Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Lesley Ann Ercolano: What Was She Thinking?

Lesley Ann Ercolano is a photographer based in Edinburgh, Scotland.

It was one of those weekends where I was determined to get out and shoot after a long and uninspiring week at work.

As usual the weather was not on my side. I was hoping that at least Cramond beach would cooperate and present itself the way I like it most, with low tide. As I got to the beach I could see the tide coming in from the distance. With me I had some old bread which I like to get rid of by feeding it to the birds. They are always very grateful despite the overdue sell by date. I walked around for some time but there were not many people around and the cold began to get to me. Feeling a bit deflated and with the rain beginning to fall I decided to feed the birds and then head home. Great numbers began to gather flying round me in big circles and hovering magically over the approaching water. Black birds joined the seagulls but not being able to compete with the seagull's greed and speed they mainly caught from the ground bread that seagulls dropped accidentally. It was a strange day and the sounds of the bickering birds were lost in the infinity of the beach. I started to get my enthusiasm back and began eagerly shooting. But my camera could not capture the true beauty and feeling of what I could see with my eyes. It was letting me down. 

With the rain damping the bread, my hands turned into slimy dough and so did my camera. Then the bread ran out. Once the bread was completely gone some birds left and the rest calmed down on the sand, black and white mixed until the final journey of the water came to an end the tide rushed in. The seagulls being able to float stayed put and the black birds, unable, made a hasty retreat where the water could not reach them. I was too busy cursing the rain and my doughy hands to immediately notice the divide that was created amongst the birds. With a double take, I thought hey hold on a minute...! And took a few shots. I missed better moments than this one in between cleaning my lens from rain drops. The birds were better spaced out. Nonetheless I enjoyed how everything in front of me evolved and I stand by the thought that everything happens for a reason.

As a child growing up in the Sardinian countryside, I was always surrounded by pets and farm animals. I have always loved animals and leaving home at 18 to start college in Scotland I was never able to get a pet as I could not commit to looking after it. Thirteen years later, feeling settled and owning my own home, I decided to get a rescue cat. I didn't know what I was letting myself in for. This hanging ginger nightmare is my cat, Trevor.

If I remember correctly it was a Saturday or a Sunday morning and finally Scotland seemed to be able to enjoy a real summer. It was warm, the sun was out and I had a few windows open at the front of my flat. Trevor began to run back and forwards like a fool, jumping in the air and off of furniture. Well, writing this I may sound as if I was surprised at this sudden outburst but it's quite a regular scenario in the Ercolano household. He began trying to jump on the second half of the window frame but with little space to stand on he kept falling. This is when I knew he was going to do one of his Trevor shows and I prepared my camera. I have taken many photos of him doing ridiculous stuff mainly hanging or jumping off of things; he is quite the character and a super a very cat kind of way...

I eventually heard the buzzing and realized he was after a huge fly. In the photo you can see a black dot on the top left of the window. I fully opened my blinds and waited for the fly to come to the glass again, hoping that Trevor would give a show for the camera and so he did. He hung several times, his back legs trying to push him up to no avail because his paws slipped on the glass. I quite frankly could not hold the camera still for laughing. It took several shots to get to this one. Oh, and the fly did not live for long after this.

I am grateful for his madness and determination. I hope to continue my little project on him and for that my house needs to carry on being destroyed for a little longer.

The weekend again. I had been drinking my morning coffee and listening to the news when the paper reviews began. On the front page of The Times was an image of a pink sheep relating to an article on farming. It turned out that these sheep belonged to a farmer here in Scotland. I began doing some research on the internet and found out that the sheep were only a drive away in the Pyramids Business Park near Bathgate. Farmer Mr. Jack had done this before. In 2007 he sprayed his sheep red. He said in an article for the BBC: "They are causing quite a stir with passers-by. It is a bit of fun and it does brighten things up. It was a bit messy and it really did take a while, but they look fantastic.”

I was intrigued and I decided to get ready, grab my camera and jump in my car. I really did not know what to expect and I avoided creating an image in my head before getting there. I tend to do that a lot, make up in my head what I'd like things to look like and dream of my ideal shot. As you can imagine I always end up disappointed but it is stronger than me and I will do it time and time again. I never learn my lesson.

After a 30 minute drive on the M8 I finally saw the pink dots in the distance. The M8 is a busy motorway and I feared that a one off drive-by would have been unsuccessful. In fact it was really unsuccessful. Luckily for me, further down the motorway there was a minor exit which took me off of the M8, and almost making a U-Turn via a smaller road I found myself back on the M8 right where the sheep were, running alongside them before joining the motorway again. I think I lost count of how many times I went round and round trying to get a shot I was happy with but either the composition or exposure was wrong or cars were in the way. Although I was able to go slowly on the smaller road, I could not stop my car completely so it all had to be done on the move. On my third or fourth attempt I noticed the road markings and how they complemented the pyramids. Suddenly the shot was not all about the pink sheep. Everything was falling into place. Everything in the photo was man-made. From the pink sheep, the edgy greenery and the road markings. Only the sky stood proud. I yet again drove round for another £20 worth of petrol until I got the shot I thought best portrayed this surreal world. 

I am not sure if I can love this photo. It is very controlled. Its representation of our appetite to be in control of our environment and our constant search for perfection makes me uneasy. Especially thinking back to what I did to get 'my perfect shot'. Certainly it tells me a thing or two about us human beings.

I love animals. Their innocence comforts me and I usually like to be around them when I am feeling annoyed with humanity. Lately I have been taking lots of pictures of animals.

It was a beautiful winter's day and Cramond beach was looking fantastic. The tide was low and sand stretched as far as the eye could see. Big puddles of water were all that was left of the sea and the still sand ripples were all that was left of its movements. The reflections were magical and the light was perfect. As usual I fed the birds and then walked as far as my wet unprepared feet would allow me.

On days like this one I forget I am not far from a city. I forget I am in Scotland and I lose track of time. There were many people on the main promenade with their dogs, bikes, children, flying kites, on skates, and eating ice cream, but I was not in the mood to join because over at the promenade in winter the sun usually is blocked by some tall trees. I stayed in the proximity of this particular spot. The setting was perfect and I knew something special could come out of it.

I stayed there for about three hours. I was focused and I frowned so much I ended up with a headache. Constantly taking photos, having cigarettes, waiting for the planes to come in, shooting the odd dog that would run past trying to catch the birds, the loved up couples hand in hand and the sporty types running their health away leaving behind their exhausted breath. And! I was glad to have had the camera over my face when these four black birds flew past. Otherwise I would have never been able to catch this. Let me tell you, luck was also on my side and quite frankly I have no idea what was going through my head when I pressed the button. I remember being compelled to look at the LCD straight afterwards saying to myself “please, please tell me I have not fucked it up?!” Phew, I hadn't. I give luck most of the credit, but I would like to think that that innate part of the photographer inside told me “NOW”.

No matter what, I had a great day (besides all the cigarettes I smoked). It made me feel good and I realized that special things really do happen. It is just a matter of being patient.

The British day at the beach. Dog walking is part of it. On nice days Cramond beach is filled with dog walkers. Unleashed dogs run around bringing their owners to meet each other. This is what I like about it all. It brings strangers together. And while their dogs meet by shaking 'hands' in their excusable dog way, people do the same with a little more finesse.

Many times it has brought me to talk to people but not owning a dog I thank my camera for that. By taking pictures of their dogs I have had the chance to hear many stranger's stories and discover a little about their lives.

I was drawn by this dog which, ignoring his owner's calls, strutted about proudly showing off his prize. You could tell he was avoiding his owner and almost teasing “look at me, look at me. Catch me if you can.” I decided to wait in one spot. I didn't expect much from a photographic point of view but I wanted to snap this for my own record. It was quite amusing. Here it came along and I followed its movements until it got caught out by his owner behind a tree. I didn't consider this for some time and a standalone shot would have not worked to really give justice to the events. The sequence sat on my drive for a long time. When revisiting this almost two years later I decided to put together a few shots from the contact sheet. It was simple but the story was told nicely.

It was an autumn morning. The air was crisp and clear and I had been taking photos in nearby Queen's Park. Most of the morning I had been walking around St. Margaret’s Loch. The autumn sun was inspiring. Parts of the water were frozen and I watched the swans and the ducks trying to break through the thin layer of ice, listening to the crackling sound they made passing by me.

This photo was taken on my return from my walk. I had spent some time taking photos of the sky and the peculiar trails the passing planes had left behind. I was not quite satisfied. Getting into my car I saw this small fallen leaf resting on my windscreen. The leaf was the perfect addition. By using dimmed flash I lit the leaf giving the impression it was illuminated by the sun and I took the time to work on different compositions until the plane trails vanished. I liked this idea of journey created by the trails. The leaf harmonized this very well and its falling gave me a sense of the fleeting time, perfect for the passing of seasons.

This photo was taken in Aberdeen and this is my Grandmother and her cat Buddy.

Some background story. My Grandma became a worrier after my Grandfather and her beloved son passed away. She was devastated to lose her son to whom she was really close, and it took many years before she was able to get back in touch with day to day life. In the years following her losses and with old age playing its part, she increasingly became worried about everything. This particular morning her neighbour, with a spray gun, was up on his roof cleaning moss. One of my Grandma's particular obsessions are her house gutters. She is forever worried they will get blocked. For most of this morning I heard her moaning about the mess her neighbour had made. Anything I said or did to try and reassure her was to no avail.

Her cat Buddy was let out for his morning wanders. I saw him on the shed and decided to take a few shots of him. Whilst taking pictures of the cat my Grandma came out and still muttering to herself walked in front of me. I shouldn't have but initially I was quite annoyed she got in the way. Then she turned towards me and looked up to the roof. I took three shots I think, one of them this one. Once we went inside, I showed her the photo I had taken. She could not understand why I liked it and what I saw in it. Although I took the time to explain to her the funny side of it she was not impressed but I was happy to have caught a slice of life in this quiet neighbourhood.

Not only does this photo mean something to me personally encapsulating my Grandmother's fragile and apprehensive personality but it also tells a story to you who view it. Is she looking for her cat? Yes, of course she is. 

Not long ago my mum told my Grandma I had won a competition with this photo, her reply to mum was: “Oh yes, that was the day I was looking for Buddy”. Bless you Grandma, I love you.

I had just left the house for an appointment. As I stepped outside my door on the opposite street I saw in the distance these two women, their backs facing my way. I was already late but I thought what the heck, took my camera out of my bag, and decided to catch up with them.

There was a distance between them and after getting closer the scenario was better than I expected. This shot was taken on a one way street. It was quiet. I took a few shoots anticipating them in gaps between the parked cars. They moved very slowly giving me the chance to get my composition right. What I liked the most was the alternate sounds created by the stick and the trolley: tick….weee….tick…weee…tick….weee, their tune resonating against the house walls.

I have to be frank. They moved me a lot. I thought of them for the rest of the afternoon. Were they sisters? Friends? What of their husbands? Their children? I wondered what they were like when they were young and if they had lived in this neighbourhood all their life. I made the assumption they lived together and imagined them in their house making tea for one another or helping each other put their scarf on before going out.

Months after this shot I saw them many times in the local supermarket. Always together, always helping each other out, always with their heads firmly towards the ground. I have now moved to another area of town and I have never seen them again. I regret not talking to them when I had the chance.

Christmas 2011 was approaching and Edinburgh's main street was closed due to the tram works. The council decided to put this closure to good use and set up festive entertainment in this area.

On this day I was meeting some friends for dinner and a walk around the Christmas market so I decided to head out beforehand and take some photos. I wandered around town. Lots of people were out and about and it was turning out to be a productive day. There were many characters around and just before meeting my friends I came across this storm trooper. Curious, I ran across the street to get closer to him. He was trying to light a cigarette but was having trouble due to his big storm trooper hands. I shot some frames and then he noticed me. In an attempt not to embarrass himself on camera while struggling to light his smoke he turned to a man that was next to him and asked him if he could light the cigarette for him. Just a bin away, a man was eating something with an attentive audience. I knew to stay put and take as many frames as I could until the scene run out of its charm. The man with the sandwich looked at me and slowly retreated out of frame. I knew I had not got the best shot yet and prayed he'd move back into my camera's view. Luckily he did and I got my photo. 

This is what I love most about living in Edinburgh. Old and new come together and some madness spices up our daily routines. I mean, I take Edinburgh castle in the background for granted but without it this photo would have not been as tempting.

My mum had flown from Italy to visit me in Edinburgh and together we took a few days to visit my Grandma in Aberdeen. This photo was taken in my Grandma's house.

When I was a kid my family took many trips from Italy to Scotland to visit my Scottish side. I was fascinated with the culture difference and loved my Grandma’s house. Many stories were told about life in this house and I was always keen to sit and listen. My Grandparents moved here when they were very young and brought up all of their four kids in these same walls. I imagined my mum as a kid playing in these very rooms. Getting ready for school, looking after her younger brother and sister. I imagined what life must have been like for her.

This shot was taken inside the bathroom. My mum told me many times that when they were kids her older brother used to torment his siblings by poking his face on the glass window. History repeated itself years later amongst my brothers, my cousins and myself.

I hated that little window. As a child I always used to be scared in case I spotted unexplained silhouettes passing by it. One of those childhood fears I guess, but still today I am very uneasy about it. I am an adult now but still that little window haunts me.
So, on this particular occasion I began reminiscing about the past and when this house was a busier place. That is when I got the idea for this photo. Grabbed my camera and my flash and called my mum up. It's not a candid. She stood outside and I took a few shots without the flash first. It was too dark. So I tried with flash and this is when the mask was forged. I wanted to create a sinister feel to this, a sense of unease. The different colour balance between inside and outside did just that. I tried a few more but my first attempt with the flash was the winner for me.


V. Roma said...

Great read. Love Lesley's work and enjoyed hearing about the process. Lesley makes it sound so easy (except for the sheep shot :)). If only!

Blake Andrews said...

If photography was easy, it would be easy.

christos said...

fantastic images!

Matt Obrey said...

Great thoughts behind these very familiar images.

Hernan Zenteno said...

I love how Leslie narrate all this common life searches, that is one of the main reasons I love photography, turn something very common in a precious thing full of life. I couldn't stop to smile like and stupid in the train when I was seeing the cat photo. I thought that the leave photo was when was flying, was a surprise discover that not. I still love that photo. Thanks Lesley and Blake to make us know her work. All the best

Angela H said...

Wonderful images and very nicely written post. Thanks for sharing.

Aaron Aardvark said...

Lurkolano's the man. It's refreshing to hear a really badass photographer speak so straightforwardly about her work. It's also encouraging to hear confirmed that the same laws of probability apply to her as to everyone else. Special things happen. 'It is just a matter of being patient.' It couldn't be simpler. >__<