Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Into The Eclipse

A few months ago, I was approached by a friend.  Her husband writes a very popular blog, Siren Voices and not only had he published an e-book on the back of that blog, he had also written his first fiction novel.  They asked me if I'd consider taking the photograph for the front cover.  Well, it was the first time I'd ever worked like this - usually I take pictures for my own pleasure and hope that people like or respond to them in some way.  This was photographing to order and was an entirely different experience.

As a photographer, I know that before I press the shutter, I have in my mind, some idea of what I'm looking for.  Whether it's a studio shot, or a candid street shot, a portrait or an environmental/landscape shot, there's a fair degree of visualisation involved - anticipation of what the end result should look like.  Sometimes I have to work things for a while until I get the desired shot, and once I do, I feel a little protective of it - this is my vision, my creation and whether other people see it the same way as me or not, I know if it's right, if it has worked, if it says what I want it to say.

Authors presumably, feel about the same.  And so, the front cover, the first impression that people will have of the work, has to be right.

I took a series of shots, all relating to the brief that I'd been given.  It took me a while to get all the elements together,  but eventually I had a batch to submit for approval.  I have to say, I was surprised at the shot chosen - not because I don't like it, but because it wasn't my own personal favourite.  But that taught me a valuable lesson.  There are times when what I like, what speaks to me, isn't relevant.  The author needed it to speak to him.  It needed to represent his words.  I'm just delighted that he found something in my work that did that for his work.

Anyway, I was hugely excited to learn that the book has finally been published and is available for download on Amazon.

And here, to tempt you, is the cover.

Monday, 3 December 2012


For as long as I can remember, Helensburgh has been home to The Scandinavian Shop.  Or Scanders as it was affectionately known when I was at school.   A little while ago now, the owner retired and the shop was taken over by a friend of mine from my college days.  I was delighted - both to know that the shop would continue to be part of the Helensburgh shopping scene, and also that it was to be run by someone I consider to have such a good eye for quality and design.  

So, it was with huge pleasure that I undertook some photography work for her website.  The shop has always been my go-to place for special gifts with a difference, and I've been known to treat myself from there occasionally too.   

"Characterised by simplicity of design, minimalism and functionality, the movement in Scandinavian design continues to impress many devotees with its appealing and accessible style. The Scandinavian Shop has been bringing a unique blend of iconic Nordic brands and more unusual contemporary offerings to its customers in the Scottish town of Helensburgh since the early 1970s. We now ask you to share in our enthusiasm for the best of Scandinavian style by inviting you to browse our carefully selected range of original gifts and practical home accessories. Here you will find beautifully crafted mouth blown glass from Orrefors Kosta Boda, highly desirable rubber boots from Ilse Jacobsen, sleek and innovative household objects from Menu, Eva Solo and Sagaform, alongside the best in candles from Broste and irresistible traditional toys from Maileg. Occasionally we stock items from other countries too, often because there is a Scandinavian influence, but sometimes just because they sit happily on our shelves! Choosing gifts for The Scandinavian Shop is always fun and constantly inspiring, we hope that your visit will be equally rewarding."

Monday, 29 October 2012

Along the Seafront - Some Things Never Change

I was walking along the seafront looking for some "street" style shots, but aside from one guy feeding the birds, the place was desolate. The guy feeding the birds kept turning his back to me so I couldn't get a shot of him - but every time he threw out a piece of his sandwich, the birds flew up and then swooped back down. Eventually I had to go and it was only then that the man spoke to me. He asked me where I was from, in very heavily accented English. I told him "From here" and he laughed. It was a beautiful laugh. He was rather beautiful too. I hope he is enjoying his visit to Helensburgh, however long or short it may be.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Plook On A Plinth?

I gather from reading the local newspaper's Facebook Page,  (The Helensburgh Advertiser) that Helensburgh has been nominated for a Carbuncle Award.  Specifically, a Plook On The Plinth Award.  I can't really disagree with the sentiments voiced in the nominations - there ARE too many charity shops, the town's infrastructure is crumbling, it's hard to see what is being done specifically to address the issue and it is pretty much criminal that a place with so much potential has been allowed to get into such a state.

However, I promised that as well as documenting the decay I would also be looking out for signs of hope and regeneration and celebrating the good things about Helensburgh.  To that end, I'd like to introduce you to my tea.  Yes, I know, I was doing a Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner project that rather ground to a halt.  It was ambitious to think I could keep that up for very long, but I haven't given up on it entirely.  I just thought I'd add the more interesting things that we eat to the project.  And I was fascinated by the sight of these Romanesco Broccolis on sale at Nature's Harvest in Helensburgh today.

I had nipped into town to buy some foreign currency for an upcoming trip and some loo roll.  (You know how you hear of people peering at folk's shopping baskets and making assumptions about them based on what they find...I wonder what they'd make of that!)  Anyway, having inadvertently told the postmistress that I loved her, I was heading to the supermarket for loo roll, feeling a little downcast as I noticed that Stewarts of Helensburgh is now ANOTHER charity shop when I saw these veg on the stand outside Nature's Harvest.  Instantly drawn I selected the one I wanted and went in to pay.   Of course, as is pretty much par for the course, I realised I didn't have any money on me (or at least, none that I could use here) but the very nice gent behind the counter was happy to hang onto my beautiful broccoli while I went to get some from the cash machine, virtually next door.  The very nice gent informed me on my return that the price had gone up now and it occurred to me as I mock-walked out that this kind of banter isn't something you get in the big supermarkets either.  Thus far I'd acquired US Dollars and an exotic brassica and genuinely "LOL"ed twice in the space of ten minutes.  Pretty positive stuff, I reckon!  Nature's Harvest, is, like many independent shops in Helensburgh, part of the  Totally Locally scheme a really keen initiative to support local independent businesses.  Of course, the people who really need to do the supporting are people like me.  I need to come into Helensburgh and do more of my shopping here, instead of scooting off in the opposite direction to Asda in Dumbarton.

Why don't I then?  Or at least, why don't I as often as I should?  I had a lovely time in Helensburgh today.  I got everything I came in for and more, I had a giggle, some fresh air and it isn't any further for me to drive from my village to Helensburgh than it is to drive to Dumbarton.

It's partly because I'm lazy.  I have a family of five to feed and the ability to park in one place and walk to one shop where I can buy socks, an iron, lightbulbs, the paper, fish, meat, veg, frozen goods and a chart album without having to schlep back to the car when my arms ache, without having to dodge broken paving stones, puddles and the town drunk is appealing.   You can't really get away from the fact that parking in Helensburgh is inadequate.

It's partly to do with price.  My exotic brassica was lovely but twice the price of an ordinary cauliflower in Asda. The loaf of bread and the loo roll I bought in Helensburgh's currently larger supermarket were 50% more than their Asda equivalent too.  But on the other hand,  the bales of hay and sawdust I buy from the pet shop in Helensburgh are FAR cheaper than the small packs available in the supermarket.   Perhaps there are other areas where I'd save and the whole would balance out?  Perhaps I need to not apply blanket assumptions?

All in all, I think I just need to make more effort and vow to shop in Helensburgh first, and then go to Asda et al if I can't get what I want at a price I want.  Not the other way round.

This wasn't my only trip to Helensburgh this week.  I went over earlier in the week with the camera, specifically looking for shots for my Home project.  I visited the first house I ever lived in, and the first house we ever bought - both places full of memories for me!

This tree sits on an oval of grass at the end of the cul-de-sac where I first lived.  It was where I an my friends used to play, making daisy chains in the summer and snowmen in the winter.  I remember using a blue and black checked woollen blanket to sit on and have picnics.  Sometimes, if I were alone, I'd wrap myself up in that blanket to shut out the rest of the world.  I remember the smell of the wool as it warmed in the sun and how the smell was more obvious in the patches where my breath had dampened it.  And I remember, very, very vividly, noticing for the first time that the weft and warp of the threads of wool made myriad holes through which it was possible to have an entirely new view of my surroundings.  Once I'd noticed it, I couldn't leave it alone and I'd spend hours squinting through the holes, noticing the effect it had on what I could see out there.  I don't have that blanket any longer but the memory lingers on.

