Wednesday, March 31, 2010

12,000 miles just to see me

I met up with Australian artist and regular blog commenter, Katie Roberts (and her son, Kirra), yesterday.

The strange sight of bloggers without a computer

Of course I didn’t expect her to travel the entire distance without some effort on my part, so I said we could meet up somewhere in between for a coffee and blether. I suggested Weatheriggs Pottery, just south of Penrith, about 80 miles from here.

Despite discovering it’s no longer a pottery and is now Weatheriggs Animal Welfare Rescue and Conservation Centre, it didn’t stop us having a good coffee with plenty of blether.

Unfortunately it was a cold, wet and miserable day. This didn’t spoil the encounter, it just meant photography turned out to be much trickier than expected.

Katie has hair of great texture. With wonderful dreadlocks flowing from the back of her head and curling ringlets at the side, I had hoped to add Katie’s face to my portrait exhibition in May, especially after she’d flown and driven over 12,000 miles for that cup of coffee with me. But in the end it wasn’t to be. I did get some reasonable photos, just not ones suitable for the darker theme of the exhibition

Hair of great texture

I did feel a bit guilty that it had taken her several days of long and arduous travelling from literally the other side of the world, just to spent 2 hours chatting about blogging and life.

However, she’d decided that as she and her son were now in the UK anyway, they may as well spend a few weeks seeing family and friends, and take in some of the sights while they was here. In fact they were off to drive through parts of the Lake District right after we parted company.

So that took of the pressure off a bit...

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Abnormally small pupils no longer an advantage

When I went to see the optician last September (see Windows of the Soul) I knew my eyesight wasn’t quite as good as it used to be.

Although I was told I still had 20/20 vision, the natural weakening of the eye muscles that comes with age had been offset somewhat by my abnormally small pupils.

However, even this quirk of nature hasn’t been able to hold back the tide of deterioration, and ever since that visit I’ve been struggling ever harder to read the small print on tins and packets of food. And when I’m that extra bit tired even the TV guide is starting to be held at arms length.

So I’ve finally decided to stop living in denial and have acquired some glasses. As they are only for occasional use I figured there was no need to splash out any more than £1.99 for a pair of the weakest strength ones found in the cheap shops.

As and when they become a more regular feature of my interaction with the rest of the world, I’ll return to the optician and see about getting a proper pair.

Fashion statements have never been my thing, but I rather like the distortions you can create in photos

Friday, March 19, 2010

Divided Opinion

The past few weeks have been filled with phoning people, negotiating times when I can stick my camera in their faces, discussing coffee requirements, drinking coffee, sticking my camera in their faces, selecting editing and processing photos, and sometimes phoning people back to ask if I can re-shoot a particular angle as I can see something that has almost worked in one I took earlier, but not quite.

Also taking up time has been a bit of online debating on a photo site or 2, where not everyone likes the style of portrait photography I’ve been developing lately.

As I mentioned in the post, Staring Back, the idea is all the portraits for the forthcoming exhibition will be staring out of the photo back at the viewer. And in many cases I am using post-production editing techniques to enhance the landscape of the face.

This textural, heightened-reality style seems to divide opinion. Some absolutely love it, while others recoil and think I should have used a softer light and more muted colours to make the images a bit more acceptable.

So with the blog feeling a little neglected, I thought I could give you a little chance to form your own opinion. As a taster, here are 2 of the images I’ve decided will be going into the exhibition. Although there will be a few musicians featured – mainly because half the people I know play something - these are the only 2 where their instrument is shown.

Do click on them for the larger images, to get a better sense of impact.




Thursday, March 11, 2010

Embarrassing questions

“That’s great. I’ll see you at 10.30 that morning then!”

“Yup, great!”


“Er… just one thing”

“Sure, what?”

“Um… I know this might sound like a bit of an odd question…”


“But…, erm… what kind of coffee do you drink?”

Damn, it’s embarrassing.

Here I am, making arrangements all over the place to get photos of people for my exhibition, and over and above having to ask if they mind me thrusting my camera in their faces so I can create an intense portrait of them, I need to be prepared for varying coffee scenarios.

I only have 2 cups of coffee a day – one mid morning; one mid afternoon.

Because of the Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, I only really feel properly alive for an hour or so after a good cup of coffee

If I didn’t restrict myself to 2 a day, I would be drinking it permanently and doing myself all sorts of damage.

So when I do have a coffee, I need real coffee. Proper ground up stuff that goes in a cafetiere or an espresso pot. Coffee with taste. Coffee with strength. Coffee that hits the right spot.

