Friday, December 28, 2012

Photographic Inspiration

Last year I’d been toying with ideas for a festive image when I came across a photo by the superb photographer and very wonderful human being, Conny Wenk, of her son wrapped up in Christmas lights.


Conny's delightful photo

Not only is it a lovely image that can’t help but put a smile on our faces, it is also a very Conny Wenk style photo. I defy anyone to visit her blog, scroll through her photos and not end up with a broad grin from ear to ear. Her ability to draw such genuine, heartfelt warmth and smiles from the people she photographs is a skill many portrait photographers would sell their left leg to achieve.

Although I was instantly inspired, I knew there was no way my own son, Rogan, at 16 years old, would ever let me do anything vaguely similar to him. Besides, I wasn’t out to copy, but to put my own spin on the idea.

With no one in the family I could grab, the only option was to turn the camera on myself. Self-portraits are not the easiest thing at the best of times, but when tangled up a string of Christmas lights it adds an extra dimension of trickiness.

After about 64 attempts, I ended up with an image I felt I could work with:


My slightly different interpretation

I had the composition I wanted, but the colours weren't right. Time to start editing.


Photoshop: how many ways do I love thee?

In the end I was quite pleased with it and uploaded it to 1x.com, who were asking for seasonal submissions. To my delight they accepted it into their gallery.

Fast forward a year to this Christmas and I was gobsmacked to find 1x had decided to use this photo for the main banner on the front page of the site. Given the status of 1x, this is pretty much the equivalent of getting my image on a magazine cover.


Front page of 1x over Christmas 2012

It’s been up since the beginning of the week, but now Christmas day has passed, I don’t know how much longer it will be there. But I have allowed myself a wee *smug* moment, and really just wanted to say thanks to Conny for the inspiration.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Festive wishes

Home Baking treats seem to be the dominant force in the Ayres household at the moment.

I’ve just had one of Meg’s gluten-free "iced gems" biscuits, which she made herself - and very tasty it was too. Maggie’s magical skills with flour, fat and sugar are legendary, and she has passed many of her abilities on to the offspring.

Maggie herself has, of course, been busy making more food that an army could fight its way through, despite the fact there are only 5 of us here for Christmas this year.

Rogan has made some delightful chocolate-chip cookies and the most amazing chocolaty, crumbly peppermint slices.

Even I gave it a go yesterday, making some truffles with dark, 70% chocolate. Inspired by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Christmas special I decided to create my own concoction, mixing chilli jam, lemon marmalade and a dash of single-malt whiskey to the melted chocolate. After letting it cool, I rolled the mixture into small balls and dipped them in more melted dark chocolate.

The result is quite an intense hit of flavours but, if I’m honest, it didn’t turn out quite as well as expected. In hindsight, I should probably have used a chilli jam that didn’t have garlic in it, as the lingering aftertaste is just a bit too... lingering.

I could probably have enjoyed 2 or three of them, sharing the rest with the family, however the family have decided my creations should be left entirely to me.

5 down, 11 to go...

Meanwhile, in keeping with the traditions of the blog, you should find below our annual greeting card. There’s been no snow this year, just relentless rain, so I was quite pleased to be able to photograph a robin in a holly tree, which is not too bad where festive images are concerned.

So whatever your beliefs, non beliefs and state of mind, I wish you all the very best over the coming festive season and for the New Year.


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Edible Jesus

Occasionally my photography leads me into strange areas I would never have considered venturing. Yesterday, for example, I was photographing gingerbread nativity scenes.

The rather wonderful Renita Boyle is an author, storyteller, minister’s wife and good friend. The day before she’d had 22 people in her kitchen in Wigtown, building assorted stables, donkeys, stars, angels, camels, kings, shepherds, sheep, Marys, Josephs, baby Jesuses, mangers and, because of where we live, Galloway belted cattle – all out of gingerbread, icing sugar, chocolate, biscuits and breakfast cereal.

Next September Renita is bringing out a book, A Tasty Exploration of Advent, complete with recipes, templates, stories and reflections. She needed a photo for the book as well as some images of the other nativity scenes, created by the range of occupants of her kitchen the previous day, for potential publicity or the church magazine. As I already owe her a huge bunch of favours, I was more than happy to head over for the morning, which flowed into half the afternoon and a late lunch.

Despite the inherent edible nature of nativity scene, I wasn’t allowed to tuck into it. Besides, I wasn’t entirely sure whether it would be considered blasphemous if I started nibbling on the baby Jesus.

