I really enjoy photographing people. Although I've photographed a couple of weddings for family members I'm not cut out to be professional wedding or portrait photographer. The bride and groom were always delighted with my results and so was I but I always told myself afterwards that I'd got away with it as so much could have gone wrong on the day. Wedding and portrait photography is an art form in it's own right and difficult to do well. It's also very stressful so I've never been tempted to go down that route with my photography.
Everyone though has the opportunity to shoot street photography, but I have this uncanny ability to draw the subjects attention whenever I raise the camera to my eye no matter how long or short the lens is that I'm using or my distance away from the subject. I always feel as though I'm intruding in people's lives when I'm targeting some-one in the street. I'm a magnet for attention on the street with a camera in my hands and find it impossible to blend into the background.
Strangely enough I have the opposite effect on Zoo animals who turn their backs on me whenever I raise my camera to shoot. My wife thinks it's hilarious. My own beautiful Blue Merle Border Collie "Luna" drops her head, turns and skulks away to her bed whenever I try and photograph her. She acts as though I'm going to euthanize her. "Don't shoot me", she's thinking. Only the temptation of a treat will provide the chance of a portrait.
|"Luna - A rare portrait success|
Being a club photographer, the lack of people shots in my portfolio was a constant problem when it came to the "People" category in the monthly competition held each season.
By chance in 2012 two members of the club were volunteer organisers of a new local Wirral arts festival, the "Wirral Festival of Firsts" with local celebrity John Gorman as its patron and leader. John was a member of the 60's group The Scaffold and the TISWAS TV show and through his contacts a number of celebrities, musicians, poets and bands mixed with local Wirral talent took part annually in the tiny Hoylake based arts festival taking place over 9 days. Proceeds from ticket sales went to the Claire House Children's Hospice on the Wirral Peninsula and it continued until Covid struck in 2020.
|John Gorman and Sue Boardman|
Members of my photo club were asked to be volunteer photographers and I jumped at the chance to photograph live performances, poetry evenings, music day in the bars and cafes of Market Street, art exhibitions, street performances, parades and family galas.
Now I'd never photographed a live stage performance before and all of the action was taking place in the local churches and village halls. This provided me with some challenges.
As you can imagine the Churches relied on standard lighting plus some natural light streaming through stained glass windows with often cluttered untidy backgrounds. A high camera ISO and fast lenses were a priority and most of the early shots were taken with the Sony A77, Sigma 70-200 f2.8, Sony 35mm f1.8 and the Samyang 8mm f3.5.
The village halls had a standard small stage, simple cloth background and some stage lighting which helped to keep the image noise lower but no opportunity to move around and shoot anything creative.
The brief was to photograph the acts and the audience to show people enjoying the festival. I had access to all areas but obviously a flashgun was not allowed and I needed to be as discreet as possible so as not to disrupt the performance.
Miraculously, wearing an official festival T-shirt and with a camera in my hand people would suddenly stop and smile at the camera for a photograph instead of glaring at me. I had suddenly become acceptable as a street photographer.
|"Speeches" at Melrose Hall|
"Access all areas" during many of the performances in tightly filled halls sometimes limited me to shooting from the back of the hall. In slightly bigger venues I was able to tiptoe down the sides and photograph from the side of the stage. To capture the performance and audience together I found the Samyang 8mm f3.5 fisheye lens useful and very forgiving of the poor light.
|Wirral Ukulele Orchestra|
|Wirral Ukulele Orchestra|
The local Churches provided the best opportunity to move around and gain a different viewpoint but care was needed when shooting because of the low light. Using the Sony A77 I daren't shoot any higher than ISO 1600 and it was important to know the limitations of my gear and how far I could push it. Camera low light performance has improved so much since 2012.
|Soprano Barbara Ruzsics|
Photographing a performance in the large poorly lit Hope Church in Hoylake can be demanding but I was fortunate with the natural light from a window falling on Barabara Ruzsics during her performance. I was equally fortunate with the natural light from the same church window falling on Ned Evett and grateful for the space to move to the side of the stage.
|Ned Evett and his fretless steel guitar|
Hope Church was the main venue for the bigger acts during the festival and I was delighted to be present to record memorable performances from the very funny comic and poet Ian McMillan and the renowned classical guitarist Craig Ogden.
|Comic and Poet Ian McMillan|
|Classical Guitarist Craig Ogden|
My aim when photographing the performances was to try and capture the performers expressions, to show emotion and I think that's come out in my festival shots. One memorable evening at a local village hall featured the TISWAS team getting back together again to reminisce. Host John Gorman, Bob Carolgees and Chris Tarrant in front of a full house in the village hall talking about old times.
|Bob Carolgees and Spit the dog|
|The TISWAS Team - John Gorman, Chris Tarrant and Bob Carolgees|
I've had the privilege over the six years that I volunteered at the festival to be present during some quiet intimate "Audience With" moments when celebrities are talking about their lives and careers to an entranced audience. On those occasions it was especially important to be as discreet as possible, get a few shots in the bag then sit back and enjoy the rest of the evening.
One such event was "An Audience with Andy McClusky" in a hotel lounge in Hoylake along with 50 paying guests. The front man of the band OMD (Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark) is a proud Wirral man and had his small audience spellbound.
|Andy McClusky of OMD|
Mike (McGeer) McCartney gave a similarly small audience a fascinating talk about life growing up with his brother Paul in Liverpool, to his early career with the 60's band The Scaffold and his work now as a photographer.
Mike, who is a local resident turned up to show his support for comic and presenter Harry Hill when he previewed his artwork which hadn't been seen in public before. This was another coup for the Wirral Festival of Firsts and I was lucky to have been invited to photograph the unveiling of his exhibition.
|Mike McCartney and Harry Hill|
|Harry Hill and his art|
Over the years John Gorman has been able to persuade a number of top celebrities to give their time in aid of the Claire House Children's Hospice and "An Audience With Willie Russell" was a sellout at the Holiday Inn Hotel in Hoylake in 2013. It was a difficult venue to photograph as the host John Gorman and Willie Russell were backlit by a large window with blue voile curtains on a bright Summer evening and there was little opportunity to move around a packed room. Still I was able to grab a shot of Willie Russell in a pensive mood when reflecting on his career as a dramatist, lyricist and composer.
My association with the Wirral Festival of Firsts ended in 2018. The headline act of that year were the brilliant jazz duo Jacqui Dankworth and Charlie Wood. In that year they gave a heaving West Kirby village hall three hours of wonderful music. By this time my camera gear had moved on to the Sony A6300 mirrorless with far better low light performance and auto focus making photographing live performance much easier.
|Charlie Wood and Jacqui Dankworth|
I've done a lot of name dropping in this blog post so far because volunteering as an amateur event photographer has given me some great opportunities to get up close to celebrities but my most successful and enjoyable photographs in the "People" category of my club's monthly competition have been of ordinary members of the public and the local talent who have taken part in the Wirral Festival of Firsts over the years. Without them there would be no festival.
|Music Day in Smooth Cafe|
|Music Day in Smooth Cafe|
|Music Day in Market Street|
|Ukulele Workshop for Beginners|
The final Saturday of the festival was traditionally music day with buskers, local musicians and bands occupying the bars and cafes along Market Street in Hoylake well into the evening. A Jazz Band marching through Hoylake one year brought the traffic to a stop bringing a feeling of New Orleans to the small town. Luckily, we were blessed by good weather that week.
|New Orleans Jazz Band in Market Street|
And finally a reminder of why the Wirral Festival of Firsts was created in 2012. It was to draw the arts to Hoylake, encourage local residents to take part, to have fun and at the same time raise funds for Claire House Children's Hospice and I've had a lot of fun photographing the live performances and people over the six years that I volunteered.