Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Coast to Home

A little over a year ago, I was involved in creating some publicity photos for the Castle Douglas High School Enterprise Group (see A Mad Hatter’s Tea Party). Each year, the final year pupils have the chance to design and create products, which they then have to market and sell to raise money for charity.

A year on and I was asked back to help with the next group. This time they were creating pieces of art made from pebbles, shells, bits of driftwood and anything else they could find on the tideline, and they called their group, Coast to Home.

Ideas were discussed and they decided it would be fun to have a home-like setting, but on the beach, with a handful of them sitting on a sofa with a coffee table. One of the team said he could get hold of an old sofa and it wouldn’t matter if it got a bit mucky. In the end he also brought a coffee table and a standard lamp.

With the permission of the owners, we did the shoot down at Cardoness Beach, on a cold, damp, grey day. At one point it started raining and I was fearful as to whether we’d be able to complete it. However, amazingly the rain stopped again and held off long enough for us to do the shoot.

We started off several metres up the beach. As the light was really dull, I had another one of the team holding an off camera flash to one side, so I could get a bit of shadow and definition into the photo. I also placed another flash inside the standard lamp, which made it look like it was plugged in, and gave an extra glow of light on those underneath it.

Once I was happy we had a shot we could use, I then asked if it was really OK if the sofa could risk being trashed. It was confirmed it was not a problem, so we moved the whole set right down to the water’s edge. As the tide was coming in, it then washed around the sofa and the people on it.

Initially there were plenty of screams as the cold sea hit the feet of the teenagers, but kudos to them all, they managed to do several shots with smiley faces as the freezing water lapped around them.

Here are a few behind-the-scenes shots:

And rather wonderfully, Dumfries and Galloway Life magazine chose to use our photo for the front cover of their March issue

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Meg turns 19 and donates her hair to charity

If my daughter turning 18 last year was a shock to the system, Meg turning 19 today feels no less surprising.

In one way, her Down’s Syndrome contributes to a sense of her being younger and more naive in the world, but then I suspect it’s probably more to do with me being a Dad. Perhaps on some level it’s difficult for any father to truly grasp his daughter is not the wee lass he used to bounce on his knee.

But then in some ways Meg is light years ahead of the rest of us. Her compassion and desire to help others knows few limits. And this was exemplified at the weekend when she had her hair cut short so the lengths could be donated to charity.

A few months ago, Meg had discovered an organisation called Little Princess Trust that provides real-hair wigs free of charge, to boys and girls throughout the UK & Ireland who have lost their own hair through cancer treatment. Since then she’s been determined to donate her own hair once it had grown long enough.

To talk of parental pride would be an understatement. This idea came purely from her – no suggestions, nudging or cajoling coming from anyone else. Meg just thought this would be a wonderful thing to do.

And it really is.

Sadly, her parents weren’t as organised and it only occurred to us on the day that perhaps this was a fundraising opportunity for the charity, so I quickly fired off a couple of before-and-after pics.

However, better late than never, so we’ve set up a JustGiving page where you can donate a few quid in support if you wish:


Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Stealing My Soul...

"Are you in Dumfries for the wet-plate photography?"

"What? Where?"

"Up at the old Baker’s Oven, by WH Smiths. It’s part of the D-LUX festival."

*Insert image of cup and saucer hovering in mid air as photographer has shot out of the café and raced up the road in a whirlwind of excitement...*

Taking over an empty shop for the week, Concursum – a group of of three alternative photography practitioners and artists – had set up lights, old cameras and portable darkrooms and were creating portraits of the general public using the Collodion process – one of the earliest forms of photography.

It requires coating a piece of glass with the right solution, adding silver nitrate, placing it into the camera, exposing the shot for around 4 seconds and then developing it straight away.

Everything has to happen within about 10 minutes from start to finish, before the coatings dry and render the process useless.

Here’s a short video I found online which gives a flavour of how it’s done

Wet Plate for fstoppers from LeClair Photo + Video on Vimeo.

I got chatting with Laura Peters, a portrait and wedding photographer who has a complete fascination with it, and was one of the three practitioners. We instantly clicked as we started talking about our love of portraiture, and if wasn’t for the fact there were other people waiting, and I had a limited amount of time before I had to get home, I think we would have blethered non-stop for hours, if not days.

Initially I hadn’t intended to get my photo taken as I didn’t really have the time, but as I started to find out about it, I couldn’t resist. The rest of the afternoon would just have to be delayed.

Laura wonderfully talked me through the process, took my photo and then – the best part of all – allowed me to watch the "fixing" process, where the portrait emerges on the glass plate.

It was really quite magical.

I am completely a photographer of the digital age. I can take up to 11 photos a second if I want, using a hand-held camera designed for speed, accuracy and portability, and Photoshop is my darkroom.

This, on the other hand, is a process from more than 150 years ago. It is slow, cumbersome and completely unforgiving. One tiny error and you have to start the whole thing all over again.

I wouldn’t have the patience to do it myself, but then this allowed me to just be a punter for the first time since I became a photographer. Because I’m a professional photographer, if someone else takes my photo, I’m always analysing and comparing and thinking what I might do differently.

But with this, the process was so alien, all I could do was sit back, follow instructions and trust the photographer.

Here’s a copy of the final image.

My first thought was how much I looked like my Dad.

I think because the image immediately looks very old - even though as I write this it’s only 2 weeks since it was taken - it creates a kind of dissociation. It surely can’t really be me – so I cast around in my mind for who else it might be, and my father’s face is the next most similar to my own.

If you ever get the chance to have a go, you really must. It is a magical process and thoroughly worth that little bit of your soul it captures...