Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Man in the landscape

Allan Wright is a landscape photographer.

A real one.

My landscape photos are generally taken within 10 metres of where ever I've parked my car, at a time of day convenient to me. Allan, on the other hand, will camp overnight on a hilltop to be up at 4am in order to catch the rising sun hitting a distant mountain. It's a different level of commitment.

Needless to say his landscape photos are considerably better than mine.

But it's not just that he's prepared to get up earlier than me, and study weather patterns to understand when the lighting is going to be ideal, he also has a feel for it all. He immerses himself into his subject. He will walk for miles across heath and heather, cycle over moors and through valleys, and camp in remote places which few people other than the landowner and a few sheep are likely to know about.

Needless to say he's considerably fitter than me too.

I've heard it said 60 is the new 40. I hope so. With my 50th looming next month I'm beginning to experience all the symptoms of (yet another) mid-life crisis. But Allan kind of embodies the idea. Now into his 60s he reckons he's fitter than he's ever been, and this was demonstrated when he recently did a triathlon.

It began with a 1.5km swim - twice across Loch Ken and back - followed by a 40km cycle around Loch Ken, and topped off with a 10km run. Any one of those makes me feel exhausted just thinking about it, let alone doing all three consecutively. But not only did he complete it, he knocked half an hour off his previous best time.

Although I wasn't able to accompany him the entire journey, I did take some photos of Allan when he set off for the swim and as he cycled round Loch Ken.

Allan raised over £500 for Marie Curie Cancer Care in the process. If you'd like to contribute to his JustGiving page, follow this link - https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Allan-Wright3.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Earth - Body - Light

Earth - Body - Light is a book that evolved out of a chance conversation about collaboration with sculptor Lucianne Lassalle.

It's perhaps not quite as obvious a proposal as it might first seem. How do you create a collaborative project between a photographer and a sculptor?

If the photographer takes photos of the sculptural process, then it's just documentary photography. And if he takes images of the final pieces, it's just product photography. A collaboration has to be something more.

The answer was to introduce a third element to move us into a place neither of us had been before.

I met Lucianne through Dumfries and Galloway's art organisation, Spring Fling. There was a meet-the-artist opportunity at her studio, where she talked us through the processes of creating her amazing sculptures. Again and again I was struck by the life and energy in her works, as a whole new world of artistic endeavour opened up to me.

Ideas were bounced back and forth, sending each other links to interesting images and websites via email, and chatting via Skype. Eventually we decided we needed to experiment and play with a model - a third person we could use as a canvass who wouldn't mind being covered in the materials used by a sculptor and being photographed at the same time. Lucianne knew exactly who she wanted.

Night Pheonix (NP) had modelled for Lucianne on several occasions, and I had even sketched her a few times at the life drawing class I attend. She has experience, a grace to her movements and poses, and a comfortableness in her body that inspires confidence.

The vast majority of people I photograph are initially uncomfortable in front of the camera: "I hate having my photo taken" are often the first words spoken upon hearing my profession. Part of my job requires quickly building a relationship and relaxing the person I am photographing in order to get the best results. Although I hadn't photographed NP before, the fact we already met a few times and she wasn't frightened by the camera meant within a few clicks we were able to start immersing ourselves in the project.

We used Lucianne's local village hall as our studio. I brought lights, light modifiers, stands and a couple of different backdrops with me, while Lucianne had loaded her van with a variety of materials from chalk and slate dust to slip, clay and paint.

At this point, none of us had any idea how it was going to turn out. The intention was play and explore, and see what happened. It was quite likely nothing amazing would happen, but the hope was by trying out different things, new ideas might occur and open up possibilities to pursue at a later date.

At Lucianne's suggestion, NP began by rubbing chalk onto her face, upper body and over her hair. After a little bit of experimentation I settled on using a black backdrop with off-camera speedlites on either side of her, periodically adjusting angles and modifiers. This set up allowed the dust particles to show up in the photos.

I tethered my camera to my laptop computer so when I took a photo it immediately downloaded and appeared on the screen. This instantly gave me a much better sense of what was working and what wasn't.

NP moved her body, releasing chalk as she went, then Lucianne began throwing chalk and slate dust on to her while she adopted different poses.

Water was drizzled onto NP to see the effect it would have on the textures building up on her body, then she had more chalk and slate dust thrown at her. Lucianne started adding clay to NP, then slip, then more dust and eventually paint, which NP then smeared.

One of the exciting aspects of the photography was having little idea how the photo was going to look at the point I clicked. Standing there, observing with my eyes, I was just dealing with the ambient light of the village hall with most of the curtains closed. But the moment I took a photo it triggered the speedlites and I would get a burst of light from 2 different angles, illuminating the scene. For a fraction of a second shadows were cast, dust particles blazed and movement was frozen. Too fast for the eye to take in, so it wasn't until I looked at the screen I could see what I'd captured.

Photography is all about line, light and form, and this was continually changing in front of me. Sometimes I was directing it, other times I was letting it play out in front of me.

Over a couple of hours, layers of tone and texture were built up, mixed, partially removed, and added again, in a fascinating interaction between sculptor, model and photographer.

This all happened a little over 2 years ago, and despite ending up with a collection of quite amazing images, nothing had been done with them - until now. The three of us were reunited when I did a sculpture workshop with Lucianne earlier this year (see Sculpture Workshop with Lucianne Lassalle) and we got to talking about the project and the photos, and it was decided we should create a book of them.

So the three of us each wrote an introductory piece about the project from our own perspectives and decided which photos we would include. I then put it together using the software supplied by Blurb.com

If you would like to buy a copy, then you can follow this link - http://www.blurb.co.uk/b/7211419 - but if you would like to see a few more sample images from the book then take a look below: