Monday, 24 October 2016

The Battlefields of WWI

I make no apology for the fact that this blog is longer than I would normally write but it marks the centenary of one of the most horrific events in human history - so please bear with me.

Earlier this year I undertook a tour of the Battlefields of WWI with local company Solway Tours. I don't normally go on organised tours but I reckoned it was the best way to see a lot of places and to get expert knowledge in a short space of time. I was right on both counts. Solway Tours was outstanding. We travelled all around Ypres in Belgium and down through France to the Somme. I have to admit that prior to this trip my knowledge of this incredulous war was scant. I now know much more and although perhaps I shouldn't have - given the ongoing wars in the world today - I found it difficult to comprehend man's inhumanity to man. The scale of industrialised slaughter - 17 million dead and 20 million wounded - beggars belief.


Having been deeply moved by what I saw I decided to return a few weeks ago - just after the centenary of the commencement of the Battle of the Somme on 1 July - to make a more detailed photographic record of the places I visited. But it was more than just a desire to record. As a photojournalist I wanted to create a sense of mood and atmosphere. I wanted to express the emotions I felt - the death, destruction sadness and perhaps a modicum of hope for our warmongering species. I also wanted to further the act of remembrance of this appalling conflict and to attempt to ensure that we never forget all those - on all sides - who died or were affected by this war.

These are some of the images I took over both trips along with my brief notes of why I took them and why they are significant to me. With a few exceptions I felt that most of the images were more powerful in black and white or when desaturated of vivid colour.  That in itself was an interesting experiment in the psychology of perception and emotions. I hope that you don't 'enjoy' these images but rather that they stir something inside all of us that makes us reflect on war and what it means to go down the route of armed conflict.

Early morning light over Vlamertinghe Cemetery, Belgium. This is just one of dozens of cemeteries all along the western front that was located adjacent to or near field hospitals. It was calm and serene but the long shadows cast by the morning light were a stark reminder of what lay below my feet as I walked across the grass. This small cemetery holds over 1,100 soldiers.

A lone poppy at Essex Farm Cemetery, Belgium. It was the skeletal trees here that invoked the imagery of death more powerfully than trees in full leaf or flowers in bloom. The single red poppy against a white gravestone was like a shot that still rang out across the decades. This cemetery contains over 1,200 dead of which 104 have never been identified.

The grave of one of the unidentified soldiers at Essex Farm Cemetery, Belgium. There was something cold and stark about this. The rose and the beautifully kept graves somehow belied the horrific reality of what went on here. Everything felt rose-tinted but for all the wrong reasons. The long shadows spoke volumes to me.

The shattered, bullet-riddled remains of a tree that once stood tall in Sanctuary Wood, Belgium when battle raged all around it. Despite the modern crosses and all the acts of remembrance that have taken place here - it still lies dead, shattered and broken. That is the price of war.

Sanctuary Wood Cemetery, Belgium - just a few hundred metres from the battleground. A small cemetery holding 636 dead, it was serene but the dark trees around the edges and the dark clouds overshadowing the rows of white graves gave it a sense of foreboding.

This single red rose that was bending through the unmarked side of the gravestones seemed to be a marker for all the dead and not just the name on the front face of the stone beside it. For this reason I often wandered along the unmarked sides of the graves for here was the faceless, inhuman side of war.

Tyne Cot Cemetery, Belgium the final resting place of some 12,000 men of whom more than 8,000 are only 'known unto God'. In addition 35,000 whose remains were never found are commemorated on the walls around this cemetery. There was a brightness and hope in the light that shone through the dark clouds. It flickered across the gravestones bringing a sense of life and movement that somehow transcended the true horror of it all.

The Brooding Soldier memorial to the Canadians at Vancouver Corner, Belgium. This was the site of the first ever gas attack that claimed the lives of 2,000 men. It was the wispy nature of the clouds that seemed to speak of gas and the way it spread silently across the landscape. The light was catching the top of the memorial and it seemed to highlight the soldier's thoughts as he looked down contemplatively on another horror unleashed on the battlefield.

This is the German cemetery at Langemark, Belgium. Here are buried more than 44,000 dead. It was a strange, surreal and very different feeling from the allied commonwealth cemeteries but it was every bit as thought provoking in its mood and atmosphere. It was none the less death in all its finality.

The last post at the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres, Belgium - as held on every night of the year, irrespective of the weather - since  1929 (with the exception of the 4 years when the Germans held Ypres between 1940 and 1944) On the walls around the Menin Gate Memorial are the names of another 55,000 soldiers whose remains were never found.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog. I believe it is important that we never forget and I urge anyone to take a trip to these hugely emotional and thought provoking sites.
“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.”

- from 'For the Fallen' by Robert Laurence Binyon

In memory of my grandfather Alexander Nairn and his brother James Nairn
- neither of whom I met thanks to this conflict -
and to all those who gave their lives in this and all other wars.

Tom Langlands

Monday, 17 October 2016

Laura Hudson Mackay - Hush of a Shadow - Photographic Exhibition

As winter approaches I seem to be moving into another busy period of exhibitions and I am stressed, particularly as my next is on another continent!

After many solo exhibitions in the UK, this will be my first international exhibition. The show takes place in the exotic ‘Red City’ of Marrakech in southern Morocco, within the heart of the ancient walled Medina (city). As those of you who know me, and my work will know, I love Morocco and have been travelling there regularly since 2010. I was first inspired to visit after reading a magical book by writer Tahir Shah called In Arabian Nights. My experiences in Morocco have not disappointed, it’s as if I’ve been living in the Arabian Nights for real!

Marrakech has an amazing internationally recognised art scene with many contemporary artists and innovative galleries combined with a rich artisanal heritage. Some highlights include: the starting of the Marrakech Biennale in 2004 by Vanessa Branson with the aim of encouraging dialogue and diversity among international and local art communities; the Jardin Majorelle in the new town offers a peaceful garden setting and gallery of works designed by former owner Yves Saint Laurent; the Maison de la Photographie, a three-storey town house is a public archive of life in Morocco with photographs that date from the 19th Century.

© izywifi

Also, the Marrakech International Film Festival recently had its 15th successful year; and work has commenced on a new building for the Marrakech Museum for Photography and Visual Arts which once complete will be the world’s largest freestanding museum dedicated to photography.

Image from Dezeen

Marrakech is famous for its main square, Jemaa el Fnaa, which has a UNESCO designation as a ‘Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity’. This is because the square has been host to an active concentration of traditional activities by storytellers, musicians and performers, for over 1000 years. My photography is often heavily influenced by storytelling and having previously created work inspired by Celtic lore, in parallel I have also sought to explore similar themes within Moroccan culture, drawing on their strong heritage of myths and tales, linking the physical and spiritual worlds.

Hush of a Shadow a collection of some of this recent work can be viewed in the gallery at Marrakech Henna Art Café from 4 November 2016 through to 30 January 2017 where visitors to the exhibition can view and purchase Limited Edition pieces.

As if that were not exciting enough, the opening week of Hush of a Shadow coincides with a photography tour of Southern Morocco, with Galloway Photographic Collective! As a regular traveller in this beautiful and magical country, I create unique photographic tours of Morocco, directly aimed at photographers of all abilities. So if photographing Morocco is on your bucket list, please get in touch with me. More details of the packages on offer will be listed here soon.

"Our morning with Laura in the Medina was a real highlight. Marrakech is such a photogenic city and to see it through Laura's eye was an utterly pleasurable experience. We explored secret markets, stunning stalls, cultural sights and met all manner of wonderfully photo-friendly subjects. This is one of the most fun ways to explore the souks and is thoroughly recommended."

Mr A Conti, Passeport Travel

Laura Hudson MacKay

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

The Art of Perception - An Exhibition by Galloway Photographic Collective

The Art of Perception photographic exhibition opens to the public from 15th to 30th November 2016, at Shambellie House, New Abbey, near Dumfries.

The exhibition will feature works, diverse in style and technique, by each member of Galloway Photographic Collective: Allan Wright, Holly Burns, David Moses, Tom Langlands, Roger Lever, Jesse Beaman/Helen Cockburn, Kim Ayres and Laura Hudson Mackay.

This is the second year that GPC have had the opportunity to show work at Shambellie House and just as in 2015, there will be opportunities to meet each of the photographers, chat with them about photography and anything else for that matter! They will even make you a coffee if you ask nicely.

Here are Meet the Photographer dates for your diaries:

Roger Lever - 15 November

David Moses - 16 November

Holly Burns - 16 November

Laura Hudson Mackay - 18 November

Kim Ayres - 20 November

Tom Langlands - 22 November

Allan Wright - 25 November

Jesse Beaman/Helen Cockburn (Viridian Skies) - 26 November

In addition to The Art of Perception exhibition there will also be The Royal Photographic Society, Scottish Members' Print Exhibition on display.

