History making

Canon Kenyon Wright receives the applause of delegates to the Scottish Constitutional Convention. © Colin McPherson 1995, all rights reserved.

Hold the front page: Canon Kenyon Wright receives the applause of delegates to the Scottish Constitutional Convention.
© Colin McPherson 1995, all rights reserved.

 

A week, as the old saying goes, is a long time in politics.

But how do we measure 18 years? On another of many historic days in modern Scottish politics, the government of our devolved parliament today launches its White Paper, setting out a prospectus for an independent Scotland. Spool back almost exactly 18 years ago to St. Andrew’s Day 1995, and we find another day which was a stepping stone to where we are today: the publication by the Scottish Constitutional Convention of a document entitled Scotland’s Parliament, Scotland’s Right at the Church of Scotland General Assembly building on the Mound in Edinburgh.

Scottish political and civic leaders arriving at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, 30th November 1995. © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Scottish political and civic leaders arriving at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, 30th November 1995.
© Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

The dramatis personae that day were very different to today’s protagonists and looking back, seem almost anachronistic and unbelievable: on the one side a Protestant minister, Canon Kenyon Wright, espousing home rule on the other a Conservative MP, Secretary of State Michael Forsyth, the Westminster government’s man in Scotland who was implacably opposed to the establishment of a devolved parliament in Edinburgh.

the steps at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland building on The Mound. © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Reading the Declaration of Arbroath on the steps at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland building.
© Colin McPherson, 1995, all rights reserved.

The day’s proceedings consisted of two events. Firstly, Secretary of State Forsyth, circling like a vulture in the grey, cold Edinburgh skies, popped up in front of the former Royal High School building – then slated as the location for the putative parliament – and warned all-and-sundry of the dangers and delusions behind devolution.

Campaigners with banners arriving at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland building. © Colin McPherson 1995, all rights reserved.

Campaigners with banners arriving at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland building.
© Colin McPherson 1995, all rights reserved.

The main event, however, was the gathering on the Mound of the great-and-good of Scottish political and civic society, there to show solidarity with an idea which was growing in the public’s mind, and to sign the document which would underpin the campaign for the parliament to be reconvened for the first time since 1707.

Campaigners seated within the main hall of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland building. © Colin McPherson 1995, all rights reserved.

Campaigners seated within the main hall of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland building.
© Colin McPherson 1995, all rights reserved.

With all the pomp and pageantry of a quasi-state occasion, it looked and felt like the Scottish Establishment were there en masse. But there were noticeable absentees: The Conservatives opposed it and the SNP abstained, angered by the lack of any mention of independence within the Convention. Nevertheless, up the delegates all trooped, dutifully signing a document which with eerie similarity to today’s publication was dubbed “a blueprint for Scottish devolution.”

David Steel MP (left) signing a Scottish Constitutional Convention (SCC) document entitled 'Scotland's Parliament, Scotland's Right'. © Colin McPherson 1995, all rights reserved.

David Steel MP (left) signing the Scottish Constitutional Convention document entitled ‘Scotland’s Parliament, Scotland’s Right’.
© Colin McPherson 1995, all rights reserved.

The rest, as we know, is history. Forsyth and the Tories were blown away in 1997 and within two years the parliament had sat for the first time at the General Assembly building. The final twist to the story for me that day drew on the lesson about “right time, right place.” I was covering the day’s events for the Independent, and in those days I would process my films and file my pictures from the Scotsman office, at that time a stone’s throw from the Mound. I happened to be on the editorial floor late in the afternoon when I overheard a discussion amongst senior editorial staff about which photograph the paper should run on the front page, an image which they hoped would sum up the occasion.

Secretary of State for Scotland and Conservative Party politician Michael Forsyth, pictured outside the former Royal High School building. © Colin McPherson 1995, all rights reserved.

Conservative Secretary of State for Scotland Michael Forsyth, pictured outside the former Royal High School building.
© Colin McPherson 1995, all rights reserved.

I had just wired all my photographs and the editor started talking loudly about the moment at the end of the signing ceremony when all those gathered had stood up and spontaneously started to applaud Canon Wright, the Convention’s figurehead and unifying force behind the campaign. The editor wondered if the Scotsman’s photographer had captured that moment. Unfortunately he hadn’t. I hadn’t thought much of that congratulatory moment, so had not sent the image to the Independent. Indeed I hadn’t even processed the roll of film which contained the photograph. Within the hour, the film was developed and a print made, which was then scanned and laid out on the page for first edition. And so, the following morning, I was proud to say it was my picture which had captured that historic day for Scotland in the Scotsman. (In case you are wondering, the Independent used the photograph of Michael Forsyth.)

Signatures on the Scottish Constitutional Convention document entitled 'Scotland's Parliament, Scotland's Right',. © Colin McPherson 1995, all rights reserved.

Signatures on the Scottish Constitutional Convention document entitled ‘Scotland’s Parliament, Scotland’s Right’. © Colin McPherson 1995, all rights reserved.

 

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All That Remains

At a recent photography show opening in Street Level Gallery, Glasgow, I bumped into Donna Maria Kelly and she told me of her work photographing, as personal mementos, her father’s belongings in the hours after he had died. It was an interesting story and encouraging to hear that Donna, a recent photography course graduate, had subsequently been invited to show some of this work during a one day networking event, held to facilitate conversation about death, grief and bereavement. The event, ‘Life, Death, Grief Get-Together’, is on Tuesday November 19 in Edinburgh.

Donna kindly agreed to write up a little about it all to share the information.

Donna is one of the members of  the Forgotten Collective, a group of Glasgow based photographers who have just recently graduated from the University of the West of Scotland. The Forgotten Collective can be found on Twitter and Facebook.

– Jeremy.

All That Remains. ©Donna Marie Kelly 2013, all rights reserved.

All That Remains. ©Donna Maria Kelly 2013, all rights reserved.

 

All That Remains, by Donna Maria Kelly.

My Da died suddenly on April 1 2013.

He suffered a massive myocardial infarction at the Golden Jubilee National Hospital, Clydebank.

I held his cold clammy hand while he slipped away.

Sadly I was the last person to see him alive.

That night I slept in his bed, and waking in the morning I decided to photograph some of his belongings.

A few snaps to preserve the way he had left things, that’s all, before they were disturbed.

I revisited these images in October as I prepared for a photographic exhibition with The Forgotten Collective. It was at this point I realised I had not truly grieved for my Da. As the eldest it was my role to be the ‘strong’ one in the family, to provide support my Ma and brother. My emotions were masked as I dealt with the practicalities of organising the funeral and the bureaucracy that follows the death of a loved one. My main priority was to console my Ma as she grieved for the loss of her husband.

I was empty, but these little snapshots of the mundane permitted reflection and allowed me to grieve for my Da.

 

Rest In Peace

Thomas Anthony Kelly

Nov 9 1938 – Apr 1 2013

 

Donna Maria Kelly can be contacted on Twitter, Facebook or via her website.

 

All That Remains. ©Donna Marie Kelly 2013, all rights reserved.

All That Remains. ©Donna Marie Kelly 2013, all rights reserved.

 

Good Life, Good Death, Good Grief was established in 2011 by the Scottish Partnership for Palliative Care.

They provide a network of resources and ideas to help organisations and communities raise public awareness of ways of dealing with death, dying and bereavement.

The networking event ‘Life, Death, Grief Get-Together’ will be held at the Assembly Rooms, 54 George Street, Edinburgh on Tuesday November 19, 09:30 till 16:30.

The event will be an opportunity to share ideas on how to make Scotland a place where people can be open about death, dying and bereavement.

The day will provide delegates with the chance to connect, share experiences and reflect with a variety of people who are interested in openness about death, dying and bereavement.

Good Life, Good Death, Good Grief are also on Twitter .

 

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A’ Fàgail na Dachaigh: Leaving Home

Bed Springs, Lewis, 2012, © Ian Paterson

 

Ian Paterson and John Maher are two photographers who found themselves covering the same subject matter in the Hebrides and decided it would be best to join forces and present their work as a joint exhibition and potential book. Document Scotland, a great believer in photographers finding common cause and pooling resources, wanted to find out more about their inspiring and very different take on the social history of  the Western Isles.

Paterson and Maher’s exhibition, “‘A’ Fàgail na Dachaigh: Leaving Home’”, has just opened at An Lanntair,in Stornoway. This choice of venue is supremely apt as the photography concentrates on the interiors of abandoned croft houses strewn across the Western Hebrides. Rusty cars, dissolving into peaty landscapes are well known in this part of the world, but less well known are the scores of stony croft houses which fell into disrepair when owners vacated them in the post-war movement of Islanders to towns and cities elsewhere in Scotland, but also abroad.

John Maher, an Englishman, who used to be in the band The Buzzcocks, moved to Harris several years ago and became a photographer. Paterson is from Fife and has been making regular visits to the Hebrides to try and capture the sense of sadness and loss that pervades these ruins. Document Scotland caught up with Ian recently and got him to explain his fascination with the abandoned croft homes of the Western Isles.

Absent, North Uist, 2012  (c) Ian Paterson

Absent, North Uist, 2012 © Ian Paterson

 

It’s difficult to remember my first visit since it was many years ago, in the 1980’s, and I very much regarded these homes as a normal part of the Hebridean landscape. I’ve always been aware of them but only relatively recently decided to take photographs. It is always an incredibly emotive experience going into a house for the very first time. I usually spend a good 20-30 minutes just taking things in before the camera comes out. It is impossible to be in these sorts of locations without stopping and thinking about the family that used to live there. I’ve described the experience before as ‘Marie-Celestial’, if you’ll allow me to invent a phrase.

The houses we have photographed have been empty anytime from the 1960’s to within the last decade. Houses that have been empty for longer than this tend to have very little left in the way of evidence of habitation.The reasons for leaving vary but are often economic in nature. The general depopulation of the islands throughout the last century (mainly on account of a lack of economic opportunity in comparison with the mainland) has to be the principal cause. There is also the more local situation whereby a family would find it cheaper and easier to create a ‘new build’ house on a more suitable part of the croft rather than renovate the existing property. Many of the original houses were built before the road system, near the water’s edge, with boat being the main method of transportation. There is no intended political message about land management and/or ownership. We are purely interested in documenting these wonderful spaces for what they represent to the people of the islands. It is not an area we are ignorant of though, being acutely aware of the various community buyout programs that have taken place and are presently under negotiation. Our sole purpose is to preserve a visual record, with accompanying memoirs, of a small proportion of the houses that now lie empty up and down the Western Isles.

Table and Chairs, Lewis, 2013  (c) Ian Paterson

Table and Chairs, Lewis, 2013 ©  Ian Paterson

 

Clock and Mirror, Harris, 2012  (c) Ian Paterson

Clock and Mirror, Harris, 2012 © Ian Paterson

We’ve actually had fantastic support from both locals, and previous tenants, on seeing the photographs online. To be honest we were expecting some negative feedback too, with the subject matter being of such a sensitive nature. After all, not everyone will have only happy memories and there are some who may not want to be reminded of harder times at all. Several previous occupants of houses (some whose families still own the crofts) have been in touch having seen them on Facebook or our exhibition website. We cannot thank these individuals enough for taking the time to get in touch and we’re hoping to meet some of them at the opening this weekend. We’ve also received very emotional messages from people who left the islands for the New World 30-40 years ago and for whom the images represent a trip down memory lane. I’m sure there will also be people who do not like the idea of what the project embodies, and this is completely understandable too. We have tried incredibly hard to talk with family members and locals at every step of the process, and to be honest without their support we probably would not have been able to put together the exhibition at An Lanntair.

Blue Bedroom, South Uist, 2012  (c) Ian Paterson

Blue Bedroom, South Uist, 2012 © Ian Paterson

We don’t open cupboards or move furniture around so we only see what lies in front of us but the two most common items that we come across seem to be old shoes and dead sheep! In fact my young son Cameron asked me why they didn’t just make the houses out of the stuff the old shoes are made from since then they would last forever. Old black and white photographs were present in several of the houses with many depicting naval scenes, many of the menfolk from these crofting families after WWII would have gone off to the Merchant Navy. A house I photographed a few years ago on South Uist had a copy of a Burlingtons fashion catalogue dated 1962 lying on the bed in a wee back room. The pages were bone dry and the colours in the magazine were as if they’d been printed yesterday. Other items we’ve come across include an old cine film projector, TV sets, outboard motors, Gaelic bibles and old telephones.

There was one situation last year when I’d been in a house for about an hour photographing a room, trying to get different compositions and playing around with perspective. Out of nowhere there was the sound of someone crashing down the stairs in the centre of the house. I panicked and shouted out my name and purpose by way of an introduction – to be completely ignored by the Scottish Blackface ewe that tore passed me!

‘Leaving Home’ will run from Saturday 9th November until 31st of December at An Lanntair, Stornoway.
 

Bedroom, Harris, 2012  (c) Ian Paterson

Bedroom, Harris, 2012 © Ian Paterson

 

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Shipwrecked in Govan

The cranes of the Govan shipyard on the banks of the Clyde in Glasgow. © Colin McPherson 1999, all rights reserved.

The cranes of the Govan shipyard on the banks of the Clyde in Glasgow. © Colin McPherson 1999, all rights reserved.

 

We’ve been here before! Seeing all the images this week in the media from the Govan shipyard in Glasgow, reminded me of the last time the yard was in crisis and under threat of closure and redundancies.

Workers at the Govan shipyard on the Clyde. © Colin McPherson 1999, all rights reserved.

Workers at the Govan shipyard on the Clyde. © Colin McPherson 1999, all rights reserved.

On 14th April 1999, I was dispatched along with reporter Jack O’Sullivan by the Independent to get over to the yard, as a major announcement by the then-owners Kvaerner was expected. Like all these types of assignments, the newspaper photographer is there very much as an intruder, illustrator or, at worst, an inconvenience. I always felt like a bit of all three.

Workers at the Govan shipyard. © Colin McPherson 1999, all rights reserved.

Workers at the Govan shipyard. © Colin McPherson 1999, all rights reserved.

The thing that struck me back then – and still amazes me when I look at contemporary images – is the sheer scale of the shipyard. Monolithic cranes, gigantic equipment, monumental structures. And towering out of the grey gloom that day, ships. Vast hulks, speckled with tiny dots, which I came to realise were people, working high on the scaffolding or towers.

A solitary worker and a crane at the Govan shipyard. © Colin McPherson 1999, all rights reserved.

A solitary worker and a crane at the Govan shipyard.
© Colin McPherson 1999, all rights reserved.

The men, often casually dressed in their own clothes, jeans, jerseys, jackets, ignored the small gang of press photographers, reporters and television crews who weaved their way across the yard, trying to form impressions and frame the story. I don’t remember being made to feel welcome, but equally, the reception we got was not hostile. Weary resignation to fate? Maybe, or possibly they were used to it by then.

A worker carrying equipment through the yard. © Colin McPherson 1999, all rights reserved.

A worker carrying equipment through the yard. © Colin McPherson 1999, all rights reserved.

It is, of course, impossible to form an impression of what life was really like at the yard. In those pre-digital days, time on an assignment for the next day’s newspaper was even tighter that it is today. It was a case of making an image which could convey a sense of the story. At that point no-one knew what the outcome would be. In the end, it was a happy one, of sorts. BAE Systems bought the shipyard and on the back of Royal Navy orders has continued to make vessels.

Workers making their way out of the Govan shipyard at the end of their shift. © Colin McPherson 1999, all rights reserved.

Workers making their way out of the Govan shipyard at the end of their shift.
© Colin McPherson 1999, all rights reserved.

As I headed off to file my photographs to the Independent, I knew that this was just a chapter in the long, slow and painful decline of Scotland’s heavy industries. I am just content that I was able to see a small snapshot of the story before moving on to the next assignment.

 

Colin McPherson photographed news stories, sport and features in Scotland for the Independent and Independent on Sunday from 1995 until he moved to England in 2004. He still works for both papers, which have been redesigned and relaunched today.

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Paper trail to Brighton

miniclicklogo1

This weekend sees our friends at Miniclick staging an event in Brighton which is aimed at showcasing the very best of contemporary photography publications – and Document Scotland’s acclaimed DOC002 newspaper will be on sale at the event.

The one-day event, part of the Brighton Photo Fringe is billed as the first-ever Miniclick Paper Fair and takes place at the city’s Phoenix Gallery from 11am-5pm. Entry is free and there will be a panel discussion at 3pm, and in keeping with all Miniclick events, there will be opportunities to drink and socialise at the conclusion of the event.

Document Scotland DOC002 newspaper, 'Seeing Ourselves', Friday 31st May 2013.

During the day, visitors will be asked to nominate their “favourite page” the best of which will be collated into a specially-produced ‘zine at the end of the event. Miniclick’s Jim Stephenson explained, “We’ll be collating a limited ‘zine that’ll grow through the day and will be bound toward the end of the day in a live demonstration before being sold. In keeping with the day’s celebration of the printed page, we’re asking you to bring along your favourite piece of paper. It could be a poster, album cover, magazine layout, photograph, newspaper headline, origami or anything. Please bring it along and we’ll take a copy of it and add it to the evolving ‘zine (before giving the original back to you).”

So if you are at a loose end on England’s south coast this Saturday, you could do a lot worse than nipping over to Brighton and supporting what should be a great event. More details available from Miniclick.

 

 

 

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