His manger did look awfully tempting though…


Renita with the gingerbread nativity


Marshmallow sheep


Galloway Beltie with the baby Jesus and a surprisingly tasty looking manger

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Published in the book, No Words

I might have mentioned the website 1x.com a couple of times in the past. It’s an inspirational site, full of the most amazing photos.

Part of that comes from the high standard of the selection process. On average, they accept only 5% of all the images submitted – and that's despite the fact people are putting forward their best work. In the space of nearly 4 years, I’ve only managed to get 9 of my photos on there - http://1x.com/member/17395/kim-ayres/

Around once a year they bring out a book with a selection of the images. This year it’s called “No Words” and they are only printing 2222 copies of it. It contains 220 amazing photos and I’m delighted to say they have included one of mine.


No Words


My photo, "Reflection"

If you are the kind of person who doesn’t mind paying €89 for a beautiful book, then you won’t be disappointed, and you can buy it here: http://1x.com/books/no-words.

If the idea of paying €89 for a book threatens to induce a heart attack, then just visit 1x.com and enjoy the images on display on your computer screen.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Website Updates, Apple, Flash and Frustration

I’ve been spending the last few days updating my website – kimayres.co.uk – not that you’d notice a huge amount of difference.

At first glance the only real change would seem to be a slight shift in emphasis to encourage people to follow my portrait photography page on Facebook, or go off and re-pin some of my photos on Pinterest.

However, the thing that’s been taking up all my time and had me pulling chunks of my beard out in frustration, has been altering the gallery on the front page to make it look more or less like it already did. What it all comes down to is Adobe Flash.

If you are using an ordinary desktop or laptop computer you might periodically have been prompted to download the latest Flash Player to make sure you can continue to enjoy sites and applications using the most up to date versions.

Flash is a system, or platform, that allows all sorts of fancy extras on a web page – video, animation and even sound. As such it has been used for many years by people wanting to create a richer interactive experience with their websites. In fact, some designers have even built entire websites out of it.

It has its downsides – if your entire site is built using it (as many arty sites are), it’s crap for your rankings in the search engine results, and people with visual disabilities using text readers can’t make sense of it. However, used sparingly it can be very effective for things like creating scrolling image galleries, like I had.

Unfortunately Apple, for some reason never adequately explained to me, decided not to support Flash on their iPhones or iPads. So on these devices, when you turn up to a site using Flash, instead of getting any kind of rich, visual, interactive experience, you get a notification that you need to update your Flash player, which you cannot do, thereby rendering that portion of the website inaccessible.

Frustrating for the iPhone and iPad users, but even more maddening for those who work in a very visual medium such as photography, and suddenly realise that because of the widespread success of these Apple devices, a significant percentage of our target audience can no longer see examples of our work on our front page.

I’ve known about this problem for some time, but I’ve also known that trying to find a non-Flash alternative for the way I wanted my front page to look, was going to be time consuming and irritating. Consequently I’ve been ignoring it, hoping the problem would somehow go away. But when Maggie recently got an iPad it really brought home to me just how appalling the effect of this €$%&ing decision by Apple was on my site.

Having lost far too many days trying to find free bits of code that would do what I wanted it to, and investigating areas of programming my head was never designed for, a couple of days ago I eventually gave up and settled on paying £77 for a program called WOW Slider. It’s taken since then to properly work out how to use it and insert it into my site in such a way that it now appears to function whatever browser I use.

Anyway, it’s now done, and I’ve added a few new photos into the gallery while I was at it. If you are so inclined, please feel free to go and take a look and let me know which image you would chose to have as first in the sequence - kimayres.co.uk

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Twigs and Droplets

A few weeks ago, I went wandering out into the Autumn fog with my camera (see A Few Autumn Photos).

It wasn’t foggy today, but it was crisp and cold, as it has been for the past few days. Meg suggested we go out for a walk together, so we headed up to Laurieston Woods, about 15 minutes drive away.

At a latitude of pretty much exactly 55 degrees North, even though it was near noon when we went arrived, the sun wasn’t getting particularly high in the sky. The low sun meant many of the droplets on lightly frosted twigs sparkled as the light passed behind and through them.

Lucky I took my camera then...

As always, feel free to click on them for larger versions.













Do you have a favourite?

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Launch of The Workshop Gallery

The Galloway Photographic Collective was launched earlier this year – 7 local, professional photographers (including me) coming together to pool resources and marketing power - with an aim to highlight the captivating photography produced in this beautiful part of Scotland and to raise the profile of photography as an art form.

Although we periodically have group exhibitions and a couple of members have their own galleries, we talked at various times of having a permanent or semi-permanent outlet for work by the Collective, but costs for both a suitable space and staffing proved to be prohibitive.

However, a chance conversation with Kenny, a man I met several years ago when his daughter and mine were in the same class at school, seemed to offer up a possible solution.

A.D. Livingston & Sons are antique restorers and furniture makers, run by two brothers – one of whom is the aforementioned daughter’s friend’s father.

Their workshop is situated in an old 18th century courtyard off the high street of Castle Douglas, the town where we live. It’s quite a large space and for years contained both their workshop and showroom. Not too long ago they acquired a shop on the high street just a couple of doors up, which they now use as their primary outlet. This meant the original showroom was just being used as storage space and Kenny and Ian started thinking about other possible uses.

The upshot of all this is last week several of us were down there one evening to help paint the room, and yesterday we were busy hanging the photos. And tonight (Thursday 29th) at 7pm is the launch of The Workshop Gallery featuring the work of the Galloway Photographic Collective. You can find the Facebook Event Page here – https://www.facebook.com/events/231079003689474/

It’s a slightly different affair for me than the rest of the Collective. All of the others have photos to be sold off the wall. For me, as a portrait photographer, I don’t expect anyone to buy my photos in that way: what I’m selling is a unique, personally tailored experience rather than scenic artwork. As such what I have to do is put up images to give people a taste of what I can do for them, and hopefully inspire them enough to pick up the phone and book a session with me.

If you can come along, please do. If you can’t but can tell a friend, please do. And if you can’t because you’re on the wrong side of the planet, then start thinking about your next trip to Scotland.

Meanwhile, here are a few photos I took when we were setting up yesterday.


Morag eating a roll from the Deli for breakfast. Some of the eagle-eyed among you might see the Hollywood-style photo of Pat I did earlier in the year


Ian Biggar was also taking photos when he should have been hanging pictures. Off to the left of the image, it leads back to the workshop where the brothers do their furniture building and restoring.


You can never have too much bubble-wrap...

UPDATE
The launch went well. Despite fears it might only be us and a few family members turning up, in the end it was a respectable turnout, even though there were sub-zero temperatures outside.

I'm not that great at visualising, so even when we were hanging the photos on Wednesday I wasn't entirely sure how it was going to look, but I have to confess I was delighted when I arrived. With bits of furniture and the lighting installed I was impressed with how it appeared.

Here are a few more photos...


Waiting for the first guests to arrive




Kenny's daughters made some lovely wee cupcakes for the occasion


A good turn out on a cold winter night with plenty of people coming and going over a couple of hours

Friday, November 23, 2012

My Photo on the Front of a Book by a Bestselling Author

It’s true! Victoria Hislop, bestselling author of The Island (over a million copies), The Thread and The Return has a new book out called The Last Dance and Other Stories and on the cover is one of my photos!

However, and I’m sure you knew there would be a “however” in there somewhere, this won’t prove to be my breakthrough moment into the world of book covers of author photos.

Firstly, it’s not a photo of the author; secondly, my photo only makes up a part of the overall image; and thirdly, someone managed to screw up the credit for my contribution.

Back in August I was approached by a picture researcher, on behalf of the publisher. They were working on the cover of the new book and wanted to include a bouzouki in the image. It turned out the photo I’d taken in my blog post about my bouzoukis (see Bouzoukis) was exactly what they needed. I was offered a small payment and a link to my website in the credits.

It would have seemed churlish to refuse.



My complimentary copy has arrived and it feels more than a little odd looking at the cover and realising the bouzouki doesn’t just look like mine, it IS mine.

Unfortunately, on the inside flap at the back of the book, they have spelt my name and web address wrong.



Ayers is the most common misspelling of Ayres, and it crops up in letters all the time, but publishers usually have proof readers that are a bit more on the ball.

OK, so the writing is tiny, and the only people who are ever likely to look at it are those mentioned, but as one of those mentioned, it is a little disappointing.

I have phoned the publisher and put it into an email, but it’s a bit late for anything to be done about it. Discussion is now underway to see if it’s possible to correct it if it’s reprinted in the future.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

John Hegley, John Keats and a Stick of Celery

John Hegley is a poet, musician and comedian. Known for his dry, laconic style he’s also quite big on audience participation, getting the crowd to bob and weave in unison, or click their fingers to create a rhythm which he then reads or sings over.

John was on my hit list of people I wanted to be involved in my authors-as-characters project with Wigtown Book Festival this year. He’d not responded in advance to the blurb that had gone out from the Festival organisers to all the guest speakers, but I was planning on going and seeing his performance anyway and hoped to catch up with him after that. However, as luck would have it, while I was setting up the lights for a different photo shoot that morning, he wandered into the room and we got chatting.

Although there wasn’t enough time to source a costume and do a shoot with him during his short time in Wigtown, he expressed interest in the project and was keen to be dressed as the 19th Century poet, John Keats, as he’d just done a stint as residence poet in Keats’ house in Hampstead. He gave me his email address and told me to keep in touch.

I thoroughly enjoyed his event and when I got home checked his website to see when he might next be anywhere close. It turned out he was appearing in Peebles – a town in the Scottish Borders, less than 2 hours away – a couple of weeks later.

I trawled the Internet for images of Keats and there were surprisingly few. Or perhaps not so surprising given he died of tuberculosis aged only 25. The ones I did find mostly seemed to be a variation on a theme of him looking wistfully off into the middle distance, while sitting at a table with a book



So, where to find a suitable costume? It proved to be far trickier than expected, but eventually we used a jacket from my wife, one of my linen shirts, a strip of muslin for the scarf, again supplied by Maggie, and the waistcoat came from my friend, storyteller Tony Bonning.

John was running a workshop in the afternoon and doing a performance in the evening at The Eastgate Theatre, and they allowed us to use their stage area to do the shoot in between.

We set about replicating the angle and the lighting for the image, but John had brought something extra for the photo – a stick of celery. It turned out there’s a comment in one of Keats’ letters to his brother where he writes, "This is Monday morning—nothing particular happened yesterday evening, except that when the tray came up Mrs. Dilke and I had a battle with celery stalks—she sends her love to you."



One of the things I love about portrait photography is it is always a collaborative affair. It is not product photography – what the sitter contributes to the photo is just as important as the photographer, and this series of photos of authors as characters has really captured that.

It had been suggested if the photo worked out, it might be used for promotional material, so we took a few variations, including one of John pointing off to one side where potential events could be written next to him.

Sure enough, a short while later he was in touch to ask for a photo to use for an event he was to be involved in helping raise money for Amnesty International.



If you’re down London way and it’s not sold out, an evening of poetry and music with John Hegley and friends takes place this Thursday. And for a mere £12 a ticket, I can’t think of many better ways to spend an evening. If I lived closer, I’d certainly be going. Details can be found here - http://www.amnesty.org.uk/news_details.asp?NewsID=20442

To round off, I trawled YouTube to find a snippet to give you a taste of John Hegley on stage...


Thursday, November 15, 2012

Portraits for a donation to Down's Syndrome Scotland

This Saturday (17th November), I’m going to be taking fast, fun portraits for a mere £10 donation to Down's Syndrome Scotland, at the Catholic Church Hall in Kirkudbright (on High Street, across from The Tolbooth) from 10am to 4pm



Stewartry Camera Club are holding an Open Day with an exhibition, slideshow, tombola, refreshments, home baking, and people to offer advice on photography. Because of the talks I have given to the club and a competition I judged for them (see The Challenge of The Self Portrait), they have kindly offered me a space to set up a wee area to do portraits to raise money for a great organisation.

I have to confess that at this point in time, I have no idea whether there will be queues around the block, or if I’ll be sitting there for 6 hours twiddling my thumbs, with only the occasional friend turning up to show a bit of support.

Despite the fact £10 is barely much more than having a passport photo taken in a booth, I’m not convinced most people understand the value having their photo taken by someone who knows what they’re doing.

The question is, when you and everyone you know has a camera on their phone with auto-focus, auto-exposure and even face-recognition, why bother parting with money to have someone else take your photo?

It’s a question all portrait photographers have to face in this instant, digital age.

The only real answer to this is - I have to go places the iPhone can’t.

That means it’s not about the technology – whether I have a bigger camera with fancier lenses and a higher megapixel count – because advances in technology will soon make any such advantages redundant. Your average camera-phone today is superior to a professional digital camera from 10 years ago.

Therefore, it’s about the vision; the creativity; the style. Of course anyone can take your photo, but can anyone take your photo like Kim Ayres does?

Although Saturday is primarily about raising money for Down’s Syndrome Scotland, it will be interesting to see how successfully I’m getting that message out there.

Do come along if you can, and bring a friend. But if you’re not in the area on Saturday, then feel free to pass this on to anyone else you know who might be.

And if you can't make it along, but would still like to donate (any amount - even £1/$1/€1), then please visit my page on JustGiving.com - http://www.justgiving.com/kimayres


UPDATE
I arrived to find the area I'd been allocated wasn't much bigger than the photo-booths you get at train stations. So a few members of the camera club helpfully embarked on various bits of display-board shifting and table moving and eventually I had a workable space.

It started off quietly. In the first 3 hours only 5 people decided to take part and I found myself wondering about all those who had unhesitatingly said on Facebook they would come along.

Fortunately the afternoon turned out to be much busier and in the end I managed to raise £200 for Down's Syndrome Scotland, with a further £50 £70 £80 £90 coming from donations to my Just Giving page.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Masayuki Kino at The Mill Sessions

Back in September, one of The Mill Sessions I was able to attend featured world class Japanese violinist Masayuki Kino.

Being a small venue, where you cannot fit more than about 50 or so people in the audience, has plusses and minuses. The biggest advantage is the intimacy – it has the feeling of being just one step up from having someone playing in your living room. You are sitting just a few feet away from the performers and can often feel the music resonating in your chest.

The disadvantage is it means even if the venue sells out, there’s still a very limited amount of money to pay for high quality, better known performers.

We’ve been fortunate in that we’ve managed to find a lot of really good up and coming singers and musicians, and there’s a wealth of local talent we’ve been able to tap into for support acts.

Masayuki Kino, however, is in a totally different league. You would be expecting to pay big bucks for a ticket, and probably dress up in your posh gear to attend a performance. However, this was a case of someone who knew someone who knew someone else, and as he was in the area was happy to do a set in exchange for the door takings to be donated to charity.

He also had two young protégés with him, Tomone Yokoyama and Ena Shibata, who started off the set with outstanding playing, before Kino-san himself treated us to a virtuoso performance.

As with most of the Mill Sessions over the past 2 years, I took photos of the performers for the Mill Hall of Fame before the evening began.



Masayuki Kino, Ena Shibata and Tomone Yokoyama


Masayuki Kino


Ena Shibata


Tomone Yokoyama

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

US Elections - how the results of my poll differs from the rest of the media

As America goes to vote today, the polls put the race between Obama and Romney as... pretty darn close.

Which I found surprising, as over the past few months, my Facebook news feed has been flooded with horrifying stories and cartoons lampooning Romney, while most of the stuff about Obama seems to be that he is a saint.

In essence, the message I have been fed is that if you are a lying, conniving, white, male billionaire, then vote Romney, but if you have ovaries, any kind of skin colouring, or the slightest hint of compassion for your fellow human, then you have to vote Obama.

I refuse to believe half of all Americans are rich, selfish white men, so how come the candidates are neck and neck?

I thought I’d do some research of my own on Facebook.

At first glance it’s pretty straightforward – Romney has 12 million likes but Obama has nearly 32 million – over 2½ times as many.

However, we have to take into consideration Obama has been in the spotlight for longer than Romney, this being his 2nd time running for president - which will skew the figures. Evidence for this is one of my friends who Facebook tells me likes Obama died 3 years ago, but his like remains.

Figuring my 485 still-alive-as-far-as-I-know friends represented a reasonable sample, I looked to see who had liked the pages of the two contenders. This was the result.

Friends who have liked Romney’s Facebook Page: 5
Friends who have liked Obama’s Facebook Page: 38

So, with more than 7 times as many people liking Obama than Romney, even allowing for Romney’s shorter Facebook exposure time, it still didn’t make sense of the media polls.

But then looking in more detail at my lists, I realised 22 of the Obama supporters and 1 of the Romney supporters didn’t live in America, so wouldn’t be able to vote anyway. A quick extrapolation indicates Obama is even more popular outside the US than within.

However, this still leaves 16 to 4 in favour of Obama inside America, which is more than enough to thoroughly trounce Romney.

So is it that the media is biased towards the right, or is it that my Facebook friends are biased to the left?

Well given that I’m apparently a political extremist (see my post, Political Compass), it wouldn’t be surprising if more of my friends leaned politically to the left than the right, and thus are likely to be less reflective of the population at large.

Of course another way of interpreting my findings is 442 (485 minus 38 minus 5) of my friends really can't find the enthusiasm to get worked up about it either way.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Debi Gliori, Tobermory, Cats, Controversy and Photography

Debi Gliori is a children’s author and illustrator with at least 75 published books to her name, the latest of which is called The Tobermory Cat, loosely based on a stray ginger tom that was well known about the town of Tobermory on the Isle of Mull, off the West coast of Scotland.

As something of a local celebrity, the cat was even given a Facebook page by a local artist, Angus Stewart, who photographed the cat, made up wee stories about him and posted them online.

Debi’s publisher became aware of the cat on one of his many trips to the island while in conversation with a local bookstore owner and thought it might make a lovely children’s story and approached Debi to create one.

What should have been a delightful project, which might have boosted positive publicity for the Tobermory, Debi, the cat and Angus, all turned sour when Angus accused Debi of stealing his idea and started a campaign against her, the publisher and the book. And as word spread from this one-sided perspective, some Internet trolls fuelled by a sense of righteous indignation, or just plain malice, got rather nasty – initiating cyber attacks, phone calls, insults and threats. You can read Debi’s own account of events on her blog - The Tobermory Cat, the trolls and me.

I found out about all this when I was at the Wigtown Book Festival a few weeks back (see - Return to Wigtown Book Festival) with a new project to photograph authors as literary characters. The Festival organisers had put out feelers to the authors attending to see who might be up for getting involved, and Debi was one of about a dozen who responded.

Debi decided she’d choose the character of The Cat and the Fiddle from the nursery rhyme, as not only did it fit in nicely with part of the story from her new book, but she also plays the fiddle herself.

The Festival had provided me with an empty shop I could use as a studio, so we fixed a time in the evening when it would be dark outside and I could control the lighting.

I set up a single light to cast a strong shadow and I photographed Debi sitting on a stool reading the book. We then removed the stool and book, fitted a little band with cat ears on it to her head and she took up a stance with her violin to create the shadow we wanted to use. Working collaboratively is part of what I love about creating images via the camera, and Debi was a delight to work with – interested, involved and contributing ideas all the way.

Then it was down to some serious editing in Photoshop to merge the two images and add a tail.

This was the final result:


Debi Gliori, The Cat and The Fiddle

Thanks also have to go to Renita Boyle for all her help and support.

I’ll be posting more photos from the series of authors as literary characters over the coming weeks – stay tuned...

Thursday, November 01, 2012

A Few Autumn Photos

When I got up this morning I couldn't help but notice it was damp, cold and foggy outside.

The damp and cold bit is very unappealing, but fog… well, fog is a different matter when you’re a photographer – it does strange things to the light, and photography is all about light.

After breakfast, the fog was still there, so I stepped out of the house and looked down the street and what grabbed me the most was the chimney pots and rooftops disappearing into the gloom.



But then I started thinking about the combination of fog and water – something I’ve played about with before (see A Foggy January Afternoon). And as I wasn’t photographing any faces today, I thought I’d wander down to Carlingwark Loch at the bottom of the town.

I took a few shots of ducks and a swan on the loch disappearing into the fog,




but wildlife photography is not my strong point. I only ever seem to catch the animals as they are moving away from me, so I decided to look for interesting shapes instead.

Reeds coming out the water are an old favourite, as on a misty day it’s never always that obvious where the water begins – you have to study the reflections to work it out.



Then I noticed some of the long grasses had water droplets hanging like tiny jewels, while delicate threads of web caught the light at certain angles.

I opened the aperture as wide as I could (f/2.8 for those who wonder about these things), which has the effect of making the background far more blurred, and thus makes the main subject leap out.





Heading back along the path I became aware of droplets hanging off twigs and rosehips too





In the afternoon the fog cleared and the sun came out. I took the camera out into the garden and took some photos of the autumn leaves in the sunlight against the bright blue sky, just because the colour combination is really quite wonderful.



As portraits are my thing I sometimes forget there are plenty of things other than faces to photograph. And while my passion is still very much photographing people, there are times when it's quite fun to just go out and look for lines, shapes and colours.

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


Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Pumpkin Carving

For the 3rd year in a row - which now makes it tradition - my son, Rogan, has joined me in carving a pumpkin for Halloween.

He's pretty damn good at it too


With the lights on


With the lights off

And what you can't see here, is his pumpkin cast the most wonderful shadows on the wall and ceiling in the dark with just a wee candle inside.

Meanwhile I've been feeling the pressure after character concept artist, Allen Capoferri (visit Allen's Zoo to see some of his stunning sketches), left a comment a few weeks ago that he was looking forward to seeing what I was going to create this year.

