I recently visited the Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh, a regular haunt. They are currently showing some incredible work by the acclaimed Scottish artist, Jenny Saville I remember her work when she first gained wide recognition over 20 years ago but hadn’t seen much for years. I was totally blown away and would recommend a visit. You really need to see the images in their larger than life scale to appreciate them. The wild textural style seems at odds with the subtlety of the overall final painting from a distance.
While there I saw some of the Francis Bacon images they hold in their permanent collection. I’ve always loved the abstraction in his work and like Saville I’m so impressed that brush strokes so seemingly wild can result in art so nuanced. I’ve always felt a little frustrated that those contradictory qualities are harder to capture in photography. I have been playing around with light from a projector and I calculated I could use it’s qualities to allow more unpredictability and abstraction into my work . I’ve never seen anyone else using light in quite this way and was unsure if my late night pondering on the technique would come to anything.
I first tried lighting a moving model during a long exposure in the studio and liked the outcome, especially the lack of control over what the final image would look like. I then tried shooting a self portrait, largely for the want of a suitable (slightly!) craggy face that would work well for this approach. All rather hard to do while holding the camera at the same time! All this from a man who can’t abide ‘the selfie’. The self portrait has a look of something highly edited but I love that this image is straight from the camera unedited other than a crop. The rather wild look of the image is captured raw in both senses! A couple of days later I was shooting a theatre image for my friend Matthew Zajac and managed to sneak in another projector portrait of him at the end of our shoot.
I’m not sure where all this might lead, I’m always inclined to jump around stylistically but I really enjoyed the lack of control inherent within the process which I think allows more to come from the sitters in that moment. Anything that challenges your normal practices, especially after 30 tears of shooting is very welcome. I also just love to play!
Jenny Saville style photograph of a reclining nude in a studio
Baconesque self portrait
Matthew with Patricks shoes
Now it’s been officially released I can let you have a peek at an extremely fun shoot I was commissioned to do for the Royal National Theatre’s production of Common back in January. It stars Anne-Marie Duff as Marianne and is set around 1800. They wanted to portray it in period and on location. Logistically it was decided to shoot it in London so I had an assistant recce a few spots that would give us that wilderness look without an epic amount of travel. So thats how I ended up getting the sleeper down from Edinburgh to be picked up by assistant Keir then off to Chingford Plain on a chilly morning in the first week of January.
There I met up with Liam Relph and Ollie Wisner the creative team at NT. We stomped about and found the right location before Anthony turned up with his mighty fine crows fresh from a stint with Doctor Who. After a good while for costume, hair and make-up I got to meet Anne-Marie out in the field. Straight away it was apparent she’s very down to earth and great to work with. We took shots in a couple of locations , which took a while as I had to cater for the dread, ‘side of a bus’ and ‘drop banner’ crops, every photographers nightmare!. That’s why the shot below is a stitch of about 6 shots to cater for the huge crops.
Apart from the laptop dying of cold half way through we had no mishaps. The crows performed right on cue every time which helped reduce much need to photoshop elements after. Anthony even had a choice of crow if we wanted one to fly, flap wings or just sit still. I made the shoot much less stressful than I anticipated. I think thats ‘Flamingo’ on her arm.
It’s not on till May but if you want to see it here’s the link https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/common#production-story
Anne-Marie Duff as Marianne in the National Theatre’s Common
Assistant Keir providing me with blue screen assets – or is it an i-D magazine shoot?
Anthony Bloom with one of his finely trained crows
Ollie Winser directs the birds
Ben Turner as Achillies at Lyceum Theatre
The Iliad – and the question of art direction
I recently shot these images for The Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh’s production of Homers The Iliad. It’s Mark Thomson’s Final show as artistic director there and quite the epic to end on.
Right from the start I pictured a form of multiple exposures to show the main characters in not overly dramatic poses but also showing the chaos they create by the use of blood. I could see it in my mind but I couldn’t show it to the client in advance. Fortunately, Ben Jeffries, Director of Communications at the theatre, was trusting enough to let me try this approach. This is hugely appreciated! It highlighted to me the lack of faith I feel there can be in photographers abilities to bring their own vision to bear on a creative project that all too often can be entirely art directed in advance of any communication with the photographer themselves. There are times I feel it would be more appropriate to don a white lab coat in the exercise of ‘now copy this,’ style of uncreative art direction. The best course is a balance, bringing the ideas of the art director at the early stages of a project to the photographer to see how their creativity together can help create something greater than the sum of the parts. Often a final photograph is the best idea of a non photographer. I wouldn’t dream of telling a designer how to layout their page, it’s not my speciality. So why does it happen the other way around!
Poster for The Iliad at Lyceum Theatre by Homer. Ben Turner as Achillies, Helen by Ameira Darwish and Thetis by Melody Grove
America Darkish as Helen in the Iliad at Lyceum Theatre
Melody Grove as Thetis at Lyceum Theatre
Harris Distillery Portraits
These are shots of Donald and Peter, two of the new distillers at Harris Distillery. After taking shots of all the distillers in their work at the distillery I took shots of them going about their own lives.
Donald like most folk on Harris has a boat and does a bit of fishing so we took a wander down to the bay by his house. Like a lot of folk on Harris he was very laid back and perfectly at ease in front of the camera.
Peter is a coastguard so he can be got up at any hour of the day or night to deal with emergencies. He easily wins the award for the most enthusiastic member of staff, I couldn’t get him not smiling. I took shots of his stepson, Cameron with his ducks the last time I was over.
Shooting on Harris was the most rewarding job I’ve done last year, especially at the end with the amazing ceilidh with the band Skipinnish for the grand opening. As I had to meet and photograph so many people it felt like a big family get together with over half the population along for the night. I so hope they ask me back to take more images, it’s a job that feels like a holiday!
I have been asked to exhibit some of my work at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary in July. I am intending to show the images from my recent Shadow series, mostly double exposure nudes. To that end I’ve been shooting for this in my free time. It’s a lot of fun playing with ideas and creating just the feel I want. A lot of the images have been of Sophie who originally modelled for me in commercial projects a few times. I didn’t realise at the time but she was the perfect model for this series as she has worked as a life model in the past and is an artist so understands the creative process perfectly. That makes a huge difference when you’re working on something personal as it often involves a fair degree of searching around to find the right direction.
Two of these have been shot on my home-made tilt shift lens, I love it’s etherial quality. The double exposures are easy to produce but very hard to get just right.
Anyone women interested in modelling for the series please email me on firstname.lastname@example.org
Portraits from the Isle of Harris. – Cameron (please do share this!)
This is part of a series of portraits commissioned by the Harris Distillery being built in Tarbert on Harris. The wanted portraits of the islanders in their natural environment. National Geographic was the mood they asked for. This was the shoot I enjoyed the most of the time I spent on Harris. Cameron and his family were so welcoming and open to ideas. He was very patient while we attempted to herd the ducks into some kind of order which was as you’d imagine, like trying to drink soup with a sieve. Lovely people. I love my job!