Making a Record with Josienne and Lukas

I’ve shared a few photos of the sessions but not said much about it. Busy, busy, busy.

First time I met Lukas has significance to me, I’m an imprinted baby duck. I was walking around London with Josienne, feeling thoroughly out of my depth, a little scared of how big & proper it all was, when this famous bloke said hello to us both. Not just to Josienne, though he seemed to mean his hello to her as well, but also to me, like I had just as much right to be there as her and like he was pleased to see us both! In a town where most people at best treated me like I was in the way or on many occasions, openly expressed derision at my presence & involvement. Here was Lukas frickin Drinkwater just casually saying hello to me, in the street! I probably didn’t even say anything back because I couldn’t believe it. Later, we went to the Americana Music awards and Emily Barker treated me like an old friend. I could’ve cried. I might actually have done, because Patrick Stewart’s partner asked me if I was alright while I was standing at the bar and I said I was, it was just a bit overwhelming and thanked her for her kindness and I thought to myself, damn. Maybe I can do this, maybe some people won’t mind me being in the room, one day.

Anyway, here we are a few years later & I am doing it. Living some kind of life. Being the person I appear to be. Living in an honest way that I wrestled from the jaws of loss. Surrounded by love & support. It takes a while to recognise it when it changes, but lives can & will change and I think it’s important to call it what it is when it happens.

And so I wrote some songs about that, about that hope, about that progress, because what else am I going to do? I didn’t have lots, but it felt like a whole thing regardless, a signpost of where I live right now, still yearning for more, hoping the stairs lead up & that there is a reason to climb, however distant it might seem.

My last album, ‘I Used To Be Sad & Then I Forgot’, I once described as like that tiny dog who goes around starting fights with all the bigger dogs, barking in their faces as they look on bemused. That’s how I feel I sound, listening back, now. I’m still very proud of that record and what I achieved with it. It grounded me, made me certain of exactly what my place in things was. I had as much right as anyone else to exist. Songlines Magazine reviewed my record & didn’t hate it.

But these new songs, they’re bigger. I knew I needed more instruments than I had last time. And there was really only two people I needed to help me. Josienne was going to produce, that was always clear. What else would I want to do? It’s her decision making. Her discernment. Is an idea good, or bad? She just knows. But I had this dream that Lukas might be able to help, too. What a line up that felt like. So I out & asked him and he went and said yes.

We spent 3 days in his studio, Polyphonic Recording, in Stroud. It’s a dream location, and I don’t just mean because it’s a one minute walk from a waitrose with a sushi counter, though it is that too. It’s a perfect playground. Tbh, it’s everything I ever dreamed of that I never made happen for myself. I don’t really understand sound like I understand light. Light is obvious, sound is a twat. But not to Lukas – his level of skill in every instrument he plays (which is, best I can tell, all of them…) is unsurpassed. His judgement, creativity, approach to creating a safe space, sense of humour, it’s all perfection. I knew it would be. He’s funny & serious at all the right times. It’s hard to get me to perform stuff, vocally. These lyrics are pretty raw to me. I can’t do it just anywhere, in front of just anyone. But I could do it easily, with him. If this all sounds a little saccharine then, good, it’s meant to. When I called him one of my favourite people, I meant it. If you’re considering making a record then you should have him & his studio on the list. I can’t imagine a thing he couldn’t do. Recording is such a weird type of magic, but not if you understand it intuitively, in a way that I don’t. Lukas does.

We recorded 5 songs, an EP. Lukas is mixing it now. It’s a bigger sound than the album, a full band. I don’t want to say too much about it other than that for now, but I do have (…no shit…) lots of photographs from the recording sessions. I took these because I loved it, and taking photographs / using cameras & lenses is fun, like microphones & guitars are to Lukas, and also, so Lukas could use them on his website.

See what happens if you work in an atmosphere of mutual respect, lifting people up & being lifted yourself? See what can happen if you work, free to fail, free of shame, free of threat? In an atmosphere that encourages individuality of expression, where some ideas are awful but have them anyway and believe that your friends will have your best interests at heart when they say “do it” or “shut up”? What if that led to everyone being a little better after than they were before, to some kind of personal growth & the making of honest art?

Well, here are some photographs of that happening.

Thanks for working with me, Josienne & Lukas.

Field Testing a Pentax 67 120 Medium Format camera…

A few weeks ago in a blog post, I asked if anyone was up for a free photoshoot in Glasgow to give me a chance to practice with my new Pentax 67 120 medium format camera. I got a willing volunteer, more below… but on the day it arrived, I shot a roll of the stone mermaid who lives in the garden & got these two wonderful photographs with it.

That’s with the 105mm f2.4 lens fully open, shutter speed of either 1000 or 500, hand held, on Portra 400. They say this lens renders legendary bokeh and clearly, they are not wrong. The meter in the prism isn’t really TTL (because the sensor is on top of the body, so if you use an ND, you have to manually compensate) but that is easy enough and I was pretty excited by the potential shown in these early results.

The day was clear blue sky, almost too sunny, so we spent time looking for shade on the streets of Glasgow.

Here’s a pile of old mattresses, some peeling walls, a chair & an ominous hole filled with a brick, but I wasn’t trying to make Jenn seem gritty & urban. I wanted something cleaner, so we kept walking.

These first shots of Jenn were taken on my Canon 5D mkiii with a 24mm f/1.4 for metering. In real life, using the P67, I don’t think I need to meter with digital again. It’s so intuitive to use on it’s own. From the look of the mermaid, the meter seems reliably calibrated. So next time, no digital comfort blanket. I thought I’d share these here, because, whilst they are really only light tests, I like them & reckon they’ll be an interesting comparison for when the 120 stuff comes back from the lab.

I decided to us ND & pro-mist filters (1/4) on the 105mm f/2.4 & 55mm f/4 lens I had with me and do the maths on what worked given whatever the sun was doing. It was kind of a thrill. Changing film in the field is 4 times more time consuming & fiddly than with 35mm, but I’m hoping the results justify it. It’s kind of theatrical, this huge loud shutter slap then, every ten frames, setting up a miniature lab under a motorway bridge and trying to move all the bits around. Next time, I’ll unwrap the film I intend to shoot and store it in a tin so I take that step out, make it a little easier on myself. The battery lasted for the whole shoot – I had been told the light meter is power hungry, but I was shooting nonstop for a couple of hours and got through 5 rolls and it’s still testing positive. So that was a nice surprise.

Jenn was supremely patient & a wonderful subject, thanks for doing this with us & I hope the end results are something we can both use!

Jenn left us to it and the excitement of the sun & of being at least vaguely around other people was too much, so Josienne & I went to find coffee. I put the 85mm f/1.2 on my 5D and shot a few by the river. If I’d have had longer, I would have liked to have done that with Jenn, too, but you can’t push your luck too hard in these situations or nobody will want to hang out with you anymore. So, enjoy these last few and I hope you’re as excited as me to see the end results!

Thanks again, Jenn, for being such a great subject.

Glasgow! Who wants a free portrait?

I need a favour. When the world gets back to normal, I’d like to carry on taking pictures of people. Who wants to walk around Glasgow with me & let me practice shooting 120 medium format film with them?

Let me explain.

I use a Canon 5D mkiii for most things. This camera is like an extension of my arm, I can do most things I want with it without even really thinking. I use a Canon 1v for 35mm film photography. It’s a beauty and I love it, as close to the ease of digital as film could ever be.

But, it’s only 35mm. With 120 medium format photography, something special happens, photos are bigger. The kit is clunkier, weirder. Metering is odd, you have to do exposure, focal length, shutter speed maths. You get 10 photographs from a reel of film costing £20. Not as many folks develop it and it’s pricier then, too. But it has something special. The colours, the texture, the depth, the contrast.

Here’s a little gallery showing some of my favourite photographers right now – these folks are all making beautiful photographs with 120 medium format. Visit Vuhlandes, Eli Vicks, Barney Arthur, J Flynn, Andy Low, Ally Green, I could go on & probably will, one day. So, you see, 120 *does* a thing. So, I’m going to put the time & effort in & master it for myself.

And that means I need volunteers. I want someone to spend a couple of hours in Glasgow city with me, when the pandemics calmed down, who will let me take their photograph using a Pentax 67 105mm f/2.4 120 medium format camera that I will be using for the first time. Zero cost to you, the only cost to me is time, film and developing. You can you use any pictures I take that you like, and you’ll let me use them, too. You might need to be patient with me, because it’ll be my first time.

Now, I could snap a friend, but I don’t have many of those IRL, and since taking a photograph steals a tiny piece of your soul, the person I usually photograph is looking for me to branch out & give her a rest. I could hire a model, but I don’t know how to use this camera, so before I do that, which I might, one day, I want to know what I’m doing, so nobodys’ time is a wasting more than they are ok with.

Here’s a few recent shots of mine, I’ll be looking to add whatever we take to my portfolio. Of course, none of these are 120, they’re all digital or 35mm. Not that the format matters, the result does. But, see, that’s why I need to practice, to see if I can get 120 medium format integrated into what it is that I do.

Fancy it? Get in touch!