Friday, August 31, 2012

Spring Fling Featured Artist Q&A

Spring Fling is an annual open studio event across the South West of Scotland where all sorts of artists – from potters and painters to sculptors and jewellery makers – open their doors to the public for a long weekend.

It’s been going for the past 10 years. I’ve been in it the past 2 and my wife, Maggie, has been for the past 4.

This year the Spring Fling blog started doing features on the different artists involved, and this week I take centre stage.

You can read all about it here:

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Photographing a Legend

Pat and I have been blogging buddies for over 6 years, so when the opportunity arose to meet up with her in person 3 years ago, I leapt at the chance (see Meeting a Legend). She turned out to be every bit as interesting, elegant and warm as you would expect from reading her blog, and what was supposed to be just a mid-morning cup of tea and a scone stretched into lunch. It seemed over all too soon as we had to head off. Quick photos were taken in the car park and promises made to meet up again if we were ever back in the area (not that frequent as we live about 400 miles apart).

In the intervening years since that encounter, barely a week has gone by when I haven’t kicked myself for utterly failing to capitalise on the fact that Pat was a model back in the 1950s. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve stared at my camera and pondered that missed opportunity.

So when Rogan and I started planning our road trip this summer, there was only one thing at the forefront of my mind – I had to get a photo shoot with Pat. Of course there were other things like meeting family, climbing tors and visiting Stonehenge, but this was one highlight I didn’t want to miss.

I emailed Pat to see if she’d be about during our trip down South and whether she’d be interested in a photo shoot. To my delight it was a yes on both accounts. But rather than just go for standard poses, we thought we’d have a bit of fun and recreate our own versions of some classic images, with Pat sending me links to photos she particularly liked. I did my best to try and work out how they were lit, and when we set off I made sure I took a portable lighting kit and backdrop with us.

It might have only been the 2nd time we’d ever met up, but being back in the company of Pat was as comfortable as if we’d been friends for 20 years. This time we also got to meet her husband as well as “French Son,” both of whom were very welcoming and friendly. Between long chats, plentiful food, cups of tea and an afternoon siesta we even managed to get some photography done.

Although we were never going to have time to do all the shots we’d like to have, we did manage to construct the couple I was most keen to do.

The first was a classic Hollywood type of photo in the style of Marlene Dietrich, complete with a fake cigarette.

While for the other, Pat wanted to see if we could approach something of the feel of Annigoni’s portrait of Her Maj, the Queen.

The vast majority of people I photograph begin by feeling very uncomfortable in front of the camera, and a fair proportion of any photo shoot is spent building their trust and helping them to relax with me before we start producing images that don’t have an expression like a cross between a grimace and a startled rabbit.

With Pat, however, from the word go she was right there with me – patient while I adjusted lighting, committed to each shot and working collaboratively to produce the best image. If we lived in the same town there’s no doubt I would be making excuses to photograph her on a weekly basis.

You can find Pat's blog about our day here, with a couple of set-up shots and one of me & Pat together, here.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Tor Surfing

For 8 days in August my son, Rogan, and I went on a road-trip. Not a road-trip in the full American sense of the word – quite simply Britain isn’t big enough for those 3,000-mile coast-to-coast journeys that populate US literature and movies. However, our journey down to Devon, across to Wiltshire, up to Chesterfield and back to Scotland did cover 1,122 miles, so in British terms was reasonably respectable.

Primarily it was a chance to catch up with family, including several relatives Rogan had never met before where we couldn’t work out if they were 2nd cousins, 3rd cousins, or 1st cousins once removed. I’ve tried googling how these relationships are categorised, but there appears to be conflicting information about it.

We also managed not just a visit, but a photo shoot with blogging royalty. More of that in my next post, although some might already know, or guess, who and will no doubt be able to read her version of our encounter in the next few days.

Meanwhile, the title of this post refers to the large granite outcrops known as tors, which sit at the highest points across Dartmoor. They are always fun to climb up and clamber over, although the wind is usually pretty strong on top as there is no shelter from it in any direction.

As we stood at the top of Haytor (the name being a derivative of high tor), wondering if a sudden strong gust would throw us over the edge, Rogan started leaning into the wind, moving his body and arms through the air as it rushed around us. He was creating some great shapes so I took some photos, then handed the camera to him while I had a go.

Much fun and hilarity ensued.

As always you can click on the images for larger versions.

Rogan gets down with the groove

I suddenly realise I'm being photographed from side on and quickly suck in my belly

And I've just realised while we were away, this blog became 7 years old! If you want read what I've written about previous blogiversaries, you an find them here: 6th, 5th, 3rd and 2nd

Monday, August 06, 2012

Bellevue Rendezvous at The Mill Sessions

Several years ago on a day trip to Carlisle, I came across a woman busking with a stringed instrument played with a bow. It was a bit larger than a viola – but rather than pressing the strings with her fingers there were an array of keys being fingered to change the notes. Additionally there were several strings sitting below the main four, which weren’t played, but vibrated sympathetically with the notes that were. The overall effect was a deep resonant sound that you could feel in your chest as she played. After standing mesmerised for several minutes I suddenly remembered I was supposed to be meeting up with Maggie and the kids. I dropped a pound coin into her case and headed off into a world that was now subtly different.

Two or three years later the same woman, with the same instrument, turned up at a folk session in a pub I was at. It turned out she lived locally, the instrument was called a nyckelharpa and she was called Ruth.

Over the next couple of years, Ruth would occasionally turn up to the folk sessions with her partner, Gavin, who played a mean fiddle. I lost count of the number of times that when she played the nyckelharpa I had to stop playing and just listen to – indeed feel - the sound reverberating deep inside me.

I then discovered Ruth, Gavin and another guy called Cam, who played the cittern (not dissimilar to a bouzouki, but with 10 strings instead of 8), had a band called Bellevue Rendezvous. Far from being just a local outfit, they toured in Europe, played at Celtic Connections, and had CDs you could buy. So I bought them and played them to Maggie who also fell in love with their sound.

Maggie and I were both desperate to see them play live, but on the rare occasions when they were performing locally, awkward timings or lack of babysitter meant we weren’t able to.

For the past 18 months or so I’ve been involved with The Mill Sessions - a small venue with lovely acoustics, which can’t hold more than about 50 people in the audience. It means the gigs have an intimate feel – barely a step up from having performers playing in your living room – but those limited numbers also mean there’s little money available to pay for high quality, better known musicians. I knew, however, if I could get Bellevue Rendezvous there, it would be something special indeed.

So to help sweeten the deal I offered to top up the fee available from the Mill with a photo shoot so they could have some good publicity images. They agreed and on the morning before the gig I went out to Ruth and Gavin’s with my camera, laptop and a couple of portable studio lights.

We started with an idea I’d been mulling over for a few days, with Ruth sitting with the nyckelharpa on her lap, Gavin on a high stool behind her to one side and Cam standing further behind and to the side, creating a sweeping diagonal across the image.

It took a bit moving stools and adding cushions to change heights but we got there (as always, click on the images for larger versions).

With an acceptable shot in the bag, I was now free to try some other arrangements and managed to get some great diagonals and triangles in this one:

Pleased with that I felt I could now play a bit more and I pulled out the wide-angle lens, which had the effect of distorting the image a bit and exaggerating the size of the instrument, as well as creating some stronger lines.

Finally I decided to ramp everything up by getting in really close with the wide-angle lens, and adding lots of texture in the post-processing of the image afterwards. It’s my personal favourite of all the images, although I’m well aware it won’t be to everyone’s taste.

With the photo shoot out of the way, that evening I was able to just sit back and enjoy the gig with Maggie, and it was truly every bit as wonderful as I’d hoped for, and more.

With my camera resting on my knee I recorded a couple of their tunes. The sound is only coming through the built in microphone, so doesn’t do it full justice, but the videos below should give you a reasonable idea of their music. But if you can’t get to see them live, the next best thing is to buy their CDs, put them on a really good quality sound system and turn it up loud enough to feel the vibrations in your chest.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Being Ruthless...

“What about this guy? He’s the solicitor who helped me with the paperwork when I sold my business.”

“When did you last speak to him?”

“About 7½ years ago.”

“Delete him.”

“But he might come in useful one day…”

I recently transferred to a different mobile phone network – one with better coverage in this corner of Scotland. It included a brand new fancy phone and a tariff with more inclusive minutes than I could possibly use without damaging my health. However, transferring all my contacts to the new phone has been beset with difficulties.

After many hours wasted and headaches induced, I eventually resorted to shifting them across one at a time via Bluetooth. And although this means opening every contact and running through about 6 different menus selecting options each time, it is still marginally quicker than retyping them all in by hand.

Of course when you are transferring each contact individually, it forces you to decide whether you need, or even want, to keep hold of certain numbers.

Most are obvious – regular friends, business contacts and family are all transferred without hesitation. And then I find, sadly, at least 2 of the people listed are no longer alive, while others have moved house and the number I have for them is redundant.

There are a handful who I have absolutely no idea who they are. A single name with no clue as to who Sharon or Nat might be. I'm reluctant to phone and ask in case it turns out to be a neighbour, relative or an old acquaintance I've spent so long avoiding I've finally forgotten who they are.

I've also transferred 2 different car recovery companies because I cannot remember which one I am currently with and can't be bothered to go and hunt out the paperwork.

But then there are the people I’ve not spoken to for some time. Older business contacts and friends that drifted away – people I’m not even connected to on Facebook. These are the ones where it’s not so clear-cut. Do I really want to let go of them for good or might they come in handy one day? It’s rather like going through the shed and finding a box of things you’ve never used and probably never will, but you can almost guarantee it will be exactly what you need to solve a problem within 2 weeks of discarding it.

Periodically I catch bits of TV programmes about people whose lives are wrecked by compulsive hoarding – never able to throw anything out without it inducing a massive panic attack. In this digital age hoarding information has become even easier as we no longer see physical space being taken up with detritus of past actions.

Of course each time we have to wade through the mass of useless digital files looking for the bit we want, we swear we will do a proper clean out and reorganisation of it at some point.

Perhaps I do need to be a bit more ruthless.

Let’s just hope I don’t need a solicitor in the next few weeks…