The blog of photographer Kim Ayres

Photographing Re:Dress - the Dumfries Slow Fashion Movement Show

Fast Fashion has become endemic in the modern world. Trends move so quickly, and production has become so cheap, that millions of tons of clothing are bought, worn once or twice and then discarded.

The problems of this are hugely damaging from environmental, ethical and social points of view.

From the appalling human exploitation in terrible working conditions in 3rd world countries to produce many of the cheaper items, to the environmental cost in their production and disposal, to the social anxiety about being judged for being seen wearing the same outfit twice – the cost to all of us is so much more than the pennies spent on the clothing.

The idea of slow fashion, then, is that items are made to last, be reused, recycled or even upcycled to create something new.

In many ways it's the how things were always done.

When I was a kid, patching my jeans when they got a rip was the norm, rather than throwing them out. Making new garments out of old ones was something my mother did all the time. And when I did a photo shoot with a 4th generation bespoke tailor, he was telling me how certain hand made coats and jackets used to be passed down the generations, and were designed so adjustments could easily be made for a different sized wearer.

Marie and Dan set up Circle Vintage about 3 years ago, where everything you buy is an original, second-hand or pre-loved item mostly from the 1960s to 90s.

Being stylishly retro and individual has never been so easy.

Combining their love of clothing with a strong sense of environmentalism, they recently set up the Dumfries Slow Fashion Movement CIC (Community Interest Company - a special type of limited company which exists to benefit the community rather than private shareholders), and launched it with Re:Dress – a fashion show at the Theatre Royal in Dumfries, where all the clothes were reused or upcycled in some way.

I was oblivious to all this when I wandered into the shop to have a wee chat and catch up with Marie for the first time since the original Lockdown in early 2020. We'd originally met shortly before the pandemic, when I stumbled across their shop and thought there could be potential for working together on a photo shoot.

Marie quickly told me all about the fashion show and asked if I'd help out with the photography as they wanted to document the event. They had a few other local photographers and students who would be taking images, so I suggested perhaps I should concentrate on creating some set pieces – the kind of shots you would expect to see in a magazine.

Initially I thought I could do this in advance of the show, but it turned out this just wasn't going to be possible – not only would trying to organise models, clothes designers, make up artists, hairdressers and the venue in advance be extraordinarily unlikely, some of the outfits were basically being constructed onto the model on the night.

The shoot was going to have to happen at the same time the fashion show was going ahead.

The main thought, then, was to create images that looked like they were backstage and behind-the-scenes, except they would be carefully crafted.

Over the next week or two we shaped the ideas, set up a Pinterest Board, and went out to the Theatre Royal so I could work out potential places to set up.

The key was going to be preparing as much in advance as I could so I would be able to grab models either shortly before going on stage, when they came off, or during the mid-interval break.

In the end I decided on 2 different spaces, and styles of shoot.

One would be in the wings of the stage, with a large single softbox to one side, and another off-camera flash with a coloured gel, slightly behind to create a back-stage look with a theatrical feel.

The other was to create a dressing room scene.

There are 3 dressing rooms at the Theatre Royal. The 2 larger ones were going to be used for outfit changes, hair and makeup, while the small, 3rd one, was going to be empty, so I could have that.

While you might think that's the set sorted, all I need to do is place people in it, in reality actual dressing rooms are nothing like as rich, atmospheric and theatrical as they are portrayed in the movies. They tend to be much sparser and utilitarian.

At this point, we brought in Marie's friend, Penny, a visual merchandiser who creates window displays.

We had access to the theatre the day before the show, as it was being used for dress rehearsals. Penny and I raided the clothing and props departments and set up our wee space to look like the kind of dressing room you would expect to see – with racks of clothes, mannequin heads with wigs, and a chaise longue.

I then had to figure out how to light it, as the bulbs around the mirrors weren't enough, and the overhead lights destroyed any sense of mood and atmosphere.

I managed to grab a couple of people to try things out, and while I started to make progress, I couldn't get a look I was completely happy with. I didn't want my off-camera flashes in shot, but it was such a small space there didn't seem to be any options to get in back and side lights.

