Monday, 26 October 2015

Tom Langlands - Seeing Red

Ask anyone to conjure up an image of Scottish wildlife and the chances are that the first thing they will think of is that great monarch of the glens - the Red Deer. Undoubtedly the Red Deer has inspired poets and artists across the generations. Standing stately on heather clad hills with antlers probing through the all too familiar Scots mist it has become the embodiment of the spirit of a nation. In reality it is well established with a healthy population spread across the country. At the opposite end of the scale in terms of size is another of Scotland's great wildlife icons.  It also has the red 'Celtic' hair but its future is far less secure. I am talking of the Red Squirrel.

Red Squirrel (Scirius vulgaris)

The Red Squirrel has been part of Scotland's natural landscape, and indeed the landscape of much of Europe and Asia for centuries. Hence it is more correctly known as the Eurasian Red Squirrel or, to give it its latin title, Sciurus vulgaris. Yet in Scotland the survival of the Red Squirrel is hanging precariously in the balance and it would take very little to push it into extinction. That is not an exaggeration. It is the harsh reality of where this beautiful little creature finds itself as a consequence of man's interference in the natural world.

Red Squirrel (Scirius vulgaris)

The story goes back to the late nineteenth century when wealthy Victorian landowners could enjoy easy access to the far flung corners of the globe. It was a demonstration of wealth and status to be able to populate the gardens of large country mansions with what was perceived as exotic flora and fauna from distant lands. It is for this reason that Scotland is fighting today to control several invasive species that have adapted all too readily to their new home and have spread out of control. There are too many to name here but the list includes, Japanese Knotweed, Rhododendron and Himalayan Balsam. These species alone cost Scotland millions of pounds per annum to clean up and to deal with the environmental damage. The problem isn't restricted to plants but also encompasses a range of fish and animals that were prized for their novelty value. This included the north American Grey Squirrel. It was the importation of this little creature in the late 1800s that sadly now is ringing a very deafening death knell for its distant cousin, Scotland's native Red Squirrel.

Red Squirrel (Scirius vulgaris)
Grey Squirrels were introduced in both England and Scotland but what wasn't known at the time was that those introduced in England carried a deadly disease whilst those imported to Scotland did not seem to. This may have hindered initial thinking into what was causing the decline of Red Squirrel numbers across England. What is known is that someone suddenly wakened up to the fact that large areas of England were devoid of the once commonplace Red Squirrel. As ecologists prepared maps of those areas of the UK where Red Squirrels could still be found and where Greys were largely in control it became evident that England's green and pleasant land was dominated by Greys and there was hardly a Red to be found. Today, the Red Squirrel is virtually extinct in England save for small numbers in isolated locations in the north of the country. As the Grey Squirrel march is a northwards one and the Reds are rapidly succumbing to the alien advance, Hadrian's Wall, the Roman legacy that marks the boundary between Scotland and England has once again become a very important battle line.

Red Squirrel (Scirius vulgaris)
Squirrel pox is a particularly nasty virus that is carried by Grey Squirrels that have developed immunity to the disease and appear unaffected by it. Red Squirrels have no immunity and the effect is devastating. Once a Red Squirrel comes into contact with the virus it will develop weeping lesions and sores around the eyes, nose, mouth and genitalia. These will spread and the animal will have difficulty in seeing properly or feeding. Death is slow and painful and will take place about two weeks after initial infection. There is no cure and at present it is believed to carry a 100% death rate. Since 2005 there have been localised squirrel pox outbreaks with devastating results at several locations just inside the Scottish border. Rapid action halted these outbreaks but the fear is that other Greys may have slipped through the net. Southern Scotland is on high alert for any suspicious deaths of Red Squirrels. 

Red Squirrel (Scirius vulgaris)
Squirrel pox is certainly the principle factor in the decline of Red Squirrels but it is not the only one. Grey Squirrels are larger, live longer, eat more and are able to travel across open land more easily than Reds which generally need areas of linked woodlands in order to spread. They out-compete Reds in almost every way. Wherever Grey Squirrels appear Red Squirrels seem to disappear irrespective of disease. Squirrel pox just makes the process more unpleasant and much faster.

Scotland does have the advantage of seeing the danger looming rather than reacting once the damage has been done but it needs resources and commitment to halt the problem. Ecologists and vets are working hard to find solutions. It is by no means an easy task. At present things may be under control but it won't take much for that situation to change. It is not scare mongering to say that this icon of Scottish wildlife could disappear from the country in the course of the next couple of decades. 

Let's hope that we all keep seeing Red for a very long time!

Red Squirrel (Scirius vulgaris)

Tom Langlands

Monday, 19 October 2015

Holly Burns - Lets Talk About Criticism

Lately I’ve been getting a lot of criticism on my artworks. Now 4 years ago when I started taking photographs this criticism would have floored me, perhaps enough to make me give up photography altogether. But after being a student for a few years I have become accustomed to criticism: from tutors, classmates, members of the public and other artists. I share my work in magazines, in galleries and to online social media and as long as I’m doing these things then I’m essentially inviting people to critique my work, however painful that can be sometimes. I have realised that criticism is actually rather helpful as long as it is valid. The real trick is working out whether it is valid or not.

I hear a lot that my work is too dark in nature and I ought to create more joyous works. In essence my work makes some feel uncomfortable that I am evoking dark feelings within them. But in the same way, I receive a lot of feedback that some love how they can look at my work and see themselves in it, providing a comfort somehow.

So is the criticism valid?

Of course it is but that doesn’t mean an overhaul in your practice. It means that some like it and some don’t! For every positive review, there is a negative one too for we are all different and all have vastly different views on pretty much everything! This is why it is very important to understand what you like about your work, what you get from creating it. You cannot please everyone but you can please yourself.

You might hear the criticism and think ‘yes, this person is right’ and begin to explore ideas that you can grow from where you are and head off into a new direction. Or you might simply be happy with what you’re doing and dismiss the feedback and continue on your path because it makes you happy.

In either case the criticism received challenges your original thoughts and it reminds you to constantly evaluate what you are producing. It gives the photographer an opportunity to understand others perspective on their work and inevitably grow. It is a bonus that a lot of criticism comes for free.

So instead of letting criticism get you down and make you second-guess what it is you love doing, take a minute to think about it, what do YOU like about your work? Where do YOU see yourself going with it? Are you still getting what you need out of it or do you need to go in a new direction? Rely on yourself to know what is best for you and your confidence to deal with criticism will grow accordingly.

Holly Burns

Monday, 12 October 2015

Tom Langlands - On the Small Side

If you ask most people to think of wildlife they will probably conjure up images of lions, tigers and elephants. Ask them to think closer to home and it may be red deer, red squirrels or golden eagles. Few people will think of anything as small as insects and yet there is a whole world in miniature that is readily accessible and just waiting to be explored. Even if it is just a corner of your own garden or in a hedgerow there is a lot going on in this small world of nature. These important ecosystems all play their part in the overall welfare of bigger ecosystems and the world at large.

I can't resist water. Water fascinates me and the banks of rivers and the fringes of ponds and lakes are great places to discover a wealth of macro material to photograph. It hasn't been the best of summers this year (probably a bit of an understatement!) and yet with a careful eye and a little patience there is a lot more going on in these habitats than may be obvious at an initial glance.

I enjoy going out and setting myself the challenge of spending a day doing nothing but macro work. It is peaceful, relatively comfortable and, with a few exceptions, things tend not to move about too fast. The photography is then easier to control. There is time to think about composition, settings exposure and to look for that different angle on everyday subjects.

When doing macro work 'in the field' I carry a cheap roll up camping mat with me and a can of my favourite midge repellant - Smidge. If you haven't discovered Smidge then you should. Its the best anti midge/mosquito repellant I have every come across and I would never do this kind of work without having it to hand - and no, I'm not on commission.

I spend a lot of time lying on the ground at this type of photography. I also find the best time is early morning. Insects such as damselflies and dragonflies have to warm up and soak in the suns rays before they dry out and start to fly. That will give you a good couple of hours to get the static shots in before things hot up.

Later in the day you can switch to the tougher action shots. Evenings can be good too but be aware that near water it is in late afternoon and early evening that the midges come to life.

If you want to experiment with wildlife photography this is a great way to either start or to try a different approach to what you may normally do. It also makes you look at the world of nature and wildlife in a completely different way.

Tom Langlands

Monday, 5 October 2015

Kim Ayres - Time Lapse at Spring Fling

Spring Fling is an open studio event where 90+ artists and makers throw their doors open to the public across the last weekend of May.

Throughout this year's Spring Fling I was doing photography demonstrations - showing how changing the light can dramatically alter the mood of an image. My own studio wasn't big enough for this, so I fortunate to be able to use St Johns in Castle Douglas - an old church that's been renovated as a space to hold events.

Demonstrating light with Maria 

The day before, it suddenly occurred to me it might be fun to have a go at some time lapse photography - something I'd not tried before.

Time lapse is where photography and video collide. In essence you take hundreds of photos and string them all together in sequence. It requires a camera, a tripod, an interval timer (built in to some modern cameras, or bought as an accessory), and a computer programme to edit the images together afterwards.

I was using my own camera to do the photography lighting demonstrations (actually my own camera was being repaired and my friend, Andy Jardine had lent me his in the meantime), but fellow GPC member, Allan Wright handed me his Nikon for the weekend (along with an instruction manual, as I'm used to Canons), which has a built in interval timer.

It didn't take much fiddling about to get the hang of it, and once I'd done it the first time it was very straightforward. Set the camera to manual and sit it on a tripod; compose the image how you would like it; set the shutter speed, aperture and ISO to get the exposure settings you want; input the number of photos you want it to take for that sequence; and input the interval time between shots.

The first shoot I did, I set it to go every 10 seconds at 1/50th of a second. I was quite pleased with it, although it didn't feel as fluid as I thought it might. Overnight it came to me I should slow the shutter speed to get a bit of movement blur, and take the shots more frequently - so from then on I set the interval for every 3 seconds at 1/3 of a second. I was delighted with the result and did several more sequences across the weekend - including one of me and my son taking down the set on the Monday evening.

I put the following video together pretty straightforwardly. The first sequence is the one that went every 10 seconds. I then took a section of that and zoomed in on the light through the window travelling across the floor, which I quite liked. The rest is the 3 second interval sequences, with movement blur, and the whole lot was rendered and exported to play at 12 frames per second. The music is from the band I'm in, The Cracked Man

I'd recommend giving it a go - it's really not as difficult as you think it is.

Kim Ayres