Friday, 6 August 2010


On 28.06.10, I visited Eyemouth in the Scottish Borders.

Having spent four years photographing fisher folk, along the Edinburgh to Eyemouth coast for my People and Songs of the Sea project, I asked the Harbour Master at Eyemouth to write down the names of every local fishing boat. When visiting, I had been thinking that the majority of the fleet must be out at sea... to my shock and great upset, I learnt that there were now only a few local boats left. I was aware that, during my project, boats had been being sold off, boats decomissioned etc, etc. BUT, I did not realise just exactly to what extent and speed was the industry's decline.

The Harbour Master gave me a list of boat names and said, at least I was taking an interest - the industry was suffering and the heritage of the fishing community was slipping away but it did not seem to be a story that was receiving much attention in the newspapers, I thought that was wrong. People who fish have generally come from generations of fisher folk, such rapid change in the industry effects everyone, not just the economic standing of the area but it's cultural identity. Eyemouth is a town which has been built on the fishing. For fishermen, fishing is not a 9-5 job and what happens to one boat has far wider consequences with a knock on effect which touches the whole community, the whole area. I took the list of names I was given and set about my photography record. The first photograph I took, the dark blue boat on the left in the picture is the "Homeland" - a boat sailed by two young brothers from North Shields. Young men in an industry which so desperately needs the young to carry it forward to the future, lads with the sea and fishing in their blood.

Tonight, RIP the Homeland which has gone down at sea.

The small fishing boat has been hit by the huge Rosyth to Zeebrugge ferry. The ferry was in the local fishing grounds, the small fleet of boats fishing just a mile or so off shore. The incident, in sight of the land and those from the Berwickshire coast who could see something was happening as the tragedy unfolded. Since, the local boats have been out looking for the body of one of the brothers on the Homeland who did not make it. Tonight, the search has been called off. For now, a quiet stillness has settled over the town and nearby communities. For days to come, questions will be asked as to why a 10,000 ton ferry has its route through these fishing grounds? Yet sadly, all the questions in the world will not bring back this young man, a son, a brother, a friend. His memory now, and forever, in the thoughts of those who knew him - the community extending their condolences to his family and friends, those who will grieve the hardest for his loss.

Home land, ‘Homeland’ – what are you to me?

A place I was brought up in, or a boat that sailed the sea?

A fisherman's life is lost, when so much was yet to come

Hearts are heavy grieving, for the North Shields fishing son

NB: A call for questions to be asked is NOT an accusation of blame against ANY party. No one at sea would ever want to endanger the risk of another. However, in the bigger picture of events, questions need to be asked to do as much as possible to ensure that no such similar incident happens again in the future. On a small boat, when men are engaged in fishing - there is MUCH NOISE and activity going on. So engrossed in that process, it would be possible not to see or hear such a huge vessel approaching. So high up in the water, it would be difficult for the ferry to see a small boat below AND, even if it did - the speed of such a huge and heavy vessel moving through the water would prevent rapid action being taken to avoid collision. Questions can enable an ACCURATE picture of events to be built up so that, in as much as is possible, something like this does not happen again. Unfortuantely, fishing is one of the MOST dangerous occupations. Accordingly, all that can be reasonably, logically done to minimise the risks for those at sea needs to be done.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

TIME TO STOP - Life's balance

When I first began to take photos for magazines, I saw each published success as an amazing 'one-of.'  Invited to write my first article for East Lothian Life, I certainly did NOT think of myself then as a 'professional photographer.' Having spent most of my life admiring natural history photographers like Laurie Campbell, I could not imagine myself ever coming close to his 'brilliance' in wildlife photography.

Ironically then, a 'Eureka moment' was to see the photos Laurie deleted from his camera. I remember laughing at a very blurry shot and saying "I could do that!" It was an inspirational moment of realisation. Suddenly my photography 'hero' was not a person who miraculously took wonderful shots, instead I saw how incredibly dedicated he was to put himself in to the right place, at the right time. Consistently, Laurie is working to build his experience, gaining the skills required to be able to capture great photos. Photography then is like anything else - it's what happens behind the scenes, you create your own 'luck' through your dedication to learning. Playing a musical instrument, excelling at a sport, painting a beautiful picture - taking a great photograph, it is all about dedication... So I proved to myself (over several weeks) with many repeat attempts to capture a spectacular field of poppies in full bloom at Aberlady, East Lothian.

