This project was delayed due to Covid but we finally got a start on the workshops and the exhibition last September 2021. I invited a fellow artist to co-curate the exhibition with me mainly due to the fact that Livingston Skate Park is legendary within the skate community. I was never a skater and it felt like there should be someone from the park’s history involved. Chris Young came on board to assist with the workshops and curation of the exhibition which was displayed at Howden Park Centre, Livingston from September 2021 until March 2022. Chris grew up in Livingston and was a frequent visitor to the park as a young person before pursuing a career as an artist with a specialism in graffitti art.
The interesting thing about this exhibition was the sourcing of images. I put a call out to park users to get some local images and we didn’t get any submissions form anyone under the age of 40! What became obvious as we worked on this was that it was the older park users or those from the park’s past who were interested in submitting images, and connecting with the history of the park itself. We bought together the archive images from the parks designer Iain Urquhart and it’s unofficial custodian Kenny Omond. I enjoyed working with plain backing paper as a sustrate for printing. We showed many images by the photographer Tim Leighton-Boyce who’s achive is managed by RAD. These iconc images gave some context ot the park’s past illustrating the number of times reknowned skate boarders from the UK and US who visited the park. There is a hope that this exhibition will assist in the development of an official archive of Livingston Skate Park.
I also got the chance to exhibit some black and white portraits I had taken at the skate park in 1999 and had never shown.
Chris also created some new artwork at the park itself based on old skateboarding motifs and logos.
I would like to spend more time taking photographs but never seem to get the time or the head space. When I do take photographs now it’s mainly of nature and I manipulate them digitally. I have always been fascinated with the space that exists between reality and fake when it comes to photography. I like to picture what these images will look like framed, large on a wall.
“Like the wings of birds fluttering against closed windows, photographs brush vainly against the surface of things“
All my photographs of birds are fake. They are edited, stitched together and manufactured. I add birds where there are none, remove ones that do not fit in to the composition and layer skies and backgrounds to suit my aesthetic. They remind me that all of photography is fake.
The Pusuit of Happiness
Religion, philosophy, and human interaction play smaller and smaller roles in contemporary life, we have come to value pleasure, vanity, and conspicuous consumption in their place. Happiness is a recurring theme in my work. The means through which we pursue happiness have changed significantly, but this pursuit still reigns over Western society. No longer satisfied by the truth and comforts of religion and a virtuous life we are encouraged to expect happiness at all costs, but is the contemporary pursuit of happiness doomed to fail?
The American Dream is a concept worshipped by an entire nation which has lost sight of it’s original meaning. Happiness was written into the Declaration of Independence by Jefferson with the phrase ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’. However when Jefferson spoke of pursuing happiness, he had nothing vague or private in mind; his was a measured, public happiness.
This series of images, entitled ‘The Pursuit of Happiness’ is from a larger body of work shot in the US over several years. I have returned time and again in an attempt to greater understand this culture and it’s people, the legacy of Scottish diaspora and their modern interpretation of the theories and philosophies from the Scottish Enlightenment.
I am, as usual, ashamed to say that i was too busy working to take many process shots of the group working. The advantage of this project is that we had some extra cameras for the groups to use and document our working- we were too busy to spend much time doing this and i don’t have permission for some of the images but here’s some that we can show- just remember my mantra “we’re not here to have fun”!!!!
This group wrote a lovely story which i have published below. As you can see it’s quite a long story but as they wrote it it just got better and better and really highlights the children’s talents for creativity and imagination- i think it also demonstrates how it’s a fairly hands-off approach to their writing and image editing…
Below are some of the additional images from the Disney Dogs shoot- these pictures just make me smile- so much comedy and fun from this group…
For this post i would like to talk about the writing element to the project. I am not a writer by any means but the writing was given as much time as the photographs, with much assistance from the teachers. After a class discussion about photography we introduced the project itself. Below is the information sheet sent to teaching staff prior to this lesson. After several meetings and emails i had a good understanding of what we could achieve and this allowed me to accurately research and then inform teaching staff;
PICTURE MAKING WITH WRITING AND CRITICAL THINKING
TO BUILD ON INFORMATION CHILDREN ALREADY NATURALLY POSSESS
TO INCREASE LITERACY THROUGH PHOTOGRAPHY
We will learn how to use photography to illustrate our stories
We will use photography to show a range of human emotions
We will learn camera techniques to introduce light and darkness, to give mood and emotion to our pictures which will illuminate our stories
We will learn how to capture movement with our cameras
We will learn how to take better pictures
Inspire, inform, connect, values for schools, determination, resilience, excellence, community spirit, confidence, leadership, communication, peace, understanding
We will look at the skills required for each of the sports in the Games and how these are different for a runner compared to a weightlifter compared to a shooter
We will look at the skills required to become a world-class athlete;
Determination, stamina, confidence, state of mind, diet, training programme
We will find stories of past Commonwealth games in Scotland (Edinburgh 1970 & 1986)
We will look to develop our own sport for inclusion in the Commonwealth games which takes it’s inspiration from what we have around us
We will look at the theatre, drama and spectacle in sporting events
We will look to the animal kingdom for comparisons in human athletes
We will look at the cult of winning prizes- is it winning or taking part? What about those who come second? Or third?
