Tuesday, May 28, 2013

127 Humphrey Bogarts

Spring Fling is over for another year and my studio walls are now adorned with 127 Humphrey Bogarts.

Trench coat and trilby - time for a comeback...

One of the effects of photographing everyone wearing the same hat and coat, from the same angle, with the same lighting, is it emphasises the differences. And what differences there were!

Young, old, large, small, male, female, bearded, clean shaven, long and short hair, with and without glasses. The youngest was 2-year-old Cameron, and the oldest was 93-year-old Auriole. Some looked a bit awkward in the outfit while others absolutely owned it. Anne, a petite woman in her 60s for whom the coat was at least 10 sizes too big, still managed to look really chic.

Far more women than men took part – by a ratio of around 2 to 1. But then it wasn’t uncommon to get small groups of friends – three or four women going round the trail together – who would then egg each other on. One or two would be bold and enthusiastic and not allow anyone else in their group to chicken out. By contrast, I didn’t get any groups of men coming in together.

Some men had to be persuaded by their wives to join in, and some women by their husbands. One thing’s for certain, though – if I’d had a stack of trilbies to sell, I’d have made a fortune. I lost count of the number of people who made some kind of comment, in a particular tone of voice, about their partner looking rather good in the outfit…

Special thanks go to my assistant for the weekend, Maria, who’s the 15-year-old daughter of my friend, Susi. I’d assumed my son, Rogan, would be helping me out but he had his Advanced Higher Physics exam on Monday so couldn’t spare the time. Fortunately Maria came to the rescue. While I was busy photographing people, she was welcoming other visitors through the door, explaining the set up, encouraging them to take part, getting them to fill out a model-release form, telling them how cool they looked when the photo was printed, and sticking the images to the wall. It’s fair to say the weekend wouldn’t have been anything like as successful without her.

After closing up late on Monday afternoon, giving Maria a lift home, picking up Maggie from her studio in Kirkcudbright, getting an Indian take-away for dinner, devouring the Indian take-away and sitting down with a nice cup of tea, I checked my emails, and found this waiting for me in my inbox.

"Just a quick note to say how much my family enjoyed visiting your studio on Saturday during Spring Fling. Cosmas and Serafina loved having their photo taken and watching you produce a print of it. Thanks for taking the time to answer my children's questions.

"Even though my youngest daughter, Anona, was too shy to have her picture taken, the visit to your studio obviously had a very positive effect on her. She found my old camera and spent the whole weekend taking photos. When we visited another studio on Sunday, she insisted on taking the camera with her to take photos of things that she found interesting."

Tired and exhausted from three very intense days, I was feeling a little emotionally fragile. This turned out to be the perfect balm.

Here’s an image created by merging 4 photos so you can see all the Bogarts on the wall

But if you’d like to see them all a little closer up, then watch the video below. Of course I couldn’t use any other soundtrack than "As Time Goes By" from Casablanca

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

I’m Humphrey Bogart and so’s my wife

This weekend, 25th to 27th May, is Spring Fling – an open studios event taking place across this corner of Scotland. 93 different studios of artists, sculptors, ceramicists, photographers, weavers, printmakers and the like will be open to the public to meet the creatives in their own environment. This will be Maggie’s 6th and my 3rd year of participation in the event.

While it’s an excellent opportunity for people to meet the artists and buy from them directly, the kind of photography I do can’t be sold off the wall. No one is going to purchase a portrait of someone else, so what I need to do is create something more participatory, and give people a taste of what I do.

2 years ago I decided to take a quick portrait of anyone who visited my studio, and pinned the photos to the wall each time (see Facing The Weekend). This year I thought we could have a bit more fun and get everyone to dress up as a particular character.

It took several weeks from the initial idea to actually deciding what character to go for. I needed a look that would be iconic and recognisable but not too complicated to produce. Eventually the idea of Humphrey Bogart in trademark trilby and trench coat was mentioned and it seemed ideal. A few more weeks of tracking down something affordable from ebay resulted in acquiring the appropriate apparel.

I then needed someone to model for me while I worked out the appropriate angles and lighting, and fortunately the wonderful Alice Francis (see Photographing A Fish out of Water) came to my aid.

You can never be sure how these things are going to be received until you put them into practice. I might be inundated with people queuing up to be photographed as a Hollywood icon, or it might frighten everyone away.

The hope is I get a wide variety of people joining in – young, old, large, small, male, female – to fill my studio walls with as the weekend progresses. When everyone is photographed wearing the same outfit from the same angle with the same lighting, what it will do is emphasise the differences.

If you find yourself in the bottom left corner of Scotland this Saturday, Sunday or Monday, then do call in and stick on the hat and coat. I’m Studio 24 on the Purple Route of the Spring Fling trail. And if you have a bit of time, Maggie will be in Studio 32 – she will be delighted to see you and you won’t even have to dress up.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Undefended Hour

Anne Lindsay has written a series of poems based on bizarre black and white photos from days gone by. Each of the images has a "What the...?" feel about them – whether it’s the woman in the mourning veil wearing boxing gloves, or the wee boy smoking a cigarette while sitting on a stool next to a chicken.

Anne’s making a book of this collection of strange images with her poetry called, "The Undefended Hour" and asked me if I would do an author’s photo of her for the back cover. As we talked about her book, and the recurrent themes of death, sex and humour, the suggestion arose we should do a narrative photo rather than a headshot.

The idea was bounced back and forth and eventually settled on an image where Anne would be applying lipstick in the dressing table mirror, but in the reflection there would be ...

Scruffy Buzzards’ guitarist, Richie, and his partner, Sharon, were game for providing the extra figures we needed for the photo.

I’d already worked out the broad composition, but it’s the details that can make all the difference – a shift of the shoulder here or there, the direction of a hand and where the shadows fall.

Indeed light was one of the most challenging aspects of this shot, as I had to create 2 different lightscapes for it – one for Anne, and an entirely different one for Sharon.

Usually when I take a photo I will try out both colour and black and white versions, and there will be an obvious winner. In this case, however, each has their own strengths.

I like the colour palette of the first one, with the deep reds of the dress and lipstick (also more noticeable on the cigarette in the ashtray). The black and white, though, has a moody, European Noir feel to it that has a definite appeal.

Anne’s decided to go for the black and white version for her book, which is more in keeping with the images within, but I’ve included both versions here for your perusal.

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

Saturday, May 11, 2013

First and last day of school

What I remember most about Rogan’s first day at school is that I was far more upset about it than he was.

My own school days were not overflowing with warm, fuzzy feelings. I recall it as being a place of hostility, tension and boredom. Leaving school was, up to that point, one of the happiest days of my life.

The idea of inflicting this on my son made my stomach churn. Yes, I’d been assured that bullying was now a zero-tolerance issue rather than the “that’s life, deal with it” attitude that came down from unsympathetic teachers, some of whom, in my experience, were often the worst inflictors. But the fears remained.

Fortunately all my concerns came to nothing. Not only did Rogan excel at school work, he was reasonably popular among the other children and could even kick a ball with some accuracy (something I was never able to do, which was unfortunate in a place and time when how well you could kick, catch and throw one conferred your status, or lack of it, in the playground and pecking order).

Nearly 13 years have now passed, and Friday was his last day at school. He only has to go back in for his final exams now, which actually make no difference to what happens next has he has already received an unconditional offer from Heriott Watt University in Edinburgh to study Physics.

Rogan's first day at school

Rogan's last day at school

This autumn, on Rogan’s first day at University, I will once again be far more upset about it than he will, but for different reasons.

He’ll be excited at a whole new world opening up, whereas I’m going to miss him terribly. My wee boy is all growed up

Tuesday, May 07, 2013


Alan McClure is a teacher, musician and songwriter and one of the driving forces of local indie-folk-punk band, The Razorbills.

We were chatting recently about a direction I’m moving my photography in. As mentioned in a previous post, a lot of my photography is about created, rather than captured images – building narratives, telling stories. So I asked Alan, if he could be the hero in an image constructed specifically for him, what theme would he go for?

Castaway, was his reply.

No swinging through jungles or shooting bad guys or rescuing damsels in distress – what appealed was a sense of remoteness, devoid of people. I wondered if he’d had a particularly tough day at school, but didn’t pry.

I enquired, hopefully, if he had a budget that would stretch to flying us out to a Caribbean island, but he was quite insistent it could just as easily be a remote Scottish island as a tropical one. Still, a trip to the Outer Hebrides might be fun, but as the thought was entering my mind he said, "Carrick beach would probably look the part". Carrick is less than 10 miles from where he lives. I silently cursed.

On the upside it did mean we wouldn’t have to share a small tent exposed to the full force of the Atlantic winds and weather (I doubt a teacher’s income would ever have stretched to a cosy B&B, let alone a luxury hotel).

So one evening last week we headed out to Carrick just before sunset to see what it might be like as a potential location. However, Alan brought along some wood just in case the conditions were right.

The tide was out and as the sky darkened the temperature started dropping. Alan lit the fire in a manner of someone who’s done this kind of thing since he was a boy scout, and long since realised some firelighters and a match are an awful lot easier than rubbing two sticks together (although he assured me he could do it that way if need be).

I tried a variety of shots, and periodically driftwood was sought to keep the fire going, but in the end the most effective were where I used the wide-angle lens, which is ideal for capturing a sense of space.

These were my favourite from the shoot. Feel free to click on any of the images for larger versions.

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Alasdair Roberts at The Mill Sessions

Steeped in traditional folk roots Alasdair Roberts has a very distinctive style. I first saw him playing at last year’s Midsummer Music Festival, where his acapella rendition of, The Sun Shines Down on Carlisle Wall, held the entire room spellbound. Last week he was back in the area to play at The Mill Sessions.

Quite often the only opportunity to do a photo shoot with the performers at Mill Sessions events is during the hour or so before the gig starts, which always feels a bit rushed. This time, however, Alasdair came down to Dumfries on the train around mid afternoon. I met him at the station and we had a wee bit of time before he was to meet up with Harry, who would be taking him along to Gatehouse.

I began trying to take some shots at Dumfries Station, but couldn’t get the right combination of light and environment. Strong sunlight cast harsh shadows I didn’t like, and the areas of shade all had unsympathetic backgrounds. We headed down to Dock Park, but it transpired the area I’d been thinking of was fenced off. Then the rain came down.

The ruins of Lincluden Priory were another option, although it’s not easily found as you have to find your way through the labyrinths of Lincluden housing estate and there are no signposts. The rain paused when we finally got there and I managed to get a few shots I was pleased with

Alasdair’s latest album is called A Wonder Working Stone, and according to Harry is the best thing he’s listened to this decade. The copies he brought with him for the gig all sold out, so I wasn’t able to get my hands on one immediately, but Alasdair’s promised to send me one this week and I’m looking forward to hearing it.

This was his encore piece at the Mill