Saturday, 26 July 2008

In Kerouac's footsteps

In 2002, I took the road trip of a lifetime across America. I was visiting my cousin in San Francisco for the first time since he'd moved there from Ottowa a couple of years before. Instead of flying all the way, I had a brainwave: hop over to the East Coast, hire a car and then drive, drive, drive.

There were a couple of blips on the way. I had to reach his place in Healdsburg by 11th May, which gave me eleven days to traverse the country. But my Dad promised some relatives in New Jersey that I'd visit them, without telling me first. That cost me a day. Then I was grossly ill on day two and ended up in bed until the next morning. So instead of waving goodbye to the NY skyline on Saturday afternoon, it was Monday before I started heading west.

I also messed up slightly with my early route. I reached Pittsburgh on Monday night, but then doubled back on myself on Tuesday so I could pop into the Jimmy Stewart Museum in Indiana, Pennsylvania. It was worth the visit, but it meant I was barely past Cincinnati by Wednesday, and from there on I always seemed to be trying to catch up with myself. I blasted south in one long leap trying to chase the sunshine by Thursday, and then Texas was traversed in a marathon day on the Friday. But just as I was beginning to give myself breathing space I hit the Grand Canyon on the Monday, and that slowed me down all over again.

It was Tuesday night before I finally hit the coast. Bittersweet moment. On the one hand my epic trek was coming to its close, but on the other, it had been so darned easy. Maybe forty years before it was an adventure to go roaring across the interstate in an overpowered, underbraked muscle-car, but with cheap gas, colossal malls, and welcoming motels at every turnpike exit in 2002, there wasn't the same sense of achievement for me.

Still, as I listened to the Pacific surf lapping against the Los Angeles shore and watched bikini girls roller-blading past me, I felt a million miles away from mortgage payments, pension plans, open-plan office spaces and the routines of life. This trip deserved to be commemorated. I wandered along the Venice Beach boardwalk looking for ideas, settling eventually on three silhouetted surfer dudes being used on tourist clothing. My brainwave was to get just one inked the first time; if it hurt too much I'd have less pain to endure (it didn't hurt at all, in the end), and if I was happy with it I'd have a motivation to return again and get the others added. That's what I did when I visited again in 2005, although this time it wasn't such an odyssey. I flew into SF directly and just drove down the coast this time. And instead of getting one more guy tattooed on me, I had both added together.

I'll be going back again some day. I've never been to California (or anywhere abroad) since I bought my DSLR, and places like Death Valley and Yosemite are crying out to me. I guess the only question is, what'll I have tattooed this time...?

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Making headlines

I was driving westbound along the M8 on Sunday evening after my shoot with Kaz when I noticed a fairly huuuuuge plume of smoke just as I approached the Riddrie exit. I'm not normally the rubbernecking type, but I indulged myself on this occasion, probably in large part because I had a bagful of camera gear next to me.

It turned out to be a disused school building in Provanmill that was ablaze. My first shots were a bit nondescript, but I decided to try and get closer. I guess they don't have many DSLR users down that way, because the crowd was pretty convinced I was from the press, especially the massed kids. "Whit paper ye fae, mister?" "Take mah picture!" Despite their attention, I ran off about 150+ shots, and I had a gut feeling they were OK.

When I got back home, I googled around quickly and found a telephone number for the Evening Times, one of the big newspapers in Glasgow. They forwarded me on to the pictures desk, who recommended that I sift out my best three or four and e-mail them over. I figured I didn't have anything to lose, but to be honest, I didn't have my hopes up. The pictures desk is probably swamped with people like me every day, many of whom will have better talent, better equipment, and better fortunes than me.

Well, I never heard anything until about 3pm, when a man from the Manchester Evening News called. The Evening Times had used the image, but they now needed my permission to syndicate it to the Daily Mirror, one of Britain's biggest selling tabloids (the MEN apparently does that kind of thing). I kept my cool, said sure, and then jumped onto the Evening Times website double-quick. There were my photos! One, two, three, and... is that the fourth one? On the front page? Turns out that some moron kids had been throwing stones at the firemen when they first arrived, elevating a routine blaze into a front page story. And front page stories need photos.


Went to Kazza B's last week to shoot my first "multiplicity" photos (don't know if that's the proper name, but it's where you take multiple shots from the same position and then splice them all together later in post-processing). Kaz is an amateur actress of no little talent, and after being dissatisfied with her last commissioned portfolio shots, offered me the chance to try and do better. On the upside, since I've known her for about 12-and-a-bit years, I'm perhaps better equipped to capture the real Kaz than a mere hired gun. On the downside, I'm not necessarily any good.

Our grand idea was that (a) the shots would be a bit more interesting than the usual blah portraiture, and (b) her poses, where she acted and reacted to herself, would allow her to demonstrate her emotional range. "See? I can do angry and frightened and happy and sad and..." etc etc etc. Unfortunately, the best ideas never worked out; we did some good stuff indoors which would have been great if I could have executed them properly, but mostly it was a learning experience. Hopefully my muse will be up for a second attempt in future.

Still, as I packed my stuff back in the car and headed home, I didn't realise that the really interesting stuff was still ahead...