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the Skeklers

I was recently put in touch with one Rachel Frost of @thecraftybeggars She is a maker of all things fine and crafted, primarily hats, often for the world of historic re-enactment. She also likes to work on some rather more adventurous fine art projects and we thought we could both work on a project.

This eventually culminated in a shoot of some wonderful Skekler outfits she had created for a workshop she was running in Edinburgh. There’s not much known about the Skeklers or ‘straw men’ but it’s thought to derive from a tradition based in Shetland during Halloween and other celebration periods. There’s a great piece on them in a Document Scotland page that gives a bit more background and showcases a project initiated by Glasgow photographer Gemma Ovens.

Myself and Rachel took her outfits to Yellowcraigs beach as it was a suitable canvas to show something as otherworldly as the Skeklers outfits. My artist friend Hazel Terry and Rachels friend and dancer Sara were up for playing the part.

As well as a grand day with them both I later went with my wife Krista to a darker forest where we created a rather more sinister version around burnt trees. While there a man passed with a Harris Hawk sitting on his arm, it fitted the moment perfectly.

Skeklers in a dark wood
Krista on Skeklers duty in the burnt forest.
Skeklers with a fiddle
Hazel and Sara at Yellowcraigs
two women dressed as Skeklers
Roaming the dunes
Hazel goes full feral
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Subterranean Magic

Playing with fire, with Kirsty Whiten

Kirsty appearing as Tatwari, god of fire.

The fire cave

Kirsty in the cave 

A good while back I saw a couple of amazing paintings at the RSA in Edinburgh. A friend of mine introduced me to the artist, one Kirsty Whiten. She specialises in powerful surreal images, ritualistic, symbolic paintings I felt strongly drawn to. We ended up meeting and got along. I persuaded her to appear in one of my photographs. Loving her work I wanted to reference it in my own image somehow. She invited me up to her amazing home studio in Fife then on for a traipse around some local spots Kirsty thought might be a good location for a picture. Eventually we ended up in an amazing forest that was full of sink holes and mini caves in Blebo woods. This seemed like the perfect location to capture something otherworldly. The elemental quality of the location made me decide to use fire in the image. We took a couple of test shots in a shallow cave and headed home.

The forthcoming shoot was in my mind to the extent I ended up dreaming about it. In my dream the location was different, in a much deeper cave with a lower cave within the main cave that was full of people that we had to negotiate with before being able to take the photograph. When we arrived back at the location for the shoot Kirsty mentioned that there was a second cave nearby if I wanted to see it. We ended up heading over and as soon as I stepped inside I was surprised to see the cave you see, one with a deeper lower cave at the back, just like in my dream. Naturally we ended up taking the images in there.

The smell and atmosphere in the cave made it one of the most otherworldly and intense places I’ve ever shot in, even more so when we began to light up the balls of fire. It’s a tricky process all about subtle timing but that intensity helped in a way. As well as Kirsty portrayed as Tatwari, ‘a god of fire and shaman of ancient times,’ I took a couple of other images of her as well as the cave alone which is the one I keep getting drawn back to.

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