I thought I'd have a go at trying to create a more 3D type of carving after seeing some amazing stuff on the web. However, I quickly realised that my imagination and enthusiasm far outstripped my technical ability. And, of course, those who are carving the really mindblowing sculptures, are not only using proper carving tools (rather than just a small kitchen knife and a spoon), but practice an awful lot - not just once a year.

It might not win any awards, but at least the challenge was fun.


With the lights on


With the lights off

Happy Samhain to my pagan friends and Happy Halloween to my Christian friends and anyone else who just likes the excuse to carve vegetables.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

46...

...is a fairly nondescript number. It’s not the halfway point between 40 and 50; it’s not the answer to life, the universe and everything; it’s not even a prime number.

However, there’s one way of looking at 46 that makes it rather special – it means I’ve survived yet another year.

Not that being 45 was particularly tough – as 12-month periods go, it’s actually been a lot less hassle that most.

The point I’m making is, statistically, once we get past the age of about 10 or so, with each passing year, the chances of us dying increases.

It appears I’ve outlived Freddie Mercury, Vlad the Impaler and Henry IV of England, all of whom kicked the bucket aged 45.

I’ve also passed the average life expectancy for a man in Mozambique (38.3), Swaziland (39.8), Sierra Leone (41), Zambia (42.1), Lesotho (42.9), Central African Republic (43.3), Zimbabwe (43.8), Afghanistan (43.9), Rwanda (44.6), Liberia (44.8), Guinea-Bissau (44.9), and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (45.2).

Where mortality is concerned, within the UK there are regional variations. The average man born in England will live to 78.6, while the average man born in Scotland will only live to 75.9. I haven’t managed to find out what effect living in Scotland will have on a man originally born in England – other than personal experience leads me to believe that entering certain pubs in Scotland with an English accent might lead to a significant shortening of life expectancy.

One thing’s for certain, though – being this age makes me slightly more obsessed with mortality statistics...

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Visitors

Clothes are strewn about the house with little thought as to whether they have been worn or not.

Yells and screams puncture all too brief moments of calm, and continue until the brain begins to filter them out.

Small faces besmirched with chocolate, crisps and snot

The bathroom towel has large smears all over it where hands and mouths have been wiped with scant regard to the idea of being washed first.

Mealtimes stretched into 2 or sometimes 3 sittings, with a variety of food combinations in an attempt to deal with an even wider variety of dislikes.

Laughter from another room that instantly raises suspicions, followed by shrieks of indignation and loud tears.

Small plastic objects designed to seek out and apply the maximum amount of pain to the most sensitive parts of the feet are carefully laid out to fool the unwary.

Calls of "GRANDAD!!!" followed by unconditional hugs somehow seem to make everything OK again.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Return to Wigtown Book Festival

This time last year I was artist-in-residence at the Wigtown Book Festival, during which time I took 173 portraits of authors, locals and visitors staring intensely into the camera. These photos were then printed out and pinned to the walls of the studio space I’d been given, so visitors walking into the room had 346 eyes staring directly at them. Not everyone reacted well... For those interested, I put together a book about my experience of the event, including all the photos displayed, which you can order from blurb.com here or download the ebook version for your iPad here.

In these days of economic crises, funding for arts events has been slashed, so I got to thinking about how I might be able to help raise funds or publicity for the Wigtown Book Festival this year.

I then hit upon the idea of photographing some of the authors as literary characters. It’s the kind of idea the press tends to love, so it should result in extra publicity for the event. We could also use put the photos into a book or calendar or even postcards to collect to help directly raise funds. The authors would be allowed to use the images for their own publicity purposes, so long as the Festival and I were given credit each time. Importantly, it also sounded like a lot of fun.

I put the idea to the Festival organisers and they were quite taken with the idea, offering to help in any way they could, and finding me an empty shop, which I can use as a studio space for the duration. Additionally I was able to enlist the help of author, storyteller and good friend, Renita Boyle, who is one of life’s great doers. Where I have a tendency to ponder ideas and philosophise about everything, Renita will phone contacts, pull in favours and get things done. A better ally for this project would have been extremely hard to find.

So far we’ve recruited about a dozen authors who I will be photographing during the event, with characters as diverse as The Mad Hatter to Isaac Newton, and the Cat with the Fiddle to Miss Scarlet in the Library with the Candlestick.

As the authors have been suggesting characters they would like to be photographed as, we’ve had to start tracking down costumes and props. Some have been easy to find, some of the authors have managed to sort out their own, some bits have been tricky, and some we’re not going to know whether we’ve got them until the very last minute.

If all goes according to plan, we’re hoping to rope in a few more authors during the Festival, either to photograph there and then (if we have appropriate bits of costume to hand), or elicit promises to arrange a photo shoot at some point over the next few months. Then, with enough photos, they can be used for a big publicity drive on the build up to the Wigtown Book Festival 2013, with any saleable items available during the event itself.

It all kicks off tomorrow. If I get the chance I will try and blog about some of the things that happen, but if you don’t hear from me for the next couple of weeks, you’ll know where I am.

Wish me luck…

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Irish Singer Songwriters

You go for ages without photographing any, then 3 come along at the same time…

At the Mill Session last Saturday we had Irish singer songwriter, Eleanor McEvoy, performing a much smaller gig than she’s used to, although I think she enjoyed the intimacy the venue gives. With a high ceiling, the acoustics are rather lovely, while the fact you cannot seat more than about 45 people in the space means it has the feel of being only one step up from your living room.

I met up with her in the afternoon before the gig to take a photo for the Mill Session Hall of Fame. Despite being the most well known performer we’ve had there, there was nothing of the diva about her. Friendly and down to earth, she was interesting to chat to and photograph.

Looking through the photos afterwards I decided to go against my usual black and white style when I realised this photo looked so much better in colour.


Eleanor McEvoy

Then on Monday, out of the blue I got a phone call from Irish singer songwriter, Ben Sands. Although I’ve still yet to see him play live, I first met him about 6 years ago at a small, one-off mandolin-playing workshop he ran in a nearby village as a favour to a friend.

We kept in touch and when I started my photography business I told him to call in and get his photo taken if he was in the area. It took a few more years, but sure enough he took me up on my offer, popping round in the afternoon. Most of the photos he has of himself are friendly, smiling and holding his guitar, and we did one of those, but I also wanted to do a slightly more darker, moodier photo of him, which he was up for. Below is the result.


Ben Sands

Finally, this Friday evening (21st Sept) is another Irish singer songwriter playing at the Mill Sessions who goes by the name ODi. I’m going to miss her performance and the chance to take her photo as Maggie and I are off to the Northumberland coast for a weekend away in celebration of our 17th wedding anniversary, but I’ve no doubt those attending the gig will be in for a treat.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Hair today, gone tomorrow...

Rogan decided he wanted his hair cut a few days ago. It was sometime during summer last year when I previously went at it with the clippers so it had once again grown rather long. In fact for the past few years, me cutting his hair has been roughly an annual event.


Haircut at 17 years old

Of course what has been making it particularly odd is each time I do it he looks different – not just because he has shorter hair, but because he has grown up a bit more since the last time it was short. As he has journeyed through his teens, 12 months or so has been enough to create a noticeable difference each time.

The first time I cut Rogan’s hair he was 3 years old. He had beautiful golden curls and it seemed a shame to get rid of them. But there were 2 main reasons for doing so. The first was everyone was mistaking him for a wee lass, and he was reaching an age where he was likely to start becoming self-conscious. The second, and bigger reason, was Meg was going into Yorkhill Hospital in Glasgow for open-heart surgery.


A tough time for us all

She was only 5 months old and Maggie was going to be spending 2 weeks there with her, through the preparation, operation and recovery.

I was still trying to get my new business up and running, as well as look after my 3 teenage stepchildren, and in among all this, Rogan’s hair was another time-consuming problem to deal with. It required constant attention as, whenever he bent down when playing, it dragged in puddles, mud and anything else lying about. It was definitely time to get out the clippers.


1st haircut at 3 years old

3 months later, when I was cutting his hair again, I was really struck by how much easier short hair is to cope with, so as soon as I’d finished dealing with his, I called Maggie through to cut mine.

This was no small deal as at the time I had a ponytail that reached the top of my arse. For a couple of years I’d been getting increasingly frustrated with it, but it was such a part of my identity that it hadn’t really occurred to me to just get rid of it. Until I was standing there with the clippers in my hand.

For 2 days after it came off, my head kept lolling forward without the counterweight on the back. And for nearly 3 years, every time I put on a t-shirt, my hands would automatically come up to scoop the hair out, before I’d remember it was no longer necessary.

Since then my hair has never been more than about an inch and a half long before I cut it again. And it is a great deal easier to live with.

Meanwhile, it’s now been 5 days since I cut Rogan’s hair and I’m only just starting to not get a shock each time he walks into the room.