This year's regular Art Walk unfortunately had to be cancelled so there were no Art Houses to visit. However a new programme was devised under the banner "All At Sea" and it includes an outdoor photography exhibition on the Prom - Two Places By The Sea. The exhibition is a link between Portobello and the town of Akureyri in Northern Iceland. I have to declare an interest as I, along with a friend in Akureyri, came up with the original idea and organised the Portobello half of the project.
The connection was first made through the photo-sharing site Blipfoto when I saw Gunnlaug's photographs of her home town, somewhere I remembered visiting in the early 1980s. We managed to meet in person a few years ago when she and her family visited Edinburgh on holiday. She is a member of a photography group which has been meeting for ten years and regularly puts on exhibitions in the town. For their tenth anniversary we came up with the idea for a joint exhibition, linking our two places by the sea. With fifteen of the group's members keen to take part I put together an adhoc group of photographers in Portobello - a mixture of other professional photographers like myself and friends who were just interested in photography. The groups were paired up, one from each place, and given themes to work with. Some pairs were able to develop close collaborations while others were a little restricted by the lack of common language. Language became an important part of the project, especially when one of the early images was submitted with a bit of background text as well as a title. I decided it would be great if everyone could write a short bit of extra information about the picture and what it meant to them. And with the help of our Icelandic friends we were able to get all the English translated into Icelandic and the Icelandic translated into English (thanks again, that was a lot of work!) The banner we had planned in Portobello didn't give us a lot of room so I decided to keep the pictures as big as possible for the outdoor exhibition and save the background text for the website. The Icelandic staging of the exhibition was a little different - they had some financial support from the Town's Art Festival and used the same format they had used for previous outdoor exhibitions - large prints mounted on both sides of display boards above a concrete block base. With a bit more room they were able to include the background text beside the images.
The Icelandic exhibition was installed in Akureyri at the end of August and the Portobello one a week later. In Portobello we managed to get permission to put the banner up on the Portobello Sailing and Kayaking Club fence - a prime spot on the Prom for maximum visibility. We COVID-19 restrictions at the time limiting outdoor gatherings to five households we couldn't have a conventional launch event and instead organised a staggered event in twenty-minute time slots, with just three or four of the photographers at each one. Since being installed the exhibition has attracted a lot of attention from passers-by as well as various local media.
Finally, here are a few of the Portobello photographers with their photographs in the exhibition. Now that the group has come together to put on this very successful exhibition perhaps it can continue with another project going forward...
Time for some new headshots? Even with the latest two-household restrictions it is possible to arrange some new headshots. And as long as the Edinburgh weather plays ball (it doesn't really doesn't rain as much as you think) then the safest option at the moment is to take them outdoors.
Will arranged a session in Portobello and we took a few shots at a number of different locations. For a basic headshot to use as a profile picture on LinkedIn or elsewhere you only need a tightly cropped head and shoulders picture. The background doesn't matter too much as long as it isn't too busy. Something with a bit of texture to it, rather than the blank white background of an old-style passport photobooth, seems the preferred option these days and we started at Bellfield, making use of the old walls and the trees.
Will was also interested in getting some shots with a little more context to them to reflect his involvement in a charity concerned with everyday walking on urban streets. We ended up at Marlborough Street, giving Will exactly the sort of street settings he was looking for.
Although pubs have been allowed to reopen, an old favourite in Portobello - The Dalriada, on the Promenade - remains shut. Despite a world wide search to find new owners to run it as a pub it now seems that it will never re-open. A potential deal fell through during lockdown and local gossip now has it that it has been bought by a wealthy individual in the local computer games industry who wants to convert back into a private house. So the local community is missing a venue, especially the musicians who used to meet regularly in the Dal. On one of my evening walks along the beach I stumbled across their current alternative venue - the 'bandstand' at the Joppa end of the Prom - and took a few photos. I have since seen them on a couple of other occasions, the live music a great soundtrack to look out to see to.
Met another friend while out with my camera. She was down there with her partner and daughter and although little O didn't stay still for long, I did manage a few pictures. It's another example of the sort of candid shots it's possible to get during an outdoor family photo session. If this looks like something you might be interested in please check out my family portrait services and get in touch. If you are having a staycation in Edinburgh there's no better place to get some informal family portraits than Portobello beach!
Met some friends on the beach while out with my camera and took a few quick pictures. Although it wasn't an arranged session, and the matching outfits were just a happy coincidence, it's a great example of the sort of thing that is possible on a candid family photoshoot. You just carry on with all the fun activities you would normally do and I will capture the action for you, creating a great set of candid family photographs. You can pause and pose for a few shots if you want but the best pictures are often the ones when you are interacting with each other as a family. If this looks like something you might be interested in please check out my family portrait services and get in touch. If you are having a staycation in Edinburgh there's no better place to get some informal family portraits than Portobello Beach!
As we all move cautiously into a new world in which we all have to remain aware of COVID-19 and the measures we need to take to keep ourselves and our customers safe businesses large and small need to recognise people's concerns and react accordingly. Online shopping, already growing rapidly, became much more important during lockdown and is likely to remain so even when people are allowed to physically visit shops. With or without restrictions on the numbers of people allowed inside a shop at the same time a proportion of your customers are likely to be wary of spending too long in indoor spaces for some time to come. While lockdown has probably encouraged everyone to shop more efficiently for their weekly groceries - ticking off a pre-written list - it doesn't work so well for non-essential shopping when many of us aren't quite sure what we will buy until we see it.
All of this makes your website more important than ever, even if you have a physical presence on the high street, and a good website needs good pictures. As does the rest of your online presence as you look to attract attention and drive traffic to your website. So what sort of pictures do I need?
A series of ordinary landscapes made meaningful by names and dates.
This was a mini-project I did while I was at college a decade ago but I wonder if it is something to re-visit in more depth. Considering the historical significance of some of the battles I was surprised how little had been done to protect these locations. Even when there are museums and interpretation centres, the broader 'battlefield' can be spread over a considerable area of which only a fraction has been protected from development. At some of the sites, particularly for the older battles, there are still disputes over the exact location of the key moments in the battle with several different theories from different historians. These images are available as prints on my website, with and without the text. Personally I think the text adds a lot, a connection to an extraordinary past in an apparently ordinary landscape.
A few years ago I took a different set of portraits with a couple of friends. Lorna brought some costumes with her from her own collection of vintage clothes and Rachel posed in outfits from the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s and 1960s. We used a space in another friend's house in Portobello - a lovely old house that was built in the nineteenth century so we could have been creating a fictional former inhabitant through the ages. In the course of the afternoon we created a great set of portraits of Rachel.
As well as the fun of dressing up Rachel ended up with a stylish set of portraits - the sort of picture you can put up on the wall that visitors look at and ask, 'Is that you?'. While it might be a while before we can borrow costumes and use a personal stylist and MUA (Make Up Artist) because of COVID-19 restrictions if you can source your own costume and do your own styling we could take a similar series of portraits either indoors or outdoors. Check out my location portraits page.
At this time of year there is a lot of birdlife to be seen, just offshore from Portobello Beach, even when the beach is busy with people. But what is there to see? Closest to hand, and frequently taking a chance to steal some unattended food are the gulls - the relatively dainty Black Headed Gulls and the larger Herring Gulls and Lesser Black Backed Gulls are the commonest but I'll save them for another article as they are to be seen all year round at the beach. Instead I'll concentrate on the summer visitors to the beach, terns and gannets, who can all be seen diving into the water looking for food.
Terns are often heard before you see them - their shrill calls seem to cut through the general noise of the beach more effectively than the cries of gulls, but maybe it's just that gulls are more familiar. They are usually seen flying past the beach - unlike the gulls they rarely fly up over the sand, although they do sometimes rest on the wooden groynes or the circular marker posts. In flight terns are more graceful than gulls, with more angular wings and long tails. The are also known as Sea Swallows which is a good description. Most of the terns at Portobello are Common Terns which have red bills with a dark tip and long tail streamers. There is a very similar Arctic Tern which has a plain red beak and longer tail feathers but the two species are very similar and there are some more detailed guides on telling the difference. Easier to identify are Sandwich Terns, which are a little bigger than the other two, have shorter forked tails and dark bills with a yellow tip. If you are lucky a tern will dive into the water and catch a fish quite close to the shore - great to watch bit tricky to photograph!
Gannets tend to fly by a bit further out than the terns, but because they are much bigger birds you can still see them from the beach, even without binoculars. They are noticeably white in appearance compared to gulls, especially when the sun is shining. If they do come in close they are quite striking birds with their black wing tips and yellow heads but they are most spectacular when they dive in for fish, seeming to pause in midair and then plunging into the sea from a considerable height. As they approach the water they pull in their wings until they are like a black and white rocket as they enter the water. Having a camera to freeze the action shows the last minute adjustments they can make just before they hit the sea. Gannets breed on the Bass Rock - in fact it's where they got their latin name Morus bassanus. The colony there is the largest in the world with 75,000 pairs in 2014. There is a bit of a tale about the scientific name. When I was growing up, Gannets were referred to as Sula bassanus in all the bird books, part of the same genus as the Boobies who live in the Tropics. Sula came from the Old Norse name for Gannet and yet for some reason the species Sula sula was the Red Footed Booby and not the Northern Gannet. When DNA studies recently separated out the Gannets and the Boobies for some reason it was the Gannets that got a different name in 2016 - Morus (from the latin for 'stupid'). Somehow Gannets have become Boobies and Boobies have become Gannets. And the Snark was a Boojum all along.
Sorting through my photography archive recently I rediscovered my small collection of post box images. I was 'collecting' them a number of years ago and although that early enthusiasm has waned, I still take the odd one these days. I think I need to restart a more systematic collection before they start to disappear. And unlike red phone boxes I can't see any useful repurposing of them that will keep them on our streets when they are no longer used for posting letters.