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 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: