in the plane were bright red, and this meant the wonderful dresses of Mrs Green and Tracy were swamped rather than standing out. It took me a while to find a colour that worked and then even longer to selectively change them all.

And of course, when it came to the cockpit shot, I couldn't exactly leave in place the view through the windows of the car park on a dull day.







Fellow Galloway Photographic Collective member, Tom Langlands, also came along and shot some footage for me so I could make up a wee video of the photo shoot.

I added similar layers of colour and contrast shifts to the video to give it the same feel:



Many thanks to all involved - from Mrs Green and her staff to the Dumfries Aviation Museum and Tom Langlands.

It's projects like this that keep me truly excited about photography.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Trading Journeys

Hi kim, how about thursday morn at breakfst? somewhere near creetown or newton, i can tell u wher exactly the night before. Then u get a bit of fireside and also horsedrawn as I leave.

Although my heart sank a bit at the thought of getting up early, the text was from one of my favourite people to photograph, Alice Francis (See I'm Humphrey Bogart and So's My Wife and Photographing a Fish out of Water). She was on a trek with a horsedrawn cart from Auchencairn to Wigtown as part of an art event called "Trading Journeys",which was tying in with the start of the Wigtown Book Festival. The event organiser, The Stove, had asked me to get some photos of her on her journey, so texts were under way for working out where and when I would catch up with her.

Wednesday evening:

Kim, if you go out of creetown as if for skyreburn on the old military road, i am on the right after the woods I will tie a black and green scarf on the gate as i am quite hidden.

Ok. I'll try and be with you for about 7.30-ish to get some breakfasting and getting-ready shots

And praps some shots getting kicked off by the farmer!! Haha! Bring a cup!!! Not much power, must turn off x

Despite the unusually lovely weather we've been having throughout most of September, this particular Thursday morning turned out to be a bit dreich and smirry. I'd checked Google Maps before setting off but struggled to find where Alice might be camped: no sign of a green and black scarf and her phone had run out of battery.

I drove up the road to a point way beyond the woods and it was clear I must have missed it, turned round and went back down to Creetown, turned round again and drove very slowly back up the road, stopping at every gate and peering over. Eventually I met Alice on the road with a bunch of sticks in her hand. She said she'd heard a car go by and had thought it was probably me, so came out to catch me next time past and pick up a bit of firewood at the same time.

After a cup of tea (I had brought my own mug with a teabag in it) and a blether I then set about getting the photos. As always, feel free to click on them for slightly larger versions, or head through to the album on my Facebook page for the full set:

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.925186564162715.1073741855.114749591873087&type=3


















Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Magic Carpet

When I first met the family of Chris, Leto, Alamnesh and Theodore, I was struck by their sense of creativity, interest and engagement. So when the opportunity arose to do a fantasy photo shoot with them, I was intrigued with the direction it might go.

A circus was one of the first ideas, including a human cannonball and fire breathing, while another was based around an amazing troll puppet Chris had carved, with a 2-inch high family running away from it through the herb garden. The tricky bit wasn't creative ideas, it was finding one they could all agree on.

Eventually the notion of riding a magic carpet was settled on and the problem solving steps were begun. Tables were put together in the back garden with a carpet laid on top. A blue tarpaulin was put under the carpet to act as a sort of blue-screen to make it easier for me to cut it out in Photoshop later on. Test shots were started and abandoned because it started raining. Trips up the hills to find a suitable view to place the magic carpet against. And then waiting for the right combination of weather and everyone being available at the same time.

Amazingly we finally managed to get everything together where I was able to take the photo of the magic carpet in their garden and get up into the hills to shoot the landscape, making sure the angles and timing were right so shadows would match up.

Then came the far-more-complicated-than-I-could-possibly-have-realised editing process of fitting it all together. It wasn't just about how to cut out hair so it looked natural against the sky, it was also the finish I wanted it to have. As a straight-forward photo, it didn't work. What was required was to reinforce a sense of a fantasy tale. I went through many different styles, at one point even turning it into a cartoon image. In the end what I felt worked the best was to give it a look of a faded page from a storybook

I have to confess I was a wee bit pleased with the final result.

Click on the photo for a larger version.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The night before the night before the Referendum for Scottish Independence

On Thursday this week, more or less everyone over 16 years of age who is resident in Scotland will get to vote on whether this country remains a part of the UK or goes its own way as a completely separate nation.

Although I was born in England, this vote is not about birth or inheritance, it is about where you live and, as I live in Scotland, I get a vote. I get a say in how I want this bit of rock I live on to be governed.

While the passions have been strong on both sides of the debate, it has ignited a response the likes of which haven't been seen in the UK, or quite possibly the western world, for decades. 97% of those eligible to vote have registered to do so. It is reckoned turnout will be over 80%. And at this late stage of the game, there are at least half a million people who are still claiming they are undecided. No one, at this moment, knows exactly how it is going to turn out. Unless MI5 are involved and the whole thing is being orchestrated and controlled to make sure the outcome is exactly as the UK Government wants.



I am not undecided. I weighed it up pretty early on, came to some pretty clear conclusions and despite being as open as I can to the opposing views, have not been convinced to change my mind since.

I haven't been shouting my position from the rooftops, nor have I been condemning anyone who disagrees with me. Given all the information, arguments and passion out there already, I can't imagine for a moment anything I say or do is going to be a contributing factor to anyone else's position. I understand why some people want it, and I understand why other people don't, and I understand why so many are still undecided.

I'm not putting together this blog post to convince anyone why they should vote this way or that. I'm putting it here so I can look back in 1 year, 5 years, 10 years and see why I made the decision to vote the way I did. Either I will be pleased at how obviously sensible I was, or I will be cursing my naïveté. So in part, this is a message to my future self to remind me why I ticked that box rather than the other.

There are many different issues, arguments, facts, challenged facts, opinions dressed up as facts, cultural influences, desires, yearnings and fears. How can we navigate them all? The truth is, we can't.

Right here, right now, I have no idea how many barrels of oil are left in the North Sea; I don't know whether the UK denying the pound as currency to an independent Scotland is bluff or folly; I don't know whether Scotland will become a social utopia or will tear itself apart.

So what am I voting on?

The only thing we can do is look at what we currently have and project forwards as best we can to see how that is likely to pan out. Then we decide whether we want to carry on with that trajectory or decide to opt for a different direction, even though we might not know what direction that is.

Do we stay with the known or do we leap into the unknown?

Do we stick with the devil we know, or is that just a sure fire way of ensuring the devil stays in power?

So what do I see when I look at what we currently have as part of the UK and the direction it's going?

Despite being one of the richest nations in the world, I see the growth of foodbanks; I see the vilification and withdrawing of support for the poor, the disabled and the vulnerable; I see the dismantling of the NHS; I see billions of pounds poured into nuclear weapons which are stored just 25 miles away from the most populated city in Scotland; I see the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer and the vulnerable becoming more vulnerable; I see detached, power-hungry, money driven politicians serving no one but themselves and their wealthy friends.

So I'm voting for a chance of change.

Despite how Yes voters are portrayed by much of the media, this isn't about being anti-English - how could it be? I'm English, my siblings are English and my children are half English.

Nor is it about being brainwashed by Alex Salmond like he is some cult leader and will be crowning himself King. In the event of a Yes decision, Alex Salmond wouldn't become the ruler of Scotland - he would be prime minister until the following election at which point he would be up against all the other parties wanting a say in how this new nation would be run.

Nor is it about some stupid belief that the day after the referendum everything will magically turn into a land of milk and honey. It is the first step toward change and change will only happen if we keep making steps forward. There would be a lot of work to do and things are likely to get worse before they get better, but if the desire is strong enough, then things could get considerably better than under the current system.

The only thing that has really made me waver, pause and feel guilty at the idea of voting Yes, is the poor, the disadvantaged and the vulnerable in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will still be under the abusive power of Westminster but have less people standing next to them.

But under the current system, I have become disempowered. My vote means nothing in Westminster. If I convinced every single person in Scotland to vote against the Conservatives in the next election, it wouldn't make any difference. The UK government is mostly decided by those living in the South East corner of England.

But even if Labour got in at the next election, they have moved so far to the right in their politics over the past couple of decades, that they now occupy the same political space as Thatcher did back in the 1980s. They are a right-wing party that are less right wing than the current occupants of the ruling body. And they see their biggest threat as coming from UKIP, which is an even more right-wing party, so they are adjusting their policies to placate them.

Who is looking out for the poor, the disadvantaged and the vulnerable? No one in Westminster, no matter who I vote for.

Scottish politics, by comparison, has always leaned more towards social justice and equality, while still respecting creativity and enterprise. Indeed, the creativity and enterprise has generally been encouraged for the benefit of all, and not just an elite.

I am not blinded by my hopes. I know full well the biggest problem with any new Scottish parliament is it will be full of politicians. They too will have their fair share of power-hungry, money driven people serving no one but themselves and their wealthy friends.

But - and this is a really important point - if I disagree with who's running Scotland - whatever colour their banner - my voice will carry greater weight in effecting change than it currently does in the UK as a whole.

And this is what my vote boils down to - my psychological makeup. I am the kind of person who, when faced with a situation I really dislike, I look for ways to change it - even if there is a risk it might be change for the worse. And if does turn out that way, then I look to change it again. And again. And again. Until things improve.

The most effective way of any bastard staying in power is by making those under them believe it wouldn't make any difference if they tried to change things, and would probably make things even worse. This is the ultimate way to disempower anyone.

And I kick against that.

For me, a Yes vote on Thursday is a way to make change happen. And if we end up with a government we don't like, then we can vote them out and try another, and another, and another, until things improve. Something I am disempowered from doing as part of the UK.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

The Cracked Man Live in Dumfries Town Centre

On Sunday, Marcus and I played under the Midsteeple in Dumfries Town Centre as part of the "In Our Town" summer festivities programme.









(Photos courtesy of Our Dumfries & Galloway - https://www.facebook.com/ourdg)

It was a dry and mostly sunny day and we played our set twice - once at 1pm and again at 3pm, with a bit of time off in between to eat our sandwiches, chat and be treated to a coffee by our friend, Rachel.

Fueled by a double espresso, I was on fire for our second set - completely in the zone - and I felt it was one of my best performances to date.

It's just a shame Dumfries Town Centre tends to be virtually deserted on a Sunday afternoon...



(Photo courtesy of Kevin Sloan, KSS Images - https://www.facebook.com/kssimages)