A long overdue new entry on this blog and a new project in the making, I hope. Inspired by an in-person and subsequent email-exchanges conversation with one of the photographers featured in the Human Nature photography exhibition currently on the Prom as part of the Edinburgh Science Festival has inspired me to be a bit more systematic about my pictures of people 'On The Edge'. So far, I have just been photographing random strangers I have seen at the water's edge but I think I should try a bit harder to set up my subjects.
I would like continue with the same basic idea, people looking out to sea from the beach, sitting or standing, along or in couples, maybe three or four people at a pinch. But I'd like to put a bit more thought into it. What does the boundary between sand and sea mean to the person in the picture? What are they thinking as they look out? Is the water a barrier or an invitation? And how would they like to appear, photographed from behind? Appropriately dressed for water-based leisure or incongruously dressed to the nines? Expressing personality or anonymous silhouette?
So is anyone interested? I like to walk along the beach most days - often looking for a 'blip' (a whole other story) - and so we could fit in around that. Realistically I recognise I am most likely to be able to persuade current friends to take part, at least to start with. Please get in touch.
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!
Portobello Prom is a place for Art. Some of it is official, literally part of the fabric of the Prom like these two modern mosaics close to Westbank/Tumbles.
Other elements are remnants of specific projects, notably the annual Art Walk, which takes place every September. While much of the commissioned public art is temporary, some pieces last longer. The most notable of these is Cressida, the sculpted metal octopus at the end of the groyne at the foot of Bath Street. Initially installed for the first Art Walk in September 2015 she was twice claimed by the sea during winter storms but was successfully rescued and re-installed. (In fact the story of Cressida is probably worth a blog post all of its own, so I'll come back to that!) For now here is a recent picture at a high Spring tide with Cressida almost completely submerged.
Last summer's Art Walk had a strong musical element, including the Bandstands project which is still present on the Prom at the sites of two former bandstands, There is an app related to the project with music and archive photographs to download when you get to the locations.
Great as it is to see these works of art along the Prom, there are also other, unofficial, pieces that appear and stay a while. They can vary in size - some are large and unmissable but others are small and tucked away so you can overlook them if you aren't paying attention. Like the Portobello Public Pencil Sharpening Project installations. So far I have found four of them - I wonder if there are any more?
There were a number of wooden objects at different points along the Prom but most of them seemed to have gone except for the Fish, Fish, Not Fish piece.
I wonder what art will appear next on the Prom?
The Action Porty AGM at Bellfield in February 2019. Discussing the past year in the community-owned venue and plans for the year ahead and beyond.
The annual wassail in the community orchard at Donkeyfield, close by Brunstane Railway station. A traditional celebration of apple trees and apple growing with the Portobello Community Choir.
The annual Christmas tree burning on the beach. Another community event with only the loosest of organisation. As a result different groups make their own bonfires along the beach. It seemed this year that there were more different groups doing their own thing than in previous years which slightly diminished the size of the biggest bonfire near the foot of Bath Street. Presumably people further along the Prom didn't fancy dragging their trees any further along the beach, which is understandable but a pity. Still there were still plenty of trees gathered on a rather damp evening for a good blaze.
I'm Jon Davey, a freelance community photographer based in Portobello, Edinburgh's seaside suburb