Jo's Blog

Archive for the ‘Portrait’ Category

Alan Craigie

with 2 comments

It was only supposed to be the blogging equivalent of a gap year but somehow, once out of the habit, it became inexplicably impossible for me to get back into the habit again. So three years have passed and I have made a new year’s resolution to gently begin flexing my blogging muscles again.

I am moved to write again because of the loss of a very special friend, Alan Craigie. I think it will be difficult for me to truly do him justice in this post however, but having a written record of this superbly creative, witty, and intelligent man seems somehow vital and I wanted you, unknown people in cyberspace, to know him a little better.



Alan passed away in September and in the four months since, we have begun to miss him more acutely than ever. He was a truly unique individual; softly spoken but devastatingly witty, generous but anarchic, his intelligence surpassed us all by far. The breadth of the things he knew about and the depth of what he could remember was truly astounding – 20 years after reading a book or seeing a film when all that was left in my hazy memory was that ‘I liked it’ or alternatively, that ‘I didn’t like it’, Alan could recall all the plot intricacies and describe the characters in the most minute detail.

He was always our barometer of good taste; quirky and stylish in all things whether it was interior design, taste in film, music, books or food. I discovered so many new things through Alan – King Creosote, Modest Mouse, Murakami, Powell and Pressburger films, Eames, Fos, soft shell crab, Pedro Ximenez to name but a small handful …

Having both studied English Literature at Glasgow Uni we both decided, over a post-tennis match pint, to do a post-graduate course in technology and media. Alan immediately saw the design potential in Flash and whereas the rest of us spent our time learning how to make a circle bounce crudely across a computer screen, Alan went off and in a week had created a beautiful, pulsating jelly fish that hypnotically followed your cursor around the screen. He never worked for anyone but himself after finishing that course, such was the demand for his unique mix of design flair and technical expertise.

He was creative in so many ways. Our house, as with so many of his friends’, is full of his exquisite art and photographs, gifts from him over the years. In my own pursuit of photography, Alan was my litmus test; if he thought the image was good, then I knew it had merit. I remember being high on a mountainside in the Himalayas, thinking how best to do justice to the breathless landscape around me and saying very explicitly to myself ‘How would Alan take this photo? What would he do now?’ Many of my own images, I feel, are shamelessly influenced by some of his images.

He received the devastating diagnosis of an aggressive, inoperable brain tumour in June 2014. We tried to meet up as much as possible in the months that followed; for Portuguese custard tarts or churros or a craft beer – all the things he loved. All dependent upon the rounds of treatment, the fatigue, his declining health. The last time I saw him, H, F, Alan and I all shared a chilled beer and a delicious Ninja bun in the Hospice, with a warm breeze blowing outside, as if life was continuing as normal. Looking back now, I think we spent much of last year in a wilful state of denial; that he would beat this terrible thing and we’d get our clever, witty, gentle friend back – but that was not to be.

This blog is predominantly about photography so I’m sharing some of the pictures I took in the immediate aftermath of Alan’s diagnosis, when we realised how few pictures we actually had of him, and suddenly felt strongly that we needed images of the artist as well as the art. 


But these photos are, of course, indistinguishable from the time and context in which they were taken; wrapped around the shock and fear of what this diagnosis meant, the anticipation of the treatment that was to come, the awkwardness in my reason for taking the photos in the first place, Alan’s discomfort in being the subject of the photos, and now, of course, the profound sadness at his loss.

You can see some of his best work on his Flickr site – craigie3000 – the most recent images he uploaded, taken during Neue Reekie in June 2015, indicative of how the tumour was affecting his sight but the ones that go back for years before that are so beautifully composed, perfectly capture moments; of Portobello, of the Highlands, of his beautiful boys and of Orkney – his spiritual home. They have a silence and a timelessness that I can only humbly aspire to in my own photography.

Alan’s father-in-law wrote the following poem, inspired by a painting Alan had given him about 25 years previously. It was read at the funeral and I have re-read many times since – I find it very moving and think it strikes a perfect note of farewell.

Shore Leave
by Bill Fulford

We watched them go
From the boat
Heads held high
Walking along the quay
Their footsteps echoing
As they went on up
Into the town

We called out to them
They heard us
Though none looked back
So we called again
This time subdued
Then said good bye
And let them go


Alan Craigie
31st Dec 1969 – 10th Sep 2015


Written by Spiller

January 17, 2016 at 6:35 pm

Five days, fifteen films and fat like fatty fat fat full of filo pastries…

leave a comment »

This interesting little journey started, unknowingly, last summer at the Edinburgh International Film Festival when, after a Q&A with the fascinating film director, Eyal Sivan, I hesitantly, politely, nervously asked, in an ever-so British way, if he would mind awfully if I took his photo. He was chatting with some folks in the Filmhouse Bar and he was more than happy for me to take his picture. The bar was buzzy with festival go-ers, there wasn’t much time or space in which to think or compose a photo but I asked him to ignore me and carry on his conversation, which he did, and while he was talking I took a couple of pictures. I wanted to capture something of his mesmerizing intensity and I hope that with this resulting image I managed to do that.