The first house we bought was on Prince Albert Terrace, just off Sinclair Street in Helensburgh.  Where I'd been lucky enough to catch a quick chat with the owner of my first ever home, there was nobody in when I called here.  However, I took a quick trip to the swing part at Hermitage Park, virtually next door.  I took my son here when he was little and I'm pretty much convinced that the big metal rocking horse is the same one I rode on as a child.  I had fond memories of that horse, but when I stooped down to something approaching child height to get my shot, I was astonished.  He's bloody terrifying!  Look!

I'll be back in Helensburgh over the next week or so - looking for fond memories, documenting the state of the place and seeking out the good and beautiful too.  It's home.  It deserves to be more than a plook on a plinth.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

The Home Project

Possible seed for a new project of mine.  The weather wasn't very optimistic on Friday and I found myself scanning the skies for a bright spot.  As I continued my walk around town it occurred to me that town wasn't very optimistic either.  Shops that have been in existence for years and years are closing down.  Pubs I was thrown out of for underage drinking are going to the wall.  The physical infrastructure of the town is crumbling - shops with rotted window frames, roads and pavements with badly patched potholes, scaffolding that seems to have been supporting the same buildings forever.  There is talk of money being invested, of a new town centre.  I wonder if it will happen the way it is supposed to.  I wonder if it will have the positive effect that the town so obviously, desperately needs.

For a long time now, Helensburgh, and its environs, has been my home.  I was born in Sheffield, but adopted and brought to Helensburgh as a baby.  I attended Colgrain Primary School until my parents moved back down to England and began a somewhat erratic trek around the UK, settling, sort of, eventually, in the Cambridge area.  Then, aged 15, we all came back to Helensburgh.  I wrote several letters applying for Saturday jobs and was eventually lucky enough to secure a position with Stewarts of Helensburgh.  It was with great sadness that I saw their papered window yesterday.  They were a lovely family to work for and taught me a lot about responsibility, doing things you thought you weren't capable of and the value of a great cardigan.

 I endured rather than enjoyed a couple of years at Lomond School and then, I escaped to Edinburgh for the College Years, which are probably best glossed over.  But like a Siren, Helensburgh called me back.  The Commodore Hotel became home until I tried once more to escape - to America.  Again, I came back.  I was married in St Columba by Fred Booth.  Two of my three children were born at the Vale of Leven Hospital.  I worked, initially, while I found my feet, at the Sinclair Street Tesco, in stock control.  Later, at HMNB Clyde, proof-reading technical documents.  Helensburgh is the nearest thing I have to a home town and yet, because my time here has been fragmented, people I've known have moved on and away, I sometimes feel like I don't know it at all.  For the last twelve years I've lived in its outskirts and so it is, that visiting yesterday, I felt like I was seeing it with a stranger's eyes.  And if that stranger had been a tourist, they'd have seen a tired, dirty, defeated looking place.  I don't want to talk the place down.  I don't want to create some self-fulfilling prophecy here but I think sometimes we walk through places that we are familiar with, and our eyes don't see what's really there.  We stand back and look at the wonderful sweep of shops that form our promenade and choose to ignore the shonky paving stones, the peeling paint, the lost roof tiles, the shoddy shop signs, the litter, the graffiti, the broken windows, the wee homeless man in the station, and the ever-increasing number of boarded up windows.  We glory in the view in front of us without pausing to examine what's going on behind.

I was thinking about starting a project based on the idea of Home.  What is it that makes "Home" for people.  It could be the actual house they live in, or the town, or the people they live with.  It could be the sight of a pile of ironing, or pile of books, or pile of freshly baked scones.  It could be the smell of granny's favourite bathroom cleaner.  It could be pets, a photo album, one particular teacup.  It could be all sorts of things and looked to me like it would make a great project, supplying myriad photographic opportunities.  But the more I thought about it, the less easy I found it to define "Home" for myself.

I've always maintained that I don't have a "Home Town"; that because we moved about, and I attended more than the average number of schools, I don't have roots, or lifelong friends, or somewhere that calls me back.  But patently, this isn't true.  I do keep coming back here.  Perhaps the time has come to recognise that this area is in fact home and to make it feel more that way, I need to start engaging with it.  From the discussions I had with friends and colleagues, home is a sense of familiarity, a recognition of welcome, a feeling of security.  I don't think you can have these things by sitting on the outside, looking in.  You have to be involved and you have to care.

So, looking at those feelings of sadness at the sorry state of affairs in Helensburgh the only conclusion is that actually, I do care.  I'm not a stranger seeing Helensburgh for the first time, shocked at the state of the place.  I'm from here and it hurts that my town, is looking so shabby.  It hurts that people I spent time with, whose company I enjoyed, are suffering the closure of their business.  I feel a loyalty to this place and I want better things for it.  

I'm ready to call myself a photographer now.  I still want to go on and study for my degree but I'm making photographs, and continuing to learn as I go, and photography is what I do and how I express myself and so, if anyone asks, I'm a photographer.   With that in mind, I want to turn my camera to Helensburgh.  I want to make people see the things that are not so good, to stop us from blindly accepting the rot, but also to start looking for the beauty, the kindness, the good, the pride and the hope.    I want to start seeing signs of improvement.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

When It All Goes Wrong

No photographs from me on Monday after breakfast.  My youngest came home from school early, all ill and sickly and requiring nursing care.  Something I'm hopeless at, as she kindly informed her teachers.  Anyway, dashing up and down stairs to deal with the coughing and spluttering and making endless drinks and finding various remedies and placebos and dealing with incalcitrant DVD players meant that taking photographs of the food I grabbed on the run was the last thing on my mind and so, after only about three days or so of the Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner project, I failed.

But then it occurred to me that I had promised I wasn't looking for perfection, and instead of using one missed day as an excuse for giving up, I should get back into it as soon as possible and not stress.  This is not my usual attitude.  Usually, if I can't do it perfectly I'd rather not do it at all - it doesn't feel "tidy" with a day missed out.  Not this time.  This time we persevere.

Of course, the next day I came down with whatever the bug was that Kid At The Bottom of the Heap had brought home and the food I managed to eat was rather insipid looking - pale bread, bland soup, egg.  So we had a yellow day and I photographed it anyway.  I'm now looking forward to improved health and a zingier looking set of meals in my future!

Monday, 3 September 2012

Decisions, Decisions

One area where I struggle with my photographs, is deciding which ones to use.  I found this particularly difficult for my Graded Unit last year at college - I had taken hundreds as part of the project, and was forced to whittle the selection down to ten.  It was a major headache, but at least I had the theme of Connections to use as a parameter.  If I loved a shot, but couldn't really justify it under the theme heading, it was out.  This Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner Project however is a bit different.  All the shots I've taken are of food I've eaten so they're all relevant and they're all up for use.  Most of the time, I have an idea in my head, attempt to set it up and then pick the best shot.  This morning, I woke up hungry and I was more concerned with eating my breakfast than shooting it.  The more observant may notice that there are six quarters of toast in these shots.  That's because I had to wolf down half a slice of toast before I even got the camera out!  The consequence of this was that I was a little muddled in my thinking and wasn't quite sure how I wanted the final shot to look.  So I took a few variants and now I can't decide which one I like the best.  In the end, I posted the more minimal looking one to the project, but I quite like the warmth and colour to be found in the second.  I'm still not sure I made the right decision.

Last week, we went to CostCo for a top-up of general supplies.  They have a photography competition running until the end of this month.  The theme is wide open - Give Us Your Best Shot, or something very like that.  I'd like to enter.  But that means picking out which is my best shot.  Given the trouble I had deciding between the two above for a simple little personal project, I don't think I stand a chance!!