Macmath: The Silent Page, was a project created to bring to life a series of old folk songs, held in the archives at Broughton House in Kirkcudbright, many of which had not been heard for over a hundred years.
I had been called in to create a photo that could be used for publicity and the CD cover, once the songs have been recorded.
Broughton House itself seemed the ideal location to shoot the photo and on an earlier trip there, Ali Burns and I had explored the house and gardens to find the best spot. Fortunately we decided on an indoor scene as it was chucking it down with rain on the day of the shoot.
Arranging 7 people in a way that flows is not an easy task. This wasn't to be some all-in-a-line press shot, but an engaging photograph where the eye needs to be led into, round and through the ensemble and their surrounds. Given the historic nature of the project, I wanted the final image to have a feel of a classic painting with finely tuned arrangements of people, objects and setting
Wee pin-man sketches done beforehand will only get you so far. It's not until you put everyone together can you start to get a sense of who needs to go where. Not just due to height, but also where the splashes of colour of clothes, instruments and hair might compliment or clash.
Take a photo - rearrange the group. Take another - swap two people about. Take another - swap them back but move someone else. Take another - ask this person to lower their head and that one to raise their left arm...
And so it goes on. Each time refining and finessing until you reach a point where you feel you're as close as you're going to get before mutiny sets in.
But that's just the first half of creating a photo such as this. There's still the editing.
Inevitably there is not a single photo that has all the elements just perfect. In one someone will be blinking; in another the fiddle is at an angle that throws the compositional lines out; in another someone's arm is casting a shadow over someone else's face. So the ideal combination has to be created from several photos. In this way it is much more akin to the processes used by the old master painters.
And then there are subtle tweaks of hue and saturation, brightness and contrast, levels and curves, while unwanted reflections are painted out from the glass panels on the bookcase.
Finally, to enhance the narrative I decided to overlay some of the handwritten text and music from photos I had taken directly of some of the pages of the Macmath volumes.
Left to right: back row: Emily Smith, Aaron Jones, Jamie McClennan
front row: Wendy Stewart, Ali Burns, Claire Mann, Robyn Stapleton
Peter Renwick, the project manager, took various bits of movie footage of the shoot and gave it to me immediately afterwards, so I decided to create a little behind-the-scenes video.
Ali Burns forwarded me a copy of a recording at one of their rehearsals, of the song Johnie Scot, which I added as a sound track.
I've also put together a folder on Facebook (you don't have to be a member to view it) of all the photos I did for the project, which includes individual portraits of the performers. If you're interested, you can find them here: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1073004012714302.1073741864.114749591873087&type=1
Ali and the others will be turning the songs from the project into a CD, which you can pre-order from here: