Monday, 2 June 2014

Photomarathon 2014

I'm rarely somebody who looks far ahead into the future. Holidays are never planned, and parties are impromptu. However there was something (other than my wedding!) that I've been looking forward to for over a year: Photomarathon 2014. Having only found out about Photomarathon UK a few days before the 2013 event and tickets already being sold out, I was determined to go with my partner (who is really the photographer. I stand around and make opinionated statements..) this year! Tickets were swiftly purchased as soon as I saw a tweet that they were now available, and I've been kicking my heels waiting for May 31st to come along!

"Green" from our practice
Being completely new to the Photomarathon experience we decided to have a practice run in Cardiff Bay a few months before, using a previous year's list of topics. This was disastrous. We soon edited the rules to mean we could take the photos in any order and even then I don't think any of us completed a set! This didn't really help our panicked expectations for a long, confusing day..

We arrived bright and early with a bag full of stuff we thought we'd need for the day: emergency Jaffa Cakes, pens and paper, a bag of meeples.. Oh yeah, meeples. If you haven't ventured into my blog before you'll be unaware of the fact Gareth and I are massive modern board game enthusiasts (and I even work for a board game shop!) - meeples are "mini people" often used instead of pawns in games. We chose to use a red one from the game Tournay as the star of our photos and to provide a bit of a through-line. It was pretty much our undoing...

Partaking in coffee and a cake in the Millennium Centre, we waited for the clock to tick down. What were going to be the topics? Will we be able to incorporate Fred the Meeple into each shot? Would another slice of cake hurt? Finally everyone gathered and there was a rousing, celebratory speech to commemorate ten years of Photomarathon. Then we were off, we bustled out of the door and were handed our fate for the next four hours. They were: 1. Me, Myself and I (plus entry number) 2. Street Level 3. Camouflage and 4. Ten. It was time for an excited wander around the bay, throwing ideas back and forth.

1. Me, Myself and I

Like everybody else we immediately were drawn to the idea of three images of a person (meeple) for Me, Myself and I. As we wandered we saw more and more people taking those shots though and struggled to come up with something more original. Failing to find inspiration, we thought about ideas for the other categories. We spotted red chairs in the Millennium Centre shop and darted over there to ask permission to photograph Fred against them. This granted, we did a test shot (yes, well before the first two images were even chosen - we were back in our dangerous practice-run territory.) We loved the bright red background against Fred, it was perfect for camouflage. Gareth already had a strong idea of what he wanted to do for Street Level so Me, Myself and I was really holding us up.

2. Street Level

In the end we went back to our original idea, even though we wished we could come up with something more unusual we were hitting a blank. A trip to the car for a hand mirror and that was sorted. Now we could move on! We headed back towards the Bay through the Red Dragon Centre. I kept walking but Gareth had stopped. "What? We need to get a move on - we've wasted an hour doing nothing!" I complained. He pointed out the amazing expanse of bright red wall to our left. Our camouflage shot had just been improved. We quickly headed into the Bay to find somewhere to photograph somebody with over-long jeans (Some five-foot short-arse with a board game addiction.. not a clue who.) with Fred directly in the foreground. We headed back to the Red Dragon Centre and the first three shots were quickly in the bag after an hour of deliberation!

3. Camouflage

Ten. Ten was a struggle. There were a lot of literal things we could have gone for - ten meeples being the most obvious, but Ga really wanted something a bit different. As usual I stuck to stating the obvious "We should have realised "ten" would be a category - it's the tenth anniversary!" I don't think Gareth found it very helpful. Back in the Red Dragon Centre we headed into the Bowling Arcade, desperate for inspiration. The penny-pushers were where we hit gold - not only for 1p or 2p, there were machines full of 10ps! We tried out different ideas, having Fred and loads of 10ps in the coin tray to make it look like he was a prize, but it just wasn't a very nice shot. Gareth went over to ask the man whether we could put Fred inside the machine for a moment, explaining about the photomarathon. He was incredibly helpful and opened up the machine for us - despite it being a really busy day! We only had a few moments to take the shot so it may not be the best angle or focus - but it certainly involved the most gumption!

4. Ten

It was time for the pub and some Pepsi. Looking through our photos we were reasonably happy at this stage - it was going okay, maybe some weren't perfect but they weren't awful either! Avoiding awful was pretty much where our hopes lay for the day. Then it was back to the Millennium Centre to pick up the second set of topics. 5. We're All In This Together 6. Attention to Detail 7. Control 8. Crossed Wires. A pattern seemed to develop at this stage - Gareth would immediately have plans for the second shot, the third shot we had loads of thoughts for but the first would cause a disagreement and the last we would be utterly stuck for ideas for.

We also started to really regret using the meeple. He was a pain when we were idea-less, often tethering us to very literal interpretations of ideas and sometimes felt very "tacked on" to the shots (if he feels like that now, wait until you see the worn-out Aimee and Gareth's idea for topic twelve!) For, "We're All In This Together," Gareth wanted to do a photograph somewhere that showed the divide between rich and poor. This slowly became more and more impossible to capture - even with a bus journey to central Cardiff. Tips for future board-game-playing photomarathoners (surely, there are others out there!) - meeples look utterly rubbish lining up to get into job centres. Even when you try multiple job centres..

We had to go for a more literal understanding of the topic in the end. So after the job centre crawl, we went around searching for a bottle of "This Water" to put the meeples in. After visiting multiple Tescos, Sainsburys, Boots, Poundlands, coffee shops, Waitrose and not finding it anywhere, I googled it to discover Gareth and I are way behind the times: its name was changed back to "Juicy Water" in 2013. Bum. We'd lost two hours to hopeless shots and fruitless quests. We were a little stressed and grumpy at this stage(!) We returned to the Bay - our success had been far better over there! We decided to put the meeples into a perilous situation, first soaking them (meeples float so they didn't look like they were drowning, sadly..) and eventually burying them up to their heads. Topic five broke our spirit, a little, but it was finally finished:

5. We're All In This Together
The only trouble we had with number six (Attention to Detail) was Gareth's rapidly dying phone battery. He wanted to include Fred in a different way and succeeded with this typo-laden photograph:

6. Attention to Detail
We needed a quick-y at this stage, we were getting tired and needed food and the next set of topics was going to turn up soon. Plus we still had no idea what we were going to do for number eight (crossed wires.) Control took us to sitting on a bench while I controlled a meeple. I was tempted to do this actually on a game board, but that would have meant popping to my work in town to borrow something as we didn't have anything suitable with us, and that would have added a lot of wasted time to our day.

7. Control
It was time for the next topics so we headed to the Millennium Centre, still musing about what to do for Crossed Wires. We met a lovely employee who was sorting things out in the fuse cupboard behind the stage, and a quick snap of Fred meant we had finished the four topics before the next four were released! This delighted us as it was something we hadn't been expecting after our long search for number five.

8. Crossed Wires

The next four topics were: Dying of the Light, Stacked Up, Join the Dots and That's A Wrap! Our pattern of the first one being tricky to agree on, the second two going well and the last one being somewhat hopeless kicked in again. We went for food - maybe our brains would work better with a pint and a burger inside them! The Dying of the Light ideas were split between a Dylan Thomas book we picked up (meeples are hopeless at reading though..) or a moodily lit shot. We asked if we could use the cupboard in the pub, but were sadly told it would have to go through their PR department! Fair enough, we finished our meals and headed back into the Bay and found a nice shadowed area:

9. Dying of the Light

Stacked Up was a simple one - we had brought plenty of meeples with us and they joined Fred to build a pyramid. Sadly not a very high one as I had very clumsy fingers:

10. Stacked Up
We were down to the last two - and were still milling around in the Millennium Centre. We had considered finding somewhere the had loads of decorative dots and using string or chalk to shape a meeple through them, or alternatively just draw one on some paper. Luckily, however, there was an amazing blackboard in the Millennium Centre and our join the dots was born:

11. Join The Dots

That's A Wrap, That's A Wrap.. I'll admit we were idea-less at this stage, the marathon had broken us and I was worrying about having enough sleep for work the next day. We piled up our bags, camera cases and meeples and went to take a photo. We just couldn't get a nice shot of it though, it looked like what it was: a pile of stuff taken by a tired photographer. We were very jealous of the clapperboards we saw others had found! In the end, Gareth ran away to Sainsbury's, telling me he'd had an idea and would be back shortly - he arrived back with the final wrap in the shop! And here was our somewhat sloppy finish:

12. That's A Wrap
We absolutely loved our first photomarathon. It was a long day and we learnt a lot of lessons that we can't wait to bring to next year's event. Next year we'll aim to do an unthemed set, which will hopefully allow us to get a bit more creative with our ideas! And maybe we'll improve our stamina a little as well.. It was great day, and we loved milling around Cardiff with hundreds of other photographers. It's been very exciting to see there photos cropping up on flickr. We're looking forward to seeing even more at the exhibition at Cardiff Story in The Hayes, which will be open from 21st June to 5th July, 10am - 4pm. See you there!