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 –

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...

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 -

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 -

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.