I got home that evening feeling frustrated and deflated. I slept badly, continually waking up with it all running around my head. And I hadn't even had the chance to try out the stage wings idea, so if my best guess on that failed too I wasn't going to be able to produce anything remotely close to my original visions.

At some point, the idea of a standard lamp leapt into my head. I've used this solution before a couple of times. The trick is to place an off-camera flash with an orange gel where the bulb would have been. It creates a much stronger light, while appearing to be just a natural lamp in the photo.

Fortunately, when I arrived at the theatre a couple of hours before the show, they were able to find me one in the props department.

I also tucked another off-camera flash down between the clothing racks on the right, thereby lighting up whoever would be on the chaise longue, which otherwise would have been lost in shadow.

To my delight, and relief, this worked exactly how I hoped, and I was finally able to get the look I was after.

Sometimes it feels like you're just not in the right flow and every step is difficult and energy draining. And then other times it feels like you're completely in the zone and everything flows almost effortlessly.

When my first test shots in the stage wings also worked almost perfectly, I felt like I had suddenly shifted from the former to the latter.

The finale of the show featured the wonderful Angela Green, who some might remember I photographed on an aeroplane at Dumfries Aviation museum a few years ago in a promotional shoot for Mrs Green's Tearoom (see – Up In The Air with Mrs Green's Tea Lounge).

During the mid-interval break I photographed her both in the stage wings, and in the dressing room – although with her massively wide dress, it was a bit of a squeeze!

I spent several days editing the images, polishing them up and pushing pixels around the screen until I had them honed the way I wanted, then sent them off to Dumfries and Galloway Life magazine, where commissioning editor, Andrea Thomson, had told me she was going to be doing a feature article on both Circle Vintage and the Re:Dress fashion show.

In the end she used half a dozen of the images, and I was delighted how they looked in print.

If you're interested in listening to me talk about this shoot in my weekly live video podcast, Understanding Photography with Kim Ayres, then click on the video below.

And scroll to the bottom of the page for the full list of credits


All photography: Kim Ayres
Location: The Theatre Royal, Dumfries
Concept and Execution: Circle Vintage, Dumfries Slow Fashion Movement

Dressing Room: Background clothes and props supplied by the Theatre Royal
Set styled by Penny McNeish

Reclaimed cardboard animal head wearable sculptures by Norval Forrest

Hair and Makeup (All shots)
Hair: team led by Nelson Brown, with Joyce Money and Caitlin McDonough, assisted by Katie Maxwell.
Make up: Abbie Turner and Claire Robson, assisted by a team of S5 & S6 pupils from the ASDAN Hair & Beauty course at Dumfries Academy (accompanied by their teacher, Mrs Esther Papworth).


Designers and Makers:
Marie McKinnon
Daniel McKinnon
Fiona Gordon
Lorna Nee
Trash Nerd Clothing
Morag Macpherson
Emma Visca
Claire Hamerton
Emily Major
Julia Mesnikoff

Angela Green
Julie Ward
Joseph Harper
Emily Major
Isla Wilson
Kate Langton
Tim Zhovreboff
Lizzie Craufurd
Sarah Vose
Katy Brown
Jessica Sweeney
Katy McLaughlan


neena maiya (guyana gyal) said...

Your photos look real good in the magasine, Kim. Stunning!

Even though I don't dress fashionably, and I'm not into trends, I loooooove clothes. Could be because my parents used to sew for a living at one time, and I sew too. I wear pre-loved clothing, and I especially like redoing them to be one of a kind.

Fast fashion is vile. I was reading about the mounds of clothes being dumped in the desert / dunes, of one South American country. It was distressing.

Great work all, the designers, the models, everyone!

Kim Ayres said...

Neena - I have no sense of fashion. My clothing is naturally retro as I have dressed pretty much the same way for the last 30 years. And when I do buy something new it gets worn and washed and worn and washed until it eventually starts to fall apart, at which point Maggie will probably tear it up for cloths of some kind.
I think you need to find your way over here to Scotland and help create some outfits for photo shoots, Neena :)

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