Posted on January 20, 2021
Today I’ve been working with the remove background tool in Photoshop. I want to use this photograph of Devonn on the front cover of Ashes on the Tongue, due for publication around Easter time. I was having great difficulty in separating her hair from the black background and was on the verge of giving up when I attended a Zoom lecture last night at Nottingham & Notts Photographic Society where John Bermingham drew my attention to this neat little tool.
This is a quick and dirty practice run on a very low res photograph but it has encouraged me enormously. That’s the trouble with Photoshop, it’s so bloody enormous that the answer to a problem can be right under your nose and you don’t know it. Move the slider to see the results.
This original painting, Tirkane Road, Maghera, is another image I am using for the Ashes on the Tongue cover and the reason why I was so anxious to separate Devonn’s hair from the background.
It’s by George A Gourley, an Irish artist, who has given me permission to use it. I am delighted because it has just the right feel for the era I am writing about.
Posted on January 18, 2021
Up, Up and Away was one of those whimsical pictures that ‘just appears’. I was keen to do something lighthearted and with a bit of colour, as a lot of my pictures can be, shall we say, a bit on the sombre side. Vicky May, the model and a talented actress who has appeared in the West End of London, had brought along this patterned dress and the umbrella was leaning on the wall in the corner of the studio. Along with Vicky’s hairstyle and shoes, the whole thing was taking on a decidedly upbeat and quirky feel.
I felt a ‘Mary Poppins’ coming on and dug the red ribbon out of my props box, quickly shooting the dangling foot.
It wasn’t until I was assembling the whole thing a bit later that I remembered the squawking gulls (a little bit of faffing required on their beaks) and so they were added in, looking suitably shocked at this strange creature floating in their air space.
The only thing left to do was add a cheerful sky and there it was – one of the quickest composites I’ve ever done and it still makes me smile.
Posted on January 17, 2021
An American cop retires at the early age of forty eight and buys a ramshackle house in Ireland with the aim of doing up and recovering his lost peace of mind. His marriage has collapsed apparently because his wife no longer wants to be the wife of a cop (after more than twenty happy years) and because of an incident where the pursuit of a black suspect, who wasn’t hurt in any way, sickened him against his job. This is Chicago, where the death rate is high and cops have thick skins. He also has a moody daughter, although it’s never explained why.
So far so Quiet Man. If only.
A sulky thirteen year old kid starts hanging round his house and, for some reason, the cop entices the kid onto his lawn and starts teaching him woodwork on an old desk. He also teaches the kid to kill rabbits. After some time, the kid reveals that his older brother is missing and he wants the cop to find him so, after an initial refusal, the cop agrees, mainly because the kid throws eggs at his house.
We are now halfway through this long book (over 400 pages) and we’re still waiting for the thriller we were promised. There are lots of descriptions of the Irish countryside, how to renovate an old desk, debating over whether
Until she turns up at his door one night, having been brutally beaten.
to adopt a pub and an abundance of whimsy and Oirishisms from his neighbour and from the local matchmaking shopkeeper.
After a lot more of nothing much happening, the cop finds out that the kid is, in fact, a girl so he tells her he can’t go on with the ‘investigation’ and that she can’t come back to work on the desk any more.
SPOILER STARTS HERE.
It transpires that her feckless mother – abandoned by her husband, six kids – did it. Not because she meant the girl any harm but because the people responsible for the brother’s disappearance wanted the ‘investigation’ to stop. Instead of warning off the cop, they told the mother to beat the girl to a pulp or they would. So she did.
No. Just no.
This downtrodden woman, who wouldn’t say boo to a goose, half kills her own child on the say so of the local bullies and doesn’t even come looking for her when she stays at the cop’s house. Not only that, but the cop feels sympathetic towards the mother.
The end, when it comes, is unrealistic, a damp squib that, quite frankly left me incredulous.
In departing from her usual Dublin-based Murder Squad, I’m afraid Ms French has lost the plot, both figuratively and literally.
Posted on January 17, 2021
I met Gail Noble through a multi-photographer / multi model day and was instantly impressed by her unique ability to lose herself completely in a character.
We went on to do a couple of shoots after that where we could explore different ideas, aided by the fact that she is also a very talented seamstress, able to create her own costumes, as in the portrait of Gail posing as Queen Victoria. The background to Her Majesty is an interior shot from Southwell Minster in Nottinghamshire.
We has fun with Stand and Deliver, making full use of a wind machine, although I’ve lost count of the number of people who have told me she’s holding the knife in he wrong way. She looked pretty determined to me so I wasn’t going to argue with her! All I did to this one was add a few trees and a bit of mist.
Fear Not the Dark was taken at the initial shoot mentioned above and is a (nearly) straight shot, only needed the addition of a flame in the lamp.
Posted on January 17, 2021
As we’re still confined to barracks with not much hope of any bird photography on the horizon, I’ve collected a few winter birds taken in the East Midlands (UK) over the last few years. We can only hope that one day we’ll be out in the sunshine again listening to birdsong.
