Diary of a worker at Stagefright Photographic Studios.
All opinions are their own and not necessarily accurate.


Stagefright #1 Starting at the end.

May 30, 2017  •  6 Comments

Fred Sims & Bible m111-3-10Fred Sims & Bible m111-3-10Fred Sims & Bible m111-3-10<br/> b<br/>Photograph by marc marnie<br/> <br/>WORLD RIGHTS Fred Sims m111-3-10Fred Sims Fred Sims <br/>Photograph by marc marnie<br/> <br/>WORLD RIGHTS

After 23 years the Leith studio has closed. 

The end of Marnie's Mystical Emporium and the end of a brief but fabulous era.
Where once there were four day parties, weddings, jam sessions, recordings and countless portrait sittings, there are now just boxes and boxes and boxes.
The yellow bentwood chair that sat hundreds and hundreds of invariably wonderful people now sits piled high with dusty books and vinyl awaiting selection. 
The boss is fond of saying he dislikes people but loves the person - each of them has given him the images he made.
His philosophy (and he has a fair few) is that the portrait photographer doesn't take a picture, but is given it.
He never made a lot of money, was never very good at that bit, frequently forgetting to bill the client and always undercharging, but was so happy just to be doing what he does.

Through no fault of their own, he and Janet are divorcing amicably (something he refers to as Jaxit, which he thinks is funny but is probably bravado).
After five months of surprise, denial and eventual acceptance he has now entered his scariest phase: Positivity.
"Art is in the accidents" he says, "Make the pain work for you"; "Comfort is my enemy"... I could go on.
He certainly does.

He has even started meditating before going to the gym of a morning, although he is uncharacteristically quiet about it, saying only "It works".

The office continues as long as there are internet cafes.
The enormous task of digitising the negatives from 1977 - 2004 has paused for breath, but it seems he has a cunning plan.
There are some big announcements on the way...

Love, Light & Peace


First 3 - No Flash (...it was 35 years ago today)

November 23, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

As I write this I’m sitting on a rock on Sana Sands, a Westerly point of the British mainland, contemplating a remarkable house built across the bay by pioneering Victorian photographer M.E.M. Donaldson, who died the year I was born.

There was no road to speak of and materials for the building were mostly brought by sea. Donaldson made her own photographic plates, of which more were lost to processing than survived it. Her images have a serenity which belies the difficulties of their capture. They are the more valuable for their scarcity. Relative to her achievements the whole microcosm of Rock Photography has had it pretty easy. Admittedly she didn’t have to ingest large amounts of controlled substances while waiting three hours for Van Morrison or Chuck Berry to allow one quick & ill-lit backstage shot; but then again the rest of our chemicals and the film were pre-packaged, and a couple of hours in the darkroom could produce hundreds of frames. With this profligacy came carelessness – the great advantage of this being the ‘happy accident’ that so often produces ‘art’. Donaldson could ill-afford to employ the irrational yet inspired energy so essential to Rock Photography.

Relatively speaking, my experience as a Music Photographer is of a small move exaggerated more by changes in social perception of music than by the immense changes in photographic technology.

In 1978 I smuggled my dad’s old Practika into the legendary Glasgow Apollo and took my first photos, three frames of Muddy Waters supporting Eric Clapton. There was no ‘First Three – No Flash’ rule and when Clapton finally opened his set with a full-tilt version of Layla, the crowd surged forward and the bouncers struck back. A well directed blow from one broke my nose. Later, covered in blood and in some pain but still high from the show, I processed the film and found some useable images. The quality was rough but I still exhibit the first frame of Muddy, and it has some resonance, not just as my first live photo but also because it carries the context of the time.

Muddy Waters, Glasgow Apollo 24th November 1978 ©marc marnieMuddy WatersMuddy Waters, Glasgow Apollo 24th November 1978
                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Muddy Waters, Glasgow Apollo 24th November 1978 ©marc marnie

Backstage access was frequently available, and available was the only honest light I could work with. I didn’t take portraits, I was given them and my greatest photographic skill was patience.

cab calloway m27-1-34.jpgcab calloway m27-1-34.jpgcab calloway m27-1-34.jpg

Photograph by marc marnie

                                                                                                                            Cab Calloway, Theatre Royal, Glasgow 26th June 1989 ©marc marnie


dr ross m39-42-34a.jpgdr ross m39-42-34a.jpgdr ross m39-42-34a.jpg

Photograph by marc marnie

                                                                                                                                                    Dr Issiah Ross, Burnley Blues Festival 1991 ©marc marnie

Thirty-five years later Bouncers are called ‘Security Staff’ or perhaps ‘Audience Control Facilitators’ and are almost invariably nice folk, many of whom shake my hand when I enter the pit. Audiences appear more controllable (perhaps the more extreme characters have mellowed with age or died of their excesses). Photographers are ‘Togs’ and there are a hell of a lot more of us than there were. We photograph the first three songs then trudge home to our computers and deadlines, leaving the audience to photograph the rest of the show. Where once I’d shoot two or three rolls of film throughout a concert I might shoot the equivalent during those first three songs... and it is still almost impossible to make as meaningful an image as that first one of Muddy Waters.

Now I am frequently asked ‘Is Digital as good as Film yet?’

Well there is no ‘yet’.

I have amassed a collection of tens of thousands of negatives which I scan and digitise. I used a vast array of film stocks: FP4, HP5, T-Max 100/400/3200, Delta Max 100/400, Plus-X and my two absolute favourites: Tri-X and recording Film 2475. Aside from these monochrome films I shot a large amount of E6 Transparency & C41 Colour negative. In the darkroom I became an alchemist with potions and recipes and my own book of spells involving different mixes and development times based loosely upon light levels and directions during the show. I made mistakes and a many of them paid off. Art is so frequently in the accidents.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Village People, Rewind Festival, Perth 2012 ©marc marnie

The fact is that Digital hardly equates to film; it equates to MP3. The parallel roads of music and photography unexpectedly converged as the new egalitarian technology made everything available to everyone but, in so doing again eradicated many of the potential accidents. Technical excellence has become universally available through high ISO, anti-shake lenses, and Photoshop. The least relevant aspect of the truly iconic image has been improved upon no end.

A old musician friend once described me in a radio interview as having ‘the eye of a four year old’, which I chose to take as a great compliment. That sense of wonder, not financial reward, is what keeps me working. The harsh realism of the Music Business beats most things out of most people, especially the creative souls it is built upon. And Music has spent so long in the market place it is now primarily a commodity, a T-Shirt featuring today’s brief slogan.

That The X-Factor sells us a circus of mediocrity is hardly a secret. Identikit finalists confuse audiences with the current vocal gimmick and a panel of ‘industry experts’ reassure them the result is worthy. But creativity at this level must be extra-ordinary to be noteworthy. In fact ‘The X-Factor’ sells us the exact opposite of what its title suggests, it only sells us vacuous celebrity. And we have developed a voracious appetite for it. The law of supply and demand, of ‘give the people what they want’ is a self fulfilling prophecy foisted upon us by sales hungry media. Warhol was prescient in 1968 with his ‘Fifteen Minutes of Fame’, but so was W.S. Gilbert in 1889 when he wrote, When Everyone is Somebody then No-one’s Anybody.

Art IS elitism. If you doubt this uncomfortable fact look to an internet awash with countless stills and videos accompanied by soundtracks of entirely unacceptable quality. Our expectation has been eroded until the bland ease of an MP3 is generally preferable to the rich warm quality of vinyl. And so we have become complicit in the provision of our own bread and circuses. A complicity which also encourages tribute bands, artistry replaced by forgery. And our taste for ersatz increases, to paraphrase Mencken, no one ever went bust by underestimating the taste of the public.

So now we discuss music the way our forbears discussed the weather, and as they took package holidays to Majorca and Ibiza we frequent music festivals.

What began as a symbiotic creative relationship between musician and photographer is being reduced to an act of souvenir hunting during a paparazzi inspired scramble we now know as ‘First Three – No Flash’.

Footnote: Only when I researched my Muddy Waters photo did I realise today is, by absolute coincidence, its 35th Anniversary.

Not writing, but drowning

September 05, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

Adam, unsuspecting Adam Usden, arrives as I finish my second pint of IPA in Belushis BarWe greet and I invite him to climb into the back seat of the black CRV with smoked out windows which has silently, one might say malevolently, glided up to the pavement.

During the ten minute drive I explain that he will be photographed, fully clothed, sitting in a shower cabinet under running water. Following this he will probably be asked to climb into a full bath and exhale gulps of air whilst under water. If he blanches at this I don't notice as he is in the back seat. He acquiesces without a discernible quaver and we arrive at the gates to our house.

Did I mention that there are large security gates? I hadn't told Adam either. They close with a satisfying clang and we enter the compound I call Camp Koresh, though few people get the joke now, and fewer laugh.
In a theatrical aside Adam muttered ‘this is probably the closest I’ll get to being murdered by two complete strangers’.
Probably. I liked that.

While I splash around in the shower room happily cursing studio lights and cables, Adam changes into his other clothes at a safe distance. I unscrew and remove the shower door, sit him in the cubicle and turn on the water, forgetting briefly that it runs cold to start with. Adam reminds me.
'No matter, you're a writer', I say, 'plenty more where you came from'.
I’m not big on reassurance.

                                                                      Adam Usden ©marc marnie
                                                                                                                 Adam Usden ©marc marnie

I suppose it’s hard to draw the line having agreed to sit in a complete stranger’s shower, so Adam is soon writing underwater scripts at my behest, his spectacles steam up, water drips off his nose and ink runs .
More importantly, lighting is tricky, pose and angle are too complex and one of my cameras fails.

We move to the bath where I stand above him screaming UNDER… GET UNDER the water….now breath OUT! Blood… we need BLOOD... red ink? Ribena? Okay, we can use Ribena. Not my first choice. I take the picture and am instantly aware it’s a cheap shot.
That’s how it works. You only know after you've taken them.
Often just as the shutter clicks.

                                                                                  Adam Usden ©marc marnie
                                                                                                                          Adam Usden ©marc marnie

I can tell it isn't really working, and we only have one chance at this before I return to photographing other writers at The Book Festival and Adam gets his train South. Our hearts are in it, I, at least, am having a great time and Adam is proving a real gem, but it’s just too complex a shot for the time we have and the details aren't coming to life.

I move the monolight to my studio and, clamping a snoot on it, climb to the top of a step ladder with a wide angle.

                                                                               Adam Usden ©marc marnie    
                                                                                                                     Adam Usden ©marc marnie

This works quite nicely, I start to feel happier and after a few moments we agree we have something.

                                                                                Adam Usden ©marc marnie
                                                                                                                       Adam Usden ©marc marnie

If he leaves now he will still be late. It’s time to go.
Adam packs his wet clothing and works at clearing his now badly blocked sinuses.

‘Um… I’ve had an idea’ I say. ‘Come and sit at the kitchen table’.
I take three or four quick pictures with a slow shutter speed and wide aperture, doing everything wrong as usual, and yes, at the time of writing, that is probably the one we’ll use.

The only explanation I can give my sterling writer was probably not helpful,
‘I had to break your spirit before I could steal your soul’.

I wasn't meant to be involved as a photographer in this project, but someone dropped out early in the process and I willingly pulled the short straw.
The process was ridiculous, chaotic and hilarious but the wonderful thing was meeting Adam and creating  a new thing with him.
A complete stranger, he allowed us to abuse him shamefully, he agreed to all my notions, though most were pretty awful, and he did it with absolute charm and patience.

So thank you, Adam, you are so much more than I could begin to capture in a photograph.

Writer Pictures - Traverse Fifty Exhibition opens on October 21st in The Traverse, Edinburgh

Gregg AllmanGregg AllmanGregg Allman at The Usher Hall, Edinburgh
6th July 2011

Photograph by marc marnie
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