Thursday, December 29, 2011

No Bounce

As my arse was sinking deeper into the mattress and my knees were becoming level with my shoulders, I began to wonder whether memory-foam had been the best route to go.

After 9 days of waiting, and no less than 3 of them being damaged in delivery (and so having to be returned) our new memory-foam mattress finally arrived last week.

7 nights later and I’m still getting used to it.

We pondered for a long time about what kind of mattress to get, once we’d decided our lumpy, bumpy existing one was probably contributing to our poor sleeping patterns.

After extensive research (lots of Googling), and a recommendation from a friend, we decided we would go for a memory-foam one.

It’s quite different to a traditional sprung mattress. For one thing, it doesn’t bounce when you climb on it. Instead, it slowly moulds itself around you as you sink into it. And when you move position, it gently remoulds itself.

However, while it is certainly comfortable, my body has not yet got used to the lack of springs and for the first few nights I woke up every single time I turned over. Still, the last couple of nights haven’t been quite so bad, so I’m feeling a bit more hopeful.

Which is just as well, because once we’d unpacked it and were happy it wasn’t damaged, we took the old one straight to the dump. So if we change our minds, we’ll be sleeping on wooden slats for as long as it takes to get a new one...

Friday, December 23, 2011

Season's Greetings

I don’t know quite what’s happened to my blog writing skills. There was a time when I could turn even the most insignificant event into something worth reading, but these days I’m finding it harder and harder to do.

Even since my post early last week, I’ve started several that just fizzled out – I was unable to lift things out of the mundane.

I’ve wanted to write about the debacle of ordering a new mattress online, where 3 times it was damaged in the delivery, so it wasn’t until the 4th time the company sent it out were we finally able to accept it.

The Solstice should have been a good one to write about, especially as last year it was –10 degrees C and this year it was +10 degrees C.

Christmas decorations, dental appointments, the “Men in sheds” Xmas lunch for the terminally self-employed.

I even had a whole thing about Christmas seeming to be locked in 4 distinct eras – Roman, Victorian, the 1950s and the 1970s.

But for some reason I can’t seem to get the words to flow.

Maybe it will return in the New Year, or perhaps it’s just that my creativity is channelled into photography rather than writing these days. Who knows?

However, one thing I can do at this time of year, as I have for the past 6 years here on this blog, is wish you all the very best for the Festive Season.

I searched through my photo folders looking for suitable seasonal images of snow, tinsel or holly, but in the end the best image I could find was one my daughter Meg made as a Christmas card for us.



If you would like a larger version of it to print off and pin to your mantelpiece, then click on this link and follow the instructions

http://kimayres.co.uk/xmas2011.htm

Hope you have a good time whatever your social, religious or cultural beliefs.



Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Photographing the Photographers...

In one of my biggest challenges yet, a couple of weeks ago I not only had to photograph a group of pro and semi-pro photographers, but I had to be in the shot too.

I recently teamed up with half a dozen other photographers in the area, with the idea to pool resources, expertise and marketing power. The theory is we could help make this area an attractive place for those interested in photography (buying prints or taking workshops) to visit.

It’s early days yet, and the aim is to officially launch next Spring, but things are slowly taking shape. The constitution is written, executive posts filled, bank account opened and the website is under construction.

It was decided it would be useful to have a group photo to go on the website, and to use for publicity purposes once we launch. As portrait photography is my speciality, the responsibility for the photo fell on my shoulders. Inevitably this presented several challenges.

An initial idea of an outside shot of us all against a backdrop of a beautiful Galloway landscape was quickly dismissed. It’s hard enough to negotiate a time and date to suit 7 self-employed people, let alone rely on the weather in Scotland, in winter, to be pleasant. We needed an indoor space large enough to fit everyone plus lighting rigs, and while my wee studio is fine for one or two people – three at a push – it’s not designed for groups.

Fortunately Allan Wright leapt to the rescue and we were able to use his gallery – a large white painted room – after he’d removed his framed prints from one of the walls.

But while composition and lighting are tricky enough, in order to be in the photograph myself, I couldn’t just click when everything was perfect. I had to keep setting the timer then run round to get into position and hope no one was blinking, or looking in the wrong direction, or leaning in front of anyone else, or pulling a silly face.

And when photographing more than about 4 people, crowd control becomes an extra necessary skill...

Even then, it’s one thing to photograph the general public – group shots are usually family gatherings where they expect to follow the instructions of the professional with the camera. But to photograph a bunch of people who make money from their ability to use a camera means the sense of scrutiny is cranked up to the nth degree.

Still, somehow I survived and below are the final images. One where we look very serious and professional, and one where we, er, don't...

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





Left to right-ish (click on names for links to their websites):
Morag Paterson and Ted Leeming
Roger Lever
Phil McMenemy
Allan Wright
Kim Ayres
Ian Biggar


Tuesday, December 06, 2011

A wonderful photo

A couple of years ago, I stumbled across an amazing photography site - 1x.com.

I submitted a couple of my best photos, but they were not accepted. I submitted a couple more, and they too were rejected. It turned out they only accept, on average, about 5% of all submissions - and this is from people who are all sending in their best work.

In March 2009, I gained my first publication on the site, but any thought that I was now one of the in-crowd was quickly dispelled, as it was nearly a year before I had my 2nd image accepted there. And even now, I have only managed to get 7 of my photos up on the site.

However, the site is not only an inspiration visually, there are many people willing to share their knowledge and skills. And if you are prepared to put your ego to one side, you can gain a great deal. In fact, I would credit a fair amount of the improvements I've made in my photography over the past 3 years to what I have learned from 1x.com and several of the members.

It's also been a place where I have made several good online friendships - people from around the world who one day I would love to meet up in person - much like many of the fine bloggers who visit these pages.

One such person, is Argentinian-born architect, Nicolas Marino, who likes to go off adventuring on his bicycle in various parts of the world. And one of his favourite places seems to be Tibet.

The photographs he takes are just stunning. They wouldn't look out of place in National Geographic, and I'm constantly nagging him to make a book of them, just so I can buy a copy.

1x.com has been running a competition over the past few months, and the results were just announced on Monday evening, and to my delight, not only did Nico win, but he won it with this photo, which is one of my all time favourites:


Awakening by Nicolas Marino - worth clicking on for a larger version

It was taken early in the morning after he'd spent the night with a nomadic Tibetan family in their tent. In an earlier forum post, he'd written of the encounter:

"One day during the last trip in Tibet, I camped at the end of the day right before a storm, i had camped quite close to a tent where Tibetan nomads, who take care of their yak herds, live. A few minutes after I had got in my tent and started to snow, the man came to look for me and there was no way he would let me stay there alone. He took me in with his lovely family, they all live inside the tent where the floor is wet grass, the mattresses are arranged around the stove, a few boxes with belongings, a lovely poster of the Dalai Lama, and that's about it. Husband, wife, three kids and the dogs, once I got in, it was like being part of the family, we had a very big dinner they cooked for me. They treated me like one of them and when we went to sleep, the man pointed me to my mattress and put a huge pile of warm blankets and arranged them around my face like my dad used to do when I was a kid, just to make sure I'd sleep comfortable. In the morning, other friends from tents around the area would come to visit and to drink tea with us. The saw me leave, they wouldn't stop giving me things to eat."

Congratulations on winning the 1x.com competition, Nico, and I hope that one day you will find yourself in Scotland where you can share some of your tales in front of a log fire with a dram of single malt.

For more of Nico's images on 1x.com, visit his portfolio here:
http://1x.com/artist/nico3d/photos

And for more stunning images to keep you occupied for hours, visit his Flickr site here:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/nicolasmarino/sets/


Thursday, December 01, 2011

Who’s watching who?

I much prefer taking photos where the subject is staring straight into the camera. It means the viewer of the photo gets the feeling they are being watched while they look.

In this case, however, a TV cameraman was filming me while I was taking a photo of the director. So the viewer is not only being stared at, but is being filmed too (I’ll explain why they were there in a couple of months – but before you get excited, it’s only a small role in a documentary being made for BBC Alba).

For a bit of extra fun, I overlaid an image of a piece of glass that's been sitting in the garden for several months. Finally, giving it a sepia tint makes the photo look a few decades old rather than the few weeks it actually is.



As usual, feel free to click on the image for a larger version

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Geese at The Mill Sessions

The Geese are a local "indie-folk" band, who I’ve photographed on previous occasions. In fact one of my photos graces their first CD, back when they were just a 3-piece band.

They were performing at The Mill Sessions on Friday past, so we needed a photo of them for the collection (see others under the label "Mill Sessions").

My comfort zone is photographing people one at a time. Once numbers start becoming plural, the difficulties multiply exponentially. The more people there are, the more chance one of them will be blinking, looking the wrong way, obscuring someone else or pulling a dodgy face.

Time was limited as there’d been a mix up in communication, and I had far less than I’d have liked, as they had to go and sound check with Marcus, who was recording the session.

The upshot of all this was when I got back home to look at the results, I discovered I didn’t have a single shot where they were all looking at the camera and no one was laughing, moving, or obscuring someone else.

Fortunately over the years I’ve become reasonably adept at using Photoshop so was able to take different heads from different shots and merge them together. This final image, then, is actually an amalgamation of about 4 photos. However, I know from talking to other professional photographers, this kind of thing goes on all the time. At least I wasn’t removing wrinkles or making anyone look slimmer.



Filming proved to be a bit problematic too. I was sitting only 4 or 5 feet in front of them - which is great for an intimate live performance, but not so good trying to fit all the band members into the screen. So I had to have the wide-angle lens on the camera, set at the most extreme I could. Unfortunately, the result of this is everyone’s somewhat distorted.

However, if you can forgive the visuals, this song is one of my favourites, and does give quite a good sense of the style of The Geese. It’s called “Trade Not Aid” and is about a man who is drowning but when he calls for help, the person on the shore who can throw him the lifebelt tells him helping him for free could set up a culture of dependency, so he should trade something for the help instead.



For more info about The Geese, visit their Facebook page here:
http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Geese/168328679870494

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Processes

A wave travelling through water is not an object - it is a process. The water it flows through is affected by the energy of the wave, causing it to move up and down, but it doesn’t move along with the wave. If you place a rubber duck, for example, in the path of the wave, it is not swept along with it – it merely rises and falls as the energy wave passes under it. When the wave hits the beach, the water crashes and some of it surges up the sand or pebbles, only to retreat again once the energy has dissipated, not having actually travelled very far.

A flame, likewise is not an object, but a process. We can follow it as it burns down the candle, or even from one candle to another, but it is not a solid, enduring thing. It is a process that moves the atoms around it from one state to another. What makes up the actual fire changes by the moment.

Over a longer time span, it is possible for a ship to have a different plank changed every time it comes into port until there is no longer a single piece of wood remaining from the original construction. We see it as the same ship, as an enduring object, and yet it could easily be said that the ship is a process too, not unlike the wave or the flame. The only difference is the time scale.

In fact, if we had a time-lapse camera sequence long enough, we would see that even mountains, planets and stars are also processes. They rise and fall, are built and consumed, are created and dissipated and the atoms that make them up are constantly changing.

And of course, we are no different.

To think of ourselves as unchanging and permanent is a misconception in the same way as thinking a wave, a table, a mountain or a star is. We only appear to be an object because of the timescale in which we view ourselves. But we are a process as much as a wave or a flame. The cells of our bodies are constantly dying off and renewing. It is reckoned 98% of our cells are replaced at least every year.

I might think I am more or less the same person as I was last year – a little older, a little heavier, a little greyer, but essentially still me – and yet only 2% of me is the same as the person who wrote about photographing The Sex Pistols Experience tribute band 12 months ago.

We are like the wave travelling across the ocean. Even though the atoms that make up the wave change from moment to moment, the energy has a momentum that keeps it moving in a direction until eventually it runs out of steam, or hits something and is dispersed. But while it is moving, it creates the illusion of being an object.

The only real difference is we have gained self-awareness, even if we often mistake what it is we are aware of – falling for the illusion of permanence.
.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Beginnings

My mother’s looking after the kids on Saturday evening,” she said, casually dropping it into the conversation, as though her mother would quite often have the children to stay over for no particular reason.

Perhaps I’ll pop round, if I’m not doing anything else,” he said, trying to appear nonchalant while his mind raced on how he might get out of his sister’s birthday celebrations.

21 years later and Maggie and I recall how this embarrassing exchange led to the start of our relationship.

Happy anniversary, my love x

Friday, November 11, 2011

Animation...

I came across a site the other day called "GoAnimate". It allows you to create your own animated sketches by using cartoon characters and converting the text into speech.

At the freebie entry level, you are allowed to create one character of your own from scratch, use a limited selection of backgrounds, and a handful of existing characters. And the time limit for your animation is 2 minutes. If you are prepared to fork out money, you can create more characters, select from a wider array of backgrounds and develop much longer movies.

So here's a sketch I put together using my free character, a basic background and it comes in at just under 2 minutes long.

You'll have guessed I haven't paid for the Pro account yet...

The voices sound a bit stilted - a touch Stephen Hawking - but considering I was able to put this together in a short amount of time on a budget of zero, I'm really quite impressed with the system.

Territorial Markings by kimayres on GoAnimate



If for some reason you can't see the video, then click on the link and hopefully it should take you directly to the site
http://goanimate.com/movie/0q3gvQh1JUTA?utm_source=linkshare&uid=0vdhAzJYc_tY

Monday, November 07, 2011

Finding Albert at The Mill Sessions

Finding Albert are a rather talented, up and coming band who played at The Mill Sessions last week.

As in previous performances this year (see The Mill Sessions label), I set about photographing the band before the gig started.

Up until now, I’d been photographing people singly, or in pairs, so with Finding Albert being a 4-piece band, it took a bit of shuffling about to fit them all into the shot. There’s also the problem that the more people in a photo, the more chance one of them will be blinking, looking in the wrong direction or getting lost in a shadow cast by one of the others. It took a bit of time, but I got there in the end.


Finding Albert: left to right -
Chris (drums), Rob (vocals and keyboard), Neil (bass), Michael (guitar)


An additional difficulty, however, lay in the fact the summer has now long since passed and it was dark, so there wasn’t the option of photographing outside. And the empty space I’d used in the first 3 Mill Sessions earlier in the year wasn’t empty.

My solution was to bring along a light, a reflector and an extension lead and use the stairwell.



The gig itself was superb. With room only available for 50 to 60 people max, the venue allows a real sense of intimacy. It feels like barely a step up from having a band perform in your living room. Stripped back from their usual big amps, the drummer even used a cajón, as a full drum kit would have over-powered everything else in this smaller space.

As well as the obvious advantage for the audience, for the performers it also feels like playing to a group of friends, creating a mood that is both intimate and relaxed.

Sitting at the front with my camera on my knee, I put on the wide-angle lens so as to fit everyone in at such a close distance. There’s no fancy camera work, but the videos below should give you a flavour of the evening.


Back to Rome


My Friend Jack

For more about Finding Albert, visit their website here:
http://www.findingalbert.com/

or their Facebook page here:
http://www.facebook.com/findingalbert





Thursday, November 03, 2011

Suprisingly gentle

On a cold, wet and windy autumn day, the clouds briefly part.

Momentarily, a ball of fire a million times larger than the earth and 93 million miles away, gently caresses my skin and brings a smile to my face.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Pumpkin Carving

For many years, creating a vegetable-based lantern at Halloween meant hours of hard graft with a knife and a turnip. Designs were pretty basic because carving a turnip is only moderately less difficult than carving a lump of granite with a plastic umbrella.

However, a few years ago I progressed to the North American imported idea of pumpkins and have never looked back.

Maggie might complain that Halloween isn't the same without the smell of burnt neeps, but as far as I'm concerned, it's a small price to pay to avoid a sprained wrist.

Last year my son, Rogan, decided he fancied a go, and I was rather impressed with his first attempt (see Halloween Pumpkins), which was considerably more creative than my early constructions.

This year we took advantage of the local supermarket's "2 for £3" offer once again and both spent a few hours cutting, scooping and sculpting this most versatile of vegetables.

Modesty aside, I think we've both created our best ones to date


Rogan's pumpkin with the lights on


Rogan's pumpkin with the lights off


Kim's pumpkin with the lights on


Kim's pumpkin with the lights off

Saturday, October 29, 2011

All the leaves are brown… not!

I caught “California Dreaming” by The Mamas & The Papas on the radio the other day, the opening lines of which are:

All the leaves are brown
And the skies are grey


and I was immediately struck by the fact none of the trees around here had any brown leaves on them.

This is not because autumn hasn’t arrived – on the contrary, even putting aside it felt like summer finished sometime around June, winter is now very definitely just around the corner.

No, it’s because the leaves haven’t had the chance to turn brown before they’ve been blown off the trees.

All the leaves are yellowish green
And then gone


would be far more accurate, although admittedly it doesn’t rhyme or scan anything like as well.

But there’s no doubt, as I look out the window at the grey skies, strong winds and horizontal rain, California has a distinct appeal

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

45 Today

Today I finally reach 45 years old – middle aged if I live to 90…

It’s been suggested I’ve always been 45. Even when I was 6 I would sit in with the adults and voice my opinions about the world or the topic under discussion. And I was always much happier with kids being in the role of dad or granddad rather than classmate.

45 is a good age.

I have a wife I’m madly in love with

I have children I adore

I can’t think of a better job than taking photos of people

I live in a beautiful part of the country

The CFS is on the decline (more about that in posts to come).

None of these things has come about without a huge amount of work, time, dedication and luck, but I appreciate every last bit of it.

Right now, I wouldn’t want to be any other age.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Rites of Manhood

Unlike our tribal ancestors, there are very few rites of passage to adulthood for boys in the modern age. Getting drunk with a few pals is hardly up there with killing a wild boar with your bare hands, or being ritually circumcised with a flint knife.

Yet despite the increase in numbers of men reaching the age of 30 but still living with their parents, the primal instincts to break free and demonstrate independence have not yet evolved out of 21st century Western Society males.

Thus it was my 16-year-old son, Rogan, was insistent he construct his new flat-pack Ikea bed and 2 shelving units himself with no help from his father.

We might not have eaten wild boar for dinner, but I still felt a certain pride…

Monday, October 17, 2011

Land of the Chip Shops and Plastic Pointy Teeth

For the past few years, during the October Break, we’ve rented a cottage for a week in Yorkshire. Not only is the countryside beautiful, but it’s a few hours drive closer to my father, so it’s an opportunity for him to see the grandchildren and for us to catch up.

Previously we’ve tended to be based in and around the Yorkshire Dales, but this time we decided to go coastal and stayed in a converted auction house in Whitby.



For many people the only association they have with the town is it features in Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”, and the ruined abbey up on the hill definitely has a suitably atmospheric look to it. Needless to say there’s a certain amount of cashing in on the attendant tourism, and I don’t think I’ve seen so many shops in one town where you can buy Gothic clothing and paraphernalia.

Even more than Victorian corsets and plastic fangs, however, are the plethora of fish and chip shops. I didn’t count them all, but you could happily spend a fortnight tucking into cod and chips every evening without visiting the same place twice. And nearly all of them claim to have won some award or another for being the best in the country.

I have to say, though, I was particularly impressed that a few of them would even supply fish coated in gluten-free batter, if requested. This was particularly useful as Meg was diagnosed with coeliac disease a few weeks back, and it’s not always easy to convince her why she can’t have certain food items any more.

One other thing that struck me about Whitby was the distinct lack of chain stores. Other than a Co-op supermarket, nearly every shop, café and restaurant there was a small independent business. And that is so rare these days.

I’ve pretty much fallen in love with the place and have finally overcome my own prejudice based on the rather misguided reason that I was often irritated by a lad at school whose surname was Whitby.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Photography Fun

During my stint as Artist in Residence for the Wigtown Book Festival, I found myself reflecting on the fact it often feels I’m part photographer, part psychotherapist.

When upward of 90% of people use the opening line, “I hate having my photo taken…” the majority of my time is spent not using the camera, but reassuring, explaining and trying to build a sense of connection and trust with the person in front of me.

So when I encounter a rare individual who is perfectly comfortable in front of the lens right from the start, it’s a pure delight – especially when they are then up for playing.

One such person I discovered during the festival was Peggy.

When I photographed her for the wall of The Hut I was immediately struck by her appearance. With short dark hair, and large rimmed glasses she had an almost iconic look, and when I converted the image to black and white, I was reminded of a kind of 1950s Beatnik style.



Of course one of the things about having such a striking outward style, is people will fix on it as the key identifying trait. So if Peggy was to remove her glasses and change her hairstyle, the chances are she could walk right past most people who know her and they wouldn’t even realise it was her.

With my love of faces, I found myself wanting to photograph her without her glasses. She was up for the idea, but we didn’t then get the chance until the very last evening of the Festival. By then it was dark and the only available light was on the stairs, and that wasn’t particularly great. However, black and white gives more options under these circumstances, so I felt it was still worth going for.

What’s great about Peggy from my point of view is she instantly understood photography is all about storytelling. So no need to be shy in front of the camera – rather it was a chance to play. She fished out some bright red lipstick and between us we came up with the idea of having it smeared, but with an unapologetic, even aggressive expression.

Within a few short minutes we’d created another almost iconic image.



Such fun!

Peggy is also the Programme Director of the West Port Book Festival in Edinburgh, which this year is happening from the 13th to 16th of October.

Visit www.westportbookfestival.org for more information, and if you go along and bump into Peggy, do say hello to her from me.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

It's over... or maybe it's just begun...

As I stapled the last of the photos to the walls of The Hut at 1 o’clock in the morning, a few hours after the Wigtown Book Festival had officially closed, I realised no one was going to see all the images on the walls for another 8 months.

Normally you finish putting up an exhibition, and then people view it, but because this was an ongoing installation, visitors only saw it in progress.

The room I was given as a studio space in The Hut, while I was Artist-in-Residence, will now return to use as a place to catalogue the books destined for the shelves of ReadingLasses café and bookshop, until the first weekend in June 2012. It will then be opened up again to the public for the extended bank holiday weekend as part of the Spring Fling Open Studio Event.

It’s difficult to believe it was only 10 days. Thinking back to at time before the festival, it feels more like a couple of months have passed rather than less than 2 weeks.

There have been disappointments and delights, new friends made, opinions revised, lessons learned, skills enhanced, and seeds for potential futures have been sown.

I started off with naïve enthusiasm, fell into despair, adjusted my expectations and grew in confidence.

There’s a saying I love, which goes, “experience is something you gain immediately after you needed it the most”, and the experience of being artist-in-residence has felt a lot like that. At the beginning I didn’t really know what to expect or what was expected of me. I made my best guesses, but it’s only when things go wrong, and you have to revise your ideas and expectations that you really learn.

