Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Scruffy Buzzards CD

Last month Scruffy Buzzards launched the new season of The Mill Sessions for 2013. We also just managed to get our 3-track CD released for it, although it was a close call and we all had visions of the boxes arriving 2 days after the gig.

The songs are also now available on iTunes, Spotify and Amazon for downloading. Hard copies – on a disc in a cardboard wallet with the artwork – are available for £3 if you want to pick up a copy at one of our gigs, but if you want one mailed out to you it will cost another £3 for post & packing.

The cover photo was fun, though rather tricky to pull off. I’d had the idea for the image a few months before - probably after a debate about which tracks should be included in our set list for a gig, or a discussion about the musical direction we should be moving in. Throw any four people together and you will differences of opinion, musical taste and influences.

I played around with thumbnail sketches on the backs of envelopes, then eventually we found a timeslot that everyone could manage, when it wasn’t raining, and did the shoot.

The advantage of being a photographer in a band is it means I have a group of people I can try ideas out on. The disadvantage is the extra difficulty because I have to be in the photo at the same time.

I wasn’t convinced we’d be able to get the composition in one shot, so I also photographed everyone separately, in case I had to Photoshop us all together afterwards. In the end, however, we did manage it and the Photoshopping consisted only of adding a textured overlay and removing a couple of small distracting items on the garage door behind.

The individual shots didn’t go to waste though, and ended up on the banner of our Facebook page

and the one of John, the bass player, found its way onto the actual CD

I have to say there is something deeply satisfying about seeing your own photo on the cover of the CD of the band you’re in – and being able to put the CD into a player and hear your own music. It reminds me of when I published my first photo book, Staring Back though blurb.com. Holding this book – a real, genuine book, with real pages and my name on it – was a thrill. And I experienced the same thing holding the Scruffy Buzzards CD.

Now we just need to figure out how to raise enough money to make the album...

If you're on Facebook and would like to keep track of our developments, then do head over to our page and click "like"

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Dr Stuart Clark as Isaac Newton

Last week I watched a programme on BBC2 called "Isaac Newton: The Last Magician" (available on BBC iPlayer for another couple of days), and one of the contributors was Dr Stuart Clark, who wrote the historical novel about Newton, The Sensorium of God.

I met Stuart at last year’s Wigtown Book Festival when I was photographing different writers as part of the "Authors as Characters" project, and Newton was his choice.

I managed to piece together the costume from various sources, but the biggest stumbling block was trying to find a wig. In many of the portraits of Newton, he’s wearing a huge great curly thing on his head. But try as I might, I couldn’t seem to get hold of one. Pantomime wigs are easy enough to come by, but they are invariably Georgian in style – which is nearly a century too recent – and look entirely different.

However, just as I was beginning to despair, I found some other portraits of Newton from when he was a bit younger where he seems to have natural, shoulder-length hair, not entirely dissimilar to Stuart’s, so I felt comfortable in abandoning the search.

Stuart brought an apple with him, as the story of one falling from a tree and inspiring Newton's Theory of Gravity is probably one of the most famous stories about him, even if it is based more in myth than truth.

So in between rain showers, we went out into the garden of Scotland’s largest second-hand bookshop to do the photo shoot.

Jacket and waistcoat provided by Erwin Van 't Hoff
Shirt provided by Lochside Theatre, Castle Douglas

Scarf provided by Maggie Ayres
Apple provided by Dr Stuart Clark

In a rare departure from my usual style, I felt it worked better if he stared at the apple rather than into the camera...

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

New Tricks

Parent: "Did you enjoy your first day at school?"
Child: "First day? You mean I have to go back again tomorrow?"

I have a memory from childhood of assuming that once I left school I wouldn’t have to worry about learning anything ever again. In fact sometimes I studied hard in the desperate hope I might even be able to finish school completely by the time I was 12. I was really looking forward to it, until one day a teacher said, "Real learning starts once you leave..."

I was horrified. Would it never end?

He was the only teacher to ever say that, and for a while I managed to convince myself he was just winding us up. Certainly if he’d said that by the time I reached the ancient age of 46 I’d still be learning, I would probably have lost all hope.

Of course learning new things is what keeps the mind agile, even if it is sometimes accompanied by the lurching fear we will never get the hang of it and end up feeling useless and humiliated.

Next week I’m doing a photo shoot that requires 2 new skills to learn. The first is creating a flaming handheld torch, like you see in films when the character is heading down into a dungeon or tomb. Over the weekend I was emailing friends, reading articles and watching YouTube videos. Yesterday I tore an old t-shirt in two. The first half I dipped in melted wax, then wrapped it around a stick and bound it with thin wire. The second was also bound to a stick, but I drizzled it with lamp oil instead.

So now I know wax helps it burn longer, but oil burns quicker and fiercer and is easier to light, though more likely to remove your eyebrows if you’re not careful.

The second thing to learn is something that’s been on my things-to-do list for quite some time: off-camera flash.

Most cameras come with a built in flash to produce more light in low light conditions. However, there are distinct disadvantages. As well as red-eye effects, the light produced is harsh and comes from the same direction as the camera, which is limiting and often uninteresting. Usually for portraits, light either needs to be soft and ambient (more flattering), or from the side (more characterful).

On a bright day, a place in the shade or near a window gives you plenty of options to play with. On a dull day, studio lights can be manoeuvred into many different positions. But if you’re outdoors, away from a power supply, and light is low, then flash units are necessary. However, to create interesting lighting effects you need to be able to position them in other places than on top of the camera, and then find a way to trigger them to go off in sync with the camera.

The first of 2 I’ve ordered arrived this morning.

Because I regularly visit various photography sites, read lots of articles on photography and watch countless YouTube videos on the subject, I know the potential of having what is effectively a portable lighting system I can use anywhere.

And on one level it’s very exciting as a whole new world opens up to explore.

But I’m also aware of just how much I have to learn before I can a) use them, and b) use them effectively.

So far I’ve unwrapped the box, taken it out of the box, stared at it, opened the manual, closed the manual, stared at it, photographed it, gone and found some batteries for it, stared at it, and now written a blog post about it.

At some point I’m going to have to switch it on…

Monday, April 01, 2013

Photographing A Fish Out of Water

Alice Francis is a local artist with one of the most wonderfully creative imaginations around. She transports you off into worlds you would otherwise never have dreamed of.

At last year’s Spring Fling, she wrapped a complete traditional Galloway cottage in a fitted floral stretch fabric. "Couch" became one of the highlights of the weekend (for a wee video showing the fabric being fitted, head to YouTube - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CVRk_gsw0J4)

Only discovered if you happened to be driving on a small, out of the way B-road.

Exact measurements had to be taken to ensure a proper fit. Note the chimneys...

Galleries and formal exhibitions are not for Alice. She likes her art to be stumbled upon and to force you to think twice about what you are seeing and how that might challenge a whole pile of preconceptions you never realised you were carrying around with you.

A couple of weeks ago she embarked on A Fish Out of Water - "An intrepid 'Silver Darling' retraces the routes of her ancestors by hiking inland along The Herring Walk. A humorous adventure in ichthyology!", where she sought to hike along the old route taken by the fishwives from Eyemouth Harbour through to Selkirk – but dressed a fish, in a costume made from, old rope, netting and beach-combed plastics.

Fish ready for a hike, complete with OS Map

This was one strand of a Borders Arts Trust project called Casting The Net – more of which can be found on their blog - http://bordersartstrust.wordpress.com

Alice and the Borders Arts Trust needed an image or two for publicity, so before she set off we went out to take a few photos.

Rucksack, bedroll and saucepan at the ready

Alice emerging from the headset

One last look at the sea

Up through the woods where the wild-garlic offered its sweet aroma when brushed against.

I can't help but feel this image would look at its best printed up at least 2m high

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

I asked Alice to be my poster-girl for this year’s Spring Fling open-studio event at the end of May, where the theme for my studio will be 'I'm Humphrey Bogart and So's My Wife'. More on that in a later post…