Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Rambling Beard Awards 2013

6 years ago I created the Rambling Beard Awards 2007 as a way of honouring those who had significantly contributed to my blogging - either through their comments, their own blogs, or behind the scenes support.

3 years ago I realised 3 years had passed since I'd handed out the award and many of the previous recipients no longer blogged, but there were new blogging friends on the scene, so I created the not-particularly-originally-titled Rambling Beard Awards 2010.

Well another 3 years have trickled past and the mix of bloggers who are influencing and supporting this place has shifted once again. One of the most noticeable differences this time round is the dominance of Facebook as most people's primary form of online socialisation. There are many who only blog very sporadically, or have stopped completely, who I am happily connected to on Facebook, but rarely find their way here anymore.

So I figure it's time to hand out another award. And although I have since changed the name of this blog so it is no longer called "Ramblings of the Bearded One", I think I'll continue with the award name.

So, without further ado, and in no particular order, may I present to you the Rambling Beard Awards 2013.

Recipients - please feel free to place this on your side bar

Pat - Past Imperfect
When it comes to going above and beyond the duty for blogging, Pat actually put me and my son up for the night when we were Down South back in the summer. She is warm, kind, and one of only 3 on this list who have been awarded this award for the 3rd time in succession.

Hope - The Road Less Traveled
Very often one of the first to post a comment on a new post, Hope keeps me going. Sometimes I struggle to convince myself it's worth posting something, but as soon as her comment appears I'm reminded why I made the effort.

Savannah - Savannah Marsh Mama
Another of the bloggers that have been in my life for many years, although I think more of our interaction tends to be via that other online social networking site. However, I don't know quite what it is, but even after all these years, I still feel a warm glow every time she calls me sugar. Plus it's her birthday today - do pop across and wsh her a happy one.

His blog has been through a few different incarnations, but Maurcheen keeps going. He feels a bit like the fun cousin who you don't see as much of as you'd like to but always enjoy his company when you do.

Jayne - In Jayne's World
When I began blogging, 8½ years ago, I was planning on becoming a writer. Although I abandoned that ambition several years back, in many ways Jayne writes the kind of blog I intended to create - full of well written observations on life as well as short stories, and never shying away from making a social or political point if she feels it's necessary. Always a good read.

Eryl - Palimpsest
I felt bereft with the demise of The Kitchen Bitch Ponders. I love the way Eryl's mind works and the way she looks at the world (she is the 3rd of already twice awarded). So I was relieved, and then delighted when she began her photography blog - exploring the world through the lens of a camera. Her individualism, creativity and desire to always try something new is never less than inspirational.

Allen - Allen's Zoo
Allen has an ability to move a pen over a sheet of paper in a way that within a few quick strokes a character comes to life off the paper. I've always loved his work, but a few months ago I began life drawing classes and gained a whole new level of insight into just how much mastery of the pencil he has.

Liz - Bird's Eye View
Liz, aka Hindsfeet, has been visiting this blog for several years, but in recent times has started commenting more often. Always warm and complimentary, quite simply she's very good for my ego.

Joanathan - Gardening Leave
Jonathan feels like one of the great discoveries of the past year or so. His writing is rich and fulsome and draws you into tales and worlds much like Dr Who's Tardis - so much bigger on the inside than they appear on the outside.

The fact she didn't receive an award last time can only lead me to the conclusion that it's been less than 3 years since we started regularly commenting on each other's blogs. Which seems odd, because in many ways it feels like I have known her for years and years. I love her observations, her enthusiasm in the world and the way she writes in a Guyanese patois.

Many thanks to everyone who visits this wee corner of the Internet - commenters and lurkers alike. I wish you all a wonderful year ahead!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Festive Wishes

Christmas cards have never been our strong point.

Christmas emails have fared better.

This year, however, stuff that will never be blogged about has proved to be... somewhat emotionally draining. So even the emails haven't made it.

Mind you, I did think of a superb festive image to create.

Our son, Rogan, is back home from his first semester at University, and although it's not up at the moment, his hair is still cut in such a way that he can create a mohawk - probably close to about 9 inches high by now.

So I asked him if he would do his hair - create the huge mohawk and let me hang a Christmas tree bauble from it. I know I could create such a damn fine photo!

Unfortunately he's not prepared to go through a couple of hours of hair preparation just for me to take one photo, and I just can't think of anything else that would be as good.

So, no festive image this year, I''m afraid.

Nevertheless, I still wish each and every reader of this blog - regulars and those who might randomly stumble across it - all the very best for the festive season!

Hope you have a really good one.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Fund raising and photo shoot

Last month the Galloway Photographic Collective (of which I'm a member) did a fundraiser for Macmillan Cancer Care. With framed prints, signed prints, calendars plus further items from several other local businesses, up for grabs via raffle tickets, we managed to raise £500 for this great organisation.

My donation to the cause came in the form of a photo shoot, and the lucky winner was Isobel.

When I went out to see her to discuss what kind of image she would like, it became clear she's a woman of the land. All her life in one form or another she has lived on farms, and she came to her current one when she remarried 13 years ago. During the conversation it transpired she still had her red velvet wedding dress and thought it might be quite fun to combine with her wellies.

We went for a walk a short way from the house where I saw a couple of old, gnarled hawthorn trees, and beyond was a wonderful view down the valley out towards the Solway coast. It was grey and overcast and the light was very flat, but I knew if the sun was out it could be quite spectacular. Red dress, hawthorn tree, wonderful view and a low winter sun - all we had to do now was wait for the right combination of weather and a day when we might both be available.

