Shift Time – Surreal Time?

6 07 2009

Lorna and I were invited to go to the Friday launch of the Shift Time Festival in Shrewsbury. A free bar (for a while at least) and the first performance of the festival ensured a good night so we picked up two friends and made our way there, slightly later than expected but time seems to be a concept that is slowly taking a back seat these days.

After our first beer we then sat down in an igloo type building and listened to the official opening speeches by Anna Douglas and Jon King, two of the main bods involved in the festival. Following that the first performance, entitled Low-Tech Songs with Servo Drive, started which was by Paul Granjon a French performance artist who essentially sings self penned songs about animals in the evolutionary chain. With a definite tongue in the cheek he sang about chicken feet and fish, each supported by a video being projected onto the wall behind him. He then progressed and wore a pair of robotic dog ears and a robotic tail whilst singing, He finished with him singing and being supported by a robot which played a small, purpose made synth. All very surreal but highly entertaining and a great start.

When  we returned to the bar the free drinks had ended…………boo!

As the light started to fade we all walked over to Umerus and watched a twilight demonstration. One of the local freelance press photographers was there to get some photos so a few of us helped him out by holding some LED lights to light the scene he had set up a little better, he was working with on-board flash as well and was still at 1/20 second exposure at f/3.5 not sure what the ISO was. I shot this not long after,  ISO-800 1/25 @ f/1.6. I liked the silhouette and thought it made a nice shot.

Wonderment

Wonderment

We left soon afterwards and I have been sworn to secrecy about the further beers, wine and kebabs which made a very pleasant end to the night!

We arrived at the Quarry the day afterwards feeling slightly worse for wear and as it was a beautiful day we took our dog Jack along for a walk. Our first visit was the installation of theRemembrance Path by two local artists, Wren and Ray. I talk a little bit about it in this post. Trying to get some different angles on the proceedings I got on my belly and after being jumped on by Jack I took this shot.

Wren places book number 2 down.

Wren places book number 2 down.

Bit of a lucky catch really, as I was lying there getting my angle how I wanted it, Wren, one of the artists, came along and placed the second book down and promptly apologised for ‘ruining my shot’……..couldn’t have been more wrong.

We then had a wander further into the Quarry and saw part of a performance by Blue Eyed Soul who perform aerial dances, this time dressed in Victorian costumes and with audio narration. I took a few snaps here but didn’t really get anything that I was particularly impressed with, I blew the highlights on this one.

Blue Eyed Soul

Blue Eyed Soul

Trying to get some movement in the scene I swiched the camera to Av mode and set the aperture to f/22 and lowered the ISO right down to 50 which gave me a shutter of 1/30, plenty long enough to convey some sense of speed, luckily the girl on the right stayed fairly still which made for a nice contrast.

Swinging Around.

Swinging Around.

My wife, Lorna, who has also been blogging about this event has also been doing some of the video interviews for the Shift-Time website so I held Jack and took some photos of her whilst she interviewed Theo Jansen. It’s been a right old family affair hasn’t it, me photographing, Lorna interviewing. Other videos of Lorna doing her stuff here

Lorna Interviewing Theo Jansen

Lorna Interviewing Theo Jansen

I had been looking forward to seeing the performance of Feng Ru Lee since I had first seen the festival programme so I was keen to make sure I was about when it started. As it happens, Lorna was carrying on with her interviewing duties and spoke with her before the performance so I had time for a complimentary burger.

After a while Feng Ru Lee appeared in her sheep costume and started her performance where she was penned in a small enclosure and mimicked the actions of a live sheep in another pen next to hers. From her website:

Counting Sheep is a series of performances that has turned an artist such as myself into the comic like character of a sheep. The sheep has appeared in many different situations and is interested in inspecting the changing landscape of the urban city. It references our post-human future and relates to self-marketing as an Artist product. Doubling myself / itself again and again like Dolly this clone has never died, but instead reinvents its self in new forms and manifestations. So many questions are waiting to be answered in the future. I am interested in testing the boundaries of social ethics and acceptable science, exploring the line drawn between where scientists cease to be humans and play at being god.

Possibly the most surreal performance I have ever seen and it certainly got the attention of many people passing by.

Photography wise it wasn’t an easy situation to get something a little different, so again I was trying to look for a slightly unusual angle to get the scene in. There were many others there taking photos at this point and some people were even setting tripods up to get their shots. I took a few ‘straight’ shots bu they didn’t really do anything for me at all, either by content of composition so I started to angle the camera around and came up with this which sets the scene quite nicely I think.

Feng Ru Lee as Milee

Feng Ru Lee as Milee

I particularly wanted to get some nice portrait shots of her and had spoken to her about grabbing some time after her performance, however, I realised that if I got on my belly and poked my camera lens through the fence I was at a perfect angle to get what I wanted so I popped on my flashgun and waited for the time when she was in the right place. Difficult one this, her costume was bright white and the sky was starting to show signs of rain, varying between bright white and grey so I decided to use the fill flash to give me a bit of separation, expose her face correctly and underexpose the sky a touch. This has had a bit of extra work in post processing to exaggerate those points…….but not too much.

Feng Ru Lee

Feng Ru Lee

I was also interested to catch peoples reaction to the performance and I think this next photo sums up the general WTF?? expression on peoples faces.

A Definite WTF?? Moment.

A Definite WTF?? Moment.

So, that was about it for the first day of the festival, we saw some stuff that we hadn’t seen before, spoke to people we hadn’t spoken to before and heard things we hadn’t heard before and though some of it I didn’t really ‘get’ it was a great day out with some nice photo possibilities, even Jack enjoyed it.





Photographing Theo Jansen

3 07 2009

A phone call out of the blue yesterday saw me being asked to go and take some photographs of Theo Jansen in the Quarry in Shrewsbury for the Shift-Time Festival’s PR agency, my very first ‘proper job’ so the pressure was on to produce what they wanted.

Theo arrived in the country the day before so that he could unpack, set up and test his creation, Umerus. A quite amazing feat of engineering that sees the 13 metre ‘Strandbeest’ fluidly walk with wind assistance. Earlier tests on a beach in Holland were thwarted when the wind was simply too strong, so a beautifully hot and sunny day was perfect for the day’s testing. Officially, the photo shoot was today (Friday) but having heard the poor weather forecast I decided to go up and meet Theo and get some photographs ‘in the bag’ just in case I was presented with torrential rain. So, Lorna and I hot footed it up to Shrewsbury and went to meet Theo. When we arrived he was due to be speaking to BBC Radio Shropshire so we hung back and took the time too have a close up look at Umerus and have a chat to his co-workers, it also gave me the opportunity to get my camera ready.

Theo Jansen Talks to the BBC

Theo Jansen Talks to the BBC

All seemed fine until I turned on the camera and then it very quickly occurred to me that I had forgotten to bring a memory card…….what a base error to make, maybe thats why I am an amateur 🙂 Luckily, a friend was there too and very kindly lent me a card. Panic over I did a quick scout around looking at the light and the environment and trying to get a feel for the kind of shot I wanted.

When Theo had finished I introduced myself and explained why I was there a day early. What a nice friendly chap Theo is, very warm and soft but in a frame that excudes authority. Within minutes he was posing for me with utter patience as I manouvered Lorna around the scene with the off camera flash. My feeling for the photo was to have quite a dramatic shot with Theo posed with a ‘smug’ impression. I asked him to fold his arms, look right into the camera and say mentally ‘I made this!’

Theo Jansen and Umerus

Theo Jansen and Umerus

I used a circular polariser to give the rich and vibrant sky, off camera flash camera right (held about head height by my wife) to fill in the shadow areas a touch. This was the best of the day for me despite the car in the background! Another of my favorites is this shot which shows some of the detail of Umerus against the beautifully blue sky.

Umerus Detail

Umerus Detail

This morning on the ‘official’ photoshoot the weather delivered as promised and though it wasn’t torrentail rain, it was raining pretty consistently. The skies were varying between dark and light so I knew I had a bit of a job on to balance the exposures. I arrived at the park at 10.30 and just after that I met the contact I had from the PR agency. We had a chat about what kind of shots she wanted, angles, subjects etc and then decided that to get anything decent we needed Umerus to be off its temporary wooden floor and on the grass. Having met and photographed Theo the day before I had no qualms about asking him to get Unerus on the grass. As I expected he obliged without question so I certainly think my previous visit paid dividends.

Walking Umerus onto the grass

Walking Umerus onto the grass

We had decided that a few photographs of Umerus with children would give the creation some scale, so as some willing parents and children were rounded up I thought about angles, light and those damn clouds that were varying in brightness by the second. Soon enough a willing parent arrived with his three children so I set the following shot up with the child looking up at Umerus. This was lit with the diffused flash camera left pointed at the subject.

Childs Play?

Childs Play?

I really wanted to get Theo in front of Umerus again but this time with more of the ‘Strandbeest’ showing than in the previous photo above. So after clearing another photographer out of the way and positioning Theo I was quite happy to hear Theo ask if I wanted him to do the ‘smug pose’ again. This was music to my ears as  I knew that he knew precisely what I wanted.

Theo and Umerus

Theo and Umerus

I took around 70 photos over the two days and selected only the ones that I felt had compositional impact, good light and good colours.

Despite my initial nerves on doing something ‘officially’ for the first time I soon settled down and got on with the job in hand, I struggled a bit with some of the shots that I wanted to get but this was probably more down to my inexperience in this kind of photography than anything else. There was a point where it was suggested that we have a couple of dogs in the picture but I poo pooed that idea fairly quickly, difficult enough working with kids without introducing animals into the equation.

Nerve wracking, stressful and highly enjoyable and I think that I managed to get some decent photos out of the sessions, I’ll wait and see if any get used in the papers this weekend……..keep your eyes peeled!








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