Finally, at 'my Poppy Field' I got some lovely shots and a magazine cover which I was pleased with. Yet, from that experience I also realised, it was time to take the big financial leap and comit to my hobby with a camera upgrade (to a Nikon D200). Nevertheless, I still have great affection for my early Poppy photos because they show what can be achieved with a basic camera and determination. Now, so often asked about Photoshop, I confirm I am not using this. I can understand its benefits but still, I currenly prefer to focus my learning on my Nikon - I believe that, if I take short cuts in my learning process, (in the long-run) I'll be doing myself no favours. In addition, Photoshop can so alter a photo that it bears no resemblance to the scene's reality and - I see that as false and also I think, is that not a shame? When there is so much beauty in the natural environment. I believe it should be appreciated as it is, not manipulated in to some new computer generated reality. I will crop a photo to make it a panorama shot or, focus in on some specific aspect to 'point the viewer' towards the element of the photo I want to discuss but, other than that - I prefer mother nature to be the scenic artist with light and weather combining to colour the scene.

Yesterday, at Arthur Sea, what rich light there was in the evening sunshine. A friend contacted me to say "the hill's on fire - great atmospheric shots?" I left my house and went to investigate. The fire had been put out and so, "a wasted journey?" No, I doubted that - I was sure I could get some nice photos if I just looked around me. Previously, as a volunteer ranger at the park, I recalled that there were some good views of the hill from the park's visitor centre.

The area at the centre was all in shade. Yet, that seemed to make the sunlight on the hill even warmer and the shadows were so pronounced. By looking around it was certainly not a wasted journey and it also gave me an idea for a future visit. The light seemed to direct me to the Radical Road and I thought yes, not been there for a year or so, a good location for a future visit. Finally, turning away from my photos, I then met a man with a Jack Russell dog (looking almost identical to the one I used to have). So, after a 'good blether', it seemed time for home but worth a once round drive along the 'top road' at the park (maybe for some sunset photos?). And sure enough, I was not dissapointed and there, ended up talking to a tourist - also enjoying the view.

My evening did not go as planned, I went to the supermarket a bit later, I didn't watch TV I and I left the wash up of yesterday's dishes to do this morning whilst waiting for my porridge to cook. I once said to a friend, if he wasn't happy with his life he should change it - often, we don't need to make BIG differences to improve the quality of our life. Life is made up by all the small choices we make hour by hour, day by day, year by year. Sitting up Arthur Seat last night, watching the sunset I was again reminded of the poem by W H Davies. Indeed, it seems to me that a happy life is all about balance. We need to do the important things but hey, if it's a lovely sunset - maybe it is better to enjoy it and wash the dishes tomorrow. Taking time to enjoy a sunset is never time wasted for me, it's about appreciating the time we have. If I could be granted the smallest wish it would be that every reader of my Blog takes atleast the time for one evening in their coming week to stop, chill out, watch a sunset and reflect on all that is positive in their life.

What is this life
If full of care
We have no time
To stand and stare
No time to stand
Beneath the boughs
And stare as long
As sheep and cows

No time to see
When woods we pass
Where squirrels hide
Their nuts in grass
No time to turn
At beauty's glance
And watch her feet
How they do dance

No time to wait
Until her mouth
Enriches that smile
Her eyes began
A poor life this
If, full of care
We have no time
To stand and stare

(W H Davies)

First sunset photographed in September 2007
at Port Seton harbour with my Nikon D200 - 

Thanks mum! :-)

Sunday, 1 August 2010


When I was young my family had a sort of nickname for me, teasing me with my much used phrase "BUT WHY?" - I was very keen to learn and how could I learn if I did not question the world around me? And so, I did!
Today, when I study the work of others it assists me in reaching an understanding of my own output. I choose the word 'output' because - it will be open to interpretation as to whether or not what I produce is 'work'.

With my Celtic Reflections photo gallery site on Facebook, people can comment about the photos I share with them there. Taking photos for myself, for magaizines, clients etc - I have many additional photos which may be of interest to others so, I share these through my Page. Recently however, I was much amused when a person commented "nice photos but don't you do any work?" I had just finished a cover feature for a magazine, produced photos for a guide book and covered several events in that week - having worked far in excess of a 9-5, 5 day week, it felt to me that it was 'work'. Therefore, I asked the person if he did not consider photo-journalism to be work, he said he did not know I was doing this. Apparently, that knowledge changed the interpretation of my output in to work and what I had produced appeared to take on a new credibility. But why? - nothing had changed except his perception. And today, I find myself asking a question about my 'work' - is it art? When do photos become art? After attending an exhibition featuring black and white photography, I felt tempted to experiment with the above 'snap' of myself and reflect on art.

In black and white, does my 'snap-shot' become a meaningful insight in to who I am, a deep and movingly intrinsic study of my character?  Or - does it need to be taken by someone else to be thought of as 'art'?

It seems to me that the interpretation of a photo can say much more about the viewer than the photographer or the 'visual artist'.

Does it matter? Whether a photo is art or not? Is it important to know the difference? Unfortunately, in the world of grant 'funding' it is VERY important. For two years I sat on a committee that funded the distribution of a £9m arts fund. To be in a position to make informed decisions a truly amazing amount of paperwork had to be read through and accessed before a committee show of hands to support or reject each application. Robust debate surrounded some of these decisions but personally, I was satisified with the end results made by the group.  Nevertheless, I myself have been on the receiving end of rejected applications for project funding. For example, my touring 2009 People of the Sea exhibitions were rejected by several funds. Yet, believing my exhibitions had great value to the folk of the fishing community, I went ahead with them, paying to stage them myself. When over 10,000 people visited my free exhibitions that was personal reward enough for me. Nevertheless, winning international recognition for the People and Songs of the Sea CD - that arrived as yet further icing on the cake. However, personal experience makes me wonder and question "but why?" - Why do I see such institutional support in Scotland (and the UK) for contemporary 'art' which must challenge the viewer - in contrast to art celebrating heritage, educating and entertaining people (the art projects that the masses actually appear to want).

In my 'artistic work' - where I am seeking to challenge people is in their stored 'vision' of their own environment. I want to open people's eyes to the world around them.

Why? For one thing, I like to take photos! But, I also have another reason? I think than an appreciation of beautiful things awards improved health and well-being (social and economic arguments support this).

In addition, if we think more about our environment we have a greater chance of slowing down the damage we are doing to it. So, we leave a world for our children's children to inherit. Rushing through our lives, do we take enough time to appreciate the beauty around us? Here at dawn, in the first few moments as the sun just peeps over the horizon of the sea - I find this a truly beautiful sight. I don't care if it is or is not art. Yet, I do care that people know where it was taken, for it is a place where people pass by every day.

The photo was taken from a busy road skirting Seafield in Edinburgh - a road like too many others where, some driving past throw out the litter from their cars. Just a crisp packet, a drinks or a plastic bottle, just 'one-off' items... Each careless, thoughtless action building to make a big negative impact.

If people's eyes are opened to the beauty around them, I don't think they will be so careless to destroy it?

The change required is in education, it is in our own interests to have a greater realisation and appreciation of our environment, something I was encouraged to have from the earliest age. A member of the Young Ornithologists Club, I learnt about birds in my garden and the landscape I visited beyond. As a teenager I would cycle to Edinburgh's sea-front, the first place I reached being Seafield - not the most scenic area. And yet, I still had my own 'special place' there, somewhere quiet to appreciate the ever changing scenery of the sea, to listen to the gulls calling each other and watch the birds which flew by (oyster catchers, herons, swans).

Climbing over the railing, from the long concrete walk way in to Portobello, more concrete sloped down to the beach. The incoming tide would close of access to all but a small piece of sand making it like a private beach for only me and my dog Corrie to play on. On the concrete next to the sea, there I could sit undisturbed in peace. In the distance, I could see large crowds of people on the sands and, at times, music from the fun fair there would drift to me on the breeze.

I knew the fair well, my friend and I used to go swimming once a week and afterwards we'd go to the fair to buy an ice-cream or a candy-floss. Other friends might play the 'Penny Falls' but not me or my pal! At twelve years old I had received a very small but none the less valuable sum of pocket money. On my very first visit to the fair I had spent all of my money on the Penny Falls. Seeing the pennies so precariously stacked, I just KNEW if I got some more money I would double my lost pocket money. Indeed, my best-friend Barbara was persuaded to share in this SURE WINNER with me... Then, to get back Barbara's pocket money (in addition to my own) I gambled my bus fare home, Barbara then gambled her bus fare. The long walk back for the two young friends, in a guilty, angry silence, did not damage our continuing friendship but, from that day on, all desire to gamble money on a "sure thing" was forever gone for us!

I remembered the gambling machines at the fair, on a recent trip to the beach this week. I can honestly say that what prompted that memory has since caused me considerable thought. Deciding to make a photo trip to the beach at dawn I was amazed by what I saw, as was everyone else stopped in their tracks by the 'vision' there!

My photo shows "ART" or alternatively, it shows 13 gambling machines (with battery packs included in them to ensure the lights flashed). 13 machines (lucky for some?) placed on the sands at Portobello. My exhibition tour went to 14 venues, many photographs of Portobello were included but it was the only place where I did not exhibit as the Council owned venue cancelled my booking too late for me to hire another. The cost of JUST ONE of these machines would have paid many times over for all of my 14 exhibitions. I wonder, will 10,000 people come to this art exhibition entitled "Black Swan." After taking a quick 'arty' photo, I ran past the machines to capture the amazing colours in the sky, the 'art' in nature's canvas.

The incoming tide was moving quickly. Again and again, I had to move my camera and tripod back up the beach to safety, out of the deepening waves.

So little available light, I needed to use a long exposure for each shot. All the time, the sound of the Figgate Burn, gushing on to the beach beside me. The river mixing with the breaking of the waves. Over head, the gulls swirling around and calling in excitement to each other in the dawning of the new day.  

Eventually, I turned away from the sunrise, the pinks had all merged to an orange glow and the sea looked black with a huge rain cloud opressively hanging over head. Now, with more light, I suddenly noticed a white huddle of feathers on the sand, walking over I saw a black headed gull. It didn't move its body, just its head and immediately it was apparent something was very wrong. I believe all creatures can pick up something through the sound of the voice and so, crouched on the sand, I spoke to it in a quiet soothing manner.

I used to work at the PDSA and have handled injured birds but - not this one.

Just by looking at it I could tell it was very, very poorly and I wanted to cause it no additional distress. Without using my camera's flash, I took a photo and stepped back to examine it. My instinct was try and help but, I could see from the photo the bird was absolutely intact and its movement, the breathing, becoming more laboured.

Such a beautiful creature, such a beautiful day, I stood and watched and shed a quiet tear. All around gulls were calling but it was alone on the sand. I stood a while. The tell tale signs of the gull's weakening muscles bore witness to a life slipping quietly away.

Along the beach, the "Black Swan" artist arrived to take video shots of his art installation and a man arrived with his two dogs running around, I spoke for a while to them both. The man with the dogs put them on a leash, to ensure the sick gull was left in peace. The artist politely answered my questions and smiled at my remark that I had thought his machines were like the invasion of the Daleks. He said he hadn't heard that one before and I suggested if he hung around he was sure to hear some more remarks from the locals. He remarked that he was from England - I remarked I didn't think a local would have had the idea to put gambling machines on Portobello beach.

The man with the dogs returned and I waited to take his photo against the glow of the sun. Then, with the tide rushing in, we left the artist to filming his machines. The artist crouched on the sand had his back to the sunrise. What a shame I thought, to be missing such a spectacular sight - but don't they say, an artist suffers for their art?  The man and his dogs walked off to Seafield and I returned to check on the gull. Other birds had flown down and I waved my hands to scare them away. But, of course, it was all 'just Nature'. And, as I drew near, I could see the gull's life had passed.

I knelt and took another picture to check but yes, as I sat on the sand there was no breathing visible and it's wings were spread out as if it had taken one last flight - it WAS gone. On the sand, the body remained. Overhead the gulls still circled and cried out to each other, life was going on and the passing of this life was just part of the continuing circle of life and death. Yet, it had flown in it's life, seen things from high above the ground, soared on the currents and no doubt dived in to the sea for fish. I wondered what had killed it -pollution or injested plastic discarded by some unthinking person?

As I walked back along the sands the artist had gone but, blowing in the wind, were the printed flyers about this publicly funded art installation.  I looked around at all the rubbish left discarded on the beach, I thought of the dead gull and the work being done by friends of mine Chris Jordan, Jan Vozenilek and Bill Weaver photo-journalists working to document the increasing amounts of marine rubbish, the discarded plastic and other litter being inappropriately discarded or disposed of by man. Their work shining a light on the extent with which marine rubbish is killing birds and animals.

For more details see:
and film clip

Now standing alone, looking at the beach in 'my part of the world', I read one of the discarded flyers lying there on the sand. In the now grey morning light, the question in BIG bold writing was very clear:


Looking at the litter on the beach, looking back towards the dead body of the gull I felt that this public money could have been much better spent but then, who am I to comment. Maybe I am not interested as to whether or not this art challenges me. Maybe I see this in terms of 'value for money' and 'accounatble spending in a time of osterity.' Perhaps I will never see the art in machines on a beach but prefer instead to appreciate the sight of a bird in flight. Maybe, I am just a person who cares more about the world that I live in.

Portobello has so much going for it, I certainly think it is beautiful place and it has had such a rich cultural heritage. Indeed, recently, the community came together in great numbers to support a Coastal Rowing project, enjoying boat races there as in the years gone by.

In 2010, I am left greatly saddened that any visitors to Portobello beach may be left with an image of gaming machines used in an art installation on the sands. Portobello has SO MUCH MORE going for it!

Those who sat around, discussing this project and authorising its funding, what were their motives? Are gambling machines an iconic image that Portobello wants to promote? Does this installation bring together the local community with pride or is it so misplaced that it actually becomes more of an insult to the area? Is such a project, less about 'art' and more about 'shock tactics' to gain publicity? 

Recently, a company has been using dead animals to package the sale of expensive beer. Yet another business chose to use a live donkey, strapped in to a harness to absail it over a beach resort. In the celebrity world of pop fashion, Lady Gaga has announced her desire to use dead human bodies for her stage show.

A Chartered Marketer for many years, I do not believe that all publicity is good. I find myself greatly cynical about the perceived artistic value of the Black Swan installation - is this art, or is it just a blatant attempt for media attention? Taking one of the discarded flyers, I gave my feedback and posted my response. 

Did commissoners ask:

Do people of Portobello want public funds allocated towards such a project in their name?

In a time of such osterity, (the civil sector in Scotland facing a potential loss of 60,000 jobs) is this project best value for money?

With so many local artists - Why are we engaging people so far removed from here?

Portobello is unlikely to enjoy again the crowds which once flocked to it in Victorian times. Yet, careful fostering of appropriate community development and artistic projects, can and do make a difference to an area. Emphasis firmly being on the correct selection of projects which come forward for funding. It is for those who sit on funding panels to make the correct decisions just as, when they get it wrong, the community they represent should make that known.


Love Scotland? Join us, LEAVE NO LITTER!
for more details see: 

To find out more about Journey to Midway visit 

The tragic photographs of dead albatross chicks were taken in September 2009 on Midway Atoll, a tiny stretch of sand and coral near the middle of the North Pacific. The nesting babies are fed bellies full of plastic by their parents, who soar out over the vast polluted ocean collecting what looks to them like food to be brought back to their young. On this diet of human trash, tens of thousands of albatross chicks die on Midway from starvation, toxicity and coking. To document this phenonmenon as faithfully as possible, not a single piece of plastic was in any way moved when taking these photos. The images depict the actual stomach contents of baby birds in one of the world's most remote marine sanctuaries, more than 2,000 miles from the nearest continent. Please get involved and support the midway project through joining their Page on Facebook.


"Black Swan" is an Imagine Porty art commission from Big Things on the Beach, part of Edinburgh Festival 2010. Big Things on the Beach is a public art trust in Portobello. Imagine Porty is funded by the Scottish Arts Council (now Creative Scotland) and The City of Edinburgh Council. Black Swan is by Miles Thurlow, interested in "challenging our conventional expectations of public artwork." Thurlow was born in Colchester, Esse in 1975 and today he lives and works in Newcastle and Gateshead, England.

For more information please see: