The Best Seat in the House

The din of a festival rings in Edinburgh’s ears. 2014 roars by still.
For the last three years I have watched the closing fireworks concert from the best seat in the house. Photographers are allowed into the gardens at Princes Street and work in front of the orchestra’s bandstand during the full display. A performance and a view so spectacular, I cannot measure the privilege. The fireworks finalise a month of festivals in Edinburgh and the city centre closes for the city’s people to gather in round the gardens. The city’s unusual landscape comes into its own as people hike up hills, camp on rooftops and hunker down in the street to watch the display.
Sometimes the best seat is wherever you find yourself. This year I was untethered and let myself be carried through the tide of spectators. With only half an eye on the blazing acrobatics in the sky, the display for me was the unique collection of people that venture out and cluster together for the view. Fireworks are a devastating thing. They jolt our emotions out from the deep and pull us back to earth and into the present. They are maybe the closest thing to magic we ever know, a cosmological concussion on the heart. To watch the enjoyment of others spellbound, was to enjoy the show twice-fold for me. I relished the uncommon hush on the air beforehand, and took real delight in how gentle and patient everyone became, pulling in close and wearing their affection. Families, friends and lovers, the same faces from every day, still and contemplative in their own private turbulence.
For Edinburgh, they are the most cathartic thing. As glowing cinders and hot tips fall and dissipate into the black night, so too does the chaos and tumult of the last thirty days of festival delirium. The ash and smoke are carried off on the last of the summer wind as another chapter closes, and winter appears on the horizon again.

100 Years of Norman McLaren

A Historic Scotland heritage plaque commemorating Norman McLaren is unveiled at his early home on Albert Road in Stirling.  

With the starter pistols cocked, and the games just about to begin it is easy to direct all attention to the sports arenas of the next two weeks. Apart form all the work that has gone into the game’s preparation, there has been a voluminous programme of cultural events that have paved the excitement over the last 6 months until now. One of which is a series of events celebrating the life and career of Norman McLaren.

I have been involved with this programme of events since the start of the year and it is unbelievable and humbling to see just how big the scale of celebration has been. To celebrate Scotland’s most championed animator there has been more than just retrospectives and the dusting off of old reels. I have had the pleasure of attending and learning from specialist panels, world premiers, other animators work, workshops on traditional and contemporary animation methods, live orchestration over screenings, theatrical performances, exhibitions, unveilings and just old fashioned raising a glass. It is a marathon programme that has been a long time in its curation and it has all the hallmarks of commitment and passion that I am glad to have been able to lend my lens to.

An exhibition dedicated to McLaren’s work at Stirling’s Macrobert centre 
McLaren programme director, Iain Gardner,  at a retrospective of McLaren’s animation at Filmhouse, Edinburgh

An exhibition of McLaren’s work is curated at the Talbot Rice Gallery.

Luigi Allemano hosts a workshop in sound on celluloid at Tolbooth Stirling

Comapny Nathelie Cornille perform A Chairy Tale to open the festival at Macrobert, Stirling

A selection of McLaren’s animation is projected onto the 400 year old wall of Stirling Castle’s Chapel Royal

The Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra perform alongside McLaren’s animation at the GSA

Screen Bandita lead a workshop on hand painted animation for young people using celluloid leader at Stills

Guests at the official reception at Stirling Castle

Don McWilliams toasts the life and work of McLaren

Festival masterminds Sabrina and Iain overlooking McLaren’s original home from the roof of the Tolbooth, Stirling

The Phantom Band

Rock & Roll, they say, is all glamour.

It’s a good thing that this is all lies and that The Phantom Band don’t exactly fall under the simplified banner of rock. Them, their music and even their name have never been simplified, so why should a photoshoot be straightforward?

To coincide with the release of their third album Strange Friend,  The Skinny asked if I could shoot the band for the latest cover and in Dumbarton. Enter stage right: two car loads of Phantoms and myself, on the road west one sunny Sunday afternoon, what could be simpler? In the run up to shoots like this I always like to prepare. I pencil down visual ideas or a theme and check out artwork. I was sent a clandestine link to the new album which I listened to in complete darkness. I packed and repacked my gear like a sherpa. I even had time for some chakra vowel chanting before meeting the guys. The band though, were suffering from their side-project obligations from the night before and had used the morning to spontaneously move their entire studio.

Fifteen minutes later, we have bypassed Dumbarton looking for a good location, made every wrong turn and both cars are now totally separated in an Exodus scale downpour. Unimaginably, the only constant to the shoot is our original idea to eat some ice creams by the seaside. We career into the first sodden, seafront we find. A phalanx of Phantoms head off to find somewhere for ice-creams and to genuinely buy chips, priorities. As always, at the height of the struggle, from the wall of rain emerges the most enthusiastic local out for his Sunday rain walk who see’s our head scratching as an opportunity for the chat of a lifetime. By the time the band are back, shielding their dissolving ice-creams with takeaway bags, we’ve been on the go for 2 hours. But we’ve had chips.

Fifteen minutes later, Helensburgh pier is littered with flakes of sodden cone wafer and streams of ice-cream runoff. The sky and the sea are the exact same colour and the rain has charmed its way inside my camera making all my pictures look like we are in a turkish bath. Except we aren’t, and to our further disbelief Andy’s car battery has died during the shoot. What a scene this must have looked from above as me and Iain push-start the car and it rolls to a halt in the centre of a lagoon of rainwater. A lucky set of jump leads at hand we wait wringing with monsoon, listening to the revs of a very low fuel tank from the other end wondering if we need to start thinking about something more substantial then chips.

Back on the road and soaking the upholstery, the guys all kick back and get talking about albums and afterpartys with no afterthought to the shoot as if this was as ordinary a day in the life of The Phantom Band as they come.





I’m a really happy man.
Theology, a bold and charismatic new production by Martin O’Connor, has just ended its run as part of The Arches Behaviour Festival programme. Performed in The Pearce Institute, a stalwart heart of Govan, everything about the work resounded community. From recruiting a unique male choir of local vocals, to writing that meditates on a generation of life in Govan, through thematic reworkings of an enormous global community – the Catholic Church. And I was invited to join the small community that collaborated on the work. Me and Martin worked together on a poster image for the show, I shot the production images and, a new and brilliant experience, I helped produce bespoke permanent images under the vision of the show’s designer that were hung as part of the set.
While I harp on perpetually about how much I love my job, it isn’t very often you get to work collaboratively with awesome creative people on an a project that is thematically and visually rich. Unlike much of my work, the nicest aspect of this project was the scale of my involvement from early in the show’s development and to be able to lend my vision to what is a wry, complex and moving piece of theatre. All boxes ticked really.
Like I said, I’m really happy.






Check-in! : Glasgow Film Festival

Glasgow sprang out of hibernation a month early in February for the perless jamboree that is Glasgow Film Festival. With a programme of film, food and potholing it had no problem maintaining its notoriety for creative, vivid, unforgettable events.  I was really lucky to join the team again this year and I had more excitement and colour than I could point a camera at.

From the Grand Budapest Hotel in the Grand Central, Goodfellas and pizza at the Briggait, Jason Priestly’s socks, to the Glasgow Gospel Choir’s impromptu opening of a screening, all documented below.

Robert Florence at the Festival Opening Gala
Stuart and Marisa Murdoch at the Festival Opening Gala
 Guests at the Festival Opening Gala
Guests at the Festival Opening Gala
Street Food Cinema at the Briggait
Alison Gardner introduces the opening night gala
John Sessions in session.
Benedikt Erlingsson in conversation for Of Horses and Men
James Duff in a post show discussion for Hank and Asha
Richard Dreyfus and Jason Priestly on the red carpet for Cas and Dylan
Richard Dreyfus at the GFT
Jason Priestly in a post show Q&A for Cas and Dylan
Jason Priestly in a post show Q&A for Cas and Dylan
Agnés b and Lou-Léila Demerliac on the rad carpet for My Name Is Hmmm…
Claudia Lennear with the Glasgow Gospel Choir perform for the premiere of 20 Feet from Stardom 
Claudia Lennear with the Glasgow Gospel Choir perform for the premiere of 20 Feet from Stardom 
Claudia Lennear with the Glasgow Gospel Choir perform for the premiere of 20 Feet from Stardom 
Margaret Tait Award winners Anne-Marie Copestake and Rachel MacLean with festival Producer Corinne Orton
Margaret Tait Award winner Rachel MacLean introduces her new work
Andy Diggle and Jock in conversation with Mark Millar
Andy Diggle and Jock in conversation with Mark Millar
Andy Diggle and Jock in conversation with Mark Millar
Ed Atkins, curator of Man of Steel
George Sluizer, Director of Dark Blood, in a post show discussion
Until next year…


