As planned, on Sunday 17th April, my birthday, I caught a first class train from London Kings Cross Station to Arbroath, arriving at Hospitalfield
I was greeted by Rebecca Westguard
, a figurative artist, former Hospitalfield resident, and the Events and Audience Development Manager, who was just finishing up the Life Drawing Masterclass she was conducting in the studios of Hospitalfield.
After seeing off the artists participating in the Masterclass, she showed me to my accommodation and took me to meet Willie Payne, the Director of Hospitalfield, his wife and their two lovely dogs, Luna and Toby.
I made quick work of getting my belongings stored in my room, and snapped off a few photos of the house in the evening light (as shown above and below), then made a long job of locating the harbour, getting distracted with looking around the streets and houses as I wandered, and missing my turn a couple of times and then having to re-orient myself. I finally found my way down to The Old Brewhouse, who were luckily still open and serving dinner (just) and were a friendly bunch.
I managed to traverse a more direct route home, via the Dundee Road, musing at the sight of a territorial army base smack-bang in the centre of a caravan park, and collapsed into bed after the long 48 hours I'd had of birthday celebrations, packing, train travel and anticipation.
Monday my residency officially started. I was up early and spent most of the day wandering around the grounds and the building taking photos; losing myself in the rabbit warren that makes up much of the house, and marveling at the grandness of it all.
Having familiarised myself with the property on Monday, yesterday I went through the photos of the property I'd taken and scrawled about 2-3 A4 pages of photo ideas down before getting out of bed. I then set out for the studio previously used by Patrick Allan-Fraser to do my first self-portrait shoot.
Though I'm not skilled in any fine arts aside from photography (my painting and drawing skills are amateur, at best), I am in awe of the studios here. The massive windows, the high roofs, the beautiful light, the large spaces. They are the sort of studios that, as a photographer, I appreciate as they allow much more room to photograph full length portraits against a staged background (which often studio spaces on offer in other residencies, and in converted warehouses in Melbourne, for example, don't seem to provide), and to naturally light your subjects, even in the mists and fog of a Scottish spring. I'm not sure I will be able to take full advantage of the studios whilst I'm here, given the sort of work I am looking to complete, however, no doubt the access to these spaces will influence my direction at least a little. The images I have taken in the studio so far were greatly influenced by the setting, some of the items found in the studio, and perhaps a little by life drawing.
Today I got straight into shooting within a short time of getting up, and probably had the gardeners raising their eyes quizzically at my prancing around barefoot in colourful dresses near the rear entrance of the cottage I'm accommodated in. I had my camera angle already in mind from a shot I'd taken of the door and the adjacent section of the building the previous day, and a couple of specific images in mind. I then noticed an item near the door which I'd overlooked so many times in passing, which immediately inspired further images.
After warming myself up again over soup, I joined a tour group led by Willie to see the main rooms of the house which I'd only so far glimpsed via the website: the dining room, the drawing room, the ante room, the cedar room and the picture gallery. As impressive and inspiring as the first floor landing area is, with it's blue flocked wallpaper and red carpeting, artworks and antiques, these rooms, particularly the picture gallery, were a significant part of what had inspired me to want to undertake this residency.
Though I wasn't previously aware of the following, my interest in coming here was further validated when Willie translated the Latin on the fireplace mantle in the picture gallery as "Know Yourself"; and told how Patrick Allan-Fraser, himself a skilled painter, had filled the gallery with paintings by his friends (many members of the Royal Scottish Academy) with the condition that they were to be self-portraits or include a self-portrait in some way.
Suffice to say, I'm settling in nicely here and feeling positive about the impact this experience is likely to have on my photography, though it's still early days to know exactly what that will be.
Certainly the freedom to concentrate on my art and where I am going with it, accompanied by a chorus of birdsong, the chiming of the Hospitalfield clock, and the spectre of the bunnies and dogs flitting about the grounds (separately), free from thoughts of day jobs and deadlines, is a welcome relief, if only temporary.
And for those of you who think I've gone soft with all this fresh Scottish country air, rambling about the tranquil surrounds: remember this building has its origins as a leprosy and plague hospice, and I've already had a photographic encounter with an ex-bunny.
I'll post some of my new self-portraits tomorrow, and hopefully some more images of Hospitalfield itself. I'll hold off on the dead bunny pictures for a little while though.