Thursday, April 26, 2012

Wonky Ears

2½ years ago, I was aware my eyesight wasn’t quite what it used to be, so visited the local optician. After various tests he told me my eyesight was still ok, but I had abnormally small pupils, which had a side effect of giving me better eyesight than I should for the level of deterioration (for those who understand aperture settings in photography, it’s like having pupils set at f/8 when the rest of the population has f/5.6, thereby giving me a better depth of focus. For those who don’t understand aperture settings on photography – never mind, it’s not really that important).

6 months later I bought a basic pair of glasses from the cheap store (£1.99) just for those times when I was tired and couldn’t read the TV guide, or for checking the hideously small fonts used on the ingredients lists on certain food packaging.

6 months after that I went back to the optician and got a proper pair of glasses that took into account one of my eyes was fractionally weaker than the other.

For the past year I’ve been wearing them for reading and for doing Sudoku puzzles only. As such, they’ve always sat on the end of my nose so I can peer over them at the rest of the world, which is in focus without them.

More recently, I’ve been aware of my eyes straining more when at the computer, and with the need to write the book of the experience of being artist-in-residence at the Wigtown Book Festival, about 2 weeks ago I decided to wear them for computer use too. Suddenly the number of headaches reduced and I realised I should have done this several months earlier.

However, sitting at the computer I need to have the glasses on properly, pushed up my nose rather than sitting on the end.

This has resulted in the discovery that my ears are uneven, with my left ear positioned about a centimetre lower than my right, so my glasses lie with a distinct diagonal tilt on my face.

After 45½ years I find it amazing I can still discover odd things about my body I had no idea about.

Perhaps it’s time to revive the fashion of the pince-nez.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Ad Preferences

I'm sure everyone is familiar with the phenomenon of experiencing the same ads cropping up on many different sites as we surf the net.

The reason why I constantly get ads for camera equipment, but Maggie continually gets them for [ the interests of privacy and matrimonial harmony, this piece of information has been removed...] is simple - cookies (small bits of data inserted into your browser by websites - not biscuits) are tracked by various commercial organisations.

The more sites you visit, the more indepth a profile of the kinds of things you are interested in is built up. So ads are then targetted at you based on your web-visiting activities.

Most of this is done without your knowledge and you have to have very high security settings on your browser to defend against many of them.

There are advantages and disadvantages to having your web movements tracked. For example, it means you can visit your favourite sites and they welcome you back without having to sign in every time. Based on your profile, sites can offer you products and services tailored to your personality rather than bombarding you with irrelevant ads.

However, the price we pay for this convenience is a loss of freedom of privacy. And if the Government gets its own way and introduces the bill that will allow them to monitor and store every email we send, skype conversation we have and trace our movements to every website we visit, then we had better pray that all this highly personal, intimate and private information on us is never hacked into or abused, and that there will never be a corrupt person in government, the civil service or the security services. Ever.

Google, meanwhile, has made it easy for you to see, edit and even opt-out of the profile it has on you for its ad programmes.

Most of us wonder how other people see us, but we can never be sure. Just asking someone isn't likely to guarantee an honest response. But seeing how a computer programme dispassionately profiles us based on our web habits can be a bit odd.

Some seem uncannily accurate, where others just leave you thinking, how on earth did they come to that conclusion? Of course your profile will be skewed if you've been busy looking information for someone else or searching for gifts.

So with mine, it seems fairly obvious that camera equipment would feature strongly, and the body art stuff reflects all the tattoo photography I was researching before the Convention (see a few posts back). Although I haven't quite figured out why it thinks I'm interested in either drums & percussion or gems and jewelry.

The biggest shock, however, comes from the demographics section. Apparently I have the viewing habits of a young woman rather than a middle-aged man.

Does this mean I have a youthful outlook in life and am in touch with my feminine side? Or is my stepdaughter using my computer when I'm out the house...

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


26 years ago today, I passed my driving test.

I can’t say with absolute certainty how many miles I have driven in that time – some years have been considerably more than others. However, I think it’s reasonable to assume I will have averaged somewhere between 12,000 and 16,000 a year.

This means I have driven about 300,000 to 400,000 miles since I was 19½ years old.

If we put all those miles into one journey, it would have got me to the moon, but nowhere near back again.

And at that rate, it would take me more than another 6,000 years to reach our sun.

Or 1.76 billion years to get to the next nearest star, Proxima Centuri, about 4.2.light years away.

Can you imagine the fuel bill?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Book Struggle

Last year towards the end of September, I spent 10 days as Artist in Residence at the Wigtown Book Festival, where I took over 170 portraits of authors, visitors and residents of Wigtown.

At the beginning of June, I return there as part of Spring Fling – the annual Open Studio event across SW Scotland – and will be opening up “The Hut” again, so people can come and take a look at the photos and feel over 340 eyes staring at them as they do so.

One final aspect of the project still to complete is the book I intended to put together of the event – to include a bit of back story, anecdotes and all the portraits taken.

And at the moment, it’s this book that’s giving me the most grief.

Editing and arranging all the photos is time consuming and laborious, but it’s the writing I’m struggling with the most.

I thought it was going to be quite straightforward. I have a diary and blog posts written at the time. Surely all I had to do was gather them together, edit them, expand on a few bits and throw in a couple of stories about particular images.

But I keep getting swamped with the feeling of “so what?” over what I’m writing. Why would anyone be interested in what I have to say about this or that? Just because I did something or spoke to someone, doesn’t automatically make it an interesting read for anyone else.

Unless I can work my way through this, it might just end up as a picture book only.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Runners up in the Scottish Tattoo Convention Thumb-Twiddling Competition.

I’d like to say taking out a stall to do portrait and tattoo photography at the Scottish Tattoo Convention was an unprecedented success.

I’d like to say we had people queuing round the block to finally get a better photo of their body-art than the one on their phone taken in a poor yellow light.

I’d like to say Rogan and I were rushed off our feet servicing a tattooed public that were grateful someone was able to make them look as cool as they wanted to look when they went through all that pain and expense to be permanently marked with ink.

Unfortunately, I can’t say any of these things without lying through my teeth.

Things didn’t get off to a good start when we turned up on Friday evening to check out our space and discovered it didn’t exist where it was marked on the floor plan in the Convention Guide. We managed to find one of the organisers who apologised but showed us a couple of other places we could use instead, which were not ideal. We eventually settled on a space located between the fire exit and the toilets at the opposite corner of the hall to where we were marked in the brochure – but at least it was still in the main hall.

After an appallingly bad night’s sleep, we turned up in plenty of time on Saturday morning to set up the backdrop and studio lights. It took a while to track down the passcode for the wi-fi internet access, but soon the doors opened and we eagerly awaited our first customer of the day.

If you talk to pretty much anyone with tattoos and ask them about photos of their body-art, you discover that despite paying hundreds (or more) of pounds/dollars/euros for their tattoos, the best photos they have are taken with a phone, or on a cheap camera in poor lighting with a flash that obscures half of the image. Ask them if they’d like a professional photo of their tattoo(s) and they all say yes, without hesitation. What mostly stops them is fear of the cost, and the opportunity.

So the premise was quite simple. Set up a photo stall at a tattoo convention and offer very reasonably priced professional photography. And with the camera tethered to the laptop, and the laptop able to access the internet, the photos could be taken, edited and emailed to the customers quickly and simply. They could even pay via Paypal if they wished.

Surely there would be ink-adorned customers falling over themselves for such an offer.

Apparently not.

The few who did take up the offer weren’t enough to cover the costs of going, and the majority of them wanted a good headshot rather than their tattoos photographed. Across the weekend I had more photographers stopping by for a chat than I did customers wanting a photo.

Quite apart from the financial side, another major frustration was not being able to photograph all these amazing looking people. I couldn’t do it for free, as that would have undermined the entire point of being there, but I’m a portrait photographer because I love photographing people. So to sit there, watching all these people with colourful skin, radical hairstyles and multiple piercings, just walking around without being able to lift my camera, was particularly disappointing.

Towards the end of the 2nd day, I left Rogan holding the fort for 20 minutes while I went for a stroll around the stalls and took photographs just for my own enjoyment, and felt much the better for it.

Feel free to click on the images for larger versions:

Ruby Shoes

Seul Contre Tous


Capturing the image




For all the thumb-twiddling boredom, however, I felt sorriest for the guy selling insurance for tattoo artists sitting at his wee table nestled between us and some big hairy bikers who were promoting their chapter and a forthcoming bike show. I didn’t see more than about 3 people approach his stall the entire weekend. I don’t know whether he just wasn’t prominent enough, or the big hairy bikers kept scaring off potential customers.

Over the next few days we’ll be dissecting why it didn’t work and trying to decide whether there were things we could have done differently that would have brought in the crowds, or whether the whole concept was fundamentally flawed and it’s never likely to be a money-making enterprise.

Tired and exhausted we arrived home late on Sunday evening to be confronted with one last unexpected hassle – another crow had found its way down the flue and was trapped in the logburner. Unlike last time (see Noises in the Log-Burner), this bird didn’t want to cooperate. The only remaining solution was to put on a pair of gardening gloves and reach in and grab it.

I tried talking Rogan into doing this, but he said he couldn’t be sure he’d be able to hold it right and not damage it. I asked him why he thought I had any more chance of getting it right than he did, to which he replied, “Because you’re Dad.”

Damn you, job description!

So I donned the gloves and carefully reached in, and as soon as the bird realised it was time to panic, I lunged and grabbed it.

It was not happy and started screeching loudly and angrily. I hadn’t got hold of it in the best way, so it had one wing free, which it flapped madly. Fortunately my hands were about half an inch out of pecking range.

Rogan opened the back door and I took a few paces out into the back garden and released it into a bush. It was dark, so I didn’t see what condition it was in. It wasn’t there this morning though, so either it flew away or we’ll be watching the neighbour’s cat spitting black feathers out.