First published in The Times, Monday November 7 2016 Four Stars Was there ever a more contradictory figure in literature than Lady Macbeth? On the one hand she is an enthusiastic accessory to murde…
Happy World Ballet Day!
I have been having a ballet-tastic time of late, with commissions from both Sadler’s Wells (Carlos Acosta, in rehearsal for his Classical Farewell) and Scottish Ballet (their Autumn Season programme – “Sibilo”, by Sophie Laplane, and “Drawn to Drone” by Jack Webb, “Emergence”, by Crystal Pite, having been shot during the Edinburgh International Festival this year). Both jobs made me think about dancers’ careers – how they develop and what happens when the dancing part is over.
Photographing Carlos and colleagues, in a rehearsal studio at Sadler’s Wells was a delight – he was charming and patient in equal measure, as we got the required shots, despite having newborn twins awaiting him! This was in preparation for his new, and final, classical ballet show, the resulting shots being destined for the programme.
Carlos is bidding adieu to the world of (dancing) classical ballet this week, at the Royal Albert Hall, and on tour. At 43, he has decided to focus his career on dancing in contemporary work, choreography, directing, and in developing the careers of Cuban dancers, and choreographers, through his dance company Acosta Danza. As if that were not enough, he is also setting up a centre for underprivileged, talented, dancers, in Havana, in 2017.
Photographing “Sibilo” and “Drawn to Drone” was also very exciting. The curtain-raiser of the new season, a five-or-so minute taster piece, was choreographed by Jack Webb, and danced (on a chair) by Christopher Harrison. It is just a few months since Jack was selected as One to Watch at the Sunday Herald Culture Awards, and already his work is being included in the national ballet company’s programme. Since graduating, in 2006, from Dundee’s Scottish School of Contemporary Dance, 30 year old Jack has been working as a dancer, and, increasingly, as a choreographer. In an interesting twist of fate, I shall be photographing Jack, dancing, in “Lady Macbeth: Unsex Me Here”, by Company Chordelia, in Oxford, later this month!
Sophie Laplane is currently a dancer with Scottish Ballet and she is developing her choreographic career alongside this, having showcased “Oxymore” at the Edinburgh International Festival 2013, which was then, in turn, chosen to be part of Scottish Ballet’s “Up Close” tour of 2014.
Another piece of Sophie Laplane’s work, Maze, was in the same, curtain-raiser, slot as “Drawn to Drone”, last year, after which, Christopher Hampson, Artistic Director of Scottish Ballet, commissioned her to develop a full-length piece, “Sibilo” (Latin for “whistle”). The result is the wonderfully witty and intelligent 30 minute piece, with an engaging narrative arc.
Clearly not every dancer will be able to develop into a choreographer, director, or head of a ballet school, nor would all dancers want to, but it is wonderful to see that so many people in the dance industry are encouraging and nurturing those who come after. It really is a pay-it-forward culture!
I had been waiting for this dress rehearsal/photocall for months, since I first heard that Phelim McDermott (Director) and Sean Gandini (Choreographer) were involved in its creation. Phenomenal innovators in their respective spheres, as well as tremendous originators, and collaborators, across genres, always meant this production was going to be special. And it is.
Although I was concentrating on conveying the excitement, emotion and beauty of the work, I couldn’t fail to be caught up by the heart & head, at the same time as the eye was occupied. You have to hear the music to really understand the whole, but here’s a visual taster – maybe it will persuade you to get a ticket whilst you can?
Special mentions to lighting designer, Bruno Poet (truly a visual poet!), costume designer, Kevin Pollard (I LOVE the dolls’ faces on the costumes – I only spotted them when I processed the pics – it’s genius!), and set designer, Tom Pye. Amazing visuals, All!!! Thank you!!
A plea to ENO – a production recording would be wonderful. I checked out the extant versions and they’re not a patch on what I experienced this week, live. Karen Kamensek (Conductor), you are a Force of Nature (and I’d love to do your portrait! Plus, you have an amazing team!) Thank you!!
Friday night (19th Feb 2016) saw the final night of the wonderful, new work, festival that is Resolution! which is now in its 27th year, and hosted, in total, 80 works, in mixed bills.
Held at The Place, home of LCDS and Richard Alston Dance Company, it presents to the world new work, from early career choreographers. Not that the choreographers are new to the world. No sirree, Bob. They are all established dancers in their own right, across a multitude of disciplines, often with leading dance companies, such as Rambert, Akram Khan, Protein, Flawless, etc.
Seeing emerging leaders of the future is hugely exciting, and to be involved in some way is even more so. So, I was hugely chuffed to have been part of Team el Brogy for Friday, as well as a smaller part of Team Griffiths for earlier in the festival.
Here are some of the photographs from both teams.
Salah el Brogy, in “Glitch”, taken during the tech run. Lighting design by Antony Hateley.
and here are some from earlier R&D and rehearsals (‘normal’ and thermal):
The Company, with artistic director and choreographer, Lee Griffiths, in rehearsal at The Place:
Thank you so much to Lee Griffiths and her wonderful company, and to Salah el Brogy, Mars el Brogy, Antony Hateley, Donald Hutera, and everyone else who was involved in both productions. All power to your elbows!
As part of my NY resolution (not really, I don’t make them, but I did have a vague feeling I wanted to Do Something Different) to be more creative/find other ways of being creative, I booked an “Introduction to Etching” weekend, at Edinburgh Printmakers. Never having done anything remotely similar, I had no idea what to expect (apart from acid baths and bits of metal) and I plunged into the decision with all the confidence of the Truly Ignorant. Had I known the extent of the process, the number of steps and stages, the tiniest part of which was actually coming up with the design/artwork, I probably would have hesitated. I am thankful that I was clueless as it was the most absorbing, inspiring, and mind-boggling creative activity I’ve undertaken since the photography degree! Probably more so, as I at least knew how to work a camera beforehand, whereas I knew nothing about copper, zinc, hard ground, soft ground, stopping out, acids, intaglio (is that a pasta?), aquatinting or texture imprinting prior to Saturday morning.
Not really knowing what kind of subjects or approaches would work best with the media, I took a few of my photos that I thought might work/be the easiest (!) to draw on metal. I also started drawing again, about three weeks before the course, so took a couple of those to work with. I hadn’t drawn in many years, was never brilliant at it anyway, so took myself off to an evening of drawing with Jake Spicer, at Cass Art, Islington, in preparation, which was great fun. It started me down the route of trying continuous line drawing, which freed me up from self-doubt/expectations of being rubbish, as the end results couldn’t possibly be terribly realistic.
So, armed with the photos and the line drawings I turned up at Edinburgh Printmakers on Saturday morning. Scarily, everyone else on the course had been to art school, most were working artists, one a retired art lecturer, and at least half had done etching before, though back when it was more toxic.
Nae bother! Everyone was really friendly, the tutor, Jess, was brilliant, and, although it would have been nice to walk away with a masterpiece to hang on the wall, the real objective was to understand the process(es) so I could go away and have a think about what to create which would work best as an etching.
That said, I was quite chuffed with the results.
The first plate of two was zinc, to which I applied hard ground, cooked in the oven, cooled then ‘drew’ the line drawing onto the plate with a scraper tool. It was then etched (i.e. dipped in acid), then could be used to make an artist’s proof.
This is the line drawing I used (Man on the Cardiff Train!).
The second was a copper plate, onto which I applied soft ground, and worked directly on that to create the line drawing from this photo.
Having etched the drawing into the plate, here’s the artist’s proof of this first stage.
(The horizontal lines were caused by a fellow course member shoving it off the newsprint it was resting on whilst I made a packing tape ‘tail’ for the plate, in order to suspend it in the acid bath. Whilst disappointed at the time, I actually quite like the accidental marks, particularly in the finished piece).
Buzzing with excitement after day one, I still had no idea what the textures and aquatinting processes would be like for day two. The zinc plate (with the man on the Cardiff train) was to be coated with soft ground, and textures chosen from an assortment of bubble wrap, wallpapers, ferns, feathers, netting, etc) to ‘colour in’ sections of the image. This was the bit that really turned the creative switch on in my head – the possibilities of this are endless and my fellow course members were creating some fantastic images using the textures as integral parts of the design. The person next to me had drawn a rural scene – a munro, a glen, some sheep, and used textures brilliantly to add in the grass, clouds, trees etc. Beats cross-hatching the entire plate! I had plenty of empty space in my design, but no real purpose for the textures, so went a bit abstract with mine! Hardened in the oven, etched and cleaned, the plate was ready for the printing press.
Here’s the final image for Man on the Cardiff Train.
The copper plate was used to demonstrate aquatinting, which sounds like you are applying colour by hand, but is actually much more complicated. Airbrushing acrylic particles evenly onto the plate, the design is then ‘zoned’ according to how light/dark you want the various areas and ‘stop out’ is used to mask off areas in order of light to dark (the longer the plate is in the acid, the darker the areas go, as it bites deeper into the plate and, therefore, carries more ink – the opposite of exposure in photography!). I used three steps in my aquatint of Marawa and this is the result.
Firstly, the copper plate itself.
and now the Big Reveal:
The course fee also includes three months’ membership for Edinburgh Printmakers and I can’t wait to go back and try something else. At the moment, I am thinking of creating a set of circus etchings using aquatint.
If anyone is thinking of doing a printmaking taster course (or even summer school), I can highly recommend Edinburgh Printmakers.
Not the footie team. Obviously. (I’m not a fan of sport, full stop). But of my real home. In Edinburgh (and surrounds).
It raises the question of “where is home?” and “what does ‘home’ mean?”. Well, where is yours? And how did it become yours? Was it where you were brought up? Moved to? Worked for most of your life? Went to uni/school? Where your parents are from? Where you fell in love? Felt accepted for being you? Moved to, out of necessity? None of these? A combination of these? Something entirely different? (Tell me your ‘stories of home’ – I’d love to hear! Actually, I’d love to photograph! And tell your story to the world!)
Edinburgh has felt like home for many years. Over half my life. I’ve been trying to move here, off and on, for the last 20. Blimey.
Despite being born in Yorkshire (which is also ‘home’ but in a more generic, but fundamental, sense – I think that’s a topic for another post!). I’ve been visiting the city since 1984. It’s held an important place in my heart since day one.
My love affair with Embra began in the passion of Fringe. But I soon realised it was the city itself, and not the Land of Green Ginger (much as I adore it, revel in it, and work my heart out for it, year-in-year-out), which whispered to my soul.
And now I’m here. I gave in. To my heart, though it makes sense to my head too. I am in my home…my home is in me. And that, Dear Reader, is, I think, what makes anywhere ‘home’. Outside in and inside out. Yin Yang. Mobius Strip. Alice Through the Looking Glass. &&&&&&&.
Wishing you love in your home. x
As usual, the rate of work increased and I couldn’t keep up the running commentary via this blog. so, here’s a round-up of some of the work I had published during the Edinburgh Festivals 2015, in no particular order. Hopefully, there’ll be a follow up post with some of the pictorial highlights, given that the best work is often not published!