Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Photographing Jessica Florence Jewellery at In House Chocolates

I was approached by Paula Gibson to do some photography for her jewellery business, Jessica Florence, but it wasn't direct product photography she was after.

Up until now, her photography has been focused purely on the handmade bracelets, rings, earrings and necklaces she creates, however she's reached a point where she wants to take it up to the next level and put it into a lifestyle context.

So over several weeks we used Pinterest to create a mood board to develop the look and feel of the kind of images she was after, and eventually decided a model in a cafe would be a good idea. Hands holding an espresso cup or latte glass with bracelets on wrists seemed to express the right feel.

Concept at the ready, we now needed a place with the right atmosphere, but despite bouncing suggestions back and forth we struggled to think of anywhere that fitted the vision.

Until I suggested my favourite haunt, In House Chocolates - which does the finest hot chocolate in 100 miles - and has a wonderful decor with an old stone wall on one side and wood panelling painted a luxurious deep red on the others. Not to mention it smells divine...

Obviously it would have been tricky to to a full photo shoot while the place was open but owner, Gillian, very kindly allowed us to use the place on a Sunday. She even made us all a hot chocolate just before we began!

Paula brought along Leigh to model the jewellery, and her daughter, Holly, to assist and to do a wee bit of modelling too.

Holly, Paula and Leigh

Over the next couple of hours we shot various combinations of clothes, jewellery and coffee types, periodically stopping to gesture to people through the locked front door that the place was actually closed and they couldn't come in to buy any handmade chocolates. By their expressions, some people clearly thought we were being greedy by locking them out and were just going to eat all the chocolates ourselves.

Not to say we weren't seriously tempted...

Many thanks for Gillian for her extraordinary generosity and hospitality. Do make sure In House Chocolates is on your "must visit" list if you haven't been there already.

Of course if you have been there, you already know you'll be looking for any excuse to return.

Here are a couple of shots from the shoot:

And a bonus pic taken by Paula while I was photographing Holly.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Photographing the Solar Eclipse

Although it wasn't going to be a total eclipse in this corner of Scotland, there was going to be something in the region of 90%. And I wanted to have a go at photographing it.

Knowing it can be dodgy to point my camera directly at the sun, I figured I needed an ND filter, which reduces the amount of light entering the lens. My friend, landscape photographer, Allan Wright, came to my rescue and supplied me with a couple.

However, all the weather forecasts were prediciting heavy cloud cover for Castle Douglas and it was looking like there wasn't going to be the slightest hope of seeing it.

When I woke up this morning, the sun was streaming through the curtains and I got all excited - the weather forecasts had got it wrong!

Except, that an hour later, thick cloud covered the skies.

I decided to head out into the garden with my camera on a tripod, just in case, with the ND filters attached to the lens. And as I looked up, suddenly I saw it through a patch of thinning cloud.

I took a quick photo, but it was way too dark. With all the cloud cover, there now wasn't enough light hitting the sensor. I had to increase the ISO, open the aperture wide and although I got an image, it wasn't inspiring.

I realised I needed the eclipse to be next to something - to give it some kind of context, so I moved the camera and tripod back towards the house until the chimneys were in the picture. I took a bit more time to play with the settings and as the clouds moved across the scene - sometimes blocking it completely, but sometimes allowing it to show through - I felt I was on to something

But then I noticed a couple of crows periodically flying onto the chimneys and spent the next 10 minutes frantically clicking, while they mostly moved behind the stacks and flew off moments before I took the shot.

However, in among the 107 photos I took this morning, there are a couple I am really pleased with.

Which is just as well, because apparenly I'll be 124 years old before I'll get another chance to try again in Scotland...

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Photos, music and video from The Cracked Man EP Launch

Our EP launch for The Cracked Man at the Gordon House Hotel last Friday was a great success. Marcus and I felt it was our best performance to date, while the support slots from both Alan McClure and Blue were wonderfully enjoyable. The crowd was with us all the way.

A superb night all around and greatly enjoyed by all who came along.

Immediately below you can listen to the 3 tracks from our EP. You can even buy them to download if you wish - just click on the relevant bit (please note, although it says "buy album", you're only able to buy the tracks individually).

Under that you will find a selection a photos from Pete Robinson of PR Imaging. I did take my camera along, but in the end it stayed in its case. I toyed with the idea of getting it out, but decided that evening I would just enjoy being a musician instead, and leave to Pete the responsibility of trying to make us look cool.

And at the bottom of this post you will find a video Pete made of a song we played that's not on the EP - The West.

It's a full on Cracked Man indulgence fest...

Alan McClure


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Waiting for a parcel

Lee is currently making delivery number 1, you are delivery number 62.
Lee is approximately 6 hours 15 minutes away from you.

Lee is currently making delivery number 41, you are delivery number 62.
Lee is approximately 1 hour 15 minutes away from you.

Lee is currently making delivery number 59, you are delivery number 62.
Lee is approximately 15 minutes away from you.

At least the days when you had to wait in all day when expecting a delivery are slowly disappearing. More and more couriers now have parcel tracking enabled. And in the case of Interlink Express, they tell you the driver's name and you can follow him on Google Maps.

I've been waiting for the parcel containing 300 CDs of the new EP by The Cracked Man to turn up.

It's been a nerve-wracking experience as it's only 2 days until the EP Launch (at The Gordon House Hotel in Kirkcudbright, if you can make it along).

When we booked the venue and announced the launch to the world I thought I would have at least 2 weeks leeway for the CDs to arrive, but somehow more and more of that leeway was getting used up. At this point, if anything had gone wrong, there would be no chance to correct it, and we would be having our EP launch without the EP...

Fortunately Discwizards - and Lee - pulled through and the artwork looks good and the CDs play in the CD player.

Huge sigh of relief.

I do wonder though, what degree of detail is available to the parcel tracking system?

Lee is currently calling in on Mrs Smith with whom he is having an affair.
Lee will be delayed by approximately 17 minutes.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Do you still love me despite my...

I'm afraid it's another visit to the archives this week - this time from May 2007. Normal (whatever that is) service will hopefully be resumed next week.


“Do you still love me despite my […insert perceived undesirable body part(s)…]?”

“What’s that, oh love of my life?”

“How can you still love me with my […insert perceived undesirable body part(s)…]?”

Actually I heard her the first time, but was attempting to give myself time to think. An array of possible strategies need to be formulated, considered, worked through and accepted or rejected before replying. And all within a fraction of a second.

Any delay in answering is going to be taken to confirm that the […insert body part(s)…] is/are* […insert undesirable characteristic(s)…] and therefore you no longer love her, indeed have probably never loved her and your entire 24 years of relationship have been nothing more than an empty sham.

Of course a straightforward answer is completely out of the question. Consider:

“No, I…” You won’t get any further with this line of thought because your genitals will have been removed in a sudden and violent reaction.


“Yes, I still love you…” will only elicit the response:

“Oh, so my […insert body part(s)…] is/are* […insert undesirable characteristic(s)…]!” resulting in an angry and/or* insecure partner on your hands.

“What’s wrong with your […insert body part(s)…]?” might give you a few moments extra thinking time, but is a delaying tactic only. After the […insert body part(s)…] has/have* had its/their* […insert undesirable characteristic(s)…] reiterated and exaggerated further, you will still be expected to announce your verdict.

“I love you BECAUSE of your […insert perceived undesirable body part(s)…]” is a dangerous route to take unless you are particularly adept at verbal gymnastics. It is not recommended for the amateur, or for certain times of the month.

Feigning a sudden migraine/cramps/heart attack* is an emergency response and can only ever be used once in your relationship. If you used it up in your first year together, any attempt to repeat the tactic, even if it is 24 years later, will be met with cold suspicion, even if you are genuinely suffering a sudden migraine/cramps/heart attack*.

“Oh for goodness sake, woman. Haven’t you realised yet that after 24 years together I love you for being you? Your body is a part of who you are, no matter what size, shape or quality it has.” On the face of it, this appears to be quite a good answer, but don’t be fooled: your astute partner will still pick up on the fact that you didn’t actually deny that her […insert body part(s)…] does/do* have […insert undesirable characteristic(s)…].

So what possible answer can you give to such a question other than diving out of the nearest window and running up the road as fast as you can, making sure you never look back?

My tried, tested and patent pending response to this most destructive of apparently casual questions, is “Do you know why your […insert body part(s)…] is/are* so special to me?” and then proceed to relate a memory of a shared event or experience, where the […insert body part(s)…] took centre stage. Then again, this should probably only be attempted after at least 10 years of being together, by which time you should have built up a backlog of such incidences.

This morning, however, I discovered one more answer, which seemed to get me off the hook:

“Ha! That gives me an idea for an excellent blog entry!”

*delete as appropriate

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

And I'm not looking forward to the journey home...

I realised today that there wasn't any chance of me writing an original blog post this week, so I thought I would take a quick dip into the archives.

With this blog being something like 9½ years old, there is a whole host of stuff either unread or long forgotten by the vast majority of my current readers.

So here for your delectation is one of my favourites from the past. Originally written in September 2006 it was composed over the course of a delayed train journey. Scribbling notes into the the pages of my Sudoku book, making observations to pass the time, became a way to save my sanity.


5.34pm: I speed-stride through Glasgow Central Station – I refuse to attempt to run as it is so long since I last tried, my body has forgotten how to coordinate my torso with my legs, so I settle for walking briskly; very briskly - and leap through the door of rear carriage with literally only a few seconds to spare. Cramped, standing room only. The engine revs, a sudden jolt and we’re away.

Part of me had known that this train never leaves the station at 5.30pm, no matter what Scot Rail’s timetable might say, but this was closer than I’d expected. In fact the train had actually arrived in Glasgow on time this morning, which threw Dave out completely. He always has to wait at least 15 minutes when meeting me off the train, so was somewhat surprised to wander into the station only 10 minutes late and find me already there, halfway through a Sudoku puzzle I’d started an hour and a half earlier, just out of Dumfries.

5.36pm: “Hello? Hello? I’m on the train. The TRAIN. Hello?” I’ve only elbowed one person in the ribs while getting out my mobile phone to let Maggie know I've caught the earlier train after all.

5.42pm: I try to fill in another number in the Sudoku grid, but the combination of heat, movement and claustrophobia mean I quickly start to feel travel sick. A flicker of disappointment crosses the face of the guy opposite me who I think had been mentally filling in the gaps before I put the puzzle book away.

5.49pm: First stop and enough people depart the train for me to flop down on to the only available space, next to a smartly dressed woman who proceeds to squeeze her body up against the window, trying to put as much distance between us as is humanly possible in a double seat only 3 feet wide. I’m self consciously aware that my earlier exertion and the crowded conditions means that I’m dripping in sweat. I feel like the odorous tramp everyone worries will sit next to them.

“And then he… he… he opened a triple pack of curried chicken sandwiches!” she will wail later. Her body shaking uncontrollably as she sobs at the memory.

“There, there,” her mother will reply soothingly, “it’s all over now…”

6.02pm: Another station and there’s now enough room for me to find a double seat of my own, but the smartly dressed woman gets off the train anyway. I wonder whether it was her stop.

6.13pm: We reach Kilmarnock; only the front two carriages are carrying on from here. It transpires that I didn’t need to shove the granny out the way nor tip up the pushchair in my haste to avoid being left in the wrong section, as the train is allowing plenty of time for the transition.

6.25pm: They really are allowing a lot of time. The rear carriages have left for Ayr.

6.35pm: The driver periodically revs the engine, teasing us, but we’re still not moving anywhere.

6.38pm: The driver announces that we will be underway as soon as a technical fault is fixed.

6.56pm: I’m getting a bit worried about the number of people using the toilet. I distinctly remember seeing a sign saying it should not be used while the train is in the station. If this goes on much longer, the rear carriage will become grounded.

7.12pm: We’re told to disembark. Out on the platform the driver is talking into his phone while making a rough headcount of the passengers. Coaches are being arranged to take us the rest of the way. The lady in the wheelchair rolls her eyes, while the woman with three children under the age of four is clearly at her wit’s end.

7.35pm: A taxi arrives for the woman in the wheelchair. She offers an old woman sitting nearby a lift. I overhear someone saying the bus will be here in half an hour.

7.41pm: An irate passenger is verbally abusing the woman at the ticket office. She hands him a Scot Rail Compensation form.

7.44pm: The woman at the ticket office looks like she’s calmed down, so I go up and give her a friendly smile; it’s not her fault the train broke down. She gives me a Scot Rail Compensation form before I can open my mouth.

It says that if my journey is delayed by half an hour then I can claim half the fare back of that leg of the journey. More than one hour and I can claim the entire amount. Whoopee. Two and a half hours stuck on a cold Kilmarnock Railway Station Platform and I might just be able to claim back £5.95.

7.50pm: Word has spread and there is now a long queue of weary passengers with nothing else to do except pick up a form and borrow a pen.

7.56pm: a young woman plonks herself next to me on a bench and lights up a cigarette. It’s over 16 years since I gave up smoking and I resent people forcing me to breathe their stinking, cancerous fumes.

7.57pm: F***, I could do with a cigarette.

7.59pm: According to the woman with three kids, the flush in the station loo isn’t working properly. I don’t think there’ll be much loo roll left either judging by the long trail of it attached to a 3-year-old running about.

8.02pm: The bus has arrived. It will have an overall longer journey time, and be less comfortable, but the next train to Dumfries isn’t for another 40 minutes and it’s getting cold. The heat and sweat from the beginning of the journey is a distant memory, unable to be recalled with any clarity. I follow the crowd out of the station.

It’s one of those Luxury Coaches with curtains at the window, a downstairs loo (not to be used while parked) and a little button you can press, next to the air vents, that apparently calls for a hostess. I can’t see anyone who looks like a hostess.

8.05pm: “Hello? Hello? I’m on the bus. The BUS. Hello?”

8.06pm: Maggie reminds me I get travel sick on buses.

8.10pm: The driver periodically revs the engine, teasing us, but we’re still not moving anywhere.

8.18pm: Apparently the driver can’t engage first gear. Everyone is getting off the bus.

8.45pm: A cheer goes up. The next train to Dumfries pulls into the station. This is the train I would have caught if I’d accepted Dave’s offer to stay to dinner instead of deciding to catch the earlier one to ensure I’d be home in time to put my children to bed.

8.50pm: The train starts moving. Another cheer goes up. A deep golden, full moon is just rising over the horizon. Only an hour to Dumfries now and a further 30 minute drive to Castle Douglas. I phone Maggie.

“Hello? Hello? I’m on the train. The TRAIN. Hello?”

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Cracked Man EP Launch

12 months ago Marcus and I formed The Cracked Man

The best description I could come up with to describe our music was, "Original foot-stomping, spine-tingling, brow-twitching, cheek-spasming, tea-dunking music that will leave you breathless but deeply satisfied"

Towards the end of last year we began recording 3 tracks to make up an EP. Then Christmas and New Year got in the way. However, the artwork has now been created, the tracks have been mastered and everything has been sent off to Discwizards.com where we're getting 300 printed up.

We played around with several ideas when trying to think of a cover for the EP, and decided to go for a mix of both our heads blended into one. Originally I was going to split it straight down the middle, but after playing in Photoshop I discovered it was more interesting if it wasn't exact. So although the top half is an even split, my nose is more dominant, it's Marcus's upper lip and my beard.

That was quite fun, but then I played with aging it - sepia toning and a mold-speckled glass overlay - and then it leapt to life like some bizarre Edwardian creation. I knew we had the cover I wanted

On Friday 13th March, we're going to be officially launching the EP with an event at The Gordon House Hotel in Kirckudbright. As a wee taster of the EP, I've put together a short video of photos of us performing and about 40 second bursts of each of the 3 tracks.

On the day of the launch, if you're interested, you'll be able to buy CDs or download the tracks online. But if you're in the area, do come along to see us play live.

And if you don't live nearby, then we're open to travelling if you fancy being our manager for the country you live in.


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Edge Lighting

One of the turning points in my photography was when I discovered side-lighting on faces. Lit from one side only, the landscape of the face came to life - lines, textures and depth all became exaggerated and a powerful sense of character emerged from the screen. So much more interesting than bland front-lighting.

The next great discovery for me was back-lighting. This creates a real separation from the background and makes the person or object you are photographing leap out of the photo.

A more recent discovery has been edge-lighting - a place inbetween side and back. I've been using it for years as part of the mix, but where the beauty comes is when it, and only it, is being used.

Last year I did a series of photos in collaboration with sculptor, Lucianne Lassalle, and model, Kat (Night Phoenix). It was a day spent in play and experimentation to see what might happen. Kat was progressively coated in chalks, powders, clay and even paint, by Lucianne, while I tried out different compositions, angles and lighting.

Among the 300 or so photos I took, there are a great deal of interesting, fascinating and quite beautiful images. However due to life getting in the way for all three of us, nothing has yet been done with any of the photos, although we have recently started discussing potential ways to move forward with them and ideas they have inspired.

Because of these conversations I was looking back through the images and came across a few where the lighting had "failed" - I was using two off-camera flashes and only one had fired, meaning the effect I was after didn't materialise on those shots.

But for some reason, when looking at these photos this time round I was suddenly struck by their potential. I pulled them into photoshop, converted them to black and white, then started playing with the lighting levels - gradually making the shadows and mid-tones darker and darker until they were completely black, leaving only the areas where the light had directly hit the body.

And the images that emerged made me go all goose-bumpily. I was amazed at how wonderful they looked.

I phoned Kat last night and she's delighted with them and more than happy for me to put them up online, so I knew exactly what this week's blog post was going to be. Later in the evening she sent me an email, saying:

I love the slightly abstract feel of them, the mystery to them, the capacity for the viewer to create their own story, how they are real and confront the viewer with their realness. I adore the juxtoposition of a real persons body with cellulite, sags and skin things aka "flaws" with the beautiful poses and almost serene atmosphere or otherwise energetic vibe. I like the challenging nature of that challenging society (certain mainstream media) views of what beauty or sensuality is. To think I have been a part of this :D
Deep, beautiful, emotive, challenging and abstract. We did good and you did amazing!
Definately worth an earful of clay!

As always, feel free to click on the images for larger versions