We will think about what equipment is used, how it is made and by whom
We will look at the human body and it’s capapbilities
We will look at sport as a tool for revolution
We will try to imagine how it feels to be at the Games;
Who comes second
Who has trained hard
Who have travelled very far to be here
All the writing created by the groups was inspired by the above. The main thing for me was to try and have them see past the obvious Hussein Bolt runs 100m race and wins a gold medal. The children’s imaginitive ideas far surpassed my expectations. They would spend a few hours with me creating their ideas using mind-maps and then writing up their stories on the computer, and adding their proposed image ideas. I did not interfere with their writing process, and the children were more than adept and confident at managing their writing on their own- they actually informed me! I learned about ‘wow’ words for starters!!
As an example, here are the World-Wide Webbers making their mind-map for their idea of the Games being open to people of varying ability…
Once the children have written up their word document of story/image/props list/list of tasks i email it to their teacher who then works with the children to ‘upscale’ their story. I provided nice heavy paper and writing pens for the children to write their stories up ready for me to scan and lay on to their images in Photoshop. Below is the World Wide Webbers written text without any editing in Photoshop…
The writing process is something that is started with me and finished with their teacher in class. Once their story is finished the children then do a test shoot to work out their best angle of view, composition, timing, etc. Below are some of the test shoots done by the Webbers demonstrating their ideas…
These practice images demonstrate composition and help the children work out props and pose- in this series it became obvious which hand the ball should be in and what the crop should be. This informs how they should pose their model for the final shoot. The Webbers chose to ask the school secretary, Mrs. Mockery to pose for their image. It was their responsibility to ask Mrs Mockery, plan her session and organise the props and costume. This maintains their ownership of the work and reinforces their responsibility.
Here are some of their images from their shoot with Mrs Mockery…
Below is their chosen final image- they liked the determination in Mrs Mockery’s eyes and the pose was good…You can still make out the symbols showing which country she plays for and what the actual sport is. I should also add that all the teaching staff loved seeing Mrs Mockery in the photographs…
I am going to use several of the finished images from the Talking Pictures project which finished at the end of June, to talk about how we made the work. With thanks to the teachers i got lots of the model release forms returned. We worked on the project for approximately 3 months and there’s more information about it in my previous post…
Bearing in mind the project ran from April to June and that is the busiest term for schools it was important to make sure that we developed a way of working that caused the least amount of disruption to the classes. We began with a few lessons to the whole class. The first time i met the children we had a class discussion on the power of photography and the power of the image. I showed them photographs by August Sander, Richard Avedon and Helen Levitt. We discussed the different cameras used by each of these photographers, narrative in photography, reading a photograph, labelling their subjects and in the case of Helen Levitt the morality of using a fake lens on the side of her camera to photograph her subjects without their knowledge. The discussions were robust and the children were engaged.
Many of the images from the shoot day with the Wild Wolves were just wonderful (to be fair all the groups worked hard on their shoot days). The model, C really embraced the role, blocked out what was happening around him and posed without inhibition. I added a selection of images from each group’s shoot to a closed album in flickr and sent it to the teachers. The children and their teachers were then able to choose the one they liked best. They were asked to consider which one best represented their story, and the one with best exposure, composition, and where the model was best posed. This was a democratic process done by the whole class which removed any decisions made through favouritism and also boosted the confidence of the models themselves. It made them feel part of a team working towards a common goal.
Below is the final edit but i’ve also included a few other layout ideas the children and their teachers had to choose from…The exhibition images were always going to be 20×24″ so we decided on the text taking up a smaller space as it would always be readable at the selected print size.
Choice of edit with text on image. Choice of edit where text is below image
The children began with their practice shots. As you can see the day we worked on the practice shots the Wild Wolves had the luxury of working in a classroom! It allowed us to practice setting up the background stands and practice pose. From my perspective it’s also good practice for me to make sure that i am working to that delicate balance of demonstrating and teaching but still allowing the children full creative control.
