Misty evening in Edinburgh, as the haar settled across the city at night, like a soft, grey blanket. I do love when the mist covers Edinburgh, especially at night – something about the way it softens the city, makes everything diffused, and the streetlights glow through the fog.
There’s been a festive market for quite a few years now in Edinburgh – it started as a small, traditional German Christmas market around the plaza on the Mound by the galleries, and a small part of the adjacent east Princes Street Gardens. However in recent years, especially under the events company Underbelly (which has been a major player in the Festival Fringe for years) it has expanded dramatically as part of a larger festive and Hogmanay programme.
We’re well used to disruption from the festivals in the summer – Edinburgh is, after all, home of the largest arts festival on the planet (and the largest literary festival and the longest continually-running film festival). But the scale and the disruption it causes is starting to seriously anger many citizens, and the complacent response from the promoters and council lackeys isn’t helping. This year the entire east Gardens has been covered in the festive market and fair, so that entire, huge space which is meant to be a shared green space held in common good for the people is anything but. Meanwhile the promoters are, two weeks or more before the events, preparing the west Gardens for the New Year concerts and have fenced off huge swathes of it. So now the public cannot access most of that green space either, both given over to crass, commercial ventures aimed purely at tourists and meanwhile robbing Edinburgh citizens of their entitled green public space that belongs to them
Oh and did I mention the market is illegal?? The promoters didn’t apply for the building permit they require for an erection on this scale, and they and the council kept this quiet, but it leaked out and the local heritage bodies highlighted it, forcing the council and Underbelly to respond, albeit in bleating, weak, pathetic ways, giving no credible reason for such incompetence on the part of both bodies. Then it turns out the same happened last year but they kept that quiet too. Meantime in related events a festive event on the Royal Mile saw huge blocks of stacked freight containers dumped on the middle of this historic area and the streets closed off. The organisers didn’t bother to tell local businesses though, who found out their staff couldn’t even get to work because of this (yet the organisers keep telling us how much these events help “local business”).
Still, much as I have gone from originally liking the early versions of the traditional German market to loathing the vulgar, hiugely commercial monster that now robs our city of its open spaces and allows greedy commercial companies to hijack entire public areas of our city for their own use while castigating citizens for daring to be concerned – not to mention angry – at this, it does make a good spot for some nocturnal people-watching photos (I take pics around it, but I am not buying anything there).
A couple of quick, handheld night shots take on the way home from work. This used to be an NYC style diner years ago and is now an Italian restaurant, near the Playhouse Theatre. The way it juts out at the corner of this block, and the large, plate-glass windows and bright interior light kept drawing my eye and I thought it would make an interesting after-dark photo. The fact it had been raining last night, so the pavements were glistening under the street lights, just added to it and it was begging for me to shoot it in black and white (and yes, the title is a nod to the famous painting):
With the clocks going back it is darker earlier each evening here now. Some find this depressing, the long, dark nights. I quite like it, and it is a good chance for some night photography! Sometimes I am out with the tripod taking them properly, other times they are often improvised, taken on the way home from work when I have no tripod handy so I go handheld for rough shots or use things like railings and pillars to sit the camera on to steady it in lieu of the tripod. This is an improvised shot by the Union Canal, the steel skeleton of a new building under construction on one of the last brownfield sites left from the former Scottish and Newcastle Brewery complex which used to dominate this area for years.You can see the flat-topped railing I used to sit the camera on to steady it in the image:
Another improvised shot on the same night by the Union Canal, bracing the camera against a mooring post to get this image of this houseboat at night – how cosy does it look against the cold, dark night? And below that a short from just a few feet further along looking to the old Leamington Lift Bridge.
Rough handheld shot in lowlight mode at dusk in Bruntsfield, looking into the windows of Project Coffee – I think for this kind of pic the roughness of the freehand shot actually works:
Zebra crossing at night, Polwarth, another freehand shot walking home from work:
Another handheld shot, this is the Telfer Subway at night:
Heading down through the lower part of the New Town to my book group, had been raining a little and the cobbled roads by Drummond Place had that glistening look to them under the street lights:
Walking through the old boneyard of Saint Cuthbert’s at night – peaceful very dark and quiet and yet only a few steps from busy Lothian Road and Princes Street, bustling with people and traffic, yet down here the quiet of old tombs, the crunch of fallen autumn leaves and so much darker than it looks in these pictures where I could do long exposures. The things you spot, different little realms just a few steps away from busy main streets, if you go a few steps off the main thoroughfare in Edinburgh:
And look a the view of the Castle you get from the old graveyard:
And here’s one taken with a new toy, a cheap LED light panel that fixes to the camera’s flash gun shoe – I turned it on and took a walk through the old graveyard near my flat. The middle is deliberately allowed to become overgrown to become a mini urban wildlife area, and during the day you can hear all sorts of sounds, from twigs snapping to branches rustling. At night you hear even more of it but can’t see the animals making them, just hear the sounds from the undergrowth between the older tombstones. In the darkness of the walled boneyard, you can imagine how creepy that feels, as if something is following you through the cemetery. For added effect I took these on the way home on Halloween:
Last weekend saw a burst of glorious, golden, autumn sunlight and unseaonable warmth for a couple of days. I met my chum after work at Porty, then we had an amble along the Promenade, still busy with nice weather even as evening fell. We got a seat outside the Espy for food and drink right next to the beach and as we sat there for a few drinks, we watched the light change every few minutes as the sun declined and the night crept over the beach and the Firth of Forth. Beautiful.
Some people sat on the beach just watching the slowly setting sun, others had fires going and enjoying a romantic moment by the sea, others, remarkably, were still going for a swim! Must have been freezing!!
The annual McLaren Animation award screenings at the world’s oldest continually-running film festival have always been a personal favourite part of the festival for me. Named for famed Scottish pioneer Norman McLaren, who would later found the National Film Board of Canada, this 2019 edition was particularly special – this marked the thirtieth anniversary of the McLarens at the EIFF, and the tenth, and as it happens, final year in the tenure of Iain Gardner, who has been in charge of the McLarens. I’ve really enjoyed Iain’s run taking care of the McLarens – it isn’t just the selecting and screening of interesting and diverse material, it’s the sense of encouraging and supporting and fostering new and emerging and existing talent. During the post-screening Q&As with all of the animators there is a real sense of support and encouragement, and that’s a good thing in any artistic medium if you want to have new blood and new ideas.
This year as part of the thirtieth anniversary we were treated to three rather than the usual two McLaren Animation segments, each with ten films, so thirty short works in all, covering all sorts of subjects (autobiography, documentary, politic, humour) and approaches (traditional hand-drawn, CG animation, stop-motion, puppetry and some films mixing methods). In a very welcome touch this year there was parity, a fifty-fifty split between female and male directors. At normal McLaren years there are too many films for me to go into each one individually, and that is more the case this year with the additional screening, so I’ll be sticking to my usual approach of picking out some of the films which I personally enjoyed the most.
Ainslie Henderson – by now a well-kent face in animation circles and at McLaren – had a very beautiful, very emotional piece with Archie. A lovely stop-motion work, we follow an anthropomorphised dog-man (with his own actual pet dog!), the eponymous Archie, in a largely wordless film. Archie receives bad news and a key in the post – the key to this mother’s wee crofting house on one of the Scottish isles; she’s passed away, the old home is now his. Using only the movement of the figures rather than dialogue Henderson deftly conjures up that sudden, shattering blow of learning a loved one is gone, of the bottom falling out of your world, the sad journey back home to a house that is now empty, except not really, because it is filled with memories. It’s warm and sadly beautiful, with some nice little touches – Archie’s wee dog snuggling up to his master, sensing his pain – and I found myself thinking on loved ones I’ve lost and having to blink away years (I’m sure I wasn’t the only one).
Chris and Victoria Watson’s Ladder to You also dealt with grief, in a very different way, with an elderly man, at home, now all alone and missing his wife terribly. He ponders parts of his life and the world, but nothing really works any more, not without her; without her it is meaningless, empty. When his wife’s photograph is blown out the window he follows it with a ladder to try and retrieve this last memento of her, and it takes him somewhere special. Josephine Lohoar Self’s also had that beautifully sad quality to it, a stop-motion piece about a shy young tailor, about a world where everyone wants to conform and be the same while he yearns for difference and encounters love.
JoAnne Salmon and and Alex Widdowson both impressed me with their biographical films, which were very emotionally warm and honest. Widdowson brought us Music & Clowns, an exploration of caring for a a family member with Down’s Syndrome. The parents talk honestly about the shock and surprise when their boy was born “different”, with his father commenting how as he held his newborn the moment of shock passed and he knew that he loved his boy anyway; he even, as they discuss him, reproaches his other son gently, commenting on how he may not understand everything but he is very empathic to the feelings of others, perhaps more than his brother. They talk about what life has been like, and the concerns of his parents as they get older, wondering how he will cope once they are too old, or passed on, a concern anyone with special needs family members must entertain.
Salmon gave us Chin Up, an autobiographical piece, the title riffing on one of the symptoms of Treacher Collins syndrome, where the bone structure of the face doesn’t form in the regular way, giving her a very unusual appearance (including not having a prominent chin). Again emotional honesty was key here as Salmon used differing artistic style to explore moments of her life – her birth, not being the “normal” little girl they were expecting, of not feeling particularly different until she went to school and having to deal with the unthinking comments of children, of how this affected her sense of self, how art and drawing became an escape for her, which eventually lead her to find animation and encouraged her to apply to study and then eventually create her own works.
Lauren Orme’s Creepy Pasta Salad was a fun piece, about a werewolf lady with low self-esteem, a man who may (or at least thinks he may be) dead and a ghost (and wondering if he is a ghost does he have to worry about that final electricity bill?), a Goth and the End of the World, and left me with a big smile. Ainslie Henderson, with Will Anderson, had more work in the form of three very brief pieces, My Best Friend (then each segment had a subtitle, such as “explodes”), nice, clean, simple graphics, two friends talking, but they are aware of being in a film, and they ponder the meaning of each title as it appears above them (you can imagine their alarm when it says “explodes”). Matthew Lee’s One Liner used claymation and drawn animation and touches on what used to be a cornerstone of British entertainment culture – the comedy double act, and more specifically who was “the funny one” (that oft-asked question that totally misses the point that these duos really only worked playing off one another).
Unsurprisingly given the last couple of years, politics hove into view during some of the films: Steve Boot had Mad Dogs, set in a pub of the same name, the classic British pub, a perfect place for examining what it means to be British in the modern era, using a collection of regulars in the pub who are all dogs, English, Scottish and Welsh (although oddly no Northern Irish), and uses a sprinkling of dialogue from the speeches of famous people among the lines as they all talk about about their sense of identity. Marta Lemos gave us Dear England, which used photo collage and drawn art among other styles, to explore the way British society has been changing, especially since the Brexit referendum, the way some elements now feel they can voice bigotry and hatred openly, the fact that some who came to make a home here, no matter how they fit in, will never be “British enough” for certain types.
I’d love to pick out more of the entries – the styles, the methods and the subjects were all so diverse we really were treated to a smorgasbord of excellent animation talent, quite a few entries being graduate degree films from students, and many of those now out in the world beyond college all still very young. I must mention Fokion Xenos who won the audience vote to scoop this thirtieth anniversary year McLaren Animation Award with Heatwave, which was a wonderful riot of colours and life in plasticine and other materials and depicted, yes a heatwave, on a tiny Greek island, rather timely given the burst of hot weather across the UK and Europe recently! And I have to give a shout out to Samantha Moore’s Bloomers, which documented the people, mostly women, who had worked in a garment design and manufacturing, and the changing fortunes over the years – the film had a very rich texture to the backgrounds, and, astonishingly Moore produced a sheet of silk (one of the fabrics the factory used) on which some of the art had been drawn then animated to give it that remarkable look and feel.
As I said, a real diversity of styles, methods and subjects. I’m confident that – as usually happens – we will see some of the McLaren entries crop up in a few months in the BAFTA and Oscar short animation nominee lists.
The subway that runs under the road connecting the Potterrow student union to the back of the Old College and the National Museum of Scotland has often caught my eye because of its shape and the perspective it creates. Walking past it at night, though, it made me think of something from an old sci-fi movie – the concrete underpass where the Droogs beat up a man in Clockwork Orange, perhaps.
Or, on a lighter note than that, it reminds my geek brain of the fighter launch tubes from the 1970s Buck Rogers, or Battlestar Galactica (albeit a much more monochromatic one!).
Walking home the other evening, taking some night shots as I did, this batch were around Tollcross, like the lovely old Cameo Cinema (seen above), with people waiting at the bus stop in front of it, standing under the marquee, or this cafe and neighbouring shop, still busy with people (had to take quick shot between the traffic flowing by this busy area):
And here’s the distinctive red sandstone facade of the King’s Theatre at night, the green building on the lower right of the theatre is Bennett’s Bar, one of my favourite watering holes for many years (good real ales, has cool old tables decorated with OS maps, and it’s dog-friendly):
Gorgeously bright winter moonrise this evening. I was coming home from an afternoon walk so didn’t have the tripod, but had to try with the low light mode for a freehand shot. The result isn’t as sharp as with a proper long exposure on the tripod, but I had to try and grab this glorious, deep blue dusk sky and the Moon rising, just as it was about to go behind the tower of Saint John’s Church on Princes Street:
And a quick, rough freehand close-up:
Watched the Moon rising over McEwan Hall the other evening, from the roof terrace of the National Museum of Scotland (one of the best spots for looking out over the roofs, spires and domes of Edinburgh – and like the museum it’s free):
And while I had that elevated vantage point and dusk was falling, I thought I would try to zoom in a bit and see if I could get a Moon shot too:
Then as night fell properly I went for a stroll with camera and tripod, over to Bristo Square and Edinburgh University to take a pic of the Teviot, which is the oldest purpose-built student union in the world (and resembles what Hogwart’s student union would look like if they served booze). Used to enjoy the regular CeilidhPartyDisco nights there when I was an undergrad (live band Ceilidh for first half of night, then late night disco, we had fun), still a hugely popular venue:
And then the recently refurbished and enhanced McEwan Hall at night – this is just half an hour or so after the shot at the top of the dome with the Moon rising above it, already full darkness fallen. This is where my graduation ceremony took place, we all stood in this square afterwards taking photos with our families, feels like a lifetime ago now: