Friday, February 26, 2010

Staring Back

“Staring Back” is the current working title for the portrait exhibition this May.

Originally I thought I could just take a cross section of my favourite images, but then I started thinking, “so what?” There are plenty of portrait photographers out there already, and while you might want them to do your wedding, you wouldn’t go and see an exhibition of their work.

An exhibition needs to have more impact.

So after much mulling, debating and experiencing a plethora of panic attacks, I’ve decided my exhibition will display photos where each image has someone staring back at the viewer.

We look at faces all the time. Every time we chat to someone face to face, we are looking at them; indeed it is considered quite rude not to.

However, we don’t examine faces when we are talking to people. In fact if we become aware someone is examining our face, we feel distinctly uncomfortable. A line has been crossed; an unspoken taboo, broken.

When we look at portraits, though, we are actively encouraged to examine the faces. With no fear of upsetting anyone, we are allowed to look at all the lines, shadows and textures.

But if we are trying to examine a portrait photograph, and the person in it is staring back at us, then it reactivates our sense of uncertainty. On the one hand we know it’s just a photo, but at the same time our brains are hardwired to feel uncomfortable under the rigid gaze of another person.

The upshot of this will be, rather than being just an exhibition of interesting faces or shots, it will evoke an emotional response, a sense of feeling a bit off-balance.

And I fully expect some people to dislike it. My hope is that others will find it infinitely more rewarding.

I don’t have enough photos of this kind yet, so I’m busy phoning friends and colleagues and trying to convince them they would love to have me thrusting my camera into their faces.

Time is short...

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Wrong Question

How likely am I to become an internationally renowned, sought after portrait photographer?” is the wrong question.

How much fun will it be trying to become an internationally renowned, sought after portrait photographer?” is a much better way of putting it.

It reminds me it is all about the journey.

The destination is a side effect, not the purpose.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Portrait Photography Exhibition

I received a phone call on Wednesday asking me if I’d like to have an exhibition of my portrait photography for the month of May in the Bookshop Gallery at the Mill on the Fleet, in Gatehouse of Fleet, about 15 miles down the road from here.

It’s a converted old cotton-spinning mill with a visitor centre, shop and café. The top floor is half taken up with a 2nd hand bookshop, and the other half is a gallery space. In fact Maggie exhibited some of her work there a couple of years ago.

All excited, I said yes more or less straight away.

Now the panic has set in.

Waves of crippling self-doubt were always going to be a part of something like this. I mean, who ever puts on any kind of exhibition and doesn’t get flooded with fears of not feeling good enough, or people not turning up, or not liking it and so forth?

But there’s a more practical problem, which lies in just how much it’s going to cost to present 20 to 25 images. Unfortunately, printing them our on our home printer and sticking them to the walls with a bit of blu-tack isn’t really an option.

And of course, I won’t make any money back on any framing directly. No one is going to buy portraits of other people. The only way to generate any money from this is if people are impressed enough to commission me to do their portraits.

So I’ll also need some good quality leaflets for visitors to take away with them.

And as it opens on the 1st of May, I really need to have all the images ready for printing, mounting and framing by the beginning of April.

Which is less than 6 weeks away

And I don’t have enough photos of the kind I want to present yet.

So excuse me while I run screaming around the room in ever faster circles...

Monday, February 15, 2010

Weight loss on unimaginable scales

Most people who want to lose weight, want to get rid of something like 15 to 20 pounds. For some, the idea of losing more than 3 stone, or over 40lbs, would be daunting to say the least.

Once you start getting above more than 50lbs overweight, the problem is not greediness or laziness – it’s indicative of deeper underlying problems where food is being used for far more than just physical sustenance and the occasional celebration. At this point we are into realms of addiction, emotional instability, self-medication and, in some cases, even self-harm.

The a-bit-overweight person might be showing the signs of occasional greediness or laziness – of being human. But the extremely overweight person is showing the signs of problems that run far deeper.

My own battles have been mentioned throughout this blog, and documented weekly on my other blog, Losing a Hundredweight. The fight has never been with the food as such – it’s been with my mental states and the reasons I use food to self-medicate.

5 years ago I was 275lbs (19 stone 9lbs). Today I am 186lbs (13stone 4lbs) – still overweight, but not as bad as I used to be.

It took 2 years of focusing on healthy eating to lose 100lbs, in the following 3 years I gained 25 back, but in the past few months I've been moving back down again. I am still 14lbs heavier than my lightest point, a little over 2 years ago, and about 28lbs over my “ideal weight” according to the height-weight charts

When you have the likes of 100lbs to lose, you are in a realm unoccupied by most people. But when you blog about it, you begin to discover there are people out there who make your 100lbs look insignificant.

Three years ago I started trading blog comments with Kepa - a young man in New Zealand who went by the moniker, Fat Lazy Guy. He wasn’t even sure how overweight he was because his scales didn’t go up that far. Eventually he discovered he was over 504lbs.

His goal was to get under 100kg (220lbs – 15stone 10lbs). It seemed like an impossible task. We swapped words of support and insights and he would start to lose a few pounds, but periodically things would go quiet and he would return to confess he’d lost it again.

There was even talk about the possibility of medical intervention – stomach stapling and the like, but fortunately he decided this wasn’t a route he wanted to go.

And then, towards the end of the first year, things started to come together and he found a combination of eating, exercise and mental health that enabled him to find a path that worked.

A few days ago, Kepa reached his goal. He stood on the scales and weighed in at 99.5kg.

He has lost over 285lbs – which is more than I weighed at my heaviest.

When we hear about people who do achieve these unimaginable feats, it’s easy to think of them as unreal. Surely these people cannot really be human. Or if they are, they are so far on the fringes, we cannot relate to them.

But with Kepa, I was there at the beginning. I followed him through all his self-doubts, false starts and feelings of overwhelming helplessness. To me, Kepa’s journey has been so very real.

So to see him succeed literally brings a tear to my eye and my heart swells with pride for him.

Here’s a wee video he put together showing how he has changed since the beginning of 2007

Kepa, Fat Lazy Guy no longer, you have my total respect.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Meg is 12

On the one hand it seems incredible that it’s as long as 12 years since Meg arrived on Valentine’s Day. And yet to remember a time before Meg was around seems, well, a lifetime ago.

My little birthday girl is away to the SECC in Glasgow today to see “Strictly Come Dancing: The Live Tour” with her mother and big sister.

It’s no understatement to say that Meg has been obsessed with the BBC TV series, Strictly Come Dancing, for the past couple of years. She has a DVD, which has been watched in excess of 200 times.

I am not exaggerating.

So when Maggie found out last year that the live tour of Strictly was going to be in Scotland on Meg’s 12th birthday, tickets were booked immediately.

Meg was up very early this morning.

The enjoyment, or not, of Strictly in this house is split very much along gender lines. Rogan and I have been filling our time instead with a trip to the beach to lob stones in the calm, misty sea.

We’ll find out what the performance was like when the girls get home tonight.

They had a wonderful time and Meg thoroughly enjoyed herself. They even announced birthday wishes to Meg, as Maggie had sent a hopeful email ahead a few days before asking if they might.

Meg has gone to bed exhausted after a long day, but very happy

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Portrait Photography

An inherent problem for a photographer looking for some kind of recognition or praise, is most people judge the image on the content rather than the processes. For example, if you look at a picture of, say, a chair, then if you like the chair you will say you like the photograph, but if you don’t like the chair, then you won’t like the photo.

Now a good photographer will use lighting, camera settings, angles, background, context and post-production skills to show the chair in the best possible way, but if you don’t like that chair, none of these things count - except perhaps to other photographers who might appreciate the skill gone into creating the image.

Nowhere is this problem more acute than in portrait photography. Our feelings about the person in the photograph far outweigh our sense of the photographer behind the lens and what he or she might be creating. In wildlife, landscape and action photography many of us will at some point say, “How on earth did they get that shot?” and so become briefly aware of the skill of the photographer. But I think it’s fair to say where portraits are concerned, this question is far rarer.

So when we look at a portrait, once we’ve got past whether the image is in focus or has a thumb sticking halfway across it, it is our feeling towards the person that is all important. What interests us primarily, is if it is someone we know – either a friend or family member, or someone famous. We might hang on our wall a photo of our grandparents, or a poster of a film star, but we wouldn’t be bothered about some stranger about whom we know nothing.

I was challenged about this by my old friend, Branden, in the comments of my post “Nice Photography”. This is unsurprising because Branden is continually taking exceptional photographs of strangers all around the world. His photography is the kind you expect to see in magazines like National Geographic – check out Branden's Blog or his Flikr Photostreams - and I wouldn’t hesitate to buy a book of his images even if I didn’t know him personally.

Of course the difference here is the faces are all exotic – quite simply I don’t see Tibetan monks, Egyptian beggars or Japanese street performers around my local town on a daily basis. Branden’s photos transport us to other worlds, far away from the familiar and the everyday.

But perhaps herein lies the key. I’m not that bothered about taking portraits of people that are just documentation; a recognisable likeness. What I really want to do is take images of people that go beyond purely visual representation. I want to take photos that draw the viewer in, or even unsettle them. Comfy-comfy, nicey-nicey, pretty-pretty pictures just don’t do it for me.

There is no “normal”; there are no “ordinary people”. Everyone’s lives are epic, and it is in the finding, or creating, the extraordinary out of the everyday that appeals to me.

My photography website is out of date (updates planned as soon as I can create a design I’m happy with) and doesn’t completely reflect the kinds of portraits I’ve been doing more recently. So to present an idea of the direction I’m trying to go in, here are a few of my favourites from the past few months.

As usual, click on any of them for larger versions, which usually have more impact anyway

Some of you might recognise this blogger in the next photo

And however, the final image comes out, fun is always key element in the process.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Nice Photography

Following my blog post at the beginning of the year, 2009 in Photographs, I received a lot of positive feedback, including suggestions I could even make a calendar using some of the images.

The snow pictures and the fog photos in following posts likewise generated a few “oohs” and “aahs” as, for that matter, did the early morning mist-on-the-loch images I took last autumn.

Along with a few comments about creating cards or prints from some of my photographs, I decided to investigate a site called RedBubble. Basically it allows you to upload images, which people can then buy cards, prints or even posters of. They have a base price for printing and sending them, to which I can add a percentage to make a small profit.

So I created an account, wrote up a bit about me, and uploaded what I thought were probably the more saleable of my images. And if you look over on the sidebar to the right of my blog you’ll see a link to my Redbubble pages and a widget rotating some of the photos there.

I looked at it again this morning.

It’s full of pleasant photos.

Lovely photos.

Nice photos.

Nice photos…


And I almost gagged.

This isn’t the kind of photographer I want to be.

Landscapes and wildlife are mildly interesting distractions, and they keep me handy with the camera when I don’t have faces to photograph. But they are not my passion. And they are not how I wish to be defined.

It’s time for an overhaul. I need to revisit what I’m doing with my photography.