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.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Attention Seeking

"Well how much do you think that one is then?"

"I've no idea. I've looked along those shelves three times, but it's not marked anywhere."

"Can you see a shop assistant anywhere?"

"No, the place seems deserted. Perhaps they’re all on their coffee break."

"Don't worry. I've a foolproof method for getting their attention. Let's go and take a look at the iPads."

Sure enough, we’d been playing with the touch screens on their iPad in the computing section for less than a minute when a sales assistant miraculously appeared to see if they could help us with our purchase.

Although they seemed marginally less enthusiastic when we said yes and dragged them round to where the steam irons were.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Tell Me

Last weekend Scruffy Buzzards were back in Dumfries playing under the Midsteeple again, fortunately this time to a slightly larger audience.

Although we were on at 3 o’clock on a Sunday afternoon, we were sandwiched between bands Pepperjam and Steve Dowling & the Obliviates – and with three bands being featured it had attracted more of a crowd.

I have to confess though, I’m rarely at my best in the middle of the afternoon. Although my energy levels are considerably better than they were through the several years of ME/CFS, I’m not sure if I’ll ever be back up to full strength. Not that I was ever great at that time of day. Even back in my days at university I discovered that I rarely took anything in during mid-afternoon lectures. I’ve thought for a long time that I’d probably be much happier living somewhere down near the Mediterranean, where there’s much more sunshine, and siestas are commonplace.

Unfortunately, a thousand miles north in the land of cool, damp greyness, at least half the gigs we’ve played this summer have been in the afternoon. I can manage it at the time – there’s always a slight adrenalin rush from being up on stage – but I pay with excessive tiredness later. Perhaps we’ll get more evening gigs as the autumn draws in.

Meanwhile, Graham, from Steve Dowling & the Obliviates, has uploaded a video of us playing "Tell Me" - which is the first song I’ve ever written lyrics for.

I’ve been heavily involved in the music for many of the Scruffy Buzzards songs, but for some reason, song lyrics don’t come easy to me, in the same way poetry doesn’t. Short stories, blog posts, conversations, general chat – these are the areas I’m best at with word constructions, but I never got the hang of rhythmic wording.

Perhaps part of it is the fact I rarely ever listen to song lyrics. The voice is just another instrument to me, so the person could just as well be singing in a different language for all I will notice. This has been a long-standing source of contention between the music choices of me and Maggie.

Maggie does listen to the words – indeed for her they are often very important. She will seem to love a track because the words are deep, meaningful and moving, but if the melody, chord structure and rhythm do nothing for me, then I'm not interested. Likewise she will get frustrated with songs where the lyrics are lame, but I really like because of the music.

To date, then, "Tell Me" is the only Scruffy Buzzards track featuring lyrics by me, and I have no doubt it will continue to be a rarity. In fact, for all I know, Richie might have changed the lyrics completely and I won't even have noticed...

Oh, and the wee boys running across the screen towards the end of the video, distracting you from Richie’s guitar solo, are Richie’s sons, so he only as himself to blame for that...