Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Woodland and Bubbles

A walk in the woods with the grandchildren, who are staying over for a couple of nights.

The low sun is cutting through the trees and partial mist. The light is beautiful.

(click on the images for larger versions)

The youngest grandson has insisted on bringing his bubble mixture.

It's too good an opportunity to miss

Once again Chrsitmas has been an enjoyably relaxed affair. Over the years it has been honed to include all the bits we love while ridding ourselves of the things no one was really bothered about.

As well as being extraordinarily fortunate in having a roof over our heads, clothes on our back and food in our freezer, we also don't have to endure nightmarish scenarios of being forced into close proximity with people we're less than keen on keeping company with.

I hope your festive season has been as enjoyable, or if not, it has at least given you plenty of blog-fodder to write about

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Festive Wishes

Sometimes I have to hunt for a suitably festive, seasonal image. On occasion I've even had to create one from scratch. This time, however, it was much easier.

A couple of weeks ago I glanced out the window to see the sun glinting through a very damp, slightly misty morning air. I grabbed the camera and headed down to Dalbeattie Woods.

The light had the most amazing quality to it, being refracted through billions of tiny droplets of water, and cobwebs looked like tinsel on the trees.

As soon as I took this photo, I knew I had the image I needed for Christmas.

Whatever your cultural, religious or spiritual beliefs (or lack thereof), I hope this festive season is good for you and your loved ones.

Wishing you all the very best!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Pursuit of the Line

Back in April I wrote about my experiences of life drawing (see Life Drawing, Panic and Exploration).

After 2 excruciating terms of trying to coordinate my eye with my hand via a pencil and pad of paper, I suddenly hit upon distilling the line - rather than seek ever more detail, I decided to strip it back. It was quite an exciting discovery, marred only by the fact it was in the last session and it would be nearly 6 months before I'd get the chance to pursue the idea further.

A couple of weeks ago I completed the autumn run of sessions, where I took the opportunity to explore the flow of line. With each pose of the model, I would begin with a more formal, rough sketch, then start to try and work out where I could sweep the line in a satisfying curve. I would then keep running over the line with my pencil until the flow felt right. If there was time I would then see if I could repeat the pattern on a new sheet of paper.

Often it ended in frustration, and at least once every session I wanted to run screaming from the room and never pick up a pencil again.

But every now and again something clicked and it felt wonderful, like I was tapping into some primeval delight our ancestors must have felt creating animal representations with sticks of charcoal on cave walls.

I have no desire to abandon my photography in pursuit of the drawn line. But as another creative outlet that forces me to view the world in yet another way, I am content to continue with it.

Below are a few of my favourites from the last 10 weeks.

Feel free to click on the images for larger versions.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

London, Andrzej Dragan, and meeting old friends for the first time

What on earth is an Oyster Card and how am I supposed to use it? On the Underground I recognise all these places from the Monopoly Board. On the bank of the River Thames I see all sorts of buildings from TV and films.

The last time I was in London, I was 15 years old and on a school trip to watch a play. This time I'm there for a seminar by polish photographer Andrjez Dragan, and to meet up with some old friends I'd not actually met in the flesh before.

Andrjez Dragan changed my approach to photography when I came across his work 6 years ago. Although I had been experimenting with portraiture, my general understanding was I needed to make my subjects look good, ideally in a flattering kind of way. Dragan made me realise I could move in the opposite direction towards engaging, characterful and edgy images.

My first big success was the creation of a photo of my friend, the poet David Mark Williams, which generated a great deal of feedback, was used on the front of issue 3 of Prole Magazine and was my first accepted image on the curated photo website, 1x.com

The Poet

At 1x I met many superb photographers who were generous with their time and knowledge and over the next couple of years my understanding of photography leapt forward.

It's fair to say without the initial trigger of Andrjez Dragan and the help and support of members of the 1x community my photography would be of neither the standard nor style it has become.

So when I discovered Andrjez Dragan was holding a seminar in London I had to go. But I also realised there was an opportunity to meet up with some of the photographers I had met online at 1x. A few emails and Facebook messages later and Andre Du Plessis, Gerry Sexton and Chris Dixon started arranging a get together (click on their names to see their superb photography).

Andre went even further and helped arrange accommodation for me, collected me from the station and ferried me about a few times. The warmth and generosity of these guys was amazing, and we spent most of Sunday out with the cameras along the South Bank of The Thames.

Here are a selection of the photos I took. You can find more on my Facebook album here:

It might look like Mediterranean sun, but it was only about 3C

Andre with vapouriser

Gerry behind a wall


"It's the real thing"

Hoping we can do it again some time

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Macmath: The Silent Page

As Claire picked up her crying baby from the travel cot, the rest of the assembled gathering of some of Dumfries and Galloway's finest, internationally renowned, traditional musicians started singing lullabies to help Caitlin drift off.

It worked and we were able to resume the photo shoot.

There's a project underway called Macmath: The Silent Page, where the aim is to bring to life a series of songs, many of which will not have been heard for over a hundred years.

It all stems from the Macmath collection of songs, held in the archives at Broughton House in Kirkcudbright. To swipe from the blog where Ali Burns is writing about this project:

William Macmath, 1848 – 1922, grew up in Galloway before moving to Edinburgh as a young man and his huge and largely unacknowledged legacy was in helping the great American ballad collector and academic Francis Child with his definitive publication: English and Scottish Popular Ballads 1882 – 1898. Although working entirely in his spare time, Macmath worked tirelessly and meticulously over a period of almost thirty years, to track down and verify details relating to the Scottish ballads included in Child’s collection. Broughton House holds many of the letters between Macmath and Child written over their long association. More pertinently to our project there are also two books of unpublished songs and song fragments written down by Macmath. It is these two volumes that we’re looking at in this project.

I had been called in to create a photo that could be used for publicity and the CD cover, once the songs have been recorded.

Broughton House itself seemed the ideal location to shoot the photo and on an earlier trip there, Ali and I had explored the house and gardens to find the best spot. Fortunately we decided on an indoor scene as it was chucking it down with rain on the day of the shoot.

Arranging 7 people in a way that flows is not an easy task. This wasn't to be some all-in-a-line press shot, but an engaging photograph where the eye needs to be led into, round and through the ensemble and their surrounds. Given the historic nature of the project, I wanted the final image to have a feel of a classic painting with finely tuned arrangements of people, objects and setting

Wee pin-man sketches done beforehand will only get you so far. It's not until you put everyone together can you start to get a sense of who needs to go where. Not just due to height, but also where the splashes of colour of clothes, instruments and hair might compliment or clash.

Take a photo - rearrange the group. Take another - swap two people about. Take another - swap them back but move someone else. Take another - ask this person to lower their head and that one ro raise their left arm...

And so it goes on. Each time refining and finessing until you reach a point where you feel you're as close as you're going to get before mutiny sets in.

But that's just the first half of creating a photo such as this. There's still the editing.

Inevitably there is not a single photo that has all the elements just perfect. In one someone will be blinking; in another the fiddle is at an angle that throws the compositional lines out; in another someone's arm is casting a shadow over someone else's face. So the ideal combination has to be created from several photos. In this way it is much more akin to the processes used by the old master painters.

And then there are subtle tweaks of hue and saturation, brightness and contrast, levels and curves, while unwanted reflections are painted out from the glass panels on the bookcase.

Finally, to enhance the narrative I decided to overlay some of the handwritten text and music from photos I had taken directly of some of the pages of the Macmath volumes.

Click on the image for a larger version.

Left to right: back row: Emily Smith, Aaron Jones, Jamie McClennan
front row: Wendy Stewart, Ali Burns, Claire Mann, Robyn Stapleton

For more about this fascinating project, head over to Ali's website about it and read her blog posts:
Macmath: The Silent Page