One of the great joys of living in the middle of nowhere, and more importantly a middle of nowhere that offers unparalleled natural beauty is that I have the opportunity to finally do more shooting out of doors.
Last summer I was lucky enough to meet and work with one of the finest models I have ever worked with, a model who I had come to be aware of because I had worked with her good friend Floofie a couple of years earlier, just before we went to The Philippines, and that model is Sainte Merrique.
Now with the opportunity to shoot in the beautiful surroundings of Strathard, and with enough space to offer hospitality to my collaborators, I am humbled to say that Merrique agreed to come and spend some time with us as a part of her travels in Europe this year. She and her partner and travelling companion, The Sudan, have been delightful company and into the bargain she and I spent some time shooting together. There will be more to follow, but here are some images from our time together.
I had been living in Strathard for about ten months when I first met Rob. I was out on the dam, looking up at the stars, secure in the knowledge that I was alone, when a voice quite clearly and rudely addressed me;
“What in the name of blue blazes are you doin’ here?”
I turned to see a ghostly figure, dressed in a great kilt and bearing a sword at his hip, long hair and beard well kept but flowing freely, advancing toward me from the southern end of the dam.
I had never seen a ghost before and indeed I was not sure that I was seeing one then either. My first reaction was that I was the target of an elaborate practical joke; the sassenach, having relaxed into his new life in the glen, was now to be tormented by Scots jokers pretending to be ghostly highlanders. I shook my head and blinked, trying to banish the shade with reason, but it was no use, there he stood, or more correctly floated about three inches above the dam’s stones. He glared at me fiercely and his body language was quite plain; I was meant to feel threatened and no mistake.
In the end I had to accept that this visitation was not going to end as abruptly as it began and that I probably needed to answer the ghost’s question, so I tried to banish my bemusement that I was actually going to talk to a ghost and answered:
“I live here, just down there in fact that small house, just below the dam.”
I pointed to the small white house that my family were all sleeping in. There was a low gentle light emerging from a couple of windows, but on the whole the place was dark and quiet.
“I do not remember that place… Nor any Englishman out of uniform roaming free in this glen.”
Came his halting reply. It occurred to me that something odd was going on, if for no other reason than this ghost sounded for all the World like Liam Neeson and was not in fact speaking either Gaelic or even old-fashioned English with a Scots brogue, where his mode of dress and evident dead-ness would have perhaps demanded that he were a little more in keeping with the eighteenth century. He seemed confused suddenly, shaken from his former confident bluster, and I saw him examining his hands, as if he seemed to mark how insubstantial they were; as if he were conscious that perhaps he was the one out of place.
We stood there, looking at one another for a few moments more, and then he spoke again;
“Ah, I seem to have forgotten myself again. I’m dead you see. Sorry to have bothered you, but I saw you here and for a moment I was taken back to when I was a breathing man, and I would never have suffered a stranger to pass so close to my home in the night.”
It was a shocking admission. On the one hand I did not know a thing about ghosts, but I had rather expected that they rarely knew what they were, let alone be so matter-of-fact about their odd state of lingering activity. On the other hand I had not really considered how out of place I was in so many ways. My family and I were settling in nicely to life in Scotland, but for all of our distant connections with the land we were now calling home, neither my wife nor I were well versed in the history of the Highlands, and yet here I was meeting it. I decided to take the opportunity for what it was, and settled into the idea of talking to the ghost.
“That’s alright. I don’t suppose it can be easy being a ghost, watching the World go on and being unable to take part in it as you once did. Did you live around here in life then?”
The ghost nodded and relaxed, appearing to slip into a mode that was familiar to it, one of acceptance and awareness, a “yes, I am a ghost and now I am going to talk to this living person here, because that is all I have and at least they can see me” type of demeanour.
“Not many folk can see me you know? I don’t know what it is that marks out those that can, but most of the living would never have heard my initial outburst as you did. I should introduce myself, you may find you have heard of me, others have that I have met over the years. I am Rob MacGregor, sometimes known as Rob Campbell or Rob Roy. I was Laird of Inversnaid at the turn of the eighteenth century, then outlawed in conflict with the Duke of Montrose. Like I say, you may have heard of me.”
I imagine I looked quite comical, flapping my jaw, soundlessly in the moonlight. I mean, sure, any ghost is going to claim to be the ghost of Rob Roy, but he was believable, if nothing else. I was still having trouble with the lilting Irish brogue of Liam Neeson every time that he spoke, but he certainly had the look of the late great clan chieftan, cattle rustler, blackmailer and all round delightful scoundrel, so I was poised to believe him utterly.
“Yes, I have heard of Rob Roy MacGregor, everyone has. Just one question though, why are you not speaking Gaelic?”
At this the ghost laughed, his face softening and his features seeming to transform into a much softer, warmer countenance.
“I am, it’s something about the ghost situation. You hear what I am saying in the way most likely to make sense to you, if I tried to speak to you in my halting English you would hear the speech of a child. I speak as I did and whomsoever I meet hears me in their own tongue, in their own way. If you were from the low countries you would hear me in Flemish or Dutch, France in French and so on.”
I nodded, that made a lot of sense; what point would there be in being a ghost if no one could ever understand you.
“So, Englishman, what is your name?”
I settled down on the low wall on the west side of the dam and took a deep breath;
“I am James Inderwood, a very great pleasure to meet you, Sir.”
I answered as I effected a solemn, but token bow.
“Well met then, James Inderwood. Forgive my initial ill humour, as I said I forgot myself and my condition. As you might imagine it is a lonely lot to haunt the land for as long as I have, so I ought to treat those that I meet from the living world with a little more civility. Alas being a ghost is not always a rational estate. Tell me, Sir, what brings you out into the darkness on a night such as this, while your family sleeps in your bothey o’er yonder?”
I decided not to be offended by his calling our very nicely converted shepherds’ cottage a bothey;
“Well, to be honest with you Rob, may I call you Rob?”
He nodded his assent
“To be honest with you, I was having trouble sleeping, and it’s come to be my custom when sleep will not take me that I wander up here and look at the stars until the fresh night air starts to make me drowsy and then I take myself away inside again. I suppose it goes back to when I used to smoke and I would do that outside, so as not to make the children breathe the stuff in, and now even without the habit I find that the night air is calming. That, and I love to look up at the heavens and marvel at the stars.”
His smile widened and I was struck by the odd notion that I was having a human moment with a spirit, with the unquiet soul of a man who lived and died under the same stars, in the same glens, but three hundred and more years before.
I took a moment to take his form in once again, to appraise it more closely, and based on the little I knew about his history I had to assume that he was haunting the glen in the mode that he had adopted in the time after the Duke of Montrose had declared him outlaw, when he and his family had been kicked off his land in Inversnaid and he had waged his own private blood feud against Montrose in response to what many would agree was poor and unjust dealing. I screwed up my courage and decided to ask him about that time, after all who would not want to know about high adventure, love, betrayal and blood in the highlands of the early seventeen hundreds.
“Rob, I hope you don’t mind me asking, and tell me if you do, but what was it like to be on the run from Montrose and harrying him, his men and his property after the wrongs he did you and your family?”
He fixed me with a stern look, but nodded and seemed agreeable to tell me the tale. I settled back against the stones and prepared myself for a story.
I was digging out some photos to send to a former collaborator / subject, the lovely Floofie, and I found myself looking again at some of the images that I did not select and work on the first time around. Overall I stand by the choices I had made, but I did find one that I realised I might be able to do more with now, and that might work well to do a version that would “fit” with the other work I’ve done since we got back from Manila, so here it is…
While I was away in Asia, Batman Versus Superman came out in cinemas. Despite my expectation that it would be a great addition to the DC filmic universe, the reception of the movie was broadly negative. I made my peace with that and thought that at some point I would pick up a cheap DVD and make my own mind up. I rather put it to the back of my mind.
While we were away I did not buy physical media; region coding is a hit an miss issue and I did not want to have even a handful of Bluray discs that were going to be useless to me once we got back to the UK or indeed ended up somewhere else. As such when the longer cut of Batman Versus Superman came out on Bluray I hoped to be able to buy it from iTunes, based on the much more favourable response this version received. Again I was thwarted; the UK iTunes Store only offered the “Ultimate Edition” as an iTunes Extras, streamable only, version, which received very poor reviews for being hard to watch, low quality and just generally disappointing as it could not be watched offline. As such, once more I put it to the back of my mind and tried not to be disappointed that while most people were still quite down on the new DC offering, several of my friends were much happier with the extended version of the film. For what it may be worth, and expecting to be derided by many, I had some faith even after the initial disappointment, that if allowed to release his actual vision, Zack Snyder would be able to pull off the ideas and plot and that the film would stand. My defence of Zack Snyder is a MUCH longer post than I want to make right now, but maybe one day I will get around to it.
Anyway, we arrived back in the UK in March, and there was a flurry of house-hunting, starting a new job, lots of business travel for me and before I knew it I was killing an evening on one of my trips to London by taking myself to see Wonder Woman on the big screen. Wonder Woman exceeded my expectations and I think those of many other viewers as well, proving not only that DC could produce a great super hero movie, but that a woman could carry one and a woman could direct one – not that I had been in any doubt on either score, but the industry being what it is / was…
So finally, after another six months I had the time and the inclination last night to catch up with the DC Universe and so I was coming to Batman versus Superman after having already seen Wonder Woman, and having the added benefit of only seeing the extended version.
I do not know how people have fun any more… I thought that the film was fantastic. Amy Adams is Lois Lane, Laurence Fishburne completely persuades as Perry White, Jeremy Irons is the best Alfred we have seen yet, and for my money by a great, great margin despite my abiding love for Michael Caine. And then there are the principles…
Henry Cavill is every inch the Superman in my head, dragged bodily from the pages of comics I have read, completely believable as a conflicted hero, aware of his insane power, aware of not belonging, aware that he will always be slightly the wrong shape for one aspect of his world or another. Ben Affleck, an actor that I have always felt has been unfairly punished by critics and the populace alike, entirely embodies the late-career Bruce Wayne / Batman of the Dark Knight Returns. He is exactly note perfect, for an older, grizzled, disaffected Bruce Wayne, searching for meaning, for a legacy, burdened with a looming understanding that just pulling up weeds is an endless and thankless task. Diana Prince is also completely on-point, but I think that I may be seeing her in a different light to the original cinema audience, as I felt that the portrayal was completely in keeping with the film I saw about her first. Finally there is Lex Luthor. I can remember criticisms of the characterisation and performance that he was too manic, too self-assured, too geeky and so on and so forth, but honestly I felt that as a portrayal of a young Lex Luthor, filled with anger and hatred for Superman, utterly driven to unmask the dangerous alien and cement his place as the pre eminent force in the modern world by force of intellect was pretty much spot on. I think that people just don’t like Jesse Eisenberg and have some narrow belief that Lex Luthor can only be Gene Hackman, but I suppose that I may be over simplifying things.
The machinations of the blame plot, to persuade Batman that Superman is dangerous and must be dealt with and the wheels within wheels that Luthor goes into in order to put the pieces into play while retaining a reasonable shot at having apparently clean hands and have all the blame fall upon Batman is actually really well done, even if there is a hubris in Luthor’s final actions as there would be people that knew that Luthor had been given access to Zod’s body. The arc that Superman takes, and the evolution of his relationship with Lois, both as Superman and Clark is believable and satisfying, and in keeping with the years of to-ing and fro-ing in the comics. Even the conflicts that Clark has with Perry over what they ought to be doing as a newspaper speak well to the larger internal conflicts he is dealing with about purpose and accountability.
All in all the film delivers and it does not shy away from the darkness that has long since been the territory that DC has occupied by comparison to Marvel.
I can’t single the film out as the best Batman movie of all time, simply because I love the “early years” of the character and feel that the Nolan trilogy does an excellent job of exploring the genesis and early experiences of Bruce Wayne and Batman, but for me, as a comics fan that came into comics through The Dark Knight Returns and The Killing Joke and Death of Superman, here were familiar, compelling representations of some of my favourite characters in fiction, doing what I would expect them to do, and ultimately saving the day, though at great cost. As such it’s a firm 9.5/10 from me, and I am excited to see Justice League when it hits Bluray later this year. I expect, based on the spoiler-free reviews I have seen, that I will continue to be in the minority, that I will continue to warm to Batfleck, that seeing more of Wonder Woman will be a good thing(tm) and that adding in other exciting and very DC characters can’t really hurt at all.
I await your flame-war with joy in my heart…
P.S. If I had one criticism of Batman Versus Superman: Dawn of Justice, it would be this; “WTF, Jimmy Olsen is CIA and you let him take a bullet to the head in the first 5 minutes! DUDE!”. Look I am a photographer, a nerd / geek and a guy; if I am honest with myself Jimmy Olsen is the only DC character I have any hope of really identifying with. Well that and Olsen was my nickname at work for a while, long ago…