Eyal Sivan

It was a momentary encounter. Of no significance really. But a pretty decent image to come from it (apart from the annoying lights on his forehead but this was a busy cafe so you have to take what you can get!). I posted the picture on this blog, as is my habit from time to time, and thought no more about it.

Then earlier this year, while browsing the internet for photos of Eyal Sivan, I came across this picture below. I took a double take at first. Much as this might prove to be the pinnacle of my career as a photographer so far, to have a photo I took on the front cover of a magazine, since I had no idea that it was going to be used, I wasn’t sure that this photo could be mine.

However,  yep, there again were those annoying little light flashes on his forehead which confirmed that this was indeed one and the same photo.


I sought some advice about what to do because this was completely foreign territory for me, copyright, image rights, blah, blah, blah… but crucially, for me, as a non-professional, I have to say that ultimately I was very flattered that another Film Festival chose my image to put on the front of their brochure.

We came to a very satisfactory compromise. As well as profound apologies for the oversight in failing to credit the image to me, I got the fantastic bonus of free passes to the Thessaloniki Film Festival earlier in November and spent a totally brilliant 5 days, watching 3 films a day, escaping the cold and wet of the UK for the glorious sunshine, fine food and great films that Thessaloniki had to offer.

The highlights, for me, were the Aki Kaurismaki series, Constantina Voulagis’ ‘A.C.A.B. All Cats are brilliant’, and Lore by Cate Shortland. The programme was excellent and female film directors featured quite prominently which was great and having gone to the Festival with my lovely friend Esther, who is herself a very talented director, it was all in all a perfect few days.

Picture 6

(c) Esther Richardson

(and in keeping with the spirit of the post, I just stole this photo off Esther’s Flickr stream :-))

Albanian Portraits

with 2 comments

Some photos I took in Tirana. I do always try and ask permission (if appropriate) before taking someone’s portrait but in Albania this was problematic as a ‘Yes’ is expressed by shaking the head from side to side and ‘No’ by an emphatic nod (reversed by those who deal with tourists more frequently). I was never quite sure if I had permission or not, I just hoped that a lot of smiling on my part would help either way.

(c) Jo Spiller, All Rights Reserved

The gentleman sitting outside the Etham Bey mosque, Skanderburg Square, Tirana

(c) Jo Spiller, All Rights Reserved

Inside the Etham Bey mosque, Skanderburg Square, Tirana – the lovely man who put all the lights on so that we could see its beautifully painted interior walls.

(c) Jo Spiller, All Rights Reserved

One very impressive moustache – in front of a tyre shop, Tirana

Written by Spiller

October 28, 2012 at 10:10 pm

Michelle Shocked

leave a comment »

(c) Jo Spiller

Last night I got to see my all time favourite singer songwriter doing a gig in Edinburgh. She adorned the ceiling of my bedroom growing up and I must have spent hours, days, weeks between the age of about 17 to 23 listening to her albums, dreaming of running off to live on an Amsterdam houseboat and wishing I could write poetry like she sang it.

Twenty years of living later and she’s still the cool punk rocker she was then. And I still can’t write poetry.

Last night she played in someone’s front room in a house, an amazing house, The House in Edinburgh.

With 50, maybe 60 people in the room, two sofas away from me.

It was amazing. I was quite the star struck teenager again.

And wanting to see 5am from an Amsterdam houseboat all over again.

Written by Spiller

October 5, 2012 at 4:32 pm

90 too

leave a comment »

Continuing on from my last post, here are a couple more pictures.

(c) Jo Spiller, All Rights Reserved

(c) Jo Spiller, All Rights Reserved

Written by Spiller

October 3, 2012 at 5:41 pm


with 5 comments

(c) Jo Spiller, All Rights Reserved

Hello. It’s been a while. I haven’t been taking many photos recently, which obviously means that for a blog that is ostensibly in existence for the posting of photos, there wasn’t really very much point in stopping by. Either for me or for you.

But hopefully that might start to change.

Starting with Fran’s Granny.

I have always wanted to take a portrait of  Fran’s Granny as I think she has an amazing face, in fact she’s quite amazing generally. She turned 90 this week, received over 100 cards, had 4 parties, 3 cakes; she has lived in south west Scotland for all of those 90 years, knows everyone within about a 30 mile radius, knows their spouses and their offspring and their offspring’s offspring. And even their offspring’s offspring’s offspring.

For all of you worried that your mind may start to deteriorate after the age of 60 or 70, take inspiration from this fledgling nonagenarian – but beware, she’ll probably beat you at Bridge, Sudoku AND Scrabble



Written by Spiller

September 30, 2012 at 8:54 pm

My Life is Less Interesting Than it Seems on Facebook

with 2 comments

Actually, my life is a lot more interesting than it seems on Facebook. Largely because I’m not on Facebook.

Imagine this. A man sits in front of his telly watching X Factor. He opens up a note book, scribbles on a piece of paper “I’m watching X factor”, rips it out, folds it up, steps outside his house and posts it through his neighbour’s letter box.

He goes back inside, makes a cup of tea, sits down, opens up his notebook, scribbles the words “Jeez, this is a good cup of tea”, rips out the paper, folds it up, steps outside his house and posts it through his neighbour’s letter box. Again.

And Again.

And Again.

And Again.

What’s to miss?


Written by Spiller

June 7, 2012 at 9:01 pm