Hope is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all …
Posted on January 16, 2021
Billy lived alone in a corridor and wore blue silk drawers. On wash day, Mammy closed the curtains on our kitchen window so she couldn’t see them on Billy’s clothes line. He had a matching vest, a bit frayed at the edges, but without the faint brown stain on the drawers.
He was a Roman Catholic and we were Protestants, but Mammy did her duty and sent me round to Billy’s house every Sunday with a bowl of stew. I had to go out of the front door, which opened directly on to the street, because what was the point in doing a good deed if nobody knew about it?
It was only a few steps to Billy’s front door, just enough time to shove a couple of spoonfuls of stew into my mouth and return the spoon to the bowl. Sometimes, he was waiting behind the net curtain and opened the door before I could kick it.
“Hurry up, get in. I can see Ma McCracken’s curtains twitching.”
“Mammy said can you wash the bowl before you give it back.”
She didn’t, but I never missed a chance to practice my dumb insolence.
“Off you go, out the back way.”
I liked going through Billy’s long, narrow house, surely some kind of architect’s mistake. The narrow living room, barely wide enough to accommodate the front door and the window, led into the bedroom. A glowing Sacred Heart adorned one wall, above a dresser with dusty vials of Holy Water.
Billy was going to Hell, but I wasn’t quite sure why, only that it was something to do with the Pope. His window always got smashed on the Twelfth of July, but he never told the police. No point. My Da fixed it for him and Billy slipped him a bottle of whiskey when Mammy wasn’t looking.
A tiny scullery beyond the bedroom opened on to the communal garden. A quick hop over the dividing wall and I was home again, job done for another week.
One Sunday in November, after taking Billy’s dinner to him, I overheard a conversation between Mammy and my older sister, Frances, who was getting married in a few weeks. Frances could whinge for Ireland.
“Do we have to invite Billy to the wedding, Mammy?”
“Yes, we do. What would the neighbours think if we didn’t ask him?”
“But he’s – you know –”
“I know, but maybe he won’t come.”
But Billy did come, in spite of being “you know –”. His hair was freshly permed and his overcoat had a velvet collar, which proved to be quite the talking point. I watched him like a hawk all day, but couldn’t work out what “you know –” could possibly mean.
January blew in with sleet and snow. Mammy stepped up Billy’s dinners to twice a week. Well, it was the Christian thing to do. The snow was too deep for me to walk a mile to school, so I was left alone in the empty house while Mammy and Da went to work.
The letterbox thumped and a handful of letters shot through on to the floor. I picked them up and had a quick shuffle. We didn’t get many letters as such, usually just bills, but today there was a lavender-perfumed envelope addressed to Mr. W. McParland of number 22a, Reilly Street.
Well, this was interesting.
We were number 22 and, for the briefest of seconds, I considered walking next door and poppng it through the letterbox. But, lavender perfume? Maybe it was a love letter. Maybe it had stuff in it about ‘you know –’.
No sooner had the thought crossed my mind than I had the envelope ripped open. The writing was flamboyant and written in purple ink with lots of curlicues. I could hardly contain myself, even as I struggled to read it.
My dearest William,
It seems so long since I last saw you, when we ran naked through the grass together.
Boy, this was good.
Unfortunately, that was the best bit. The rest was just a lot of boring arrangements to meet, so I skimmed over it until I got to the bottom of the page.
Yours, in loving friendship,
Harold? That wasn’t a lady’s name. Why would a man write that stuff to another man?
I was so engrossed in this conundrum that I didn’t hear Mammy come home.
“What’s that you’re looking at?”
She held out her hand “Let’s see nothing, then.”
I didn’t have to wait long for a reaction.
“Where did you get this filth?”
Unseen, I stuffed the envelope into my pocket.
“Uh, it was in the dustbin. It was on top when I took the rubbish out.”
Without further ado, Mammy turned on her heel and stormed out into the street, hammering on Billy’s door and shouting for him to come out.
He opened his door and, before he could speak, Mammy was in his face.
“You bloody pervert! You’re not fit to live near decent people! And leaving your filth where a child can see it, you’re evil.”
Billy stood open-mouthed, without a clue what she was talking about.
An interested crowd of neighbours were unashamedly gawking at the spectacle, which lent fuel to Mammy’s ire.
“Yes, you can all look! You don’t know what he’s been up to. Things with men!”
Things? What things? Running in the grass?
She caught sight of me, taking everything in and dying to know more.
“And you, get back inside. You’ve seen enough for one day.”
Back to Billy, now ashen-faced and trying to get his hands on the letter.
“Oh, no. This is going to the priest, he’ll know what to do about it.”
There was much, much more as the neighbours felt it was only right that they had a say in the matter. But I didn’t hear it, as the door closed behind me.
After that, there were no more dinners for Billy.