Rat Race

It started with lighting tests.  

I was doing a lot of lighting tests, and I was doing them on myself.  Hundreds of them; possibly thousands.  So many lighting tests, in fact, that they were becoming the closest equivalent I now have to conference calls.

Conference calls are a bit of an art: the trick is to keep all spikey stationery out of reach so that you survive six hours of hot air, people taking their telephone to the toilet and the man who precedes every word with “er” without gouging your eyes out.  

Well, it turns out that lighting tests are a bit of an art, too: the trick, here, is to avoid burning your eyes out with repeated bursts of 3,000 watts of energy per second.  

So I started covering my eyes.  And I ended up with a lot of lighting tests in which I looked asleep, and a lot of lighting tests which looked like I was fleeing the pap-pack.
And then I started wondering whether it was possible to communicate anything at all of myself without showing my face.  Turns out, it was.  

And then I wondered what it was that I wanted to communicate.  And I remembered all the times I’d sat before the speakerphone on conference calls, decked out in my suit, my tie, my expensive cufflinks and my painful shoes, carefully composed on the surface and — inside — just screaming to be allowed, just for one second, to be me.
And then other people became involved.  And it went from little lighting tests to a full-blown series that’ll run as long as it wants to run.

If you want to sit for it, and join the Rat Race crowd, drop me a line.

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And now for something quite different

If you’ve ever spent any length of time with Americans (or, indeed, if you happen to be an American), you’ll know that, every once in a while, something doesn’t just get lost in the translation, it gets turned backwards in it.

There are certain words, see, that get all screwed up when they cross the Atlantic. 

Like “solicitor”.  To us, a solicitor is someone who annoys people from his glass-fronted office in return for one million pounds.  To our American cousins, he’s someone who annoys people in a car park for pennies.

Or “esquire”.  Which, to us, is fairly self-explanatory: it’s a bloke.  A man.  A male.  We even have a bloke’s magazine named after it.  How much less female can you get?  Except that, over the pond, “esquire” is also what you’d call a female lawyer.*

And then there’s “quite”.  “Quite”, to us, is a bit more than a bit.  A fair bit but only “fair” in that it’s a just bit.  Not just a bit.  Not hugely but not not enough. Not deficient but not without deficiencies.  “Quite” is just about OK.

But “quite”, to the Americans, isn’t quite the same.  Because “quite” to the Americans, is just the bee’s knees.  “Quite”, to the Americans, means “very”.

Why am I telling you this?

So that I can talk about a project that was quite long in the making, quite challenging, and quite inspiring without using so many superlatives that’ll you’ll think I’m a teenaged girl from SoCal.

Because, a while ago, I was offered a quite exciting commission on the Emerald Isle.

The task?  To produce a suite of photos for the Irish Human Rights Commission touching on as many of the different human rights issues that affect Ireland as possible.  The catch?  The images couldn’t look too campaigny, we needed to have real people in their natural work or home environments, they couldn’t be obvious, and, wherever possible, they needed to be in natural light.  And there was a quite tight budget.

I’ll say nothing of the quite tricky planning needed to set up a quite large number of shoots over a quite short period of time – many of them involving people facing extreme hardship or in extremely vulnerable positions – not only because most of that side of things fell on more-qualified shoulders, but also because this blog isn’t the place.

But I will say this.  Shooting in natural light in a country that gets almost as much sunshine as we do was quite difficult.  Sauntering through some of the roughest parts of Dublin with a jumbo-sized camera round my neck and trying to look like I shouldn’t be robbed was quite educational.  Galway’s car parks showed my driving skills to be quite limited.  And being able to connect with so many people from so many walks of life, hear their stories and try to capture some little smidgen of them was quite the most rewarding piece of work I’ve ever done.

A very small selection from what we shot below.

*Whom we’d then call a solicitor, they’d then think was a hooker, we’d then think played rugby, they’d then throw a football at, etc, etc…

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Clutchbags at dawn

“Edgy.  But politely edgy.”  

That was the brief for a day of concept tests for leather accessories designer Shen London for a forthcoming campaign.  Which, aside from ruling out pictures of starved models on street corners wearing nothing but a clutchbag (so noughties…), is a pretty nice brief to get.

There were limitations, of course.  

My initial idea, perhaps influenced by every boy’s desire to pursue a career in pyrotechnics, was to douse bags in kerosene and set them alight.  That would’ve been expensive.
Then I wanted to freeze them.  But I had only one copy of each design (ice and hand-finished, hand-stitched leather don’t mix well).

And I wanted to drown them.  Same problem.

So I did everything that wouldn’t kill them and that wasn’t the not-even-politely-edgy product photography trope of “clutchbags doing nothing on a white background”.  

Clutchbags wrapped in Bhutanese prayer flags, clutchbags in ticker-tape parades, clutchbags in twilight (which looked more like clutchbags in a nuclear holocaust), clutchbags with kinky plastic…  Some of it worked, some of it (as you’d expect from concept tests) worked “less well”.
So I present to you: clutchbags as the font of female domestic violence, clutchbags for party girls, clutchbags daydreaming, clutchbags via Mad Men, a clutchbag homage to Arthur C Clarke, St Elmo’s Clutchbag, and — why not? — two biros standing in for something substantially more valuable.

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Get out that Irene Cara CD

So it’s 2 degrees (not now, obviously).  It’s about to p*ss it down with rain.  It’s windy, it’s slippery, and really, really bleak.

What better conditions, then, to head out for some location movement shooting with very talented (and even more tenacious) dancer, Charlotte Tooth?  She looked lovely.  I got ‘flu.

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Where were we…?

How, exactly, does one resume a blog after writing nothing for a year?

There are, I suppose, a couple of choices:

  • I could explain everything that’s actually happened over the last 12 months in great detail.  That’d be quite dull.
  • I could fake it, and turn the last year into 10,000 words of confessional melodrama, complete with passion, pain, joy, dramatic volte-faces and satisfying character arcs.  First of all, though, none of it would be true.  And second, this isn’t a confessional blog (unless you count “I saw a peacock in the park and went to New Zealand” as confessional); I’m not out to write Bridget Jones’s Diary.
  • I could pretend that I’d actually been blogging all this time and that my efforts were lost to the vagaries of the internet, in much the same way that hamsters used to be fond of maths homework. That would not only be a lie, but would also suggest that I attach such importance to vomiting my thoughts onto the internet that I tweet my breakfast.  I don’t.

So I settled on this: sorry for the gap, I allowed my attention to wander to other things, I’m back now, and if you’re reading this, then I thank you very much.

One of the things to which my attention wandered was, of course, taking pictures.  And over the next few posts that’s probably all I’ll be writing about.  So steel yourselves: first up are a few highlights from the wonderful, colourful, creative world of London theatre.



Starting with DoubleFalsehood, the play that was controversially admitted to the accepted canon of Shakespeare works in 2010 and carries just a hint of darkness. 

Falsehood’s (excellent) first professional production in over 200 years presented a bit of a challenge for the publicity photos.  We needed to get across the idea of a rape without (a) showing too much, (b) producing something too literal and just plain unattractive and (c) making it look too campy. 



Other images we shot that never made it to press (revealed here in a shock world exclusive) included a suicide attempt and more than a little blood on the dance floor.

A highly successful and entertaining run at the Union Theatre and the New Players Theatre followed, from which some production photos below.

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Director Andrew Keates’ Conjugal Rites, at the Courtyard Theatre in Hoxton, starring Alexandra Boyd and Gary Heron, was a very different kind of play: a very funny battle of the sexes set in a couple’s bedroom, I had the privilege of taking the production photos.

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And finally, at a top secret gothic location bursting with all things valuable far from central London (ooooh…!), amid health and safety requirements and disclaimers aplenty, I spent a highly entertaining evening shooting for Courtesans, soprano Lizzie Byrne’s three-man extravaganza with actor Paul Hegarty and pianist Stefano Curina that explores the lives of three historical ladies of ill-repute.  We left behind not a scratch and the venue’s owners – I can only assume – breathed a sigh of relief as the security gates dropped down behind us.