And it has become such a key part of my day – a key part of my surviving CFS – if someone says they happily drink instant, I will make up a flask of real stuff to take with me and, if necessary, down it in the car before I knock on the door of the person I’m visiting.

I feel bad about this on several levels – not least of which is some people I know would be mortified if they felt they’d been what they perceive as a less than perfect host.

And for those who are happy with instant coffee out the jar, it sounds like snobbery. I mean, imagine inviting someone around for dinner and they brought their own wine because yours just wasn’t up to it.

But instant coffee is just an entirely different drink to real coffee, no matter how many adverts would try to convince you otherwise. And my body struggles to cope with it.

Of course, in an emergency, instant is better than nothing. And if I’ve accidentally left my flask at home, then I’m more than grateful for anything with a hint of caffeine in it. When I’m creating portrait photographs, I need my mind to be working sharply.

Perhaps I should just adopt the maxim, “Never apologise; never explain” and just boldly state I will be bringing my own coffee unless they have the good stuff. Then I’d probably just be seen as eccentric rather than pretentious.

The good stuff


Monday, March 08, 2010

Are you scared of your face?

On the surface, this seems like an outrageous statement. And yet, my experience as a portrait photographer is leading me to believe most people are to some extent.

Our faces are our ambassadors to the world. They represent us. They express our interests and our disapprovals. They are the visible exterior of how others see us.

And yet, the moment a camera is placed in front of us, most will feel a knot of fear about what it might capture or reveal.

Over and over again, I hear statements like, "You'll have your work cut out with me; I'm just not photogenic. He (or she) is. He (or she) always looks good in photos. It's me who always makes them look bad! Ha, ha!"

Everyone seems to thing that everyone else looks good in photos, but not them. But then the reasons are perhaps not so surprising.

Part of it is the fact we're used to seeing ourselves in the mirror, with our faces in reverse, so when we see them the right way round, they look a bit odd to us. Very, very few of us have perfectly symmetrical faces.

We're also used to seeing our faces straight on, not in profile, so our noses, brows and chins look like they stick out much further than we expect them to.

And of course, for most of us, the last decent photo we had taken of us was 20 years ago, when we looked so much younger and smoother skinned, and in many cases, slimmer too.

The upshot of all this is when we see a photo of ourselves, we usually end up thinking, "who's that funny big nosed, fat, old git who looks a bit like my mother/father?" And when everyone else says, "but it looks just like you!" we're horrified.

These photos don’t seem to look anything like the person we know from the inside. And it only takes one or 2 bad snapshots (or ID card photos) for us to not want to have to deal with the whole range of emotions looking at our faces stir up.

So we prefer to ignore our faces and pretend they don’t really exist. Here they are, on view to absolutely everyone, except us.

The rest of the world deals with our face on a daily basis, but we chose to ignore it.

Very few people embrace their faces, enjoy them or are at peace with them.

And I believe these glamour photo packages most portrait photographers offer - where people are made up by make-up artists and hairdressers first - only make the whole thing worse

We need to stop comparing ourselves to some impossibly smooth skinned youth and embrace our lines, textures and all the aspects that make us uniquely us.

We need to stop worshipping the culture of plastic beauty and celebrate the life lived.

I think I’m beginning to discover my mission as a portrait photographer is to help people stop being scared of their own faces.

Meanwhile, I have to say that photo at the beginning of the post doesn’t represent me at all. It was taken in the mirror, and is therefore how I see myself, but not as others see me.

The rest of the world sees me like this

which is far scarier…

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Win some; lose some: you’re a lost cause

Perhaps she was slightly more tactful than that, but the meaning in what the doctor said this morning was essentially the same.

I’ve had all the usual array of tests (again) and everything is coming back as negative (again).

We have people in here all the time suffering from varying degrees of tiredness, and in most cases we’re able to identify what’s wrong and help them. But every now and then…

Every now and then they just have to shrug their shoulders and say we don’t know what’s wrong and we don’t know what else to do, so you’ll just have to live with it*. Now excuse me I have more patients to see.

The sense of being written off and abandoned is somewhat overwhelming today.

I’m 43, not 83.

I shouldn’t have to feel it’s ok to go for a walk in the park so long as there’s a bench for me to sit on.

I shouldn’t have to feel the best of my life is now behind me.

I shouldn’t have to feel I’m treading water until I die.


*For those who want an insight into what CFS feels like to live with, click here
**Don't mind me, I'll be fine tomorrow. Probably.