“At Sea” by Paul Duke

Paul Duke, a Scottish photographer who now lives in London, has completed a series of black and white portraits of the men and women who work in the fishing industry on the North East coast.  Each subject was shot uniformly, standing against a dark backdrop in a portable studio which Paul set-up in shipyards, factories and fish processing sheds. The resulting project is called, “At Sea”.

Paul’s portraits let you know immediately that these are people involved in arduous work. You get the sense that although they are still for the portrait, that their minds are still on the job, wondering when their colleagues will call them back to the task at hand. Although the sea, the source of these livelihoods, is never seen, its smell and wetness lingers in each picture.

No sense of nostalgic hero-worship for people living arduous lives stifles the project. Paul’s generous approach to his subjects and his simple straight-on compositions remind us of that very real people still rely on the sea’s bounty for work and a wage whether they be mums or dads, school-leavers or seasoned professionals. Document Scotland was excited to hear that Paul has an up-coming book and a couple of exhibitions are about to take place also, so we wanted to  find out some more about the origins of At Sea.

DS

When did you realise you wanted to do this project?

PD

My wife’s grandfather was born in Macduff.  As a child she went back for summer holidays with her family along the Moray Firth.  Like myself, she is a Scot – we met at the Royal College of Art – like many young people who go to London to study – we got stuck, had a family, and have lived here ever since.  I’m sure it’s an age thing, but we started to get very homesick a number of years ago – we decided then to buy a seaside cottage along this coastline, we had an overwhelming need to have one foot back in Scotland.

Over the years I started to make friends with people from the local community.  Many, if not all, had connections or family who worked in the fishing industry in one-way or another.  I was well aware through media coverage that the fishing industry was experiencing a decline – it was the first hand stories that made me realize that it would be timely to document this community during this critical period – I didn’t want to present a nostalgic viewpoint of the industry, my intention was always to offer a pertinent comment on the present – a slice of time, if you like.

DS

What made you go for the lit portraits with backdrop approach?

PD

Strangely enough most of my previous project-work has been made using available light. The decision to use location lighting for this project was easy actually – one I was most comfortable with during the early stages of making the work.  I knew the project would be done over a long period of time and at different times of the year.  I had to achieve continuity in the set and I knew this approach would ensure this – I also had to make sure that every shoot was productive, and I couldn’t rely on the weather.  It was also important for me to gain parity amongst the sitters – applying a constant, in this case, quality of lighting, was both a technical and aesthetic device employed to achieve this.  The plain backdrop reinforced the idea of commonality – many of the locations I used were busy places with lots of activity and clutter – it was necessary therefore to remove these distractions, to democratize the portrait and encourage the viewer to focus on the sitter, the gaze.  Again as another measure to support this I shot in black and white – I needed to strip it down to its core – I wanted to simplify the language.

DS

How did you find your subjects?

PD

One of the first things I had to find and organize before I started shooting was good locations.  This was a slow process and it took time to get the trust and permission to set-up my portable studio in these busy working environments.  There were certain key people who made this possible, and with their help, I started to find good spaces.  I quickly found a routine, I would set-up early in the morning, get everything ready, then go out and chat to people.  I would let them know where I was based for the day, and they would come and find me.  It’s fair to say, there was a lot of hanging around, I had to be patient and some days were better than others.

DS

Were you seeking-out specific kinds of faces?

PD

During the making of the work I was happy to engage with everybody and couldn’t be too choosy about whom I wanted or didn’t want to shoot.  Although people were warm and accommodating, it was a challenge finding subjects comfortable enough to have their picture taken.  It was a very alien task for many to down tools, so to speak, to stand in front of a camera in the workplace, in front of their friends and workmates and it was hard to keep the sitters attention.  I worked very quickly and always on my own – 6×7 medium format camera, one roll of film per sitter – 10 shots.  Each portrait was done in a 5-minute time span – there was no choice really, it was the only way to get the portrait in frenetic surroundings.

After I stopped shooting, and during editing for the exhibitions and book, I made decisions regarding the type of faces and people I wanted to use.  During the process of shooting I wanted to concentrate on getting the portraits – it took time, focus and energy just doing this, so I understood quite early on in the project that I wouldn’t over analyse the work in progress – I was aware of what I was producing, but I wanted the development of the work to be as organic and as honest as I possibly could. It wasn’t until the final stages of editing that I had clarity.  There are always many factors that influence choice in editing, but with this work, I approached the task in anthropological terms also – it is the people who make the industry after all – through careful selection I wanted to provide representation that would create the narrative.

DS

What did your subjects think of the experience?

PD

I make a point of always giving the subjects a print of their portrait – it only seems fair to me.  The reaction was positive and supportive.  I think the community in general understood that my motives were genuine.  I worked on this project over a three-year period and shot in excess of one hundred portraits – I spoke to many people and heard various accounts and stories about the decline of an industry – it was a humbling experience and a privilege to have the community embrace the project – it was their collaboration that saw the project through.

DS

Tell us about the exhibition and the book

PD

The book was never my main intention to start with. I always thought that the exhibition would be the final outcome and the most appropriate thing for the work.  The exhibition format is exciting, it’s always satisfying to present the work to an audience but, nevertheless, it is a transitory experience.  The culture of the ‘photography book’ as an artifact has grown in recent years, and I realized through discussion with my contemporaries that a publication was valid and, would offer the project longevity. Peter Willberg, an old friend from the RCA, designed the book.  Peter is a celebrated book designer and, at the top of his game  – he has produced many fine books for major artists, galleries and museums – I was very fortunate that he agreed to take the project on.

John Bellany, who sadly died last month, kindly wrote a very poignant and heartfelt piece earlier this year, as an afterword for the portraits – I feel very honoured and proud that his words are included in the book – John more that any other Scottish artist understood the significance of the fishing industry and its people.

On 1 November, the project will go on show at Duff House, Banff – 10 life-sized prints from the series.  This majestic country gallery is central to the community and it will give me great pleasure to hang the work in this noble space – on a personal level it offers the opportunity to give something back to the community – an offer of gratitude to the people who helped me realize my initial goals.

More images from Paul’s project can be seen at his website….http://paul-duke.co.uk/at_sea.html

His exhibition open at Duff House – Banff, 01 November 2013 – 17 January 2014

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DOC003 Launched!

It is with great pride that today we launch our third Document Scotland publication.

Following on from our two acclaimed and fast-selling newspapers, launched over the last year, we bring you DOC003. We promised you something different this time and are confident this won’t disappoint.

DOC003 is a digital publication – otherwise known as a magazine app! Developed in association with acclaimed Glasgow-based design company Start Digital, it is available as a download through Apple’s App Store and has been designed exclusively to be viewed on the iPad and iPad Mini. And the best part of it – apart from the stunning photography and sleek design – it’s absolutely free!

We were approached by Start Digital around three months ago with the idea of collaborating on a downloadable product. Since then we have been working with them selecting the photography we wish to showcase and tweaking and refining the design elements to make DOC003 intuitive, attractive and interesting. Yolander Yeo from Start Digital, who was responsible for putting the design together said, “Collaborating with Document Scotland was a great experience. As a creative it’s a joy to work with such amazing images. The Document Scotland team fully embraced the opportunities designing for the iPad offers and with the addition of rich media really brought each feature to life.”

DOC003 brings you a story from each of the four Document Scotland photographers. Some of the content is exclusive and new, such as Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert’s depiction of the Antonine Wall entitled ‘Edge of Empire’ whilst Sophie Gerrard’s intimate portrait of life at the Tunnock’s factory in Uddingston gets the full interactive treatment it so richly deserves. Stephen McLaren’s series on the dookits of Glasgow and Colin McPherson’s timeless photographs of Scotland’s last salmon net fishermen complete the set. Each story is complimented and embellished with audio content and links to other, relevant websites. There are also four stand-alone photographs with individual stories by each photographer.

The partnership with Start Digital is part of Document Scotland’s strategy of working in partnership with like-minded people and organisations, whether it’s an individual photographer, gallery or institution, business or educational establishment. We hope to be able to announce more exciting collaborations in the very near future.

In the meantime, we hope you like DOC003. Please get in touch with your comments and suggestions and we look forward to hearing from you – and keeping you guessing what DOC004 will look and feel like!

The Document Scotland Team.

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12.11.13 – Document Scotland presents…. Portrait Salon

What is a portrait? A person, a look, a gaze, a moment, a superficial facade or a glimpse of raw honesty, something beautiful, something shocking. It can be all these things and more….

Document Scotland are delighted to team up with our good friends Portrait Salon to host the launch event of Portrait Salon 2013 at the ever welcoming Stills Gallery in Edinburgh on Tuesday the 12th November from 6:30pm. Please join us for an entertaining evening of photography, beers and good conversation. At some point during the evening there will also be a live link up to the several simultaneous Portrait Salon events being held all over the UK in London, Leeds, Brighton and Cardiff.

Document Scotland presents... Portrait Salon image

Portrait Salon is a form of Salon des Refusés – an exhibition of works rejected from a juried art show – which has a long tradition as a fringe way of showcasing artists’ work that may otherwise go unseen. Devised by Carole Evans and James O Jenkins, Portrait Salon aims to show the best of the unselected entries from the annual National Portrait Gallery Photographic Portrait Prize. We figure that, out of the 6000+ rejected entries, there are excellent portraits which deserve to be seen.

This year’s panel of judges selecting the best of the rejected images were: Harry Hardie from HERE Press, photographer Abbie Trayler-Smith, and Jim Stephenson, co-founder of Miniclick Talks in Brighton. It’s bound to be a good show.

Both the Document Scotland Seeing Ourselves newspaper will be for sale as will the new Portrait Salon newspaper. Beyond Words  specialist retailer of photographic books, will also be joining us.

We’d love to see you there. Please follow this link to BOOK your place.

 

 

 

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