Monumental

Monumental

I’ve been spending quite a bit of time on Calton Hill lately for Beltane rehearsals, which is lovely because it’s a beautiful place with gorgeous things to take photos of. This is the Nelson Monument, built between 1807 and 1815 in honour of Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson. If you’re interested in finding out more, check out Wikipedia and if you fancy seeing the amazing view of Edinburgh from the top, you can find visitor information here on the Edinburgh Museums’ website.

Torchbearers Rehearsal

Torchbearers Rehearsal

This picture kind of explains why I haven’t been posting much in the way of photography over the last couple of months. Preparation for Beltane Fire Festival 2014 (for more info, go to Beltane Fire Society’s site at Beltane.org or check us out on Facebook) began in February and has been consuming pretty much every second of my spare time since then.

Along with my husband, I’m organising Torchbearers, a group of 22 black-cloaked lovelies who light the procession around Calton Hill on 30th April. As with everyone involved in the festival, we’re all volunteers so what we do is definitely a labour of love. It’s easy to get so caught up in the logistics and planning that I forget how many beautiful moments happen, even during rehearsals, but occasionally I manage to capture one to share.

Festival prep is intensely busy at the moment so there probably won’t be much in the way of planned/intentional photography happening over the next month or so, but I always have my phone in my bag so random bouts of droidography may still occur.

Glow Cat and Snapseed

Glow Cat

I love posting pictures like this on the internet and describing how they were made, because I KNOW there are people out there who think that a photograph is only real, artistic or valid when it’s taken with a big, shiny dSLR and the mention of taking and editing photos on a phone makes those people twitch. So if you’re one of those people, it’s time to twitch.

One of my favourite toys at the moment is Snapseed, a surprisingly fully-featured and versatile digital editing app available for iOS and Android. As well as basic tuning tools like cropping, straightening, contrast, saturation, brightness and ambiance among others, Snapseed has some really fun and very customisable retro-style filters, which I just adore. It does SO much more – HDR-style, monochrome, vintage, drama (what a name for a filter style!), grunge, various focus alteration options, frames and probably some other stuff that I’m missing cause honestly, the list of things you can do with this app is HUGE.

It’s very intuitive and easy to use, and the first time you use a feature, it’ll kick into tutorial mode to show you how everything works. You can also play around with a pre-loaded sample image to get an idea of what everything does. You can save your images to your device (which I do) and also post them to Google+ (which, so far, I haven’t felt the need to do).

So yes, it’s basically a way to apply pre-created styles, textures and filters to your pictures and yes, strict photography purists will probably not be into that kind of thing, but for those of us who find creative value and artistic joy in simply playing, it’s totally worth downloading. Did I mention it’s free? No? It’s free.

The Necessary Goddess

The Necessary Goddess

Model, costume and make-up: Miss Valkyrie

This shoot has been a long time coming! Back in 2011, our lovely model accepted the role of the Cailleach at Beltane Fire Society’s Samhuinn Fire Festival and we worked together on some images to help with the creation of her incarnation of the character. You can see one of the photos in this post. Since then we’ve been talking about doing another shoot based on the concept of the Divine Feminine, and it finally happened last week.

The most recognisable aspects of symbolism in the images are based on the goddess Kali with shades of the Celtic divine hag, the Cailleach, who is also often depicted with blue skin and, like Kali, is often associated with destruction as part of the cycle of life. I’ve included links to Wikipedia pages as a starting point for anyone who wants to read more, as I don’t believe for a moment that I could accurately and fully describe these deities here without this post ending up being extremely lengthy.

Goddess mythology, whether your interest is spiritual, anthropological, historical, theo/thealogical or a combination of those things, is absolutely fascinating and it was a joy to work on these photos with someone who also finds deep personal resonance in the subject.

There’s a risk when creating images based on deities, especially when drawing inspiration from more than one culture, that people will assume you simply looked at some pictures online, thought “Ooh, that’s pretty”, then got stuck into the body paint with no appreciation for the significance of the figures or archetypes that you’re working with.

That is most definitely not the case here. Every aspect of these pictures was considered with the deepest respect as both the model and I believe that inspiration can be drawn from all cultures in the present day and throughout history with genuine openness, understanding and opportunity for personal interpretation and expression.

Finally, an explanation for the title. Often, when archetypes are depicted as primarily dark in nature or portrayed as being strongly related to destruction and death, it is easy to forget that they are part of a cycle. Destruction can be the removal of unwanted things, the creation of a clean slate. Death makes way for life. Consumption can lead to creation. Winter becomes Spring. Endings become beginnings. She is maiden, mother, crone, destroyer, creator. She is necessary.

The Necessary Goddess

The Necessary Goddess

The Necessary Goddess

The Necessary Goddess

The Necessary Goddess

The Necessary Goddess

The Necessary Goddess

The Necessary Goddess

The Necessary Goddess

Shades of Possibility

Shades Of Possibility

Sometimes I feel like I operate backwards when it comes to reactions to seasons and times of day. I feel excited and uplifted in the winter. I love waking up in the dark. I love rain and snow and short days and long nights. I spend the summer with a strange undercurrent of discomfort. I would rather be at the beach in a storm than on a hot day. I feel alive and inspired when the sun goes down. I am not a morning person. I am barely even a day person. The night time world is home.

My favourite feeling in the world is that of potential. The moment of conception of an idea, the recognition of the vast possibility of a situation. These moments tend to happen for me as the sun goes down, not as it rises. That might be why the calendar-new-year doesn’t mean much to me. 1st January is just a date. My true experience of renewal happens at Samhuinn, when winter begins.

This photo is a representation of the vibrancy of potential and possibility, the rich texture of fresh starts, of new beginnings at the end of the day.

On change, illness and art

Painted Clouds

So here’s something that people who only know me for photography-related reasons probably don’t know. I’ve had M.E. for 9 years. When I was running a business, I didn’t exactly want to talk too openly about having a debilitating incurable illness because while a lot of people wouldn’t have felt differently about my work because of it, there was always a chance that potential clients would choose not to hire a sick person. I’m not saying I’m ok with that or that it wouldn’t have been more courageous of me to be an activist at the risk of my own ability to pay my rent, but it is what it is. Or it was what it was.

The other reason I didn’t really talk or post online much about being ill in the same places as I talked and posted about photography was that it felt pretty awesome to have this whole area of my existence that I could choose to keep separate from the medical condition that made the rest of my life so utterly difficult and painful. I wanted people to see an artistic person, a creative person, a business person, a hard-working, determined, strong person…not a sick person. And to be honest, if you saw me at a photoshoot with my cotton candy hair and high heeled shoes and piercings and tattoos and smiles, you wouldn’t see a sick person unless you knew me REALLY well.

The danger of creating a facade of ok-ness is that when you tell people the truth, they assume that you’re exaggerating or lying or delusional. Following moments of openness, I have been accused of being all those things because it is just so hard to equate the appearance of a well person with the reality of a sick or disabled (I don’t really like either of those words) person. So I kept my mouth shut. The problem is, the longer the business ran for, the busier and more demanding it got and the less able to physically cope with work I became. It’s never good when the thing that pays the bills is also the thing that completely destroys you. Things went from bad to worse to rock bottom to bad to rock bottom again, in an unsustainable cycle.

A Place Of Memory

On the days when I wasn’t working, I usually couldn’t do much of anything. ‘Anything’ included standing up, walking, feeding myself, showering, getting dressed and numerous other things that I’d spent the first 24 years of my life taking for granted. It became obvious that the only realistic thing to do was to find a means of paying the bills that wasn’t as physically strenuous and just enjoy photography as a hobby without the pressure of it being what I needed to do to earn money. So that’s what I did in March 2012. It broke my heart into a million pieces. I was able to gather up some of those pieces and stick them back together but some fell through the cracks and into dark places. Those pieces are lost. But we all lose pieces of ourselves and we replace them with new pieces that we find or build or are given with love. Broken things do not stop being beautiful.

Even still, I couldn’t bring myself to talk openly in photography-places about my reasons for no longer running a business. It felt like an excuse, like a failing, like something that people wouldn’t believe or wouldn’t understand. It was something that I didn’t want to have to deal with because it straight up hurt like hell to have no option but to let go of something that I’d worked so incredibly hard to build. It has taken me almost two years to really come to terms with the way things are and to embrace my experience as an artist without that experience being tied to external achievement and success.

My illness is the reason I became a photographer in the first place. I had to leave my previous job because employment on someone else’s terms became impossible, so I went back to college to study photography and then worked for myself because it was the only way I could work at all at that time. The process of grieving that accompanies an all-encompassing medical condition for which there is no cure has inspired so much of my art over the years and I truly would not be the person I am or have done the things I’ve done without it. It is part of me and cannot be separated from who I am today.

Before The Storm

You probably don’t come to this blog to read about the details of my life and I promise this post isn’t the beginning of a dramatic change of direction. It’s just something I needed to say, something I needed to put out there. It is the whole truth and it is the lens through which I see the world. Being in pain all the time gives you an different perspective. It creates an intensity and makes you see and feel everything more sharply and more deeply. I would sell my soul to be without pain and to have pre-illness levels of energy, but since I’m stuck with this stuff, I can accept it because I can use it and channel it into something meaningful.

There are positive things about being an artist without a business. For a start, I never have to take a photograph that I don’t want to take. That’s pretty amazing. I’m also enjoying experimenting with tools that I would never use in a professional context. Right now, I’m totally getting into taking and editing photos with my phone because why the hell not? I can’t carry my dSLR around with me all the time, neither would I want to. There’s a freedom in creating images which don’t have to be scrutinised at 100% magnification, printed at high resolution or perfected to someone else’s exacting standards.

As part of my process of falling in love with art-for-art’s-sake again, I’m going to start sharing more of my droidography (I’m an Android geek, deal with it) here, and in other online places, over the coming year. If you have a problem with that or you don’t think that ‘real’ art can be made with anything other than the most expensive and high-end equipment, you are welcome to unsubscribe, unwatch, unfollow, whatever. If you get a kick out of what I do, with whatever tools I choose to use at any given time, and want to stick around…awesome. Glad to have you here. Watch this space.

May 2014 bring you inspiration, acceptance, truth and a wealth of experience and wonder.

Scenes Of Leaving

All the photos in this post were shot and edited with my Samsung Galaxy S3. I’ll be posting more photos-as-they-happen primarily on Facebook and Twitter, but also on deviantART, Google+ and Tumblr. If you don’t object to artistic images being interspersed with snapshots of cats, make-up and nail polish, you can also find me as DecemberBliss on Instagram. If you want to read more about my experience of living with M.E., I keep a blog about it at Momentary Solutions.

Sunset From A Window

Lotus

Lotus

I’ve been watching Nip/Tuck again and reading about foot binding, so this happened. Blood is Grimas Filmblood A. Feet and shoes are mine. They’re a UK size 5 but one of the things high heeled shoes tend to do is make feet look smaller than they actually are. It’s not the reason I own these shoes (or any shoes) but the whole small-feet-restricted-movement theme is definitely still a ‘thing’ these days in many parts of the world, even if we aren’t break little girls’ feet, bending them in half and strapping them up to turn them into the ‘lotus feet’ that were the desired result of foot binding.

Until a few years ago, I thought foot binding was simply wrapping feet tightly in bandages so they didn’t grow. It isn’t. It’s much more horrific than that and there was a real danger of girls (feet were broken and bound at an early age) dying of shock while having the bones of their feet broken and forced into unnatural positions. If you’re interested in the history of foot binding, there’s some information about it on Wikipedia. The first place I read about it in detail was in the incredible memoir Chinese Cinderella: The Secret Story of an Unwanted Daughter by Adeline Yen Mah.

The look of the photo was very much inspired by the prevailing colour scheme and blatant gore of Nip/Tuck, one of the most visually impressive television series I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching. It was very important to me when creating this image that I didn’t fetishise the concept of foot binding or unintentionally insinuate any sexiness or modern appeal, hence the visual representation being very much conceptual rather than an attempt at a direct recreation of the aesthetic.