Monday, May 30, 2011

Much to my surprise, I still seem to be alive...

Spring Fling Weekend is over.

When I opened the door on Saturday morning, I had 8 photos on the wall - a few friends who'd been helping me dry-run my process, as well as my son and daughter. For the same reason a busker will put a few coins in his hat or cup before he plays, I wanted a few sample pics on the wall in order to remind the public they could contribute.

By the close of day, 141 people had come through the doors, 70 of them had agreed to be photographed, which meant I had added 54 more photos to the wall (some were photographed in pairs or threes).

On Sunday 115 people visited, 64 of whom had their photo taken, resulting in a further 48 photos being added to the walls

As I closed the door for the last time, on Monday, another 77 people had been in, with 38 having their photo taken and 27 more images put up.

I am now sitting in my studio with faces of every age, size and shape looking at me.

It worked.

And I didn't even have a coffee.

However, it might take me a while to recover and I think I'm going to be feeling a little fragile for several days to come.

Photos and stories will follow over the coming weeks.

Oh, and for those wondering about Rogan's progress - he almost completely sold out of his home baking, meaning he has finally raised enough money to pay off the last installment of his T in the Park ticket

Friday, May 27, 2011

And so it begins...

Tomorrow morning, Spring Fling 2011 Open Studio event begins.

10,000 little things have needed sorting, fixing, abandoning, replacing and inventing new ways of dealing with, in order to have any chance of coping with the hundreds of people expected to come through the doors over the next 3 days.

I've just deleted a 2,000 word rant about Hewlett Packard, because once I read it back I thought it was just too depressing. Let's just say I will never, ever, ever, ever again buy an HP Printer.

So, as well as me doing my photography, Maggie has her studio open over in the neighbouring town of Kirkcudbright.

Tomorrow is also Castle Douglas Food Town Day, and in order to raise money for his ticket to the "T in the Park" festival, Rogan has restarted his home-baking business. Having finished his final Standard Grade exam yesterday lunchtime, he's been non-stop baking since. The house is now overflowing with cupcakes, scones and cookies, none of which are we allowed to touch.

We are all stressed out and exhausted, and the long weekend hasn't even started yet.

Underneath all the fear and anxiety, however, is also excitement. The chance to photograph scores of different faces, meet lots of people and raise the profile of my photography, is a wonderful opportunity. And once the weekend is complete, I'm really looking forward to seeing what my studio will look like with the walls plastered with all these different faces.

If you are in the area on Saturday, Sunday or Monday, then do call in and get your photo taken, or visit Maggie and see some new artworks never before shown, kept back specially for the Spring Fling Weekend. And if you're near Castle Douglas on Saturday morning, then go and get yourself a melt-in-the-mouth home-baking delight from Rogan's stall on the (closed off) main street.

Websites to visit:
Spring Fling -
My site -
Maggie's site -

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Gearing up for Spring Fling

Not been posting much lately as most of my energy has been taken up with preparation for next weekend’s Spring Fling Open Studio Event (I am, of course, assuming that the latest prediction of the Rapture later today - the beginning of the Endtimes for some believers – is wrong. Again).

For 3 days (28th-30th May), along with more than 80 other artists and makers across SW Scotland, I will be opening my doors to visitors.

To make a more interactive event out of it, I will be taking photos of anyone interested, printing them out and pinning them to the wall. As the weekend progresses, the walls of my studio should steadily fill up with images of the visitors.

Given my limited energy levels (see post on CFS), I am trying to create a system to run as smoothly and efficiently as possible – from getting people to sign a model release form (so I can use the images in a book of the event later), through to sitting and posing, taking the photo, printing it, emailing it to anyone who wants a copy and pinning it to the wall. All this needs to be done within a few minutes per person.

If, for example, I take 15 minutes per person, then I can only do a maximum of 4 per hour, even at the busiest times. What I want to do is streamline it so I can get up to 10 per hour. Not every hour of the weekend will be packed, but going from previous experiences of Maggie opening up for Spring Fling, at it’s busiest, you can have up to 40 people or more in an hour poking their heads into the studio, and I want to miss as few people as possible.

My biggest hair-pulling frustration at the moment is the printer. I bought a new one especially for the event. It even has a wi-fi option so I don’t have to connect cables to it. However, for some bizarre reason it won’t print black and white photos using the black ink cartridge only – it insists on using some of the colour inks too (thereby increasing the ink cost). It also only has one photo-printing setting – highest resolution, maximum ink and soooo slow to print an A4 sheet (approx 30cm x 21cm).

Hewlett Packard – you suck!

The style of portrait I’m going to shoot will just be head and shoulders. A light background doesn’t go with the mood I’m want to create with the images, so my original plan was to use a black backdrop. However, given the ink problems in particular, a completely black background would have me changing the cartridges in the printer every 5 photos.

I figured a textured background would be better and could add an extra level of interest, so yesterday Maggie and I went in search of some material. Unfortunately, almost every material available had a regular pattern and I wanted something a bit more random.

Luckily Maggie spotted one my eyes had skimmed right over. The reason I hadn’t registered it was because it was purple – not a colour I would use in a colour portrait. However, as Maggie pointed out, I’m doing black and white portraits, so the colour is irrelevant.

Below is a test shot I took of my son, Rogan, using the set up I plan on using throughout the weekend.

Original with dodgy colour scheme

Cropped and converted to black and white

If you’re in the region next weekend, do come along and get your photo added to the wall.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Prize Giving

May 5th. 6.40pm
We arrive at the school and find seats in the hall. All the seats are hooked together. Designed for smaller, school-children sized buttocks, not buttocks that have succumbed to middle-aged spread.

The ceremony will start at 7pm and will go on until... who knows? If it is run with the (dis)comfort factor of these chairs in mind, it will all be over by 7.15pm

We look through the programme and find our offsprings' names. Rogan is getting a prize for Graphic Communication and Meg is getting the "Grant Lewis" trophy, although we haven't managed to find out what it is being awarded for. Meg says she doesn't know, but she's excited about being awarded it.

They've still not started yet so I pull out my phone to put it on silent mode, but there's no signal anyway. I start deleting old text messages.

My buttocks are getting sore in these chairs. Will it never start? It must be running at least an hour late. I look at my watch.

I've only been sitting here 15 minutes? I don't think my buttocks are going to survive the evening.

Bagpipes start playing. We must be in Scotland. Or America. No, we're in Scotland - there aren't enough dazzlingly bright white teeth.

Talks by the Head Boy & Head Girl, the Headmaster's Address, Musical Interludes, and an Inspirational Talk by a footballer who once scored a goal against Rangers, have now been completed and the actual prize giving begins.

Meg goes up for her Grant Lewis Trophy. We still don't know what it's for.

Perhaps I should consider sponsoring an award trophy at the school. Good advertising. Get the name of my photography business mentioned in front of a captive audience.

Maggie asks what it could be awarded for. After a bit of thought I decide there ought to be an award for the most disruptive pupil who doesn't actually get suspended or expelled. To find, reach, and keep that fine line of causing maximum trouble without getting thrown out would require considerable skill, and ought to be recognised.

Rogan goes up to collect his award. I notice his hair is longer than all other boys here. I'm reminded that mine was when I was his age. Feel an additional pang of pride.

Bagpipes are playing and staff and guests are filing off the stage.

All is not quite over. Prize-receiving pupils are to have their photos taken for the local paper, and parents are to be offered a glass of wine or cup of tea.

I peel my buttocks off the seat and go in search of Mrs Lewis, sponsor of the Grant Lewis Trophy.

Find Mrs Lewis. She was a key support worker helping Meg's transition from primary to high school (as well as other children with additional support needs). She's retiring this year, and her son, Grant, also completes his time at Castle Douglas High School, so she decided to create the Grant Lewis Inclusion Trophy, aimed at highlighting the role of the Support Base for children with additional support needs going through mainstream education.

Because of Meg's efforts this year (see the highlights of her school report in the post, World Down Syndrome Day), she won the trophy.

We're very proud parents.

Meg with trophy

Rogan in the doorway, with hair

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Cash From Chaos

When Rogan and I went to the Scottish Tattoo Convention in Edinburgh 6 weeks ago, we got in courtesy of Skid, the lead singer in the punk band, Cash From Chaos.

We first met Skid and his band last November at the Sex Pistols Experience gig in Bathgate. They were playing again at the Tattoo Convention, so I took a few photos.

The light was low which meant I had to have a high ISO setting. What that means, for those who don’t know, is it allows you to take photos is lower light without so much blurring of movement, but the downside is the images get “grainier”.

For photographing a punk band, however, this isn’t such a handicap, as it just makes the images look a bit grungier and more fitting.

Below are a few photos – the rest can be found in my Flickr and Facebook pages


The Band

Lizzie the drummer

When someone with big hair stands in front...

A wide variety of audience members

As always, feel free to click on any of the images for a larger version

The full set on Facebook
The full set on Flickr
Cash From Chaos website

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Democracy under threat!

Well, that’s my bit done for the democratic process until the next time. Today was election day for the Scottish Parliament, and a referendum on the Alternative Vote system for the next UK General Election.

Down at Castle Douglas Town Hall, in section 3, one of the booths for marking the Xs on the ballot papers had broken. Was it an Al-Qaeda operation aimed at disrupting notions of Freedom in the West by chipping away at the plywood, as revenge for the recent death of Osama Bin Ladin? It’s unlikely we will ever know the full truth – there are no CCTV cameras inside Castle Douglas Town Hall. And if the authorities deny it, well, then we will know for certain there is a conspiracy at work. Especially if that plywood booth ends up being dumped overboard off the Scottish coast.

We had 3 different ballot papers to mark. The first was for the constituency MP. Unlike some parts of the country, where there are interesting and bizarre candidates, like the Monster Raving Looney Party, here there are only 4: Labour, Liberal Democrat, Conservative and SNP (Scottish National Party). And in this region, the sitting Conservative MP has quite a reasonable majority. SNP were about 8 points behind in the last election, Labour were another 8 points behind them and the Lib Dems got about 4% of the vote.

So if you want to feel your vote has any chance at all of making the slightest bit of difference, you have to tactically vote either for the sitting candidate, or his/her next nearest rival. It’s hardly democracy.

BUT today we were also given the chance to vote on whether to change the UK voting procedure from the current first-past-the-post (FPTP) to using the Alternative Vote (AV) system. This means we would number our preferences rather than put an X next to our tactical choice. Some say its too complicated for most people. But most people can count to 3, so I don’t really see what’s complicated.

However, as a pseudo-proportional-representation system, everyone agrees it’s the worst of all choices – AV, STV, AV+ etc – which is why it was agreed on. The 2 biggest UK parties don’t want any kind of PR, so they agreed to offer the worst option to the public to vote on, because they felt it was the one most likely to lose.

Further confusion was possible in that the colour of the Constituency ballot paper was lilac, while the referendum on AV was on grey paper. And in the dull light of a wet Thursday afternoon, they were awfully similar. For a brief moment, when I went to put my marked papers in the appropriate boxes, I couldn’t tell which was which. I wonder how many “spoilt papers” will be dismissed because they were slotted into the wrong ballot box.

Here in the Scotland, however, as well as a Constituency Vote we also get a Regional Vote, and this is a much more proportional system – the number of votes a party gets is directly related to the number of seats – not something that happens under FPTP. So the Scottish Parliament is made up of 50% Constituency candidates and 50% Regional ones. This means over all it is much more representative than the UK Parliament.

While pondering all this, standing in the queue to collect my ballot papers, I noticed an unattended bag off to one side. If we had been in London, I am sure anti-terrorism units would have swooped in, the building would have been evacuated and a controlled explosion would have taken place. As we shuffled past I took a quick look and saw a loaf of bread, a carton of milk, a packet of Frazzles and a copy of the Galloway News.

Frazzles are a bacon-flavoured snack, so I guess that would have ruled out either Islamic or Jewish terrorists.

But I did notice a great deal of pensioners about, and on the Regional Voting List was the All Scotland Pensioners Party. Perhaps I should have investigated them further in case they are likely to harbour radical extremists capable of loosening screws on ballot booths...

In this corner of Scotland, the Conservative MSP, Alex Fergusson, has retained his seat, although with a much reduced majority.