Salon event 2016

Our Salon events for 2016 start next month, and we are delighted to be partnering with the University of Highlands and Islands to bring you events across Scotland. On the 18th February 2016 we will be hosting an event from Perth College which will be streamed live to venues across Scotland.

We hope you’ll be able to join us!

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Please jois us in Perth or at any of the venues here;

Room 325, Perth College UHI, Creiff Road, Perth, PH1 2NX  tel: 0845 270 1177

Inverness College UHI, 1 Inverness Campus, Inverness, IV2 5NA tel: 01463 273 000

Moray College UHI, Moray Street, Elgin, Moray, IV30 1JJ tel: 01343 576 000

Orkney College UHI, East Road, Kirkwall, Orkney, KW15 1LX tel: 01856 569 000

Shetland College UHI, Gremista, Lerwick, Shetland, ZE1 0PX tel: 01595 771 000

Lews Castle College UHI, Stornoway, Isle of Lewis, HS2 0XR tel: 01851 770 000

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Joseph McKenzie’s Secret

JOSEPH McKenzie had a secret.

For the last 35 years of his life, the man known as “the father of modern Scottish photography” stopped exhibiting his pictures, withdrawing from public life. In the eyes of the world, he had retired, retreated to his home in Tayport, on Scotland’s east coast, with its long view over the firth to Dundee. His death on July 5th, 2015, at 86, prompted obituaries composed around a minor key of regret – here was a man of great ability whose work had been neglected, nearly forgotten by the public and the arts establishment.

 

Joseph McKenzie, photo by Adam Elder. ©Adam Elder, all rights reserved.

Joseph McKenzie, photo by Adam Elder. ©Adam Elder, all rights reserved.

 

Yet, all the time, all through those decades when his reputation faded like an old photo exposed to sunlight, McKenzie kept his secret: he was still taking pictures. He just wasn’t showing them.

He took photographs right up until a few days before he died. He developed his own work, as had always been his habit, writing title and date on the back in neat black pen, and adding the new pictures to the great stacks of prints that had come before. The result, as his son Frank puts it, is “one of the largest single artist photographic archives in the world”. In addition to tens of thousands of pictures, a great many unseen, there is an unpublished autobiography, a diary, poetry, and footage of McKenzie talking about his work; all the ingredients for the major retrospective exhibition, books and a documentary which the family hopes will follow.

“We’d like to get recognition for what he achieved,” says Frank. “We are also going to try to get an OBE posthumously for him. He deserves it.”

Frank is 57, the eldest of five children. We meet in the Victorian villa where Joseph McKenzie lived and worked and raised a family. Frank leads the way through the kitchen, opens a door, pulls back a curtain, and reveals the darkroom. Here is where all of McKenzie’s most celebrated work emerged from its chemical crucible, those moody, melancholy black-and-whites of 1960s street life: pie-sellers and gossip-mongers in cobbled Dundee; petrol-bombed homes in troubled Belfast; the Gorbals Children series, in which kids grimed in snot and jam play merrily in the Glasgow slums.

The darkroom has a low ceiling and white wood-panelled walls. McKenzie feels present through his tools. Two old Leicas rest in their case. A magnifier stands on top of an enlarger, and it is easy to imagine the photographer hunched over, squinting into the lens. A pair of white linen gloves sit on a cabinet, one placed neatly on top of the other. His hands, his eyes, his vision. This feels like a shrine, a place of relics and transubstantiation – flesh into film into art. Brown bottles of sodium metaborate stand, sacramental, on a shelf. Listen carefully and you can almost catch Tangerine Dream and Benjamin Britten and recordings of the John Peel show, the music McKenzie used to listen to here, drifting in from the past.

“Joe was a master printer,” the artist Calum Colvin had told me a few days earlier, emphasising how important, almost sacred the darkroom had been for his former teacher at Dundee’s Duncan Of Jordanstone College of Art. “He invested an emotional quality in the printing. They are visual poetry, really. I think he felt that there would be a revealing of his greatness after his death.”

Frank McKenzie nods when asked about this. Did his father wish for his work to be seen once he was gone? “He always wanted the recognition, but on the other side he was almost frightened of recognition. My personal analysis is he feared rejection. Because he’d had a lot of rejection in the early parts of his life. All the turmoil that he’d been through, I think he felt rejected. Parentally, he felt rejected. He always felt that he was a mistake and his mum didn’t really want him. There were some deep psychological fears of rejection.”

Joseph McKenzie was born in the east end of London in 1929. His father was a clockmaker left bankrupt following trouble with a business partner. The family knew real poverty and the sadness that came with it. Material possession were few. When, aged ten, McKenzie was evacuated to Dorset, he did not even own a bag and had to carry his pyjamas in a pillow-case sealed with tape.

“He felt his life had been a struggle from the day he was born,” says Frank, but it was struggle which gifted him an empathy for the difficult lives of others. “Because of my own deprived background I could identify with the children’s feelings; there was a rapport between us,” he wrote in the preface to his book Gorbals Children. An impoverished upbringing was not, he went on, insurmountable; then, thinking, perhaps, of his own childhood, “It is the hang-up of being unloved, unwanted, which is a real and permanent disadvantage!”

In 1947, McKenzie was conscripted into the RAF and spent three years as a corporal in the Photographic Corps. While stationed in Germany, he met his future wife, Shelly, who is Dutch and Catholic and inspired his conversion to that faith. In 1954, the year in which he joined the Royal Photographic Society, he began to teach at St Martin’s in London. Ten years later, he and his family moved to Scotland, where he headed up the new photography department at Duncan of Jordanstone. That year, 1964, also saw him embark upon his Gorbals Children study, inspired by the paintings of Joan Eardley; the show toured in 1965, marking the start of a run of work and exhibitions in which McKenzie was established as a soulful and sympathetic chronicler of the working class.

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In the early 1970s, there came a fork in the road. McKenzie had spent the last years of the previous decade travelling within Ireland, taking photographs – titled Hibernian Images – which contrasted the peaceful rural life in the Republic with the sectarian violence of the North. For a show of this work in Aberdeen, he submitted a catalogue statement which he claimed was then altered by the gallery to remove text which the curators seem to have felt appeared sympathetic to the idea of armed struggle against the British state.

“My father went berserk,” Frank recalls. “He said, ‘This is censorship. You have no right to do this.’ And that’s when things really busted up. He just withdrew. He said, ‘Well, if I can’t show my work in the way I want to show it, I’m not showing it.’”

This was when McKenzie stopped exhibiting new work in public. Between 1974 and 1980, he turned part of his home into a gallery which could be viewed by appointment, and in 1987 there was a retrospective in Glasgow, but after that – nothing. This feels, looking back, like an act of self-sabotage, even a sort of martyrdom. “Joe was a great one for thinking about sacrifice,” says Calum Colvin. “He felt that his integrity had been sacrificed by that incident to do with Hibernian Images. He felt that he was suffering, in a sense, for his artistic beliefs.”

Albert Watson, who went on to have a high-profile and successful career in the United States, was a student of McKenzie’s in the mid-1960s. He finds his old teacher’s decision frustrating. “He had a lot of self-doubt. But you can’t blame the world. You love photography? You pick up a camera and shoot.”

But can’t one counter that with the JD Salinger argument? We can choose to be frustrated that he wrote stories and then hid them away in a drawer, or we can be grateful that the few books that do exist are exquisite. “Yes,” says Watson, “in a way you are right. You can say, ‘Well, the Gorbals Children – he did that.’ And I do think those pictures are terrific. I feel very positive about Joe. But my observation is that he could have done more.”

Anna Robertson, head of fine and applied art at Dundee’s McManus Gallery, which owns a major collection of McKenzie’s photographs, believes he backed himself into a corner with his decision not to show new work publicly. “As a very honourable man who lived by a series of beliefs, it would have been difficult for him to come back from that,” she says. “To say he saw the world in black and white is a trite thing to say about a photographer, but he did. He had a highly developed sense of what was morally right and wrong, and what was right and wrong for him. There weren’t shades of grey in his own life, and he felt he had to take these stances.”

It’s an interesting thought: the stubborn, awkward, damaged, morally outraged side of his personality which drove him to take such brilliant photographs of poverty and turmoil may have been the very character traits which made him unable, or at least unwilling, to keep on taking and showing them. For, although he continued to work, his photographs were very different from what had come before.

“His work became more introvert,” says Frank. “He started looking more around the home. He took pictures of family. He took a lot of stuff around the local area. He liked taking walks along the Braes in Tayport, and down the harbour.

“So, yeah, he carried on photographing, but it was closer in. You can see that he went from being a man who challenged the world to a man who imploded – gradually, gradually, gradually until he condensed down to the immediate vicinity, and you can see what he ended up doing. Everything he did in the end was around here in the garden.”

These, then, were the last photographs of Joseph McKenzie – careful, tender, even obsessive studies of flowers and leaves and overgrown paths. Humans are absent, but his own humanity is not. They are in colour, they were taken on digital cameras, and they seem to contain within them an infinite sorrow.

Perhaps, though, it is wrong to see these pictures as sad. McKenzie loved his garden, according to his priest and friend Father Aldo Angelosanto, and he would have regarded photographing it as using the gift God gave him in the service of representing the mystery of God’s creation. “He felt his Catholicism deeply,” says the priest. “He put his soul into his photographs.”

Father Aldo conducted McKenzie’s funeral at Our Lady Star Of The Sea in Tayport, a service attended by family, students and friends. Among them was Graeme Murdoch, former chief executive of the proposed Scottish National Photography Centre.

“One of the hymns had the words, ‘You fear the light may be fading. You fear to lose your way,’” Murdoch recalls. “I think that was Joe; why he kept taking pictures right up to the end.”

A selection of Joseph McKenzie’s photographs from the Women Of Dundee series, on loan from the McManus, will be shown at Stills: Centre For Photography, Edinburgh, February 6-April 10th, 2016

©Peter Ross 2015, all rights reserved.

 

Read also:

‘Joseph McKenzie, An Appreciation’ by Alan Taylor. 

‘Oscar Marzaroli’s Castlemilk Lads’ by Peter Ross.

Peter Ross website, and his ‘Daunderlust, Dispatches from Unreported Scotland’ book.

Peter Ross on Twitter.

Thanks to Peter for graciously allowing us to reproduce this article, which had first appeared in the Journal Magazine of the Royal Photographic Society.  And thanks to Adam Elder for allowing us to use his portrait of Joseph McKenzie.

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Common Ground Exhibition – Part Two!

Happy 2016 everyone – to kick start this year Document Scotland have once again joined forces with our good friends the Welsh collective A Fine Beginning. Continuing our theme of collaboration and partnership to show our exhibition Common Ground.

The exhibition opening evening (to which you are all most welcome) is on Thuesday 4th February at 6pm at Wales Millennium Centre, Bute Place, Cardiff Bay, CF10 5AL.

The show was first exhibited at Street Level Photoworks in Glasgow from August to October in 2014.

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It will now travel to Wales to be shown at The Millennium Centre in Cardiff from 5th February – 10th April 2016. Where Document Scotland and a Fine Beginning will also deliver a series of FREE talks and portfolio reviews.

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The publication to accompany this exciting collaboration, also called Common Ground, is on sale via our website, and at various retail outlets across Scotland.

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Here’s the press release for the Cardiff phase, Part 2, of Common Ground.

We hope you can join us at one or more of the events.

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As ever thank you to our partners and funders.

 

 

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National Galleries events – Curators’ Tour

On Thursday 14th January 2016 Anne Lyden, International Photography Curator of our exhibition “The Ties That Bind” currently on at The Scottish National Portrait Gallery, will lead a tour of the exhibition from 5pm – 5:30pm.

All are welcome – this event is FREE.

For more information please see here

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National Galleries events – Malcolm Dickson talk

Malcolm Dickson, director of Street Level Photoworks, Glasgow will give a lunchtime talk on 13th January at The Scottish National Galleries to accompany our exhibition “The Ties That Bind” currently on at The Scottish National Portrait Gallery. All are welcome – this event is FREE.

For more information please see here

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Mother Father, by Lucie Rachel

At a recent Street Level Photoworks ‘In Focus’ event, looking at book publishing, which we attended, we had the pleasure of listening to Lucie Rachel discuss her book-in-progress, ‘Mother Father’, a story documenting the relationship of her parents. Impressed with the work, and Lucie’s approach, we asked if we could showcase it here. Lucie kindly agreed….

 

Mother Father

Mother Father, by Lucie Rachel.

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Mother Father tells the story of my parents’ relationship through recent and archive
photographs, letters, diary exerts and online blog entries from both before and after my
father came out as transgender. Beginning with recent photographs of my Mother holding
her diary open on the page they met in 1979, the documentation follows the couple through
marriage, children, coming out and separation, finally leaving them in 2015.

 

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LucieRachel_4_BookSpread

The creation of the book was almost unintentional; a natural bi-product of my art practice.
I began working with my parents in 2013, almost two years after their separation. It was at
this time that I realised I knew very little about either of them and even less about their
relationship, especially from the years before my sister and I had become a part of it.
Through curiosity and an overwhelming desire to know and understand, the project began.
Originally I had no thoughts of making a book; I simply collected photos that I liked or felt
were insightful into an album, with no order or narration, which gradually grew in the
background into a substantial folder of material. Over a year later it had expanded to the
point of being a work in its own right. A compilation of photos, letters, blog and diary
entries which tell a story of love, hardship and acceptance, that I feel deserves to be told.

‘Without love, life has no purpose’ was the guiding principle of my Mother’s youth. Her
naive pursuit of true love was endearingly hopeless, built upon the foundations of
Hollywood cliches and Bronte novels. So when she met my Father on the eve of the New
Year 1976, she honestly believed she had found ‘the one’. Of course, reality never quite
matches up with expectations and her idyllic notions of married life were left to flounder in
the unpredictable but extraordinary relationship that was to follow.

 

Mother holding open her diary March 19th 1976, describing her first date with my father. From 'Mother, Father' by Lucie Rachel. ©Lucie Rachel 2015, all rights reserved.

Mother holding open her diary March 19th 1976, describing her first date with my
father. From ‘Mother Father’ by Lucie Rachel. ©Lucie Rachel 2015, all rights reserved.

 

Lovers enjoying the summer of 1976, captured by a family friend. From 'Mother, Father' by Lucie Rachel. ©Lucie Rachel 2015, all rights reserved.

Lovers enjoying the summer of 1976, captured by a family friend. From ‘Mother Father’ by Lucie Rachel. ©Lucie Rachel 2015, all rights reserved.

 

Their frst child arrives, feeling blessed they have a daughter. From 'Mother, Father' by Lucie Rachel. ©Lucie Rachel 2015, all rights reserved.

Their first child arrives, feeling blessed they have a daughter. From ‘Mother Father’ by Lucie Rachel. ©Lucie Rachel 2015, all rights reserved.

 

Fortunately, this was an exceptionally well documented partnership. My mother kept a
diary, intimately documenting their seemingly normal relationship. Likewise, my Father
rarely removed the camera throughout most of their time together, not to mention the
many letters penned to my Mother during her college years which still sleep under her bed.

 

Alone in bed; my father behind the camera. From 'Mother, Father' by Lucie Rachel. ©Lucie Rachel 2015, all rights reserved.

Alone in bed; my father behind the camera. From ‘Mother Father’ by Lucie Rachel. ©Lucie Rachel 2015, all rights reserved.

 

Taken by my 4 year old self, oblivious to what I was capturing. From 'Mother, Father' by Lucie Rachel. ©Lucie Rachel 2015, all rights reserved.

Taken by my 4 year old self, oblivious to what I was capturing. From ‘Mother Father’ by Lucie Rachel. ©Lucie Rachel 2015, all rights reserved.

 

However, during their fifth year together there happened a somewhat unusual revelation,
when my father came out to my mother as transgender. Unsurprisingly, this changed the
fundamental dynamics of their relationship and diverted them on a journey neither one of
them could have anticipated. The chronicling of the relationship was continued thereafter
in the form of an online blog kept by my father and further private writings by my mother.
The subsequent collection of materials follows their relationship from the exhilarating
highs of young love and through the turbulent waters of domesticity.

 

My father's frst pair of heels are still her favourite. From 'Mother, Father' by Lucie Rachel. ©Lucie Rachel 2015, all rights reserved.

My father’s first pair of heels are still her favourite. From ‘Mother Father’ by Lucie Rachel. ©Lucie Rachel 2015, all rights reserved.

 

My father in her kitchen exuding discomfort; unable to be her true self in the moment I hold my camera. From 'Mother, Father' by Lucie Rachel. ©Lucie Rachel 2015, all rights reserved.

My father in her kitchen exuding discomfort; unable to be her true self in the
moment I hold my camera. From ‘Mother Father’ by Lucie Rachel. ©Lucie Rachel 2015, all rights reserved.

 

Exhausted after our evening out, she removes most of her make up - but forgets the necklace. From 'Mother, Father' by Lucie Rachel. ©Lucie Rachel 2015, all rights reserved.

Exhausted after our evening out, she removes most of her make up – but forgets
the necklace. From ‘Mother Father’ by Lucie Rachel. ©Lucie Rachel 2015, all rights reserved.

 

Mother Father is also accompanied by a short film with the same title, in which my parents
talk retrospectively about their relationship. The book is currently in the Dundee Artists’
Book Collection in the VRC at Dundee Contemporary Arts and the film has been shown at
several film festivals this year including Aesthetica Short Film Festival and Underwire
Festival, gaining award nominations at both. The work will next be exhibited together at
the Royal Scottish Academy’s New Contemporaries Exhibition in March 2016.

At present, I am working on a short documentary about my own father-daughter
relationship with The Scottish Documentary Institute‘s Bridging The Gap programme,
which will premiere at Edinburgh International Film Festival in May 2016.

 

Lucie Rachel can be contacted via Twitter and via her website.

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