We look forward to seeing you there!

Monday, 3 October 2016

Allan Wright - In Search of Stock Shots on the East Coast

A dominant motivation for me in image creation falls into the category of quirky, street , fine- art & abstract themes, I get excited by the possibilities here. Sadly the business model for these is far from fully developed, (read almost non-existent). Having said that I probably spend a larger part of my time producing what can nominally be classified as “Stock Images”. A pursuit I do however find quite satisfying nonetheless.

I have an ongoing responsibility for supplying fresh images for up 20 view calendars per year and there is very little scope for repetition, thus my road mileage is considerable. This time of year is particularly productive in terms of light quality and colour palette so I tend to get busy about now.

The East Coast is a different animal from the West, it is more man-made and manicured than the rugged wildness of its Western counterpart, but still very rewarding. As I write this, Fife and Angus have just been in my sites and so here are a handful of “stock shots” that I’d like to share.

Near Dunfermline I caught sight of a ubiquitous “turbine farm”. Big deal maybe, but it was the dramatic sky and the juxtaposition of a live oil refinery on the skyline that jazzed it all up a bit. Unsuitable for the calendar market but has possibilities in a more generic context.

Kelly Castle NTS, East Neuk of Fife. I have failed to score with this subject a fair few times, insufficient planning generally being the cause. Today though even at completely the wrong time of day for conventional approaches, the light was so strong and the garden so resplendent that with the help of bracketing and slight HDR I managed a usable image.

On a sunny day Pittenweem is a photographer’s banquet, boats, nets and classic pan-tiled vernacular buildings always deliver. Today however I found a departure from clichĂ© with a homecoming boat and a big harbour sky.

Elie is the posh enclave of the East Neuk. It is easy to see how it evolved this way with its fabulous beach and recreational value. Unusual for the east Coast it offers sunset options.

Angus has a lesser profile in the Scottish inventory of scenic locations, however dig a little deeper and there are plenty treasures to be unearthed. The series of Glens to the North which constitute the Southern Cairngorms, the Angus Glens as they are known funnily enough, have drawn me over the years. It seems by accident I have left the best to last. Camped out in Glen Esk and caught a beautiful frosty sunrise which in steady increments illuminated this gentle and stunning piece of landscape. Love to see Highland Ponies contentedly as part of a working highland shooting estate.

North River Esk view

Aberdeen is an important subject and like other dynamic cities has landmarks that are constantly evolving, often last year’s classic views are conspicuously dated and thus devalued. The illustrious architecture or Marischal College has acquired a ruby tinge since my last visit and so a hand held grab at dusk makes for a punchy offering.

Next stop Inverness.

Allan Wright

Monday, 26 September 2016

Holly Burns - Building an Impossible Photograph from Start to Finish

First things first, to create an impossible image, you need to have a clear idea of what you want to create and the foresight to know what photographs you will need to make it. Don't worry, I am not going to harp on about how to photograph in order to create a composited image, however if you DO want to know, please refer to my blog for my tricks and information on how to successfully create a composited image:

This article is a specific step to step workflow of my photographic and post-processing for one of my favourite photographs, ‘Kaleidoscope Heart’.

1. The Concept:

The concept is always the most important part of my workflow. I want to create something that means something to me, something I care about. I can only do that if I have a concept in mind and work to convey that idea.

For this image, I had been inspired by a short song by the name of ‘Kaleidoscope Heart’ by Sara Bareilles,

“All the colors
Of the rainbow
Hidden 'neath my skin
Hearts have colors
Don't we all know?
Red runs through our veins
Feel the fire burning up
Inspire me with blood
Of blue and green
I have hope
Inside is not a heart
But a kaleidoscope”

I love the notion that we might not have a heart that bleeds red, but of blue and green and every other colour that denotes an emotional outpouring!

Upon hearing this beautiful and ethereal song, I immediately starting picturing a heart with colours emanating from it. I could see in my minds eye the kaleidoscope of light and colour coming from the heart and a woman allowing herself to be consumed by it. To me, the different colours symbolised the spectrum of emotional qualities that make us who we are, our identity. Lets face it, not one of us has just one shard of personality. Today, if I were a colour I’d be red, a bright swinging red. Last week I was covered head to toe in Van Goghs acidic yellow, brown and orange, like the ghastly patterned wallpaper that my grandmother would have been proud of 60 years ago. When my little boy comes out of school I will be completely pink with a candy floss texture.

The theme of understanding identity is prevalent in a lot of my work. I began to think that accepting these contrasting colours within us would allow us to embrace ourselves and be an uplifting experience. I had my concept - Light needs shadow, and the most profound understanding of our identity includes both. Embrace it, love it.

2. The Planning:

As soon as concepts enter my head and form into an idea, I like to sketch it out and map out the photographs I would need in order to create the final piece. Here I needed at least two images of a woman, one of her head and torso and another of her waist and legs. I’d needed extra shots of a skirt hanging and a tranquil looking background.

3. The Shoot:

I had this concept in my little book of ideas for about 2 months before I found the right location to shoot in. This happened to be in Sennowe Park, the Edwardian home of Thomas Albert Cook, when at a photography retreat hosted by Brooke Shaden. There I met a wonderful model by the name of Jen Brook whom, as soon as I saw her I knew, had the perfect look and demeanour for my Kaleidoscope Heart concept.

In order to get the model to appear as if she were floating, I had to take the following pictures with a selection of a skirt that I could replace her crumpled one with. I also took many pictures of the background without the model so I could create a big stitch in which I could move the model around independently:

4. The Editing:

I blended the two images of the model together and added a new skirt to give the illusion that she is levitating above the ground.

Once the main compositing was done, the only thing left to do was to add light and colour. I firstly added a big burst of light positioned over her heart and masked the effect off the parts that her body would be blocking.

Easy to use sunburst brushes can be obtained for free here:

I then began the fun part: adding the colour! This was simply done by making shard-like selections with the polygonal lasso, feathering by 20 or so pixels and changing the colour balance.

I quickly realised that my initial idea of light and colour being enough to give the feeling of a kaleidoscope wasn't working. I almost tore my hair out and threw my mac out of the window trying to figure out how to translate what I could see in my minds eye to reality. Eventually after a lot of aimlessly searching ‘Kaleidoscope’, I found this free vector on deviant art made by Kaze Hime and finally it clicked as to where I must take this image.

I warped it to look like it was projecting out from her, duplicated it and changed the blending mode to luminosity. I repeated the effect on the floor and finally it was beginning to look as I had envisioned.

The next step was to warm up the image as a whole and bring out the colours of the light burst using gradient maps and selective colour.

This remains one of my favourite images because to me it represents having love for myself, warts and all.

Holly Burns

Monday, 19 September 2016

Kim Ayres - Colourful Kimonos

When I started my photography career, I concentrated on moody black and white portraits. I've always loved the landscape of the face but, if truth be told, black and white was a practical choice as much as an aesthetic one. The reality is, colour scared me. There were just too many variations and combinations that might not work, and I didn't feel comfortable enough in my own skill to navigate the multicoloured ocean of possibilities.

Eventually I began dipping my toe in, and it wasn't long before I started to delight in the expanded colour palette. And these days its not unknown for me to use coloured gels with my lighting to get particular splashes of colour when needed.

Possibly one of my most colourful photo shoots came out of a collaboration with Morag Macpherson - a textile pattern designer based in Kirkcudbright.

Among her many creations are some amazing kimonos. The shape and cut are based on the Japanese robes, but the patterns and designs are completely Morag's.

We'd been talking for some time about doing a photo shoot, but finding the combination of the right time, the right models and the right idea proved elusive. It wasn't that we were short of ideas - if anything the problem was too many and trying to narrow it down.

The Yellow Door is a gallery in Dumfries, occupied and run by a collection of artists, with ever changing exhibitions and displays. And last autumn, the room at the back had been done out like a boudoir, which tied in to one of the ideas we'd been discussing.

Morag's friend, Jessica, was coming down from Glasgow for a weekend and would be available for a shoot. But Morag had also been talking about this captivating lass she'd often seen on the bus from Kirkcudbright. As she described her, I suddenly realised she meant Alamnesh, the daughter of a friend of mine. A few more calls and texts and we had both models lined up.

As photo shoots go, this had a lot going for it. Not only did I have wonderful models in amazing kimonos in a great location, but the owner, Luke, had been running a breakfast event before we arrived and there was plenty of food left over which we tucked into when we had a break.

Additionally, he gave us the run of the building, which included a run down, decaying attic space that has yet to be done up. This meant we could do a second, very different style of shoot. From sumptuous boudoir to urban decay - showing how the kimonos could be used in a variety of settings.

I should also mention, the cushions in the boudoir shots are also Morag's creations.

Below are a few of the photos from the shoot, but click through to my Facebook album (you don't need to be a member to access it) to see the full set.

Kim Ayres