A few of the practice shots- looking at angle of view, crop, expression, colour cast, location and camera practice.
This images demonstrates how the Wild Wolves worked. All the group members took turns each at being the main photographer. As you can see this image was taken by a group member. I am demonstrating to E how to hold the reflector (most of the children found this to be the most boring job)! This image also demonstrates how the photographs can be taken anywhere with the right kit- in this case some cheap stands and black background. As earlier stated, space is at a premium in every school i have ever worked in so it’s better to work outside to avoid being shifted every 50 minutes which is never long enough to get set up. Working with natural daylight is also one of the best sources of light which adds to the quality of the image- finally look at all that space! No tables or cupboards or chairs to tidy away!
I’d like to share a project I have been working on for a few months now, in a Primary school in the Falkirk area that received some funding to create a photography exhibition and book for the baton relay event cutting through Falkirk on the 24th June. The working title for this is Talking Pictures which gives you a good flavour of their project.
Up to this point the children have been writing stories which take as their theme the values of the Commonwealth Games. Now i am not a sporty person (to put it mildly) but it’s actually been more interesting than i thought it was going to be!
To begin with, and after much planning, I spent several sessions with the two P4 classes (aged 8/9 years) talking about photography and how, through observation, we can ‘read’ photographs. This has been an incredibly rewarding experience for me and demonstrated just how imaginitive and observant children can be when presented with an image and asked to discuss it. The planning with the teachers has been great and we are about half way through the groups writing up their stories which they will then illustrate with a photograph. I have been getting feedback from the teachers about the children’s stories and they are very happy with them. I can see how the children’s learning in class is enhancing their work with me and the teachers can see how the ‘reading photographs’ exercises are enhancing the children’s learning too. Today one of the boys mentioned that they should use ‘wow’ words in their story (i had to ask what these are and they’re words like suddenly, immediately etc). I try to feed back to teaching staff when this happens.
It’s great to see a project working with all involved engaged and observing the progress bit by bit. Here are a few images of the children working on their story writing- when it’s sunny i like to take the groups outside to write, it frees up space in the school and let’s us all enjoy the fresh air (see above- below is their mind-maps, or hedgehogs)!
The next stage in this project is to think about how to bring these stories to life. I had the children do an ideas shoot for pose, and write a list of props and where their photograph will be taken. I have had them speak to staff members about appearing in their pictures, and ask around for certain props required. I have included a test shot for one of the stories since the football (acting as a substitute for a lawn bowl) obscures this pupil’s face sufficiently. We will be shooting in and around the school so teaching the children the value of cropping is been invaluable. Classroom space in this school is at a premium so we will be shooting outdoors in a marquee. The children will be in charge of taking the pictures (my job is to set up lighting and camera controls only)! Simultaneously, as the groups photograph, the teachers are re-working and hand-writing the stories in class. I will then scan the selected hand-written story and add to the image. As much as i would like to work with the children to teach them basic Photoshop it’s not possible at this time as it’s just too painfully near the end of term so i have arranged some CPD sessions with teaching and support staff in the new year. I hope to get parental permission to include as many of these finished photographs and stories, and of course will continue to document and write about this process as we continue, including quotes from the children and teaching staff. Time allowing.
I spend much of my time working with children and young people, teaching them various elements of photography and art, and i’ve managed to do this for almost ten years self-employed which i am very proud of. But i am aware that times are changing and in order to maintain a level of interest in children and young people i have had to start to use the word ‘selfie’. If there was any word i could banish from everyday use it would be that. In fact i struggle to even write it here. I detest it. It is a vulgar, narcissistic term used to refer to the taking of one’s own picture using a hand-held device and then, more often than not, sharing that image via social networks. Normally the images are badly taken with camera phones and granted the cameras in phones are considerably better than they used to be, it’s not their fault it’s the people taking them…
Pictures of young girls with their cheeks puffed up, one hip jutting out with their hand resting on it, drunken, regretful nights out in the pub, or boys with their tops off showing how hard they have worked down the gym. Just a few of the more common examples of what has now become a whole new phenomena in social networking being used by presidents, actors, tourists and just about everyone. The pictures they take say ‘look at me, look where i am, aren’t i having a great time?’ Very few emotions (apart from the standard gormless smile/provocative pout) exist in these images and so the visual cues come from what else is happening in the picture- what time of day is it? Can we tell what type of room the image was taken in? More often than not it turns out that there is, in fact no depth to the image and what you see is what you get- just a quick shallow skim across the surface of someone’s life. It can be argued that you catch a glimpse of what goes on behind closed doors but i would argue that the images tend to be staged and give few clues- only what the taker wants us to see.
The article above places some good context around the ‘selfie’ phenomenon (there are also some errors- Atget was not the crime scene photographer is was Wegee) but all things considered it gives good perspective from an arts point of view. Below is a quote from Kyle Chakya from the National #selfie Portrait Gallery;
““It’s less about narcissism—narcissism is so lonely!—and it’s more about being your own digital avatar.” Chayka adds, “Smartphone selfies come out of the same impulse as Rembrandt’s … to make yourself look awesome.””
They just used the word “awesome” and Rembrandt in the same sentence. I don’t think that was really what Rembrandt was thinking. I hope someone corrects him and perhaps does so in person and manages to take his phone off him so he sits and listens for three minutes.
As a portrait genre it is here to stay for the foreseeable future and so i have resigned myself to the fact that i will have to spend time correcting people when they say ‘selfie’ and ask them to use either self-portrait or auto-portrait. Whether i have worked with a group for several hours/week/months it makes no difference. I can enlighten them as to what it means to take pictures of people, and show them how to do it, and how to treat photography as a skill, an art form, and a tool for communication. But as soon as they go home and engage with social media and their friends, it’s back to the puffed up cheeks and duck face. I am happy to make a joke about this when i am working but it is part of a bigger picture of how to connect with people and how to maintain a sense of authenticity in one’s life when technologies are outstripping the need to or want to meet with people face to face and experience the sponteneity of conversation.
And here endeth today’s lecture. Because authenticity is too big a subject for now…
I keep a running list of favourite words and things (mainly in my head) and sometimes I get the chance to use them as a basis for a series of images. I have been utterly obsessed with brocken spectres for several months (if not years) but haven’t been able to work them as an idea in to a project.
A brocken spectre is, in effect a selfish rainbow. It is the enormous magnified shadow of an observer, cast upon the upper surfaces of clouds opposite the sun. They were first observed in 1788 by Johan Siberschlag in the Harz mountains in Germany. They are an optical illusion created when sun shines from behind an observer who is looking down on to cloud or mist. The light projects their shadow which falls on to droplets of water at varying distances from the eye causing a halo of colour like a rainbow. Because of the angle of view only the observer can see this rainbow effect and this is what makes it a selfish rainbow.
When I first learned about brocken spectres it reminded me of the selfishness and illusionary nature of social networking and digital technologies; of how we lack the technical knowledge and understanding of how networks are created, as if they are some sort of ethereal experience which they are not. I have developed a deeply cynical view of social networks and am an unwilling participant (I am not a luddite)!
I have wanted to produce a series of images of people interacting with technology and the one idea I keep coming back to is that of the sitter being lit only by the light of the device they are interacting with. I like to imagine how Velazquez or Poussin or Rembrandt would have worked had they lighting choices other than candlelight or daylight?
My Thursday group and I visited the National Museum of Scotland a few months ago and whilst there I took the photographs below. I was struck at how the light from the small screens brought out the features of those in the image, and I also rather enjoyed the space landscape in the background- a simulacrum which only adds to the idea of modern life as rubbish (Baudrillard). The images below are simply ideas- they are not formed finished images but just the start. I get the irony of shooting these pictures with an iphone, and I will shoot the finished project with my DSLR which will only add to celebrate the selfishness of technology, But, lest we forget, once upon a time photography in it’s infancy was cutting edge technology, as was the development of ready mixed paint available in tubes, or the use of perspective…
The HYPE group currently have an exhibition of photography, collage and painting at Armadale library (until 31st October). The work was created for the Scottish Mental Health Art and Film Festival. We took as our ambiguous theme the idea of ‘reflections’, allowing participants to interpret this brief as they wanted. Photographs were taken at a variety of locations in West and East Lothian and we used small round mirrors to reflect ourselves and our environment. Participants were encouraged to take photographs of each other and, as for all my workshops, the fake, smiley thumbs up pictures were banned making those being photographed think a little more about how they want to be portrayed in the images. Luckily there are so many beautiful spots to photograph this helped distract from the actual act of being photographed! I have included several of their portraits of each other and a few additional images taken by the group.
The collages began as line drawings from photographs. Participants then filled these drawings with paint, proline markers or samples of wallpaper, chosen by them and carefully cut to size. It was very restful making the collages and this produced a very nice atmosphere in the group.
Below is a gallery of (bad ifone images) of participant’s work with their comments on the work they have created.