Thursday, May 31, 2012

"My Community" - a photographic exhibition

A couple of months ago I began an after-school photography project with 7 pupils at Moffat Academy, aged between 12 and 18.

The “Transitions” placement was a jointly funded and supported venture between the Spring Fling Open Studio organisation and the Education Services through the Creative Learning Network (CLN), which saw 3 different artists being placed in 3 separate schools in the region, myself being one of them.

As well as giving talks to the pupils about technical, compositional and practical aspects of photography, my goal was to put on an exhibition of their work at the end of it.

The title “My Community” was broad enough for the pupils to interpret it individually, and the aim was to produce a cohesive collection of 8 photos each.

The exhibition is being held at the Old Well Theatre in Moffat over the weekend (2nd & 3rd of June), but the preview evening is tonight, from 7pm to 9pm.

While I do, of course, know what all the photos look like, I’ve not yet seen them being displayed. Some of the older pupils helped the art teacher, Miss Young, who has been a wonderful support through this project, put them all up last night. Needless to say, I’m really excited about seeing them all in place tonight.

They’ve been a great group to work with, and the potential and creativity they have all shown has been amazing. All I can really say is I’m dead proud of them all.

For those who would like a taster, or who can’t make it along, I’ve picked one image each from their collections for you to view below.

Alex took a series of shots of friends revising for their exams and nicely caught the sense of tension and pressure

Alison's family like to go sailing on the loch so her photos captured the people and action in this environment

Tom went exploring the streets of Moffat, taking photos as an observer

Mairi had fun with her friends at the park, organising them into a variety of fun poses

Daniel concentrated on photos of the band he's in

Ruaridh captured the last day at school for the senior pupils as they all went around signing each other's shirts

Min took her camera to the skateboard park to photograph her pals on their bikes and boards

If you can make it along to see the photos, your support would be appreciated and I know you won't be disappointed. But if you can't, lovely people that I know you are, I'm sure you'll be wishing them all the best.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Win a free photo shoot for you and a friend!

In celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Spring Fling Open Studio trail across Dumfries and Galloway (2nd to 5th of June - I’m Studio 6 in the brochure), I’m offering you the chance to win a free photo shoot for you and a friend.

Between now and the 5th of June 2012, all you have to do is ask people you know to visit and “like” my Facebook page – - and get them to leave a comment saying who recommended it to them (if you aren’t already following me, then you need to visit and “like” my page first. Once you have done so, just tell your friends to “like” my page and say who sent them).

On the 6th of June I will randomly select a new fan from the comments and he or she, along with the person who pointed them in my direction, will win a free photo shoot for them both.

The photo session will last 2 to 3 hours and the aim is create a series of images of you together and individually. We will explore a variety of looks and moods, and I will show you how we can manipulate the images in Photoshop – from removing stray hairs to making you look like a character from Lord of The Rings.

The final images will be put on a disc for you to print off as many as you wish, or send to friends and family.

You can share this chance with as many friends as you want – the more people who mention your name, the more chances there are for you to be involved in the photo shoot.

Please note: the photo shoot will need to take place in Dumfries and Galloway within the next 12 months – unless you are prepared to pay for my travel, food and accommodation for the photo session to take place elsewhere.

For more about the Spring Fling Open Studio trail, visit

Friday, May 18, 2012

An Anniversary of Change

The 18th of May marks the anniversary of two major changes in our lives.

The first was 14 years ago when, aged 31, I signed off the dole for the final time and became self-employed. Up until this point I had spent almost my entire life in education, unemployment or government training schemes.

I set up Ayres Fine Art with the idea of selling limited edition prints of my father’s artwork. I had no track record, no money, no business experience and it took me 4 different banks before I found one prepared to give me a £5,000 overdraft facility in order to launch the business. But my business plan looked good. I read over it again not too long ago, and it’s almost difficult to believe it didn’t work - I should have been a millionaire within 3 years.

What I utterly failed to take into consideration, however, was my personality. The whole plan was not built around my strengths, but many of my weaknesses. Of course I didn’t realise I had several of those weaknesses until it was too late, so it was something of a voyage of discovery as the business fell apart.

Learning as much as I could from the ordeal, I built my second business on the rubble of the first and E-Scope Web Design was much more successful.

But ultimately it was my personality again, which got in the way of taking it to its full potential. And when I finally understood that I just hated wearing the mask of being a businessman, we set about changing our lives and I sold the business.

So 7 years ago today we moved to Castle Douglas in SW Scotland, leaving the world of suits, firm handshakes while exchanging business cards, and business breakfast meetings, far behind. Instead we embraced a life of creativity.

My original desire to be a writer fell apart with the onset of the CFS, although I can now see it was a stupid idea anyway. Not because I can’t write, but because it once again utterly failed to take into consideration key personality traits – specifically that I’m very much a people person and derive most enjoyment interacting with others, while writing is an incredibly solitary activity.

And now I’m a portrait photographer – a creative profession where empowering people and making them feel good about themselves is an integral part of what I do.

Both events – becoming self employed, and moving to this corner of Scotland - were key points in the culmination of efforts put in over the previous year to retake control of our lives when we had felt trapped in situations we’d been desperately unhappy with.

Although there is no party or popping of champagne on this day, I always do take the time on May 18th to remind myself we do have the ability to make changes. We don’t have to believe the voices (from others or from within) that tell us there is no escape and we have to put up with miserable lives.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Sean Taylor and the personal gig

Singer/songwriter/excellent guitarist, Sean Taylor, was back in the area on Friday appearing once again at The Mill Sessions.

For those of you with good memories, you may recall I photographed him last year (and for those that don’t, here’s the link - Sean Taylor and the Mill Sessions). And he and his manager liked the photos so much, they were used for his new album, Love Against Death.

So with Sean back for another performance, it seemed liked a good opportunity to take a few more shots.

This time he arrived earlier in the day, so rather than rushing to get a shot in just before the gig started, I went over to the house he was staying at around mid afternoon.

I took a portable backdrop and lighting equipment with me and set about getting a good headshot.

What became apparent almost immediately, though, was he was not feeling particularly comfortable while I was taking the photos. Most people aren’t in front of the camera, so a lot of my time is spent helping people to relax in the unnatural setting of someone pointing a large lens at them and clicking.

However, for Sean it was more to do with the fact he didn’t have hold of his guitar. While I was playing with the lighting and checking the connection of the camera to the laptop, he just sat and played.

Catching him immersed in his own world of music felt much more authentic, so for the next shots in front of the lights he had his guitar with him.

Of course as soon as he had the guitar in his hands he started playing again, which, as anyone who has seen him play live will know, is completely mesmerising.

The idea of photographing against a neutral backdrop is it makes it easier to manipulate the background later in post-production. But as I clicked away, I realised pulling back to include the lights and surrounds looked more interesting. Revealing the stage set seemed more in keeping with the lack of falseness or pretension you feel when he plays.

And as he continued to play, I felt like I was getting a personal concert. There was no one else about to enjoy the way his fingers move around that guitar and the soulful mood of his voice. So after confirming it was OK with him, I flipped the camera into video mode and recorded Sean singing “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues”

Maggie didn’t get to see Sean Taylor when he played last year, but has been thoroughly enjoying his albums since I came home that night singing his praises. So on Friday evening we made sure we had a babysitter on hand and Maggie came along to The Mill with me, where we were both just blown away by his performance.

With the camera on my knee, I recorded him singing “Coal Not Dole” – my favourite track off his new album. Unfortunately the light was really low so the visual quality is not very good, however the sound is good enough to get a sense of just why you have to see this guy live.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Books for your iPad or iPhone

Last year I put together a book called Facing The Weekend which included all the portraits I took over the Spring Fling Open Studio weekend, and the year before, I created a book of my exhibition, Staring Back.

Facing The Weekend, and Staring Back were both published using the online service, (as the new book will be too).

Now while the quality is superb, the drawback is they are not particularly cheap. By the time printing and postage costs have been added, you won't get any change out of £30, even for the softcover edition.

However, Blurb have recently introduced the option of selling downloadable versions designed for iPads and iPhones, which means you can now experience these books on your devices for less than a tenth of the cost of the printed versions.

Follow these links where you can also preview the books before you decide whether to buy for only £2.49 – that’s about €3 or $4

Feel free to let your friends know...

Facing The Weekend

Staring Back

The book I’m currently working on – Artist In Residence: Please Let Me Take Your Photo! – should hopefully be ready in time for the coming Spring Fling weekend in just over 4 weeks time.