Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A Magical Evening Under Dark Skies

Under a full moon, round a log fire, in the heart of the Galloway Hills, I sat entranced by the most beautiful music flowing out of the fingertips of 3 of Scotland's finest traditional musicians.

On Saturday evening, I went out to Sanctuary 2015 - a 24 hour event in the heart of an International Dark Sky Park in the Galloway Hills - about 25 miles from where I live. The whole thing was free and lots of people were camping overnight to make the most of it.

Although I was only there for a few hours - arriving as the sun was setting - it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening. There were plenty of activities, art installations and even a radio station with a range of only a few miles playing music created specially for the event. There were also several camp fires with benches around them where hours could get wiled away in conversation with friends and people you didn't know until you sat next to them

Gathered round the fire

Shortly after I arrived the moon rose above the hill. Lots of people stopped to watch, almost as though it was another installation performance laid on. Like sunrises and sunsets, there's something quite primal about watching the moon appear above the horizon and just float there in the sky.


I climbed the path to Murray's monument, where there was a light show being projected on to it, and from where The Dark Outside FM radio station was being broadcast.

Murray's Monument

The direction of the path was lit by several tiny lanterns, but bright moonlight meant the it was pretty easy to find. That is, until someone would walk past in the other direction with a torch and destroy my night vision for a minute or two. However, the view was stunning and down to one side you could clearly make out a huge neon circle - another art installation that was lit until midnight. - adding to an otherworldly sense.


Back down at the main site, I decided I needed a hot chocolate. I'd noticed a permanent queue at the van serving drinks and toasties earlier on - sometimes longer, sometimes shorter, but always a queue. I took my turn and eventually got my order in. It was well after 11pm by now. I have no idea how long the woman had been serving, but she looked exhausted.

Waiting for coffee

At the point I started to make my way back to the car, I heard some etheral music drifting over from a fire in the distance. I made my way over there and found Ruth Morris and Gavin Marwick of Bellevue Rendezvous were playing with harpist Wendy Stewart.

Fireside music

This wasn't an official performance. It was just 3 musicians who were playing because they love to play. There were only 3 people to witness and hear their performance, and the other 2 were lost in conversation.

It felt almost criminal that something so beautiful was being missed by the rest of the world, so with my camera sitting on a chair next to me, I flipped it into video mode and captured a couple of minutes of their magical performance.

On the drive home, I went through several fog banks, but with the moonlight cutting through, it was more otherworldly than ever. It was truly something of a magical evening...

Fog and moonlight - a magical combination

The Cracked Man on Alive Radio

"...Any track we decide to develop, we've both got to be 100% behind it, or we don't do it."

Last Thursday, Marcus and I appeared on Alive Radio's Thursday Night Showcase, talking about The Cracked Man. The three tracks of our EP were played on air and we did 2 extra songs live - "Moving on" and "Spaceman".

Live on Alive - thanks to Ali for taking this while we played

The show is normally hosted by Melissa Gunn, but she was recovering from an operation so Ali Donowho stepped in for her. His relaxed and friendly manner meant any pre-show nerves on our part soon dissipated.

If you'd like to hear the show, we were sent a copy which we uploaded to Soundcloud and I've now embedded below. I've also marked off where you can find the music if that's the bit you're interested in.

Our next live performance will be this Friday in Kirkcudbright as part of an evening "...to raise funds to help those fleeing persecution, war and downright inhumanity across the northern hemisphere."

Follow this link for more details

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

A Return to Moody Black and White...

Moody black and white portraits with deep shadows were once the mainstay of my photographic output. In fact it's pretty much fair to say it's what I built my reputation on for the first few years.

These days the staged narrative photos are where the majority of my creative time is focused, which I thoroughly enjoy doing. Every now and then, however, if the opportunity arises I like to leap back into the dark shadowy portraits.

At the weekend, Sean Taylor returned to perform at The Mill Sessions. I've done a few mean and moody shots of him over the past few years (one of which it ended up on the cover of his album, Love Against Death), so I caught up with him an hour or so before the evening began, camera in hand.

Here are my favourites from the shoot. As always, feel free to click on them for larger versions:

The face lit from one side only rarely disappoints when you're going for "moody"

I learned about 3 years ago that one of the best ways to get Sean relaxed is to let him play his guitar and shoot around him. He falls into the zone almost immediately, and I get a free performance.

My favourite of the shoot. One of the flashes failed to go off so initially I dismissed it. However, once I downloaded the images to the computer I suddenly saw the potential in it and immediately set to work, editing.

As always, the gig was superb and I've had his latest CD, The Only Good Addiction Is Love playing every chance I get since.

I'd recommend signing up for Sean's newsletter to keep up to date where he's playing. If it's anywhere near you then don't hesitate to go and see him. You won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

A stroll in the woods

When the sun is low in the sky, casting a golden sheen on everything it caresses, I can feel the pull of the woods.

It's now become almost a part of my photogaphic life to stick the 70-200mm lens on my camera, open up the aperture as wide as I can and go for a stroll through the trees.

Shafts of light find their way through the gaps, creating molton glows on all they touch.

And when that light is coming from behind, even the most mundane leaf, fern or twig suddenly becomes magical.

Here are a few shots I took last night:

If you'd like to see the full collection of my favourites from the past couple of years, then head over to the gallery on my Zenfolio site, where you can even buy prints of any of them if you wish


Tuesday, September 01, 2015

The Storyteller

"Carstramon Woods would be ideal," said Tony. "In the later afternoon and early evening the sun is at the right angle to cast a good light through the trees."

Tony Bonning is a storyteller, musician, writer and children's entertainer, and was after some new publicity photos. We were discussing the idea of the mysterious traveller in the woods - at the heart of many old folk tales.

When I first met Tony, ten years ago on a Storytelling Workshop he was running, I was not a photographer - my photos were snapshots like anyone else's. At that time I was planning on becoming a writer and the art of storytelling was something I was intensely interested in. In fact it was only a few months earlier I'd set up this blog as a way of exploring different forms of writing.

Although my career as an author never took off, storytelling found its way into the core of my photography once I began to use my camera in earnest. I realised the best photos were ones that prompted questions, evoked emotions and transported us to other lives, worlds and perspectives. If a photograph doesn't tell, or hint at, a deeper story then it rarely keeps our attention for more than half a second.

I established my reputation creating mean and moody black and white portraits. Once you move away from the smile-for-the-camera approach, the face is full of amazingly subtle shifts of expression, with a thousand stories to tell.

Over the past couple of years I've taken that idea of storytelling photography beyond faces and into full on narrative photography - creating scenes that look like film stills, movie posters, storybook illustrations and album covers. These are images that require attention not just to facial expressions, but outfits, props, location and, most importantly, the story to be told.

So I was rather pleased to be asked by Tony to create the right imagery for him.

A chance to do storytelling photography for a man who embodies storytelling.

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