When I first photographed fifteen-year-old Devonn three years ago, I hadn’t even an inkling that I would start a secondary career as a self-publishing author. Having cut my literary teeth on my first novel, Circles of Confusion, I embarked on the much longer, more complicated Ashes on the Tongue which tells the story of Fen, a young girl in Northern Ireland in the 1950s, just before The Troubles really took hold. I always saw Devonn as Fen and a quick look through my archives revealed the first picture on the left which I thought was perfect. The strip below shows the progression from the original photograph to the processed version to the cover design and, finally, to the first advertisement after the book was published. The font used for the title is called Requiem and I liked it so much, I have used it for all my covers. As the sequel to Ashes – Then Sings My Soul – is well under way, it looks like I’ll soon be having another trawl through the archives.
Another trip into the archives. Tillie Feather was both a dancer and a gymnast and a pure joy to work with.
This Tuesday, my Camera Club is hosting an informal competition. An external judge will critique each picture and award points out of twenty. There is an Intermediate category and an Advanced category. I am in the Advanced category and these are my three entries. For variety, I have selected a composite image (Death of a Maiden), a fisheye image (The Cheat) and a straightforward monochrome (The Fascinator). They’re all pulled from my archives and all have done very well when entered into International Salons, so it will be interesting to see how they fare. I’ll come back on Wednesday and enter the scores.pho
Devonn is the grand-daughter of one of my best friends, Dawn, who was also the best friend of my late daughter, Aisling, so she is very special to me.
As well as being a very beautiful young girl, Devonn is fierce on the football field and destined for a great career in her chosen sport.
She was just fourteen years old when she first came to the studio for a photograph session with her friend, Emma. (Teenyboppers) I was keen to shoot with her again and she proved to be a very responsive and intuitive model. I’m sure we’ll work together again one day when the Covid clouds roll back.
A few pictures of Hannah, pulled from the archives; my favourite model, not just because she’s my grand-daughter but also because she’s so versatile.
Girl in a Red Scarf was a serendipity moment. Hannah was waiting to go on set when I noticed the drama created by the red wall, the scarf and her pink hair. This is literally a grab shot as she moved a few seconds later and the moment was gone. It did fairly well in the international Salons, garnering twelve acceptances and a Silver Medal.
Sunshine and Showers was taken for a competition at Beeston Camera Club. The category was Wet and Hannah’s young man was stood on a stepladder pouring water from a watering can. We hadn’t factored in the wind and she did get quite wet when gusts blew the water In her face. It was all for naught, as well, because I had to add rain in an overlay anyway. Not only that but the picture didn’t overly impress the judge on the night.
Geisha Girl was shot at my daughter Beverley’s home. I took my portable lights round and Hannah’s sister, Sian, painted her face. The flowers were a leftover bouquet from Mother’s Day which was languishing in he shop at half price so we made good use of them. It got accepted into five international Salons.
Wild Child and The Chase came about because I wanted to photograph Hannah’s dad’s Harley Davidson. We couldn’t get it into the studio (two flights of stairs) so Dave Severn arranged for us to use a small room in a car dealership. Wild Thing has only been sent out once (I stopped competing just after I made it) to a circuit in Finland, but it was accepted into three of the four Salons. The Chase has only seen the light of day at Beeston Camera Club where it scored 20/20.
This is Ticket to Ride, one of my more successful images in my early days of competing. It was accepted into Salons in twelve different countries and won a Gold Medal, a Silver Medal and an Honourable Mention. It’s a composite image; nearly every element in it was placed there by me, including the ticket in her hat. I worked hard on the final overlays to blend the tones. I should be very proud of it, but it makes my eyes bleed to look at it.
Why? Because the perspective is completely wrong.
I shot the model at a group night, in the days before I hired my own model, where you had to dive in for a few minutes to take your turn, no input into pose, costume etc. I was happy enough at the time. The model, Kelli Smith, knew what she was doing and the studio owner excelled at lighting.
It was only when I came to put it all together that I fell flat on my face. I had the photographs of the railway station already, so
all I had to do was cut out Kelli from the stool she’d been sitting on and pop her on the bench. Right?
I couldn’t have been more wrong. If you look closely, it appears that Kelli’s legs would have been about six feet long to have been in that position. And it’s all down to perspective.
I was looking down on Kelli when I photographed her, using (probably) an 85mm portrait lens. I shot the railway station at eye level with a 50mm lens. To get the perspective right, I should have shot both pictures in exactly the same circumstances – bent knee, same distance, same lens, same lighting etc. OK, same lighting can be difficult but that’s adjustable in Photoshop.
And, finally, shadows – they’re all over the place. I’ve learnt a lot since then and still learning all the time.
But, hey, two medals and an HM – I’ll take that.
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.
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.
Back in the days when we could go out and about without a care in the world, I had a three hour studio session booked with Hannah, my favourite model (and also my grand-daughter). I had quite a few different scenarios in my mind and decided to buy a dress off eBay for some of them. My eyes lit on this beautiful red dress with multi-frills on the skirt, a nipped in waist and a sprinkling of sparkles. Perfect! I just knew it would look fantastic on Hannah (I was right) and ordered it. Imagine my horror when it arrived in an A4 envelope, the material was nearly as thin as tissue paper and the whole thing was crushed beyond recognition.
When I tell you that I haven’t used an iron in over thirty years, you can understand why my first impulse was to throw it in the bin and put it down to experience. However, I set the ironing board up (well, Jan set it up. I didn’t know how to do it.) and spent a whole afternoon pressing the creases out of it. On the way to the studio, the dress had two seats all to itself as I was paranoid about it getting creased again.
Anyway, it photographed beautifully and I was delighted with the results. I still have quite a few frames from the day to work on so, hopefully, if my photographic mojo ever comes back I’ll revisit them.
The dress? I left it at the studio for another model to wear on another day. And I haven’t touched an iron since.
Left: Don’t Look Back. Right: The Party’s Over.
It’s been a long time since I did any work in Photoshop and Lightroom, so I spent a pleasant afternoon yesterday on this studio portrait from just over a year ago at Studio 3 by Severn. It helped that the sun was shining briefly and for a short period of time I could imagine I was indoors by choice.