THE birth of her son five years ago convinced Holly Burns to pick up a camera for the first time.
She, like any mum, wanted to record the memories but it was a desire to capture his striking green eyes that was to change her life for ever.
A simple point and shoot just wasn’t capturing the reality in front of her. So, with an expensive upgrade in her hand, she pressed the button.
The 30-year-old said: “I have always thought his eyes are the most beautiful I’ve ever seen but whenever I had tried to capture them, the striking green flecks I could see with my own eyes disappeared due to low resolution.”
That shutter click changed everything, including Holly’s career direction.
“I was so excited to finally capture what I could see,” she said. “I’ll never forget that excitement!”
Born in Glasgow, Holly’s family moved to Newton Stewart when she was just four. She grew up in Minnigaff and moved to Penninghame Estate at the age of 12.
Minnigaff Primary was followed by Douglas-Ewart High School and at 17 she attended Dundee University, studying Fine Art for two years.
But, at the age of 27, having fallen in love with photography, she started on a photography course at Dumfries and Galloway College and is now currently at the City of Glasgow College where she is finishing her degree in the same subject.
The full-time mother has, with the help of family, managed to tackle a full-time course.
But, as you can see from the images here, Holly’s pictures are now far removed from a simple point and shoot. Her Fine Art background plays a prominent role in that.
“I had the creative ideas first and the skills and means to take photographs second,” she reflects “The images I make now are very similar to how I used to paint a good 13 years ago, photography is just my chosen means to create artworks now.”
The ability to create surreal fine art works began to emerge in her second year at Dumfries College just two years ago.
“In that sense I’m a photography baby and I still have so much to learn, but I love to learn, especially if it involves photography,” she said.
“Some pictures can take two hours to create and others can take 24, I am certainly faster now than when I first started learning the composting technique, I remember my first major projects taking up to two weeks.
“However, it is the longer, more detailed works that I enjoy the most. I thrive off the challenge, even if it is frustrating, seeming impossible along the way, I eventually solve the puzzle and I find great satisfaction in that.”
For those in the field, she uses Adobe Photoshop CS6. For those not, it involves talent, patience and concentration. Oh, and since Holly is often the subject in many of the pictures, it also requires her to be quick on her feet. But more on that later.
“I’d say 20 per cent is realizing the concept and getting a clear story in my mind, 30 per cent is shooting all the images needed and the other 50 per cent is piecing photographs together to create my initial vision,” Holly admits.
That vision can alter or depend very much on her mood or emotion, look at her full portfolio and it sweeps from soaring heights of human joy to the darker depths of the mind – examine her picture Kaleidoscope Heart.
“We all change from light to dark and vice versa depending on what life is like at the time. We all have our afflictions; we all have triggers that make us sad. But equally we all have happiness and passion for different things.
“We are all many different colours on many different days and I tend to create exactly what I’m feeling, good or bad. The beauty in conceptual images is that everyone reads them in different ways based on their own experiences, so I can only point in the right direction, the viewer creates the story that is relevant to them.”
But, it’s Holly’s creative process that is the starting point. The viewer may be the final recipient but within each picture the self confessed geek is aiming to send a message.
With inspiration from her childhood – “a typical angsty teenager” and her adult life – “a good sense of self-awareness” she also uses a love of books and songs
“I’ll admit it, I’m a little geek. Ever since I was a child I have loved to read. The picture ‘Cassiopeia’ [her current favourite] is based on a song with the same title by Sara Bareilles. Within the song Bareilles personifies the stars and depicts Cassiopeia as being a lonely star, “anchored home in her interstellar sea” longing to collide with another. My images are not always based on my story, they are sometimes based on another.
“I will think about my message. What do I feel? What do I have to say? And that to me is the hardest part, translating a feeling or a theory into a solid idea can be hard.
“I use semiotics to pass along an idea, for example in ‘Wanderlust’ the model is pointing at a globe, she is levitating along with a suitcase. From the globe and suitcase I am telling you that travelling is involved. By introducing levitation, I am pushing the idea that it is fantasy, so really I am pointing the viewer to the conclusion that she is dreaming about travelling or moving on in some way.
“Once I have a solid concept with ideas of how to translate a dialogue into one finished image, I will sketch it out; write down lighting ideas, wardrobe, possible locations, a list of images that I will absolutely need to create a cohesive scene and all the information I need to tick off before even lifting my camera from out of its case. I then go about collecting my bank of images and lastly I composite them together in Photoshop to match my vision.”
The shots underwater are her most complicated – mainly because they go nowhere near anything liquid. Again, it’s down to skill, patience and concentration.
“Those particular edits are my more complicated shoots”, Holly explained. “To make a dry person on land look as if they are floating underwater requires all of the photographs to be lit, positioned and captured correctly and extremely well timed. Since most of my images are self portraits, I have to run back and forth using a ten-second timer, making sure to toss my hair or dress in the air at precisely the right moment. It takes patience to get the photographs to create such works but it is a lot of fun.”
Sometimes the frustration can get the better of her and a picture is put to the side – sometimes more than once until it is complete. Her favourite ‘Cassiopeia’ is a case in point.
“I remember having quite a hard time getting the image to look as I had envisioned. Now when I look at that print, I remember my determination and I am satisfied that I got my end result, in the end. I love ‘Explosions’ for that same reason. I remember staring at my computer screen thinking ‘I can’t do it, its impossible…but what if I try this instead…’
“It took a few different tries but again, I got there in the end. The hard ones are the most fun and those are the ones that teach me new techniques.”
Holly has just become the eighth member of the Galloway Photographic Collective, who have joined forces to promote their work, across a range of disciplines. She is looking forward to bouncing ideas off like-minded people – a one-stop shop for photographers.
But, five years on from picking up her first camera, where does her future lie?
“I would love to get into the advertising field creating book covers and music album artwork,” she said “I would also love to teach, whether it be workshops or in a part or full time post, but certainly teaching on some level. There is no one more enthusiastic than someone looking to learn and that is a wonderful thing.”