As the Festival drew to a close, I knew how I should have handled it from the start. I could see clearly when I should have acted differently, when I should have been bolder, and when I should have been more subtle.

So now it’s about finding a way to allow all the experiences and lessons to settle in and let them become part of the fabric of who I am and who I will become.

And trying to catch up on some sleep…


To view the full set of 174 portraits taken over the 10 days of the Wigtown Book Festival, visit my Facebook or Flickr albums:

Facebook
http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.292506957430682.93692.114749591873087&type=1

Flickr
http://www.flickr.com/photos/kimayres/sets/72157627752630956/




Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Halfway Through...

I've reached the halfway point in the Residency at the Wigtown Book Festival.

Do pop across to the blog I put together especially for the event and follow my progress.

"Artist in Residence" - http://kimayreswigtown.blogspot.com/

And tell your friends

Friday, September 23, 2011

Wigtown Book Festival Blog

For the next 10 days - 23rd Sept to 2nd Oct - I will be in Wigtown as Artist in Residence at the Book Festival.

I've created a separate blog specifically for the event, which will be updated most days.

The intention is it will track my progress from a workspace of empty walls to hopefully a room full of faces.

And from a nervous photographer wondering what the hell he's let himself in for to a confident artist able to hold his own in among the big boys.

Please visit "Artist in Residence" - http://kimayreswigtown.blogspot.com/ - and "Follow", "Share" and leave comments.

See you over there!
.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Facing The Weekend – The Book

Back at the end of May this year, I was involved in the Open Studio event, “Spring Fling”, where for 3 days I opened my doors to the public and took photos of anyone who wanted to join in the fun (see – Facing The Weekend).

I knew from the start I wanted to make a book out of the event, but rather a lot of life has been getting in the way this past summer. However, it is finally complete and available to be viewed and purchased on Blurb.com in Softcover and Hardcover formats.

Below is a promo video I’ve created for it – the soundtrack coming from the superb Sean Taylor, who some of you might remember I photographed for The Mill Sessions back at the beginning of the year (see – Sean Taylor and the Mill Sessions)

Underneath that is the Blurb widget, which allows you to look at the pages online to decide whether you it’s something you might like for your coffee table.





For those viewing this in their RSS feed, or n Facebook, there’s a chance neither the video nor the Blurb widget will appear, in which case, please follow these links:

YouTube Video:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2vq6AR9PR-A
Facing The Weekend on Blurb.com:
http://www.blurb.com/bookstore/detail/2488930

And for those who like the sound of Sean Taylor’s music, visit his website at:
www.seantaylorsongs.com

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

16th Wedding Anniversary

Over the past few years on the 21st of September, I’ve been noting the traditional symbol that accompanies the number of years of our wedding anniversary – Tin for 10, Steel for 11 etc.

Last year – 15 years – was Crystal.

However, there doesn’t appear to be anything for 16 years. It seems from now on it goes up in periods of 5 years – with the 20th being China and the 25th being Silver.

Well, it couldn’t be left entirely at nothing, so I took Maggie out for a meal to Luigi’s tonight to celebrate.

I now hereby designate 16 years together as being the Pizza Anniversary!

I wonder if it will catch on.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Who's in Charge?

I had another one of those little revelations the other day – the kind that in some ways I already knew, but hadn’t looked at it from quite that angle before, and suddenly the world shifted and this little bit made more sense.

Of course the rest of humanity might well be enlightened in this matter already and be surprised I wasn’t aware of something so obvious. But it makes no difference whether I am one step ahead or 40 steps behind. What is important is how it allows me to contextualise my thoughts and feelings.

It’s about the hierarchy we assign to the body and mind.

For many thousands of years there has been the idea of a separation between mind and body. There are our thoughts, memories and ability to rationalise – which has a sort of ethereal, non-physical form - and then there is the body with its physical nature, which responds to the commands our mind gives it.

So strong is the idea of this separation between mind and body, that it is the cornerstone of many religious ideas. We can easily imagine our bodies changing and dying, but not our thoughts, which feel like our essential selves. And if this is the case, what happens when our body does die? Well then, surely our consciousness and personality must move on to some other realm.

This was thrown into some confusion, however, when Freud and others started on about there being influences on, and aspects to, our personalities that were bubbling beneath the conscious arena – a sub-conscious, full of desires and agendas our conscious mind is unaware of. In which case, our mind is not necessarily the all-powerful ruler we think it is – there are powers behind the throne.

But while this is all very well to debate over coffee or beer, on a day to day basis, we still tend to think of our thoughts as being our own – that we are our thoughts, memories and ideas. If I want to make a cup of tea, or put my shirt on backwards, then I just command my body to do so.

What doesn’t tend to occur to us is why we might want to make a cup of tea, or put our shirt on backwards.

We know that if we have bodily urges, such as wanting to eat or drink or go to the toilet, then we ignore them at our peril. We might be able to stave them off for a while, but these needs will make themselves felt more and more strongly until we reach a point where we can no longer deny them. They will obsess our every thought until we sate them.

And there are older, primal, pre-self-conscious parts of our brains where instincts and strong emotions reside. These can save our lives in extreme situations, but they feel like they get in the way when we are trying to be rational about things.

Very often our conscious thoughts follow after something triggered by another aspect of our selves. We feel hungry so then we start thinking about what we want to eat. We feel angry and then look for something, or someone, to be angry at. We want to be loved, and then we do or say things to attract approval from others.

So while we might think that who we are is primarily our conscious mind, and our body is just there for us to command, the reality is our conscious mind is only one part of the much larger whole. A useful part, no doubt, but by no means the ruling authority. Our bodily functions, instincts, primal emotions and subconscious desires are all equally a powerful part of who we are and driving our thoughts and behaviours.



What this understanding allows me to do now, is put my thoughts and moods in a wider context – to start listening to my body, emotions and subconscious to see what they are saying, rather than either blindly ignoring or over-ruling them.

If we can understand that each part of who we are needs to be heard, acknowledged and dealt with, then it's highly likely we will suffer from a great deal less internal conflicts, guilt and exhausting emotional overloads.
.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Hut


With the Wigtown Book Festival beginning next Friday, preparations have been occupying most of my waking thoughts this past week.

As Artist in Residence (see earlier post), I’ve been given a studio space to be open to the public at least a couple of hours each day and to create the artwork in. The space I’ve been provided is in “The Hut”, which is behind ReadingLasses café and bookshop.

Despite my initial thoughts that it might be something akin to a garden shed, “The Hut” is actually a large wooden building divided into several sections and is mostly used for storing large numbers of books that haven’t yet made it out onto the shelves of ReadingLasses.

In the centre of “The Hut” is a room… of sorts.

It has wooden joists rising up to create a frame about 3 feet in from the walls, which has been covered with a muslin kind of material. It’s all rather odd and unlike anything I’ve seen before. It's not unlike being in a tent inside a building.





Novelty is one thing, but the muslin walls are a major problem.

My concept is to take lots of photos over the 10 days of the Festival, of residents, authors and visitors staring into the lens of my camera. And each day I plan on printing out the photos and pinning them to the walls. The idea is that the people in Wigtown during the event become artwork. And as the walls will fill up with all these faces and it will become something of an immersive environment.

But trying to pin photos to muslin walls would be a bit too tricky.

However Anne Barclay, the Festival Manager, is a fast thinking problem solver, and they are going to fix white boards to the joists, giving me a more stable wall to pin the photos to. They will also clear the space around the windows so I should have a bit of natural light.

This should be happening over the weekend so I’ll be popping back out there early in the week to see what it looks like.
.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Equipping for the Future

My past self was over-protective of me, and I've been restricted because of it.

So I've decided to equip my future self so he can go off into the world and have a lot more fun.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Wedding Photography

When Danny told me he was getting married, I congratulated him with a warm smile.

When Danny asked me if I’d be available to take a few photos, the smile froze on my face.

While there are plenty of photographers who advertise themselves as Wedding and Portrait Photographers, the reality is Weddings and Portraits – or at least the kinds of portraits I like to do – are entirely different beasts.

Good Wedding Photographers are worth their weight in gold - five, ten, twenty years on and the photos are the gateway to the memories of one of the most special days of a couple’s life. And yet, while the happy couple may be prepared to spend thousands, or even tens of thousands on their wedding, too often they will skimp on the photographer – looking for the cheapest option - only to regret it for many years to come.

But then there are a lot of Wedding Photographers out there who are little more than a bloke with a big camera. They might have the equipment, but they have precious little in the way of an artistic eye and produce nothing more than snaps. Unfortunately the same can be said of a lot of Portrait Photographers too.

A really good Wedding Photographer might cost you a 4-figure sum, but they are worth every penny. It’s not just the understanding of how to frame a shot to make it look spectacular, it’s also about the endless hours spent afterwards in post-production, removing the lipstick from the teeth of the woman with the large smile.

And of course the responsibility is huge. If I do a studio shoot and my camera or computer decide to wipe all the images without my consent, then I can always apologise, call the client back on another day and give them a discount for the inconvenience. But you can’t re-shoot a wedding with all the guests who travelled long distances to be there.

The kind of Portrait photography I like to do is all about the connection between the sitter, the camera and me. It’s why observational photography – wildlife, sports, documentary, architectural etc, has never really appealed to me: I don’t just want to look at something and record it; I want it to interact with me.

Wedding photography, then, is about documenting, crowd control, long hours and heavy responsibility, with no time to really get to know the people you are photographing.

Not really my cup of tea.

However, I’ve known Danny for several years and it turned out he already had a photographer lined up for the main part of the wedding. He didn’t need me to do the whole thing, just a few shots of the happy couple before they headed off to the wedding, and some informal shots at the reception early in the evening.

Breathing a sigh of relief, I agreed because, well, it was for Danny.

But if anyone else comes asking, I’ll be charging a 5-figure sum and reserve the right to disappear for a couple of hours for an afternoon nap...


Congratulations to Katie and Danny

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Unlimited Choice is a Good Thing, right?

Waking up in an anxious sweat this morning, my heart thumping around 100 beats per minute, I realised I was fretting about a lens for my camera I’m planning on buying.

It’s not a cheap lens, and I may well have to mortgage one of the children to acquire it, but it should fulfil a function more efficiently and to a higher standard than one I’m currently using.

So of course there is pressure – mostly self-inflicted – about whether I can justify the outlay. But even once I’ve decided buy it, further choices make themselves felt.

To begin with, there’s another lens in a similar price bracket, which has greater functionality in one area, but lacks in another – which would be the better one to go for? What if I choose the wrong one?

And then, where am I going to buy it from? This site sells it for less than that one, but I’ve never heard of them so cannot be sure they are reliable.

And so it goes on – one choice after another, each one inducing further anxiety about taking the wrong option for one reason or another.

In a rather timely manner, I was scrolling through Facebook and found everyone’s favourite Kitchen Bitch, Eryl, had posted a link to a fascinating 10-minute video about how unlimited choice paralyses us.

Far from making us the masters of our own destiny, it is in fact a superb way to control the masses and keep them from trying to enact social change, while making them believe they are in charge.

Another aspect Eryl drew my attention to, that had never crossed my mind before, is how Choice always involves Loss, and this too is a huge contributor to the anxiety it can create.

If you can spare 10 minutes of your life, I guarantee you will find this interesting, educational or enlightening.



If the above video is not visible, then follow this link:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1bqMY82xzWo

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Postcard From Skye



Hi Mark and Val,

We're having a lovely time on The Isle of Skye.

On the front of the card you'll see a photo of a "piper", which is a particular pest on Skye and other Highland & Island locations. I don't know if you had many problems with them during your stay on Lewis.

I think the locals have developed a sort of immunity as they do seem particularly attracted to holidaymakers and are found more frequently at tourist destinations.

We've tried lavender oil and smearing ourselves with lard, but it seems creams and sprays make no difference.

I heard the father of one bleary-eyed family complaining in the Tourist Information Centre about lack of sleep caused by them, but he didn't get much sympathy. It seems it's just accepted as a natural hazard of holidaying in Scotland during the Summer months, New Year and late January.

If you find any solutions on Google, please text me ASAP!

Wishing you all the best,

Kim, Maggie, Rogan & Meg x

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Wigtown Book Festival - Artist in Residence

With over 150 events across 10 days, Wigtown Book Festival is one of the largest art events in Scotland, even though it is located in a remote town near the Southern tip of Scotland.

Over the past couple of years, they have teamed up with the organisers of the open studio event, Spring Fling, to install an Artist-in-Residence for the duration of the Festival.

And this year they have chosen me!

So from September 23rd to October 2nd, I will be taking photos of residents, visitors and attending authors – in fact anyone who will allow me to point my camera at them.

I’ve been given a space in "The Hut" behind ReadingLasses café and bookshop, where I will be printing out the photos and pinning them to the walls. As the festival progresses, so the room should fill up with faces.

Unlike my participation in Spring Fling back in May, I won’t be confining myself to a studio space to take the photos, but will also be out and about on the street and venues, photographing whoever I can, and hopefully engaging in conversation with people about what I’m up to, and what books they are reading. Indeed, my hope is to be able to scribble on the photo of most faces going up on the wall, "Currently reading…" or "Favourite genre..." My guess is there will be very few people who will conform to stereotype.

It’s going to take a fair amount of planning to ensure I can fit in taking photos, editing, printing and pinning them to the wall, as well as attending events, having The Hut open for a couple of hours each day, and finding time for an afternoon nap...

It’s also going to be something of a psychological trial, as I will have to overcome a natural reluctance to go up to complete strangers and ask if they mind having their photo taken.

Scary?

Of course.

Challenging?

Without doubt.

Exciting?

Absolutely.

For a copy of the Wigtown Book Festival brochure, which includes a list of all the events, the times and the venues, either click on the following link or right-click and select “Save link as…” to download it to your own computer:
http://www.wigtownbookfestival.com/pdfs/WigtownBookFestival2011.pdf

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Now We Are 6

When I was One,
I had just begun.
When I was Two,
I was nearly new.
When I was Three
I was hardly me.
When I was Four,
I was not much more.
When I was Five,
I was just alive.
But now I am Six,
I'm as clever as clever,
So I think I'll be six now for ever and ever.

- A.A. Milne

It's just about the 6th anniversary since I began blogging. Back then, I was still in my 30s, I didn't have CFS/ME, and my intention was to become a writer (photography was still just a hobby).

But it's not only my world which was so very different. Way back in the dim and distant past of August 2005...

YouTube had only started up 6 months earlier

Facebook was only accessible if you had a university email address.

6 megapixels was considered quite a large sensor for a digital camera.

High Definition TV wasn't about in a commercial format, and Blue Ray was only a prototype in Japan.

There had only been 2 "Saw" movies, 4 Harry Potter films, and James Bond fans were horrified that a blonde actor (Daniel Craig) had been given the role of 007.

Not only did the iPad not exist, but neither did the iPhone

There were approximately half a billion fewer people on the planet.

In the intervening time, I have written over 700 blog posts and received in excess of 150,000 visits to this site.

And I'm regularly visted by some of the nicest, warmest, most wonderful people on the Internet (yes, that means you - take a compliment when you're given one)

Monday, August 08, 2011

Cover Art - Prole Issue 5

Some of you may remember towards the end of last year, the poetry and prose magazine, Prole, used one of my images for their cover of Issue 3 (and if you don't then click here for the post - "Cover Art")

Well, they've done it again, and chosen another of my photos for Issue 5. This time they've gone for one of my more iconic images, that of my friend and poet, David Mark Williams.



If you fancy submitting your own writings for consideration in the magazine, then you'll find their submissions page here - http://www.prolebooks.co.uk/page3.html

Friday, August 05, 2011

Loss of a friend

I’d been self-employed for only a few months, but it was becoming clear my business strategy was flawed and things were not going to plan. At the same time, we’d had to deal with my baby daughter having open-heart surgery and the emotional strain on the whole family had been huge.

Against this backdrop I saw an advert for an “Intro to Science” evening class, which sounded interesting and I thought would give me something entirely different to occupy my thoughts for at least a couple of hours each week.

It had been organised by Des Gallagher, the local council’s Adult Education officer, who was also attending the course himself. A highly intelligent, strongly principled man, Des was from a Scottish working-class background, which fed into a passionate drive for education for all - especially those who’d been let down by the system.

Inspired by the course, I began toying with the idea of running an “Introduction to Philosophy” evening class, and with Des’s support and encouragement I was able to develop and run it. It went down so well I was asked to create an “Introduction to Moral Philosophy” evening class to follow it up with.

Emboldened by the success of the courses and increasingly influenced by Des’s passion for community education, in the following months I conceived of an idea for creating a voluntary organisation whose aim would be to help community groups to build and develop their own websites.

I approached Des for guidance. With his network of contacts within the community of Clackmannanshire, along with his support and ideas, his role was critical in helping to establish the creation of ClacksNet. Over several years, it helped many local community groups bridge the digital divide and use the Internet for the benefit of hundreds, if not thousands, of local people.

What was clear throughout this time was the personal integrity and commitment of Des to his belief in helping the disadvantaged in our community. He saw how education and technology could help adults to advance themselves and the people around them. My respect for his vision and for him as a man steadily grew.

As our professional relationship developed, so did our personal one. Our family circumstances were not dissimilar in that he was the father of five children and I was the father of two, plus the stepfather of three more from my wife’s previous marriage, who were living with us at the time.

In any household that contains a range of children from infants to teenagers, there are times when parenting is not easy. We do our best, and make decisions that we believe to be right for the development and protection of all our children. To be able to talk to someone who understood the difficulties and particular nuances of parenting a larger family was a useful thing for both of us.

For many years Des was one of my closest friends.

We didn’t see so much of each other once I moved away, but when he finally discovered Facebook we hooked up again, and recently I was delighted to see the photos posted of him in the role of immensely proud father at his daughter’s wedding.

So when his brother, Tom, phoned yesterday to tell me Des had unexpectedly passed away, all I could feel was an intense sense of loss and a terrible sadness for his loved ones.

He was a good man, and the world is emptier without him.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Waiting for the results...

“When can we get him up?”

“He said not before 10am.”

The large Scottish Qualifications Association envelope sits on the kitchen table, unopened. I glance at the clock for the 3rd time in 5 minutes. It’s only quarter past nine.

“We could steam it open…”

45 minutes later I bang on his bedroom door. “Rogan, there’s a large SQA envelope waiting on the table for you!”

“nnnngggghhhh…”

“Rogan, are you getting up?”

“nnnNNNgggghhhh… soooonnnnnn…”

10 minutes later he comes down the stairs and disappears into the bathroom. Maggie is washing the dishes so hard the patterns are coming off.

Eventually he enters the kitchen and lifts up the envelope.

After fiddling with it for a while, he pulls at one corner of the sealed flap. It starts to tear open, then about 2 inches along the length it breaks off.

Maggie turns back to the dishes, scrubbing so hard they are becoming transparent.

Rogan hooks his thumbnail under the edge of the remaining flap and starts to tear. Another inch and it breaks off again.

“For goodness sake. Do you want a knife to open it with?”

“No, I’m fine.”

He tears a bit more. It takes 6 attempts before he’s opened the envelope.

Oh god, he’s now reading the covering letter.

I glance at Maggie. I’m sure I can actually see her heart pounding.

Finally Rogan slides the top sheet away and looks at his results.

“Aw no, I got a B for English.”

B? B is fine. B is good. What about the others?

Everything else, top marks (As or 1s depending on the exam type).

Proud parents.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Building and Burning The Wickerman 2011

The Wickerman Festival is not on the same scale as the T in the Park music festival Rogan and Holly attended back in June; nor does it attract the same high-level bands. Whereas this year's T in the Park had headliners like U2 and Coldplay, The Wickerman had James and Feeder.

Basically, if you’re playing at the Wickerman, you’re either moving up from small, local band status, or you might have had a few chart hits several years (or decades) ago, but your fan base primarily comes from people who remember you from their youth.

However, it does have 2 distinct advantages over other, larger music festivals. The first is it’s less than 15 miles away, and the second is it has a giant willow sculpture that goes up in flames at midnight on the Saturday.

And it is damned impressive both before and after it does.

Because I know Trevor Leat, one of the sculptors of The Wickerman (built by leatrigg.com), last year I popped out one day during the building of it to take photos (see - Building The Wickerman), then went along to the festival and took photos of it burning down (see - Burning The Wickerman).

This year we planned it a bit more and I went out on site half a dozen times so I could create a sequence of photos showing it being built at several different stages.

The steel frame was still in place from last year’s sculpture, but they repositioned the arms, removed the bow and this year added antlers to create a stag-headed man design.

Below are a few taster photos of the complete sequence, which can be found by following the links at the end of this post to my Facebook or Flickr albums.

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



Starting at the bottom of last year's frame and working upwards


The arms are repositioned


The scaffolding gets higher


The brave photographer scales the scaffolding to see the head being built.


Admiring festival goers give the completed sculpture a sense of scale


One food stall taking full advantage of bonus publicity...


Going up in flames


Because of the direction of the wind, one arm and one antler remain long after the rest has burned away


Links:

The full set of images on Facebook
The full set of images on Flickr

Trevor Leat's website
Alex Rigg's website
Leat-Rigg website

Friday, July 29, 2011

Appearances

“Oh, I know who you mean,” said Maggie. “He works in the Co-op. Lovely man. Always so friendly and helpful.”

Richard is tall, covered in tattoos and has a spiked up Mohawk. At first sight you might assume he was likely to knife you if you looked at him.

And yet, everyone you talk to who knows him comments on what a lovely guy he is.

In a recent debate with the management at the Co-op store where he works, about whether his Mohawk should be flattened, such was the outcry from local residents (including many of the grannies the management feared might be intimidated by his appearance), they backed down and his spikes were allowed to remain.

I first saw Richard at the Midsummer Music Festival a few weeks ago as the new drummer for the band The Geese, and immediately started thinking he might be interesting to photograph. When a chance encounter presented itself a couple of weeks later, I asked him if he’d be up for it. The upshot of that is I now have a couple of new photos, which are among my all time favourites.

So I thought I should put them up online.

As usual, click on the for larger versions



Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Dumfries Odeon Cinema Sucks

I first visited Dumfries Odeon Cinema nearly 25 years ago, and it felt tatty, run-down and in desperate need of refurbishment or, preferably, demolishing and a better one built.

25 years on, and it still hasn’t been refurbished or replaced.

The seats are grotty, small and uncomfortable; the sound quality is frequently poor; and, in the case of the last in the series of Harry Potter films I went to see with my son last night, the picture was out of focus on the top half of the screen. And I’m not even going to mention the archaic toilets… *shudder*

The film itself was fine – if you’ve enjoyed the other Harry Potter movies, there’s no reason you wouldn’t enjoy this one – but the viewing experience was lousy. And watching it in 3D didn’t make it any less out of focus on the top half of the screen.

Each time I go to the Dumfries Odeon I swear I’ll never go back, but time passes and eventually I figure it can’t quite be as bad as I remember it, or feel that any right-thinking business must have made improvements by now. But I’m always disappointed.

Before we moved to this area, 6 years ago, we lived up in the Central Belt of Scotland. The nearest cinema was the Allan Park in Stirling, but that wasn’t much of an improvement on Dumfries, so we used to regularly go down to Cineworld in Falkirk – a 12 screen multiplex with large, comfy seats, huge screens, great sound and toilets where you didn’t feel you needed to be scrubbed clean with a wire brush after using them. We used to go there at least 2 or 3 times a month.

Dumfries Odeon gets visited no more than once a year.

Unfortunately there isn’t a great deal of choice. There is the Robert Burns Theatre, which has a small screen, cramped seats and doesn’t sell popcorn. Or you have to go further afield to Annan, which from Castle Douglas is over 30 miles away and still isn’t that wonderful.

Basically, there isn’t a really good cinema less than 1½ to 2 hours drive away. So these days we mostly wait until the DVD has come out before we see any new-ish films.

Pity the DVD and video rental shop in Castle Douglas closed down over a year ago...

Monday, July 18, 2011

Qiku at the Mill Sessions

Regular followers of this blog will know I’ve been involved in photographing performers each month for “The Mill Sessions” – a mostly acoustic venue at The Mill on the Fleet, in Gatehouse – a town about 15 miles from here (see Mill Sessions Posts).

Last week's headline performers were Qiku (pronounced kee-koo). Usually based in London, these sisters are in fact half Scottish and half Japanese. They were warm, friendly and a delight to photograph.

The rain was threatening, but fortunately held off just long enough for me to get the shots.

As usual, feel free to click on any of the photos for larger version


Clare


Rosa


Qiku

They were previously part of a 5 piece band, but are now performing as just the 2 of them, which means there's virtually nothing online about them yet.

So I recorded a couple of their tracks using the video function on my camera. Almost all of their songs are in English, although the 2nd video here has the one song they sang in Japanese.

When they make it big, you can say you saw them here first.





For more about Qiku, visit their website here:
http://qiku.eu/
or find them on Facebook here:
http://www.facebook.com/qikumusic

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Déjà vu

"Stop fussing, we’ll pay you back. Now type your credit card details in there!"

Less than 24 hours after the T in the Park music festival finished, I received an email telling me that as a loyal customer, I was being offered a 48 hour slot to buy tickets for next year in advance of them being available to the general public.

"Click there! No!!! Not there! THERE!!! 2 tickets! Now, go to the checkout! NO!!! Click THERE!!!"

With processing fees, handling and postage, even at last year's prices my credit card is now £415 heavier.

At least Rogan's enthusiastic once more about his Home Baking business so it shouldn't be too long before he's paid me back this time

So yes, T in the Park seems to have been a huge success and my son is keen to go again next year

"Best weekend of my life!" said Rogan.

Hold on, I've spent 16 years raising you, teaching you, taking you places, showing you how to interact with the world, and your best ever weekend of your life was spent knee deep in mud, really loud music in your ears, eating poor quality very expensive junk food and sleeping in a tent that wasn't able to keep the rain out? And more importantly, without me?

"But I couldn't have gone without your help." Warm smile. "Thanks Dad!"

Sometimes I think I've taught him too well

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Trying to avoid being the biggest bastard parent of all time

“£200 EACH??? You’ve got to be kidding me!”

“Stop fussing, we’ll pay you back. Now type your credit card details in there!”

About 12 months ago I was forced to sit at the computer with my credit card at the ready for 9am on the day of the ticket release, with the 2 of them breathing down my neck. “Click there! No!!! Not there! THERE!!! 2 tickets! Now, go to the checkout! NO!!! Click THERE!!!”

And so it is, a year later, my 16-year-old son, Rogan, is off to Scotland’s biggest music festival, T in the Park, today with his big sister, Holly. The festival is so popular, the tickets are released for the following festival barely a few days after the weekend is over, and are sold out within a matter of hours.

Holly paid me back within a couple of weeks, and Rogan immediately paid me about half from the last of his savings. After several months had passed, however, he didn’t look like he was going to come up with the rest of the money. Each time I mentioned it he’d give me a scornful “I know!” in that voice familiar to parents of teenagers the world over.

“I’m warning you, if you don’t pay me back, I’m selling your ticket on ebay the week before and doubling my money!” But he’d already left the room. Clearly he wasn’t taking me seriously.

To be honest, I was starting to get a little irritated, in that way familiar to parents of teenagers the world over. For some reason no one could fathom and Rogan couldn’t give a good reason for, he’d given up his cakes business, but hadn’t replaced it with any other form of money making process. He’d made vague noises about getting a paper round, although considering this would have meant getting up early and working many hours for peanuts, he didn’t put a huge amount of effort into tracking one down.

With a sinking heart I realised my son assumed I’d let him go anyway, regardless of whether he paid me back. And if that was the case, then where was the incentive to work to pay off the ticket?

I was going to have to convince him I wasn’t bluffing. Hell, I was going to have to convince myself I wasn’t bluffing – could I really face being the biggest bastard parent of all time who wouldn’t let him go when he’d been anticipating it all year? It’s one thing to know you have to be consistent with your children, but no parent wants to be despised by his child.

So over a series of talks earlier this year I managed to get him to see that if I let him off, then I would be teaching him all the wrong lessons in life. He had to learn that he couldn’t assume other people would just bail him out if he made no effort. And that lesson was so important, that I was prepared to be the biggest bastard parent of all time, however much I didn’t want to be.

Fortunately something clicked and that weekend he went up and down the high street of Castle Douglas, calling into shops asking if they needed anyone for a Saturday job. He met with no success. Eventually, however, it seemed to dawn on him that he had a track record of creating highly profitable home-baking stalls so he arranged to sell scones, cupcakes and tablet at Castle Douglas Food Town Day, The Kirkcudbright Medieval Fayre, and the Galloway Children’s Festival.

He made enough money to pay off his festival ticket, sort out bus and train tickets there and back, buy a sleeping bag and rucksack and still have plenty of spending money.

Apart from being very proud of him, I’m mainly just incredibly relieved that I didn’t have to become the biggest bastard parent of all time.

The two of them spent about 3 hours in the garden the other evening trying to figure out how to get the tent up. It was dry and sunny. The weather forecast for this weekend is for heavy rain and possibly lightening storms.

I expect I’ll be picking up two very wet people from the train station on Monday, full of stories of their adventures.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

External Brain

In many ways I have given up trying to store too much information in my own head, and have started using the world and other people as a kind of external hard-drive.

My personal ability to cope with processing new input has reduced considerably over the past few years with the CFS/ME. It’s not just my body that becomes tired if I start using it excessively; it’s my brain too.

Information Overload has become a real problem. Faced with too many things I have to remember or deal with, my system crashes and I cease to be able to function properly. I become very tired and emotionally fragile.

I’ve even found, when watching a documentary, science or nature programme on TV in the evening, that the more interesting and fascinating I find it, the quicker my eyes get heavy and I start drifting off.

One coping strategy I’ve been developing in more recent times has been making instant decisions on whether a new piece of information is relevant or not. And if it isn’t, quite simply I don’t attempt to store it.

You can chat to me about your new puppy’s toilet habits, your child’s exam results, or even some life-changing event you are about to embark upon, but if I decide in that instant that this is not life-changingly important to me, then I won’t dwell on it or attempt to remember. The chances are you could tell me the same thing next week, word for word, and I won’t realise.

It’s not that I don’t care – I would love to be able to store and recall the conversation for the next time we meet - it’s simply that I’m having to learn to prioritise as a survival method. Otherwise it becomes a bit like that scene in The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, where the computer on the spaceship isn’t taking evasive action to avoid the missiles hurtling towards it, because it’s too busy trying to work out how to synthesize a cup of tea for the Earthman on board.

If I deem it is important, then I will write it down in a notebook I usually have in my jacket pocket. This isn’t a completely reliable method as I frequently forget to look at my notebook - when I get home and step through the front door, I will take off my jacket and hang it up, thereby rendering it and its contents no longer relevant to my thoughts.

It’s not uncommon, while waiting for someone or something, I will root out my notebook and start looking through it. Often I will find things I have no memory of writing whatsoever, or things that are now irrelevant, because the time when I should have dealt with it has long gone – a bit like finding expired money-off coupons at the back of the kitchen drawer.

But I also use other people’s brains for storage and retrieval. When in conversation with someone who asks me if I can do something for them, I tell them they will need to email me to remind me. When I am at the computer, I always check my email, so if a reminder is there on the screen in front of me, I am far more likely to deal with it.

Again, this is not the most reliable of systems. Partly this is because my inbox can fill up quite quickly and stuff not already dealt with gets pushed further down the page and forgotten about. I often need reminding more than once.

However, I’ve also come to realise that I’m not alone with this problem. It seems many people have difficulties remembering to do what they said they would - including those who promised to email me.

Businesses are developing technology all the time to make money from our inability to order our memories. These days most people carry a phone on them that is also a notebook, a directory, an appointment diary and an alarm clock. And if they lose their phone, the behave like they have lost half their brain and no longer appear to be able to function clearly.

I’m beginning to think my problem is just a slightly more acute version of something nearly everyone has. The big difference is I’m admitting to it.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Midsummer Music Festival 2011

I was invited along to the Midsummer Music Festival in the nearby town of Gatehouse of Fleet to take photos of the bands performing last weekend.

In the studio, I can interact with the sitter, ask them to move this way or that, adjust the lighting and alter the background. But when it comes to musicians on stage, I have no control over any of these things. They move about, the lighting is often poor and constantly changing, the background usually interferes rather than compliments, and when there are more than one of them on stage, they tend to either spread out – leaving huge uninteresting spaces between them – or obscure each other with bits of instruments or entire bodies.

Performance photography, then, is about as far removed from portraiture as you can get while still pointing the camera at people.

In fact it was at the Midsummer Music Festival this time last year, when at I first tried out photographing musicians on stage and discovered these difficulties. Since then I have photographed The Sex Pistols Experience and Cash From Chaos playing live, but I’m hardly a pro in this department.

Still, I have learned a few tricks over the past year. For example, taking photos from closer to the side of the stage will help bunch up spread out musicians. If you move about a bit and use a zoom lens, sometimes you can isolate the head of a singer against a less busy part of the background. And when the lighting is poor you can compensate by increasing the ISO setting on the camera. Unfortunately, this has a side effect of making the photos “noisy”. However, if you drop them into black and white and play with the contrast levels afterwards, the photos can take on a “grainy” quality, reminiscent of old music-press photos, which add mood and atmosphere.

For me, then, it seemed a reasonable exchange. I get a free pass to the event and the chance to develop my skills in this area, and the organisers get some free photos for publicity if I manage to get anything halfway decent.

I had also been asked if I could supply the local paper with any halfway decent photos for post-publicity purposes, which, if they took, would also get my name spread a little further. And while this seemed like a great idea at the time, it ended up interfering with my photography.*

For the first 2 bands on the Friday night – The Ideal Crash and Sweet Relief - I was thinking about camera angles and shots that might make a reasonable newspaper image – nothing too fancy, just something that reports what’s going on.

It was about half way through the third band – a superb group called The Inflictors – that I stopped thinking about the newspaper and started thinking about what kind of images I would like to see. And then everything changed. I started enjoying myself much more, I tuned into the rhythm and movements of the musicians so I could start to predict where they were going to be by the time I clicked the camera, and the quality of the photos improved.

By the time I was onto the 4th act, John Otway, I was in my element and I shot some of my favourite performance photos to date.

The following night I started warming up with the first guy on, Dave Sutherland; I got into my stride with Quirkus and carried that through with The Geese (now a 5 piece band – they were only a 3 piece outfit when I photographed them for their CD cover last year), again, producing photos I was dead chuffed with. However, by the time King Creosote came on stage, my CFS tapped me on the shoulder to remind me it was there and my energy deserted me. I took a few photos, but my heart was no longer in it and I had to leave before the end to ensure I could make the 15-mile drive home in safety.

Below are a handful of my favourites from the evening, but you can find the full set of 50 or so images on my Facebook or Flickr pages.

As usual, click on any of the images for larger versions.



Cameron of The Inflictors


The Inflictors


John Otway with his 2-headed guitar


John Otway


Nicola of Quirkus


Blue of Quirkus


Michelle and Richard of The Geese

Links of interest:

The complete set on
Flickr
Facebook

The Bands
Friday line up
The Ideal Crash
Sweet Relief
The Inflictors
John Otway

Saturday line up
Dave Sutherland
Quirkus
The Geese
King Creosote


* and it turned out the newspaper weren’t interested in the photos I submitted after all, because they were all black and white and the paper prefers colour images

Thursday, June 16, 2011

He's 16 today!

Many, many years ago, thinking it would be rather cool to create a one-of-a-kind birthday card using Photoshop, I had no idea I was actually setting a precedent.

Now, many, many years later, if I was to give a child of mine a bought card on their birthday, then they would feel slightly less than special.

Among other things, to date, Rogan has appeared with Teletubbies and Bob the Builder, in Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, The Matrix and Pirates of the Caribbean, as well as being portrayed as Wolverine, Dr Who and James Bond.

This year was more of a struggle than usual. I did have an idea for putting him into the movie, Kick Ass, as the lead character had bouncing curly hair, not dissimilar to Rogan's. But then he went and got his hair cut.

After a failed attempt at trying to slot him in with the cast of Friends, last night I had a moment of inspiration and managed to include him in another of his favourite TV series, Family Guy.

Fortunately it was greeted with a smile this morning.



Happy Birthday Rogan!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

How funny?

It's not "offensive" humor that bothers me, it's spite and malevolence that I'm against. Humor is a bit like sex: it's fun when it takes place between two consenting adults but if one party has power over the other, or one party is under the age of consent or simply not capable of consent than the sexual conduct becomes rape. Making fun of someone who has power over you is bold and edgy, but there is nothing courageous, edgy or iconoclastic about mocking someone with less power or authority.
Erika, from The Flight of Our Hummingbird

It's very rare for me to put together a blog post just to suggest to anyone that they should go straight over and read a blog post on another site, but in this case I felt compelled.

Erika writes with extraordinary clarity and precision about why saying, "but it's just a joke" is no excuse for laughing at people less able to defend themselves.

It also reminds me of a superb routine by the comedian, Stewart Lee, about another comedian, Russell Howard (a young, hip, cool comedian in the UK, known for his appearances on a TV show called "Mock The Week"). For more on that, follow this link - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HElBqek9Ybc.

You only need to watch the first 2 minutes 36 seconds to get the point. Stewart Lee is not for everyone. His comedy routines are often deconstructing and undermining comedy routines - not only of other comedians, but of himself, while he's doing it. He makes me laugh hysterically, but I'm aware that most struggle with him, so don't feel obliged to watch any further than 2 minutes 36 seconds.

Meanwhile, if you've ever struggled with why some jokes make you laugh and some just make you feel uncomfortable, then pop over to Erika's for one of the best pieces of writing I've read on the topic

http://ourhummingbird.blogspot.com/2011/06/retard.html