Five in 5 – Moira Rae Carter – Artist

Moira Rae Carter - Five in 5

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Five in 5 is a personal photography project to capture the essence of working professionals. 5 people, 5 photographs. Simple. Or is it? In the age of digital cameras, it is easy to click away on auto-setting, without truly thinking what, why or who you’re photographing, in the hope that ‘one’ image may come out right. My project aim is, therefore, for me to go back to the basic principles of photography from where I first started as a boy, reading ‘The Puffin Book of Photography’ – subject – light – situation – environment – moment. 5 elements of photography. 5 in Five.

As soon as I approached Moira’s Rae Carter’s house in Chester, blue picket fence drawn at the front, Morris Minor tucked on the drive, I knew I was going to have a colourful and eclectic day.

The interior of Moira’s house was not a studio – it was a living gallery. Wall to wall framed illustrations; litho and lino prints of frogs, swans, butterflies and tea pots; a corner filled with reference books and an unmissable hand-painted wall-mural of bright red, purple and pink tulips, masking an enigmatic secret door frame, altogether greeted me. And builder’s tea.

Straight to business with a few hand-held shots at ‘1.4 – 35mm in the vivid yellow kitchen with yet another window-softbox and Moira’s story began to unravel. Too good to be an art teacher eh? Should have been a seamstress by all accounts? Moira’s tales of her starting up, determined to be an art student, illustrating plants for Kew were conjoined by delicate hand illustrations that explained the intricacies of using her favourite artist pen, lino cutters and the real tools of her then new trade – her hands; today was going to be about hands. Her story was so interesting and the hands so mesmerising, I kept forgetting to press the shutter.

I was keen to light up the wallflowers, such was their presence and as Moira patiently posed for me while I tried different lighting positions, her story continued. As we repositioned by the bookshelves, the ‘Moths of the British Isles’ book became the first showcase textbook, then a book on plant illustrations with eloquent, wet-ink hand-notations, as we then stood by the front room window, softly lit by natural light. Then, upstairs to the studio room for more textbooks; ‘Lino Cuts by Claude Flight’, ‘Art in Nature’ – a particular favourite – each with their unique story and another peg in Moira’s journey as a fine illustration artist. Today was also about books – reference for the use of; inspiration for the taking from.

Moira had given up her ‘formal studio’ a while ago and settled for a neat office-studio upstairs with desk, bookcase and classical radio in the air. The true studio, though, was the house, was the gallery. I so wanted to capture every ornament, pin-cushion, butterfly and bee that surrounded me at every turn. How was I going to choose only 5 images today from this cornucopia of illustrations? My brain’s graphics card was using all it’s RAM today!

Focussed on getting the definitive wall-flowers in their best light, it was downstairs for a re-take; with so many frames on the wall, it was hard to avoid reflections of the softboxes, needing a fair bit of compromise and lens choice. 14mm just a bit too angular and difficult to light uniformly, 70mm a tad too close, so the 35mm 1.4G became yet again the workhorse of the day, allowing a tighter crop, this time at 1/125th and F8. Manual – so refreshing yet so unforgiving with TTL metering and 2 softboxes. Once again, while Moira posed, we just chatted about art, photography, textbooks, techniques; we could have stayed there all day.

My final selection – Five in 5

I knew from the moment I walked into the house it had to be Moira with the tulips as the key image. Vivid, graceful strokes from hands that not only know art, but know flora expertly. I took a fair few images of this wall; natural light making the wall too dark and the white background tinted by the yellow wash from the kitchen; flash light difficult to fill uniformly and a tendency to blend Moira into the 2-dimensions of the wall. I was learning my trade today, that’s for sure. The image I selected, I felt reflected Moira’s persona, her hands pointing to the tulips, stating to the World: ‘this is who I am and these are my tools’. Her manu propria tulipa.

I could have chosen dozens more images to capture Moira’s essence; sat, relaxed and confident in the natural light of the bright yellow kitchen, hands around the mug as if protecting her work-tools by keeping them warm; stood either by a window or bookshelf pointing at the reference illustrations; gesticulating and explaining the various techniques used to craft a specific print. How to distil these into only 4 more images? In my final analysis there were 2 themes jumping out at me.

The 2 images with books reflected the reference illustrations that were so key to Moira’s link with the past and the validation of her journey; one image from the hand-annotated book on plants from the soft window light, the other of Moira’s hands lovingly stroking the page from ‘Art in Nature’, the old friend.

The final 2 were close-ups of the hardened tools of Moira’s trade; balletic, illustrative, explanatory. What else but to depict an illustrator?

I forgot to ask what was behind the secret door whose frame hid between the tulip petals. Only the little door-keeper bee and Moira know. Still.

Five in 5 – it was indeed a privilege to have a private tour of the Moira Rae Carter living gallery.


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