Now that my break in the tropics of Glasgow is finished, I have finally been processing my thoughts and encounters from such a long stint in my neighbour paradise city. Co-incidentally, I worked on the NTS production Rantin at the same time. I say coincidence because Rantin is a theatre piece that is preoccupied with identity, Scottishness and caricature within a contemporary context, and some of the insights from the show resonated strongly with my own project.
I saw the show early last year as part of the Arches Behaviour Festival and was really happy to work on it again as it has grown legs into a full touring production. Asked to produce a poster image, publicity material and the production images for its current tour, I had the rare banquet of being able to work on a production from start to finish.
Having seen Kieran’s other work, I have loved how he roots his work in a Scotland I know – through music, through lifestyle, through history. The contemporary orientation of his writing shows the blemishes as well as the beauty and I wanted to import as much of this as I could into the poster. Looking through early postcards for my research, I had already encountered some tartan gems to base the image around. Classic tartan tabletops, with painter’s window-light, follow a formulaic recipe of traditional wares, the odd obscure prop perched on romantic, flowing tablecloths. For the poster we wanted to keep the colour palette and sensational lighting of the early colourised still life, but replace the jaded shortbread, haggis and quaichs for modern jaded equivalents.

The show uses its own props and symbols that make great centre pieces for our image, but it was a hard thing to narrow down the rest. The fish supper and Tenants Super are cardinal of course, but I couldn’t satisfy my imagination without a ubiquitous traffic cone, old runners, or seagul that come with the territory of modern Scotland. Thankfully we reached a happy medium of artifact and artiface for the final image, but not before I turned the rehearsal rooms into a bazaar of salvage with more than a faint fragrance of poisonous alcohol and battered fish.

As you read, if the band are not currently performing in Thurso, they are on their way through Tongue, Ullapool and Oban, purveying and deciphering the great mystery of Scottishness as they go.

The press and production images from the show:

Artist Residence – Aloha Glasgow

I am almost at the end of my current three week residency with Team Effort! in Glasgow’s southside. A residency is an exciting thing. It is business as usual really, but with a hard focus, and a hard deadline. Two things I sorely crave when I can focus on personal work. I have taken these 3 weeks to break from my commercial diary to focus on, and actually begin from scratch, a project I have wanted to try for a long time. I don’t say “try” lightly. The project itself ticks all boxes of Team Effort’s “ethos of exploration, risk-taking and collaboration” and I cannot put enough stress on the risk-taking.
Since this project is in two parts I wanted to explain a bit more about it and its background. I have split it into two parts, I am just finishing the R&D phase. The notion of a breezy holiday tripping through Glasgow’s galleries have been quickly dismissed! Instead, my research here has been hard currency. It has been pavement pounding, door knocking, emails and phone calls. The life of a producer, and not much a photographer (bit of a running joke here.) But for what I want to achieve, it is the approach.
The working name of my project is PARADISE and its aim is to explore notions of identity, of veracity and, most urgently of all, of Glasgow. Its practical aims though are to visit everyday scenes of city life and dress everyone within in a Hawaiian shirt. Anyone familiar with my other personal work won’t even bat an eye. Part of my learnings these last few weeks have been deeply personal, and it would appear that the only projects worth my salt are those that are only as preposterous as they are ambitious.
For this work, I am drawing on the early colour photography and practice of John Hinde. Photographer/ ringmaster/ visual embellisher extraordinaire, Hinde is widely known for his saccharine and idealistic scenic representations of Ireland and the UK. He was commissioned by Butlins Holiday Camps during the1960’s to impart his signature saturation to a series of postcards depicting the ceaseless delight of the resorts. He worked as a director, with a team that would pose holidaymakers and add lighting and props where necessary to crystallise his great modernised Arcadia. Injecting maximum colour into the frame, Hinde’s team would saturate a scene however they could, including carrying a bag of bright shirts to dress anyone too pastel. In its excess and artifice, colour forms an inadvertent caricature of the setting of the images.
Fast forward to Glasgow. Here is a city that seems a living caricature. A historical and modern city, it wears itself openly. It visually balances its past with its future in an immediate, hacksaw affect; splicing old merchant sectors with motorways and modern housing. A city infinitely grey, commercial, derelict and rain-soaked, but electric with personality, character, creativity, myth and legend. That humour in Glasgow even is antipodean, renowned as dark and deadpan, wit becomes an intrinsic part of its ambiguous character. These romantic contradictions were my first impressions of Glasgow when I started to visit for work years ago. And it is these naive and flawed assumptions that I wish to nourish for this project.
Drawing on, and frankly inverting, Hinde’s approach have begun creating caricature scenes of Glasgow’s sub-urban life. I want to inject disproportionate colour into packed, mundane scenes in pubs, bus stops, pool halls, care centres, chippies, the park, tea rooms, art classes and the streets of the city, by dint of a wardrobe of colourful shirts. Faithful to Hinde, I am shooting everything on large format colour film. I wanted to draw individuals, communities and organisations in to an art project that presents a humorous, relevant image of the city. Where Hinde set out to use colour to create a hyper-reality, I am creating a sur-reality.
The good news is, the hardest part is almost done. After an electric three weeks, I have bounded forward. Over the next few weeks when everything returns to chaos, I will have results to show that take me to the next chapter. This is a collaborative project, and in the not too distant future, I will be calling for helpers, assistants, collaborators and conspirators who like the feel of a Hawaiian shirt and know where to find Glasgow’s intangible colour.

Artist Residence – Before Colour

Time flies when you’re having fun. Before I know it it is Tuesday again. A dusty carbon sky hangs over Glasgow.
So where has this week seen me? Detailing my project with Team Effort! and opening my eyes to Glasgow. I have spent the last 5 days engaged in my favourite activity. I have walked the streets of the city and watched, as if in slow-motion, the grey throb and heavy unfurling of urban life day to day. Since my very first vista of the city, I have always maintained a naive perspective on what makes it so rare a place. On its exterior it is a portrait of bleakness. Modernity and urban sprawl at its most literal,  it is like an unfinished masterpiece. Great angular citadels tower above the rain gloss asphalt, while below a tumult of limbs and commerce drown the great unrequited cry of crumbling heritage. A city infinitely grey, commercial, derelict and rain-soaked, yet, within the structure, it is electric with personality, character, creativity and myth. That humour too is renowned as dark and deadpan in Glasgow, wit becomes an intrinsic part of its colourful and ambiguous character. These romantic contradictions were my first impressions of Glasgow six years ago and it is these naive assumptions that hold me to my current project.
What I am working on is an exploration of colour. I am working to a slower and more traditional pace on large format film. January is both the most and least ideal time for this project to develop. I have spent the last week walking through the city at its most grey, searching for locations and framing up a shotlist, all the while remembering its hidden colour. The picture above sits over my desk as a reminder. My project here is to find a way under the surface, to find Glasgow in bloom with its own native colour. A colour that I hope to show everyone in the next two weeks if we can see past the fog.

Artist in Residence – Raw Materials

Aloha from Glasgow! I have just settled down for my first of three weeks as an Artist in Residence in Southside Studios with the eponymous Team Effort! I was accepted for the position before Christmas and am delighted to say I am the first of their eight resident-ees for the year 2014.
As an opportunity it is brilliant, but it is fully loaded! I have given this blog a colourful touch-up for the duration of my project here and I expect to be dusting off my lack-of-posting-finger and using this as a place to update on my projects development, my research and the general Bon Temps! of working life in the studios. I very much expect this to be an open and honest forum for me. This is the first Residency I have ever participated in, I am in unfamiliar territory and I have a lot to achieve during my short stay. On top of that, the dates for the project were decided just before Christmas, so my head is still spinning that I am here so soon.
For now, it is me, an empty space and a bag of Hawaiian shirts as the raw materials to develop this project from nothing. These three weeks are the first leg of a two stage collaborative project. Collaboration and conversation go hand in hand for me so can I extend an invite to anyone local who wants to call in for a cuppa and a tour. I’m here all week *boom boom*


A sun and a moon. A blink of an eye again.

In twelve months it is inconceivable where our feet fall. Mine have covered some ground. My shoes, the aged reliquarys of adventure, are always at the frontier of my expeditions. They are retired with grace and ceremony as the months wear them away. Parting with them, in their gait warped state, always brings a tugging reluctance. Twins of stability, accessory to my safe passage. Their silent companionship remains through the rain and frost of another year. They are seldom acknowledged for their service to how I see the world. But whatever I see through my camera, I wait for, on foot and on the street. 
Here at the end of a year when so many things have happened, the compulsion to remember the major events often obscures the beautiful phenomenon of three hundred days passing unmarked. On my travels, I have picked up milestones in pictures. An esoteric measurement of the seasons that I search out or capture in passing. I have no way of predicting what the next year has in store, what I do know is that I will keep searching in the street for reminders of life playing out, and that I will probably need new shoes.
Happy new year.