A day at the Edinburgh Fringe – August 2023

Every August, Edinburgh plays host to the world’s biggest arts festivals. Or something. As a Glaswegian, the goings on of our Eastern neighbour are usually of little interest. However, last year I spent an enjoyable few days wandering around their cobbled streets – drinking mini cans of booze and shooting street photos. As it turns out, the Fringe is actually a great opportunity for that kind of photography, with so many colourful visitors and performers from all over the world. There’s so much oddball behaviour going on that nobody bats an eyelid if you take their picture – and in 2022 I got a pile of good shots.

Well, I thought I did anyway. I still haven’t developed most of the pictures, and the ones I have processed were rubbish. So, it was time to give it another go.

because every blog about Edinburgh should start with a picture of Glasgow…
Wearing my finest festival attire.

I was joined by my two chums, Bryan and Al. Between us, we had a ridiculous array of cameras. I won’t even pretend to remember what they all were, but there were more than a couple of Leicas. I was shooting with a Lumix GX9, and a Leica 15mm f1.7 (which equates to 30mm on that body). It was the first time I had given this combination a proper outing, and was curious to see how it would perform in practice.

Scotland is a country where it rains a lot. Despite this, I was in denial about the possibility of rain. I didn’t want to wear my less-than-comfortable GoreTex trainers, and couldn’t be bothered lugging through my bulky GoreTex jacket only to discover that it was sunny in Edinburgh.

Of course, as one might expect, it was pishing it down. After huddling for a minute down one of the many alleyways that connect the city’s main thoroughfares, we ultimately had to resort to the purchase of some flimsy, over-priced, half-busted tartan brollies, which barely kept the rain off of my non-weather-sealed camera.

In all honesty – camera concerns aside – I don’t actually mind the rain – and actually really like it when it comes to taking pictures. People hiding under arches, wearing ponchos, or hanging on to colourful umbrellas make for some interesting scenes and expressions.

There are thousands of events taking place across Edinburgh throughout the month, and you can’t usually move more than a metre without somebody handing you a flyer for some bizarre show.

The sheer number of people milling around, and the extent to which the Fringe takes over the capital made me realise just how unusual it actually is as an event – but how normal and, dare-I-say-it, pedestrian it feels, as somebody who has grown up with it always just being there. Despite living within spitting distance, I’ve only ever attended a handful of events, which is probably something of a missed opportunity.

This trip wasn’t about seeing the shows though. This was all about making the most of the opportunity to get out and about and take some pictures. The Fringe usually has a bunch of interesting characters around that can be fun to take photos of.

Perhaps as a result of the rain, there were seemed to be fewer eccentric folks around than usual. Instead, there seemed to be an over-abundance of street performers – almost all of which seemed to involve semi-clothed men balancing on a rope/stilts/[insert other object here]. Once you’ve seen one of these, you’ve kind of seen them all.

Given that this is Edinburgh, there were of course a variety of different bagpipers to be found… that ran an equally ride gamut of quality. Having grown up forced enjoying listening to my dad practicing in the house, I can pretty easily identify when somebody is out of tune, and it always makes me scream internally when I see big groups of tourists gathered around videoing somebody that is below par. Bagpipes don’t actually sound awful when they are played properly – it’s just that most players are shite! You can quote me on this.

I am not suggesting that this particular piper was terrible of course.

We walked about 22,000 steps in total, which wasn’t too bad. It helped justify our various pit-stops for pizza/beer/cocktails – which are a necessity for a full-day of street shooting. It didn’t help that every place we went to seemed to be out of draught beer. What’s the deal, Edinburgh!? Get it sorted.

For a first expedition, the GX9 did pretty well. It is compact enough to not be a hassle to carry about, but also capable enough to cover a variety of different situations. The auto-focus was nice and quick and accurate, and the tilting screen provides a different way to take pictures discreetly – looking down, like you would with a TLR.

My pictures from the day aren’t mind blowing, but given that a few months ago I felt like my relationship with photography was dead, and that generally speaking the quality of my street shots has been improving with time, I shouldn’t complain too much.

The Fringe Festival runs for another couple of weeks, and I think I’ll probably have to make another trip through before it’s done. Maybe this time I’ll even make it to a show.

Back home to Glasgow.

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