Since then it has been wet, grey and dull, and the rare times the sun has made an appearance the timing was bad. Until Tuesday past when conditions were ideal.

The temperature was only about 6 Celsius (43 Fahrenheit), and there was quite a wind blowing, making it feel several degrees colder. After about 20 minutes, I was feeling frozen, despite being wrapped up in several layers plus my coat and wearing 2 sets of gloves. Isobel, on the other hand, had her genes and life history on her side and wasn't bothered in the slightest.

Back at the house we looked through the shots. Despite the fact the last time she had any kind of photo shoot was at her wedding, she was quite relaxed and natural in front of the camera, which meant in a relatively short space of time we were able to get plenty of great shots, from the wistfully romantic to outright fun.

The one Isobel was most delighted with, though, didn't feature the welly-boots - in fact she wasn't even facing the camera. However, it did have a lovely combination the dress, the tree, the land and the light, which reflected how she felt about the place. And I have to admit I felt rather pleased with it too.

Wedding Dress

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Featured Photographer at DGWGO

Dumfries and Galloway! What's Going On? - or DGWGO for short - is a local website and Facebook page dedicated to news and features all about this corner of Scotland.

Run with enthusiasm and love, rather than profit, Robin Baird has seen his project grow massively over the past couple of years, and his time and commitment to the people of this area was recognised a few weeks back when he was nominated for 2 separate categories in the DG Life Magazine People of the Year Awards 2013.

Earlier this year, on the website, he began a series of featured articles on local photographers. And December's Featured Photographer is none other than yours truly.

Pop over and take a look - http://www.dgwgo.com/blog/featured-photographer/kim-ayres/#

And if you have any interest in what's going on in Dumfries and Galloway, then make sure you head over and "like" the Facebook page - https://www.facebook.com/DGWGO

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A Tale of Two Jellyfish

In the comments of my last post, long-time visitor and commenter on my blog, Hindsfeet, from Bird's Eye View, said that while she enjoys my photos, "can I tell you, I miss your writing...your muses.....(that's a compliment, by the way)....well, just thought I'd cast my unsolicited vote there...you have some really interesting wheels spinnin' about in your noggin and I miss riding some o' those trains of thought of yours : )"

Earlier this year I changed the name of this blog from "Ramblings of the Bearded One" to "Painting With Shadows" to reflect the shift in direction and emphasis in my creative expression (see this post). I'd noticed for some time (see this post back from June 2009) that I'd stopped thinking in terms of blog posts and started thinking in terms of photographic images, and this was beginning to affect the content of this little corner of the Internet.

This is not to say I've ceased having philosophical thoughts about life, only that I'm less likely to take the time to hone them into a concise written piece for the blog - quite simply, this written form of expression doesn't flow as easily as it once did.

However, a wee while ago I wrote a short story I wasn't sure quite what to do with, and it's sat doing nothing since. In light of Hindsview's comment, perhaps now's the time to post it.


Or scratch your head.

Or ignore and come back next week when I might have some photos up.


A Tale of Two Jellyfish

Once upon a time, there were two little jellyfish, floating in the sea, carried along by tides and currents far beyond their control. Tentacles dangling down, they had to wait until passing food was swept into their path before they could eat, while hoping they in turn wouldn’t be swept into the mouth of something larger.

Unable to do anything about their destinies, they lived in the moment, making the most of the here and now. Their lives might be over tomorrow, but today they were alive, and that made them happy.

One day, one of the jellyfish discovered that if he concentrated really hard, he could cause the dome at the top of his body to contract and release, which had the effect of moving him slightly.

This discovery had a profound impact on his outlook. Suddenly he no longer felt powerless, but realised he could change the course of his life. Now he could go in search of food rather than waiting for it to come to him. And most of all, rather than be helplessly deposited into the jaws of a passing shark or turtle, he might, just might, be able to swim out of the way.

From that day on, he was constantly fearful of not finding food, and of the real and constant dangers all around him, only too aware that while he had some control of his direction, it was still very limited compared to the currents of the ocean.

However, this ability of independent movement did give him a slight advantage and he outlived his still happy, but clueless friend who was swept into the path of a passing swordfish. Thus he was able to pass on the knowledge of how to contract and release his dome, along with his nervousness, fear and anxiety to the next generation.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Late Autumn, Low Sun

In the late Autumn in Scotland, the sun is never particularly high in the sky. On clear days it's a time of long shadows and the sun getting in your eyes, as it sneaks under the brims of hats, hoods and sun visors.

From a photographer's point of view though, it also means a lot of back-lighting - silhouettes with rims and halos of light.

Not that you get it very often - this time of year is known more for its wind and rain. Come to think of it pretty much every time of year in Scotland is known for its wind and rain.

However, when its not raining or overcast and the sun is out, then a walk through the woods with the sun low in the sky can be really quite magical.

Below are a few photos I took a couple of weeks back, making the most of last of the Autumn leaves and a sunny day.

As always, click on the photos for slightly larger versions

I'm toying with the idea of setting up a separate space to put my non-people photos. Putting them on my main site isn't really an option - there I need to promote my portraiture and narrative photography and I don't want to confuse matters.

But perhaps a dedicated Facebook page or something might be an option.

Hmmm... watch this space...

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Photography competition and an album launch

A few weeks ago I was involved in judging a photo competition of images submitted by some of the youth of Dumfries and Galloway. The winners - aged between 15 and 20 - got to spend the day with me and Phil McMenemy on Saturday past.

In the morning I did some stuff on studio and portrait photography, while in the afternoon, Phil took them out to show them how he approaches landscape photography.

It was a fun and day - partly because of the interest and talent shown by the competition winners, and also because I gained a deeper insight into just how differently Phil and I approach photography. It's not just that he shoots landscapes while I focus on people, but the ways we learn, the ways we teach, and what we consider the priorities also vary tremendously. It all goes to show there are many roads to developing your path and your voice in photography.

Back: Phil, Nicola, Esme, me
Front: Lewis, Brodie

In the evening I took a couple of the winners with me to the Album launch of The Yahs, which I'd been invited to because they used my photo of them for the cover of the CD.

Photographing performances is a very different beast to studio photography. In ordinary portraiture you have control over the background, the lighting and you can interact with the sitter. With bands up on a stage, on the other hand, you can do none of these things. However, there are things you can do to increase your hit rate of reasonably successful photos and I did try and pass as much of this on as I could.

Below are a couple of the shots I took. The lead singer of The Yahs is such a great front-man - moving about, strutting, posing and engaging with the audience, that it's not hard to take a good photo if you can learn to anticipate his moves. Not always easy as he is moving pretty much constantly, but when you can catch him, the rewards are great.

For the rest of the set from Saturday, visit the album on my Photography Facebook page - https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.749543921726981.1073741838.114749591873087&type=1&l=3873c06eaf - you don't have to be a member of Facebook to view it.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Workshop in Holland

I've always felt photography is primarily a storytelling medium and, while I have explored this through close up portraits, over the past year or two I've found increasing enjoyment in creating set pieces - images that require more thought to outfit, props, and locations.

My recent trip to Holland (see previous post) was part funded by the South of Scotland Visual Artist and Craft Maker Awards - a grant designed to assist "practitioners to develop their creative practice through new work, new skills or new opportunities" - and enabled me to do a workshop with a master of storytelling photography, Peter Kemp.

Peter's studio is this huge old building, full of high-ceiling rooms with wood panelling and elaborate fireplaces, and for this workshop he had brought along Katina, a professional model he's worked with on many occasions. Powerful lights, large softboxes, striking model, amazing studio - I wasn't in Kansas anymore, Toto.

This wasn't a workshop about what settings to use on my camera: I was there to gain insights into some of Peter's processes - how he goes about creating his images. The intention, though, was never that I would end up producing photos just like his.

Even if he gave me every last ounce of his knowledge, it would take me years to practice it enough to refine the techniques to create a convincing Peter Kemp photo (and by then he would have moved further on anyway). And even if I did finally produce a Peter Kemp image, everyone would say, "that looks like a Peter Kemp photo", not a Kim Ayres photo - and what would be the point of that?

The purpose of being there was to gain experiences and absorb information that will eventually find its way into my own photographic toolbox.

An interesting dilemma occurred to me while I was there: if Peter was coming up with the initial idea and advising on set layout and lighting; the model was choosing and creating her own costume and makeup; and I was making adjustments to the set to suit my vision - then who gets to claim ownership of the final image?

I might have clicked the button on my camera, but there's much of the photo that did not have my input. Additionally, Peter then took his own photos of the same setup. The reality is, it was a collaboration. It's not a pure Peter Kemp photo, nor a pure Kim Ayres photo - it's a Peter, Kim and Katina photo.

I've always been quite free with giving information on how I do things - I don't believe in trying to hold on to photography "secrets" to give me some kind of advantage. Peter has a similar ethos. It's the personal experiences, insights and visions of each person that will affect his or her interpretation of the scene before them - even a very constructed one.

And if I had any doubts about this before, it was certainly borne out by the different ways we both edited our images in the days following.

Below are Peter's and my versions of the scene. Same model, same set, same lighting, same post-processing programme, different cameras, different photographers.

"Shocked" by Peter Kemp, Kim Ayres and Cat Candy K

"Decadence" by Kim Ayres, Peter Kemp and Cat Candy K

A lot of what I learned will make itself felt over the coming weeks and months. It might be subtle or it might be profound - time will tell. But it was certainly a worthwhile experience on several levels.

Another bonus of my trip to Holland was I got to meet photographers, Willem de Vlaming, Ricky Siegers and Susanne Stoop - people I have known for 3 or 4 years online, but this was the first time I got to meet them in person.

Peter, Ricky, Susanne, Kim & Willem

The thoughtfulness and hospitality I was shown in Holland was quite a humbling experience. From a complete stranger phoning Peter for me from the train station as my phone had no signal (cliff-hanger from the last post now resolved), to being aware of sitting in a Dutch cafe surround by Dutch-speaking photographers where they all spoke English for my benefit, through to Willem and his lovely wife, Saskia, inviting me to stay my final night at their house and Willem giving me a lift to the airport in the morning.

Huge thanks go out to all the people I met during my weekend in Holland. My world now feels larger and more exciting.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

95% Chance of Crashes, Terrorist Activity and Body Cavity Searches

The only time airports and aeroplanes are drawn to my attention in everyday life is via the news, TV dramas and movies. So once I'd booked my flight to Amsterdam my brain had decided there was probably about a 95% chance of crashes, terrorist activity and/or body cavity searches before I'd reach my final destination.

I was heading over to Holland for a workshop with a master of storytelling photography, Peter Kemp, but it's over 10 years since I was last on a plane. Having had to renew my passport, sort out my EHIC and book an outrageously expensive parking space at the airport, I was feeling more than a little apprehensive.

For those who are seasoned travellers, I guess it's just a glorified bus or train ride, with a bit more in the way of security checks and passing time in waiting areas. But for me it's a strange and unfamiliar world where I'm unsure of the rules and expected forms of behaviour. My entire time at the airport is spent in a state of mid-level anxiety of the kind when you notice a police car behind you and while you're pretty sure you are within the speed limit, you are not entirely certain you don't have a bald tyre.

I sit in the departure area wondering if it's OK to take on board the exorbitantly priced bottle of fizzy water I'd purchased 10 minutes earlier. I know they can get really twitchy about liquids these days and I'd already had to put my toothpaste into a clear plastic bag as I passed through the x-ray and metal detection zone. I'm pretty sure... well, mostly sure... well, not sure enough to stop me worrying about it - that stuff bought this side of the barrier is all right. I decide to leave it in my pocket and push away visions of being wrestled to the ground by big burly men in suits, sunglasses and earpieces, confiscating my spring water and leaving me in a cell somewhere until my flight has departed.

Once on the plane I remember a cartoon strip I saw many years ago, where a woman is looking out of an aeroplane window and her husband, sitting next to her, is saying, "They are ants, dear, we haven't taken off yet..."

As the plane accelerates I wonder at what point it is going faster than the Aston Martin Vantage I drove back in the summer. Suddenly the nose lifts - it doesn't feel like we're going fast enough yet - and then we're airborne.

I deliberately chose a window seat. I'm staring out the small portal with the grin and excitement of a 7 year old child. It's magical.

The ground drops further away and starts to look flatter; the cars, houses and fields become smaller. The sun is now bouncing off the clouds below us and this new environment reminds me more of scenes from an alien planet in a Star Wars movie than anything I'm familiar with.

Between Scotland and Holland

Despite all the previous fears, the flight was uneventful, the passport checker didn't pause and look at me in a strange way, and I wasn't called over to one side by customs officers to see if I was trying to sneak an illegal haggis into the country.

In the end the biggest problem I encountered on my trip was once I'd left the airport and was on the train to Delft - I discovered my mobile phone wasn't connecting to any networks in Holland, so I couldn't call or text Peter to meet me at the station, and I didn't have an address for him either...

Monday, November 04, 2013

Tomb Raider...

Problem one - costume.
Well that turned out to be the easiest bit for me because Gina created it herself, including painting black some bright blue toy guns.

Problem two - location.
In the original games, the action mostly takes parts inside underground tombs in tropical countries. This corner of Scotland is hardly tropical. However, I realised all we really needed was an old stone passageway, and ruined castles are more commonplace round here than Aztec pyramids. After asking around and investigating a few places, I found the ideal spot.

Problem three - a flaming torch.
If you're going to be exploring underground passages, you can't call yourself an adventurer if you don't have a flaming torch. I had no idea how to create one. However, half a day on YouTube and various experiments in the kitchen and back garden led me to discover one way that worked:

Take half an old cotton t-shirt and soak it in some melted wax. Wrap it round your stick and bind it on with garden wire. When you're ready to use it, dribble lamp oil over it. Result: about 10 to 15 minutes of reasonable flame time. I made 3 of them.

Problem four, five, six, etc... getting the rest of the lighting right in a narrow stone passage; getting the right composition and angles in a narrow stone passage; stopping the model getting hypothermia on a cold, wet day in a cold damp tunnel, with cold water dripping down while she is wearing a costume is designed for tropical, not Galloway, conditions.

Earlier in the year, when we were wondering if Spring would ever actually arrive, I did a photo shoot with Gina of Gina Lillycrop Designs, which required a whole series of problems to solve.

It was coming up to her husband's 40th birthday and she wanted to present him with something special. Her idea was based around the fact he is a huge Tomb Raider fan, and even had a poster on their wall of Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft - the heroine of the games/films.

Would it be possible to photograph her as Lara Croft, so she could create a poster of her in the role, which she would then swap on his birthday?

Despite barely feeling her extremities by the end of the shoot, Gina was determined to keep going so we could make the best photos.

And huge thanks also have to go to our friend, Heather, who held flash units, jackets and gave moral support in abundance.

Here are a selection of the photos.

The image that replaced the poster

Finally, heartfelt congratulations to Gina and her husband who have just revealed they are expecting a baby next April. Looks like we got the timing right for the photo shoot then - the images would have had quite a different look with a pregnant belly...

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween Creations

It felt a bit odd carving a pumpkin this year without my son, Rogan, across the table doing one of his own. When I drove him back up to Edinburgh after his visit over my birthday weekend, in with the usual box of food any struggling student appreciates, we included a pumpkin in case he felt creative.

I think the one I've done is OK, but it doesn't quite match my masterpiece from 2 years ago. If I'm honest I think not feeling him trying to out do me meant perhaps I wasn't quite so ambitious.

However, I wasn't completely on my own as Meg decided this year she'd like a go. Feeling a certain parental sense of trepidation at the idea of her wielding a sharp knife, we agreed and I supervised her.

I lost count of the number of times I said, "gently now, gently with that knife, easy there, slowly, gently now..." while desperately trying to remove images of severed fingers from my mind.

Of course I gave her a wee bit of help here and there, but she did do most of it herself, and once I was past the relief at there being no accidents, I felt quite proud of her.

Here are our creations...

