Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Spring Fling 2014

This weekend past, Maggie and I had hundreds of people visit our studios as part of the Spring Fling Open Studios event, which happens every May in this region. Along with 95 other artists and makers across Dumfries and Galloway, we flung open our doors for visitors to come and meet us in our own environments and see our work. This was Maggie's 7th year taking part, and my 4th.

Last year I decided to dress visitors up and photograph them with a trench coat and trilby under the heading, "I'm Humphrey Bogart and So's My Wife". It generated a lot of interest and laughs and by the end of the weekend my walls were covered in people posing as the Hollywood icon (see 127 Humphrey Bogarts for more details)

Fun though that was, in the weeks and months following, I realised some people had left with the impression I was just a photo-booth photographer, which was not the reputation I wanted to develop.

This year, therefore, I took some of my favourite constructed narrative fantasy photos, had them printed up to A2 size and framed, and put up back stories and accompanying photos underneath. The aim was to educate and excite visitors with the idea anything is possible when it comes to photography.

When you can be the hero, heroine, or even villain of your own epic masterpiece, why settle for something mediocre?

So I've spent the last 3 days talking almost non-stop about fantasy photography and the stories behind the photos on the walls - from the difficulties overcome to create them to aspects about light and composition.

Every artist and maker involved in Spring Fling is utterly exhausted after a highly intensive three days and all the time involved making preparations in the lead up to the event.

This year, however, I'd had to get everything prepared the week before because from the Monday to Friday immediately prior to Spring Fling I was on an intensive 5-day film making course. Award winning film making professionals were imparting knowledge and insights, and we had to make a three to five minute creative documentary on an artist as part of the course. We had one day to film it and a day and a half to edit it.

On Friday evening, the films were then shown in the Burns Centre - a small arts cinema in Dumfries. It was incredibly cool seeing them up on the big screen - especially as we'd only finished editing them a couple of hours before.

At some point we will be getting copies of the films and will be allowed to put them online. When that happens I'll write a bigger post with more stories about it all.

In the meantime, after 8 very intensive days, I'm trying to find a little bit of space to recover...

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Amber, Daisy and a Bluebell Wood

"Never work with children or animals" is a phrase much quoted in all forms of creative media, and did cross my mind when discussing the idea of photographing my friend's daughter on her pony.

Allan Wright is a superb landscape photographer, and fellow member of the Galloway Photographic Collective. A little over a month ago we'd been chatting about the shift in direction of my photography from intense head shots to narrative-driven, staged images, and Daisy the pony had found her way into our conversation.

When Allan talked to his daughter, Amber, about it, she suggested the idea of riding bareback in a white dress - something for when the weather turned a bit warmer - and dryer. We then explored the woods near his house and Allan pointed out they would be carpeted in bluebells within a few weeks.

A bonnie wee lass on a pony in a bluebell wood, with a low evening sun spilling through the fresh green leaves of the trees - what's not to love?

Arrangements were made.

Well, only loosely. In Scotland, the weather is not to be relied on.

About 3 weeks ago, the sun came out late in the afternoon. I phoned Allan, but it was too short a notice.

A week later conditions were ideal, but Amber had other arrangements she didn't want to cancel.

The following Tuesday the weather was perfect, and it looked like it was going to be the only day of the week where the sun was going to be out. Except that Amber had exams on Wednesday, was stressed out about them and was completely committed to revising.

My hopes faded. My intention had been to try and get the photo before the Spring Fling Open Studio event so I could display it as part of a collection of images highlighting my work. If I didn't get it now, then it would be a couple of weeks before we could attempt it again, by which time the bluebells would have gone and the leaves on the trees would be darker and thicker. It wouldn't be the same.

Allan said he thought the sun would return later in the week, even though the BBC weather site predicted rain. However, it turned out Allan was right. Decades of photographing a wide array of landscapes seems to have given him a more highly attuned sense of weather patterns, so on Thursday we were able to do the photo shoot after all.

In the end, the most difficult part was deciding which image I was going to choose to print up large to display on my wall over the Spring Fling weekend.

Below are a couple of images from the shoot. Click through to the album on my Facebook page to see more:


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Boswell Book Festival

Click. Click. Click.

That's a great smile! Now give me your serious author face...

Click. Click. Click.

Excellent! Now give me a contemptuous sneer you reserve for when you're interviewing politicians...

Click. Click. Cli...

The room turns cold and suddenly I'm not sure whether they are obliging me by giving me a withering look, or whether I might just have overstepped a line and they are genuinely contemptuous of me for giving such a stupid instruction.

It can be a dangerous thing photographing a top BBC political journalist/presenter, and I've just done two in the space of an hour.

On Saturday I was out at the Boswell Book Festival with my camera as the official photographer. Based at Auchinleck House in Ayrshire, it is the only book festival entirely focused on biographies and memoirs.

There were 2 marquees out the front of the house where the events took place over the weekend, while Auchinleck House itself is a grand building, constructed around 1760 and was used to accommodate the authors, although there were tours of the house throughout the day for visitors to the festival.

Being the official photographer at a book festival gives you access to the authors so you can take their photos officially rather than quick snaps at a distance or awkwardly asking if they will mind if you do a selfie with them. And some book festivals have quite bigs names at them. In this case Newsnight's Kirsty Wark and Radio 4 Today presenter, James Naughtie.

Kirsty Wark

James Naughtie

But access to big names doesn't necessarily mean you get your best photos. Generally speaking you only have a few minutes to establish contact, let them know what you're wanting and take the photos. There isn't any time to really get to know them, build a relationship and explore the possibilities of portraiture together.

Well known faces might garner more comments and kudos, but the best photography usually comes when people are not in a rush to get away.

One of my favourite photos of the day was with singer and musician Thomas McConnell who was to be playing a series of Beatles tunes following a talk about the iconic band by Mark Lewisohn. Thomas has been greatly influenced by them, particularly Paul McCartney. We chatted for quite a while before I took his photo in the library of Auchinleck House, which I felt gave a sense of pop star opulence to the image.

Rising star, Thomas McConnell

However, I was also there to capture the atmosphere of the festival. Below are a couple of photos, but I've put together a collection of my favourite up on my Facebook Photography page, which you can find by following this link:


Audience shot at Kirsty Wark's presentation

Festival goers experiencing Scotland's finest weather. Image taken through the window by the photographer keeping dry inside the house...

Nigel Anthony with cake and book - what more could you want from a book festival?

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Tidal Causeway

Maggie and I managed a couple of nights away on our own this weekend past.

So good.

So needed.

One of our favourite escapes is the East Coast border between England and Scotland, around Berwick on Tweed. It's about 3 hours' drive (plus however many stops for coffee, tea and/or lunch) each way and you have to travel mostly on fairly slow, windy roads through beautiful countryside. Far enough away to feel we're not too near home, but not so far as to be exhausted by the journey.

This time we stayed in a lovely B&B in Eyemouth, but on the Saturday afternoon took a drive about 20 miles down the coast to Holy Island.

The road from the mainland to the island is tidal, which means for about 4 hours or so, twice a day, the sea sweeps across the road and is impassible in an ordinary family car.

Because the sands and mudflats are so level, the sea can appear a long way off and then be right up next to you a lot sooner than you'd expect. Needless to say, a few time every year it catches out the unwary traveller, despite all the warning signs and tidal timetables posted at either end of the causeway.

We happened to be there as the tide was coming in and, along with several other tourists, I decided to pull out the camera.

There was only 5 minutes between the first and the final image in this sequence.

A few tourists milling around wondering when the water is going to reach the road

2 minutes later I notice the first splash

Suddenly I hear Maggie shouting the water was reaching the car.

Time for us to leave and find a café...