Meg's creation with the light on

Meg's creation with the light off

My creation with the light on

My creation with the light off

Back in the realms of photography rather than knives and vegetables, when I was doing the photo shoot with The Yahs a few weeks ago (see Photographing The Yahs), we tried a few shots of the 4 of them gathered together and one of them holding a flash unit, triggered remotely by my camera. It was tried at various angles and then abandoned as not working the way I wanted it to.

Looking back through the images afterwards, however, I was struck by one where the light had been held from below, giving that spooky look you get when you hold a torch under your face. So with a little bit of Photoshop editing, I was able to create a Yahs Halloween Special...

Perhaps next year I should try carving them on a pumpkin...

Friday, October 25, 2013

47th Birthday

This morning my daughter, Meg, took me down to In House Chocolates to treat me to one of their superb hot chocolates (melted chocolate is poured into a mug and topped up with hot milk - it's then up to you as to how much you stir it in, or spoon it out from the bottom of the mug).

And my son, Rogan, has come home for the weekend from university for the first time since we took him up there 7 weeks ago.

And Maggie has made a rather scrummy chocolate cheesecake for dessert.

Today is a good day.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

3 nights away

Maggie and I managed to have three nights away on our own last week.


In the past 18 years or so - basically since before Rogan was born - we've only managed that once before, about 2½ years ago.

This time we stayed in a lovely B&B on the shores of Loch Awe, in Argyll. With the bracken turning brown and the trees all the shades of autumn, this beautiful corner of Scotland was even more stunning.

OK, so it was chucking it down with rain most of the time, or heavily overcast when it wasn't, but that didn't really matter - it was just the 2 of us.

And no phone signal either.

Yes, I took the camera, but there will be no landscape photos appearing on this blog. Apart from the rain, I've discovered one of the drawbacks about being a professional photographer is I can't take snaps anymore. Each time I take a photo, I'm aware of its shortcomings. And as I'm primarily a people, not a landscape photographer, my landscapes are never going to be up to the standard I desire.

However, the sun did come out briefly when we visited Tarbert, so I went for a wander along the harbour and was quite pleased how these turned out.

As always, feel free to click on the images for larger versions.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Photographing The Yahs

OK, Ali and Dave, you swap places; Fergus you come in a bit closer; and Grant lean into the camera a bit more.


Hmmm... the balance isn't working. Dave, you move back to where you were, Ali move to where Fergus is and Fergus you move to where Ali orginally was.


Dave, bring the coffee pot in a bit closer to Grant; Fergus, angle the comb so it's flat on to the light; Ali raise your arm a bit; and Grant angle the cigar towards Ali's face... down a bit... a touch more... yes - perfect.


Damn, the rear flash didn't go off. Hold your positions guys while I shift my angle slightly...

Last month I mentioned a meeting with The Yahs (see earlier post) to discuss a photo shoot with them.

On Sunday we met up at Comlongon Castle to make it happen.

Various ideas had been discussed, although they all seemed to revolve around lead singer, Grant, being served, supported or waited on by the other members of the band.

Everyone was up for it, committed and patient while I kept making adjustments to lighting, positions and subtle movements, but eventually it all came together.

And I have to say, at the risk of sounding a little self-congratulatory, I'm delighted with how it turned out.

A typical scene of The Yahs just before they go on stage for a gig...

Feel free to click on the image for a slightly larger version

Monday, October 07, 2013

Not photographing...

I met a few well-known people this past week (as in people I've heard of), and several more well-known in particular circles (as in people I haven't heard of but other people have). But I didn't photograph any of them.

Despite the fact my official Wigtown Book Festival pass said:

Kim Ayres

which gave me access to them, I didn't actually get round to taking my camera out of the bag slung over my shoulder, at any time.

My purpose at this year's event was to chat to authors to see who might be up for being photographed as a literary character for the Wigtown Book Festival 2015 calendar (see last post about the 2014 calendar, now available). I exchanged contact details with those who expressed an interest and the plan is to arrange the various photo shoots over the coming months.

I've never been awestruck by people I recognise off the TV. When I see them in the flesh they are just a familiar face - rather like seeing someone who works in the post office or supermarket - I recognise them, but I'm aware they would have no idea who I am. I don't think I've ever understood why anyone would want to go up to them and ask for their autograph.

I can, however, understand the curiosity. Are these people real? Are they anything like us? Or are they a weird alien breed the rest of us mere mortals have no hope of relating to?

By my (admittedly limited) experience, they appear to be just like any other random group of people you or I could meet - some we will relate to, others will feel a bit awkward around unless we discover a common ground, and the rest we will stand there not having a clue what to say and be wondering how we can release ourselves from their presence without causing embarrassment.

Part of this comes from our own ability (or lack thereof) to mix with a wide variety of people, and part comes from theirs. But there is one who has the most amazing people skills I've ever experienced.

Whenever I've seen Joanna Lumley in a documentary I've always been amazed at the way people are utterly charmed by her - not just reacting to someone who is pleasant, but going all gooey. And after her talk at the Festival, the queue at her book signing was huge - by far the longest of any of the authors over the entire 10 days. And not only did everyone want their book signed, they all wanted their photo taken with her - each person handing their phone to the person behind them asking if they would be so kind.

When I met her in the Writer's Retreat - a sort of "green room" for the authors and VIPs - she was every bit as pleasant as you would expect, but it was when she got up to leave that I was hit by the full force of her spell weaving ability.

She touched me lightly on the arm, said something... - and unfortunately I have no idea what, because I was completely caught up in her gaze. She looked at me as though I had 100% of her attention and I was important.

And I started to go all gooey.

It took a few moments for me to compose myself but by then she was heading off and I was left with reality slowly seeping back in, desperately hoping I hadn't said anything stupid.

Not that my daughter cared about any of this. For her the really important person I got to meet was James Morton, runner up in the 2012 Great British Bake Off. Meg was gutted when he didn't win in the final, but beside herself with glee at the idea I might get to photograph him for next year's calendar.

Although it would have completely ruined any air of professional pride and integrity, I think she would have preferred it if I'd handed my camera to the person behind me to get a photo of me and James together...

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Wigtown Book Festival is here again

2 years ago I was artist in residence at the Wigtown Book Festival. Over the 10 days I took 173 photos of authors, visitors and locals all staring intensely into the camera. I printed them out and stuck them around the walls of the studio so anyone coming in had the experience of 346 eyes staring at them. Not for the faint-hearted.

Last year I returned to Wigtown with a new mission - to photograph authors as literary characters. These photos have now been made into a 2014 calendar to help raise funds for the festival.

You can find the full set of images in one of my Facebook albums, here:

Some of them I'm really pleased with, and others I can see where I didn't have the clarity of thought and purpose when the photos were taken, and so don't have the level of impact I'd have liked.

However, one of the great things about doing this was it made me start thinking in a different way about my photography. Up until then head shots was my main thing. And it still is in many ways - I do love faces and I can't see that going away any time soon. But photographing people as someone entirely different meant I had to start thinking about costumes, props and location. Most of the photos required a fair bit of advanced planning and an awful lot of problem solving.

This is leading me in the direction of looking to create images with stronger narrative content and higher production values - an example being the one I took of Anne Lindsay for her book, The Undefended Hour

This year, I'm back at the Wigtown Book Festival to see if I can find more authors who might be up for being photographed as literary characters. Photo shoots will then be done across the winter so the images will be ready for the Festival to use publicity and promotion for next year.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

A Photographer's Anxiety Dream

An opportunity to photograph birds of prey. Without hesitation, I make sure I have the big lens on the camera. But when I arrive, everything is happening in a confined space.

It not a telephoto, but a wide-angle lens I need!


The bed soaked in sweat, I wake up with my heart pounding...

Two very different lenses

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Yahs

The Yahs are a loud, rocking, entertaining local band. Front-man, Grant, struts his stuff like Freddy Mercury, Mick Jagger and James Brown rolled into one, while the superb musicianship of Dave, Ali and Fergus ensure the drive and rhythm never disappoint.

As well as just being foot-stompingly good fun to watch and listen to, one of the things I love about them is it makes no difference whether they are playing to a packed venue or a handful of grannies who were expecting a primary school choir - they always throw themselves completely into it.

I met up with them at the weekend to discuss a photo shoot, which if it goes ahead should also be a great deal of fun.

Getting them all together in one place isn't always easy, unless they happen to be playing a gig, so I caught up with them at the House O Hill "Rock The Hoose Beer & Music Festival".

And as I had the camera with me, it would have seemed silly not to take advantage of a front-row seat...

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Videoing the Environmental Art Festival Scotland

The photographs taken by me and fellow photographer, Colin Hattersley, for the Environmental Art Festival Scotland are now all up online and can be found on their website and their facebook page here:

EAFS Website
EAFS Facebook

More than the photography, though, I was asked if I could do some video shots too, to help give a sense of what it was actually like for the visitors to various events.

The camera I use - a Canon 7D - has a pretty good video capability, and with good lenses on the picture quality can be rather tasty in the right light.

The difficulty when doing photography at the same time, though, is switching the head between entirely different modes. Yes I am using the same piece of equipment, but there's a huge difference between creating a static image and a moving one.

And then the editing requires an entirely different skill set too.

However, I threw myself into it wholeheartedly and below is the final result.

The soundtrack comprises of voiceover artist, Innes Smith, who did the station idents for a radio broadcast - "The Dark Outside FM" - during the festival, and a remixing of a Scruffy Buzzards tune, "Four Hundred"

Hope you enjoy it.

EAFS Video from EAF Scotland on Vimeo.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

A Rogan Shaped Gap...

Taking my son, Rogan, off to University yesterday was full of mixed emotions.

We are immensely proud of him: he's going to study physics at Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh. Our hearts also ache at him flying the nest. For 18 years we have raised him from a tiny, helpless baby - I can still remember holding him in the hospital for the first time - through to a strapping adult with a 7-inch Mohawk and a laid back self assurance.

Rogan holding a flash unit, while I operated it remotely from my camera

He'll be back during the breaks, no doubt with a semester's worth of dirty laundry, but it will be on different terms. At the moment, we have never been apart from him for more than 7 consecutive days since he was born, and that was for a school skiing trip a few years ago. Not just physically, but psychologically he will make that separation over the next few months as he learns to live independently from us.

Of course this is what we have been working towards. The role of parents is to try and raise the child to a point where they can leave home and be unlikely to end up killed by their own ignorance or stupidity. And I think he's off to a good start. He's bright, sociable, and has a warm heart. And he's certainly a great deal more together than either his mother or I were at his age.

I would be lying if I said there wasn't more than a touch of wistful envy too. he's heading off to a place full of potential, with interesting people to meet and experiences ahead, at a time when he doesn't have the responsibilities of housing, car repayments or dependants. Although he will be saddled with tens of thousands of pounds of student loan debts by the time he leaves.

For him, we are excited and pleased. But for us... well, there's a great big Rogan-shaped hole in the house and our hearts just at the moment.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Playing the Bouzouki, Blues Style...

Last Friday saw the official launch of the "Lost Wasp" record label at the Mill on the Fleet - where the Mill Sessions take place (music events I photograph and have occasionally played in) - which also acted as a fundraiser for the Mill Sessions and a showcase for many talented local musicians.

Lost Wasp is the brainchild of Alan McClure - singer and guitarist of local band, The Razorbills - and its purpose is to support and promote original material by locally based singers, songwriters and musicians. There is no financial backing at this stage (fundraisers might occur in the future), but it is acting as a way to draw talent together and pool resources.

Because of my attachment to the Mill and the local music scene, I was keen to get involved, but the timing didn't suit the rest of the band I usually play with, Scruffy Buzzards. So I put out the word that I was up for collaborating with anyone else.

Marcus Wright records the Mill Sessions each time, and was the producer on the last Razorbills album (and on the one they have just begun recording), but he's also a superb musician and songwriter in his own right, so I was delighted when he took up my offer.

Together we created "Loving The Sun", which we performed at the launch. I handed my camera to a friend in the audience and asked him to video us.

The Irish-style bouzouki I'm playing is most commonly seen in folk music (see my post Bouzouki Comparison about the difference between Irish and Greek bouzouki), but I don't often play it in a particularly folky way (nor Greek way, for that matter). Indeed, for this song I start string-bending in a much more blues-style approach. Ultimately, any instrument is a tool designed to create sounds - and so long as those sounds are interesting to listen to, then I don't think it matters if it is played in one style or another.

The picture quality isn't great due to the low light, but the video does give a pretty good idea of the performance. At some point, we hope to make a proper recording of it.

Hope you enjoy it

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Goodbye Stella

Stella started commenting on my blog way back in late 2005, barely 3 months after I'd started it, and she was always warm, kind and encouraging with her words.

I discovered one of the things we had in common was we both had daughters with Down's Syndrome, but although it sort of acted as a way of introduction, it didn't define our relationship. She began a blog of her own, although it only lasted a few months. She felt guilty at not keeping it going, but was happier commenting on other people's sites rather than writing about her own life.

We connected on Facebook several years back, and periodically I would see her posting photos of her family, but more than anything we played a wee game called Lexulous - a word game very similar to Scrabble.

Pretty much every day then, for the past few years, we've made our moves and left little comments in the chat box. Periodically, though, there would be gaps. She was battling with cancer and there would be times she would disappear for treatment.

I knew it was ongoing, but I hadn't realised things were as advanced as they were. She took her last move a few days ago. Today I saw her son had posted on Facebook that Stella had passed away in her sleep early this morning.

Stella was a lovely woman and I was privileged to know her in that strange way of knowing people online, yet never having met in person.

My heart aches at her passing, and for her family who loved her dearly.

Goodbye Stella.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Photographing for the Environmental Arts Festival Scotland

The Environmental Arts Festival Scotland (EAFS) is a new event, hoping to be repeated every 2 years or so, happening across this corner of Scotland.

I was fortunate enough to be one of two photographers selected to cover the event, which takes place from 30th August to 2nd September.

Earlier this year I helped out at the press launch, which was attended by Fiona Hyslop, the Minister for Culture in the Scottish Parliament. My role was initially to work out the best place at the location for the press shoots, in order to get the kind of shots into the papers that the EAFS wanted, primarily with the combination of an old stone bridge and a more modern dam both acting as a backdrop. I then also documented the launch as well as taking a few photos for the EAFS to use for their own publicity.

Photo used for the EAFS brochure

Press launch featuring Minister for Culture, Fiona Hyslop

The fact that all went to plan no doubt helped in my application to be considered as one of the photographers for the forthcoming event.

In advance of the EAFS, I've been taking photos of some of the preparations. This past week I've twice been out to Carstramon Wood, near Gatehouse of Fleet, where Japanese sculptor, Ueno Masao has been creating the "Dome of Silence".

This began with the construction of a bamboo frame, with the help of several volunteers, then later in the week I went out to observe him on his own, weaving willow into the structure.

Below are a couple of photos from each session, but you can find plenty more, along with blog posts I wrote specially for Environmental Arts Festival Scotland, here:

Ueno Masao, the Dome of Silence, Volunteers and Tasty Food...

The Dome of Silence Revisited

Ueno Masao demonstrating weaving with strips of Bamboo

Volunteers helping to construct the bamboo framework

Volunteers helping to construct the bamboo framework

Ueno Masao adding willow to the bamboo structure

Ueno Masao weaving willow to the bamboo structure

Willow woven around the bamboo framework

Friday, August 16, 2013


My son and I returned from our road trip on Wednesday. One week and over eleven hundred miles had taken in a visit to a friend I’d known for a dozen years but never met in person, a chance for us to catch up with Rogan's cousins and my siblings, a gathering of people I went to school with and haven’t seen for thirty years, and a stop-over with blogging legend, Pat.

It was a journey packed full of memories, both nostalgic and melancholic.

Brixham, in Devon, is a fishing and tourist town, and Rogan loves it there. For him it is a place to be with my side of the family, which has only really happened a handful of times over the years, and most of those times have been on these road trips where it’s just the two of us away together.

For me, it is a place I spent the tail end of my youth in a drug-addled haze, suffering from Depression, feeling my life was going nowhere and never would, in the company of other stoneheads who would do nothing with their lives. Although I escaped from the town and that lifestyle when I was 21, when combined with the loss of my mother to cancer eleven years ago, after my parents moved back to Brixham, a grim sombreness pervades my mood when I’m there. I find I am torn between wanting to spend time with my brother, sister, nephew and nieces, and a desperate desire to run as far away as possible from the town, as quickly as I can.

With my kid sister and big brother

The Family - Season 4 begins this Fall on HBO...

We moved to Devon shortly before my 15th birthday, but despite living on the outskirts of Brixham to begin with, local authority boundaries meant I went to school in Dartmouth – a slightly more upmarket tourist town 3 miles in the other direction. As well as the bus ride, the journey to school also required a trip across the River Dart in a passenger ferry. That watery boundary became as much psychological as physical. In my head, Dartmouth could easily exist in a different country rather than just down the road. When we all left school, aged 16 (there was no 6th form at Dartmouth), I visited on and off over the following year, but then it ceased to be a part of my life.

The 30-year School Reunion was an evening of strange and mixed emotions. I don’t have particularly fond memories of my school days, but I was curious as to how some of these lives, that I shared 2 years with back in the early 1980s, had turned out.

Dartmouth was not a big school – there were no more than 80 pupils in our year. 25 or so turned up to the Reunion, many of whom were not the ones I hung about with much, meaning in some cases there was a great deal of brain stretching to try and figure out who they were. And even when I did have clear memories, it wasn’t always easy to overlay the image of the skinny, floppy-haired teenager with the overweight balding, middle-aged man standing before me.

The 30-year Reunion

"Anyone remember Jeremy’s party?"
The woman opposite me turns bright red.

"Is that Carmen? Bloody hell, she doesn’t look any older than 26. She must have had surgery!"
"No, it’s genetic. Her mum always looked really young too."
Time has not been so kind to everyone. I know everyone there is 46, but looking round the room you would guess they ranged from 26 to 66.

"Oh look! There’s Gary!"
Gary... Gary... who the hell is Gary? "Where?" I ask.
"Just there – the tall guy!"
Nope. Doesn't look familiar. Sigh. Another one. My glass is empty, I’ll get another pint of soda water.
"Gary!!!" I say with a big smile and a firm handshake, thinking I still have no idea who he is.
"Do you remember when you, me and Brian used to listen to Heavy Metal in your bedroom?"
Suddenly Gary loses 30 years, 20 pounds and sprouts black curly hair. How on earth could I have forgotten Gary? Brian, him and me sitting in my bedroom, listening to Black Sabbath and ACDC and moaning about how pathetic the pop charts were, full of pappy synth music.

And as the evening goes on, more memories creep to the surface, although there are 2 or 3 people I still cannot place. I hear tales of love and loss, triumphs and tragedies, embarrassments, accidents and suicides. Promises are made to keep in touch and friend requests on Facebook will be honoured.

At the end of the evening I have a car full of people needing lifts home who noticed I wasn’t drinking alcohol. One woman, who should have been the last to drop off, I detour several miles to get her home first. More than a little worse for wear I fear she might throw up in the car, or worse, pass out before we get there, as I have no idea where she actually lives and am reliant on her giving me directions. Fortunately she stays conscious and the contents of her stomach remain inside her.

Maggie thought I was completely insane to even contemplate going along to a school reunion. She can’t think of anything more hellish to endure. Why would anyone seek out the company of people they’ve been actively avoiding for decades?

For me, though, it was part curiosity, part nostalgia and partly an opportunity to reconnect with a couple of people I did genuinely have good friendships with, which I hope will now continue.

But I realise now, the main reason I wanted to go, even though I didn’t consciously realise it at the time, was I needed a benchmark.

My life has gone in many different and completely unpredictable directions. However many guesses I might have had, aged 16, about how my life would turn out, I would never have come close.

We moved a lot when I was a kid. My father would never stay somewhere long before itchy feet would make him want to see and live somewhere else. So I don’t have a hometown as such – a place where I spent my whole childhood, full of extended family and school friends. My life has been such a random journey I’ve not been able to gauge any sense how it compares.

So taking a slice of time – meeting up with people my age who I shared a point in history with three decades ago – gave me the opportunity to assess my own progress.

Although it didn’t really. How much can you find out about a class full of people’s lives over a few hours in a pub? And what would I compare against? Number of children? Number of partners? Financial success? Size of car? Ability to consume a large number of drinks and stay upright-ish? It was a bit stupid to think I would find any kind of resolution. Perhaps, though, it lays to rest the ghost that it’s actually possible to find that sort of resolution. I think I can let go of it, for now, at least.

The following day we left Brixham and headed up to see Pat – a soothing salve to the emotional turmoil of the previous few days. The size of the spread she laid on for lunch when we arrived made me wonder if she had also invited the local cricket team to join us. Over the next 24 hours she was the perfect hostess and warm and wonderful company. As always, next to her elegance and charm I was aware of my own slovenly appearance – "Mr Odorous Crumpled at your service, ma’am" – but she was polite enough never to comment on it. Walks, meals out, meals in, a drive over Exmoor, bacon and eggs for breakfast, lots of talking and a few photos, and we left Minehead in high spirits.

Pat, now in her 80s, looks younger than one or two of my classmates at the reunion

On the way back to Scotland we detoured via Chesterfield and spent the night with my father, puling out the old photo albums so Rogan could see what I looked like when I was his age, and what his grandparents looked like at his age too. Family resemblances are there, although no one else had a Mohawk like his...