“No Ruined Stone” by Paul Duke

(c) Paul Duke

Paul Duke’s new book of photography, No Ruined Stone, reminds us that the places in which we grow up rarely leave us, they exert a pull across the decades and often force us in later life to re-examine how we have become the person we are today.

Muirhouse, built in the 1950s as a council estate to the west of Edinburgh has had a troubled recent history with substandard high-rise housing, chronic unemployment and endemic drug use among many of its younger residents creating seemingly intractable social problems. It has also had a reputation for strong community spirit and looking after its own as Scottish legends and former Muirhouse residents, Gordon Strachan and Irvine Welsh, can attest to. Photographer, Paul Duke, also grew-up in Muirhouse, and although he left to study and then work in London, family roots have repeatedly drawn him back and recently he decided that photography was the ideal way to re-connect with the community that dominated his childhood years.

In, No Ruined Stone, Paul’s black and white landscapes and portrait photographs are enigmatic and loaded with the kind of symbolism that only someone with a deep and complex knowledge of Muirhouse could achieve. Long-overdue re-development of the housing stock is re-shaping the estates and the clash between undergoing construction and the natural world that tenaciously clings on around these zones provides many of the strongest images in the book. Locals, who Paul encounters in and around the neighborhood, are photographed as they are found, the exchange seems natural and there is little attempt made to heroise.

To find out more about this new body of work, Document Scotland asked Paul to elaborate on the impetus for returning to Muirhouse to shoot the photographs which make up No Ruined Stone.

(c) Paul Duke

DocScot: Tell us about your history with Muirhouse? How has it changed since your early days there?

PD: I was raised in Muirhouse and lived there for the first eighteen-years of my life. Despite the fact that poor social conditions made it a very tough place to grow up, I had a very happy and loving childhood there. My formative years were greatly shaped by a strong maternal influence and two inspiring and very brilliant young art teachers at school, Richard White and Maldwyn Stride. My mother brought up two boys on her own, it wasn’t easy for her emotionally nor financially, but she was determined to keep us out of trouble and instilled in us both, strong moral values. My brother, like me, went onto study at the Royal College of Art in London – that meant everything to her, to break the mould of expectation for young men from a deprived Scottish housing estate.

My father moved back close to the area some time after my mother left, so I returned fairly frequently to visit him. I still have relatives who live in the area to this day.

The physical change has been significant – my house, school and a big chunk of the original Muirhouse estate have been razed to the ground as part of an urban regeneration scheme. However, many of the social ills that dogged the area back in my early days are still unfortunately prevalent.

DocScot: When and how did the idea come to you to take a series of photos? Were you focussed on what you wanted to achieve or were you just seeing what you saw?

PD: I knew during the making of the ‘At Sea’ project that I wanted to return to Scotland to make more work. Both my parents passed away around that period of time therefore it felt timely to continue to explore my own Scottish identity as well as this notion of national identity, which interests me greatly.

There was a strong pull to go back to my roots and I knew from the beginning that I wanted to make a body of work that celebrated the fighting spirit, dignity and hope of the residents living there today – I was very focused on that but always kept my eyes open. I made the project over two years so it was a very organic and intuitive experience. Working with a large format camera slowed down the process of making photographs – this was intentional. I also wanted to play with the visual language, to create a narrative that struck the balance between objective documentary and a subjective project.

(c) Paul Duke

DocScot: How did you explain to interested observers what you were upto?

PD: Muirhouse is a small close-knit community and word gets around quickly. I made early visits to walk around and meet people before I started making any photographs. After that, I made regular monthly visits and never missed a trip over the whole period of making the project – it was really important to be consistent. Residents therefore got used to seeing me around, trust and familiarity followed. The warmth, kindness and support I experienced when I explained what I was doing, was humbling.

DocScot: Was it important to shoot in overcast or non-summer weather?

PD: The most important thing was to always keep things free. I never allowed myself to get caught-up in lighting preference as I had no control over that – everything was shot with natural light. I made the most of the light I had to work with on any given day and enjoyed the challenge.

DocScot: How did the book come about?

Last year, I approached German photo book publisher, Hartmann Books. Markus Hartmann was previously director of photography at Hatje-Cantz before setting up his own publishing company. Markus was raised in Berlin and I think the photographs and subsequent social message I had created struck a personal chord with him. Markus and his team were therefore very keen to publish the series.

DocScot: What kind of future do you think Muirhouse has and are you likely to have any role in that?

PD: In terms of the residents, yes, Muirhouse has a good future. I had the great privilege to make friends with a handful of dynamic, committed and inspiring community activists. If developers and politicians consult these individuals and others like them over the course of time, then I am confident that Muirhouse will successfully deal with the pressing social inequities that exist, but only with their consultation.

I have no immediate plans to take on any active role but I have expressed some future involvement. However, I do hope in the interim that the content of the book highlights social inequity, challenges deep-rooted class prejudice and offers a far-reaching insight into a deprived and disenfranchised community.

(c) Paul Duke

DocScot: What you are up to in the short-medium term and how is your photographic practice developing.

PD: I am currently developing a new project, again based in Scotland. It’s still in the germination period so not a lot to expand on at this stage, but I do hope to start shooting in earnest this coming September. This project will form the third and final part of a trilogy of works exploring modern day Scotland.

Many thanks to Paul for the interview and for sharing his work. The book, No Ruined Stone, is published by Hartmann Projects and can be bought here…http://www.hartmannprojects.com/publications/paul-duke-publication

(c) Paul Duke

(c) Paul Duke

(c) Paul Duke

Did you like this? Share it:

Nevertheless, She Persisted by Mhairi Bell-Moodie

Mhairi Bell-Moodie’s work, Nevertheless, She Persisted telling the stories of women who have faced adversity is currently being exhibited at Out of the Blue in Edinburgh.

Mhairi worked closely with 25 women who have overcome child loss, domestic abuse, rape, self harm, body dysmorphia, suicide attempts, breast cancer and much more. We spoke to Mhairi about the work and her exhibition….

 

From the series “Nevertheless, She Persisted” – portraits of women who have overcome domestic abuse, child loss, breast cancer, gender and sexual identity issues, mental health issues, rape, chronic illness and much more.

 

From the series “Nevertheless, She Persisted” – portraits of women who have overcome domestic abuse, child loss, breast cancer, gender and sexual identity issues, mental health issues, rape, chronic illness and much more.

From the series “Nevertheless, She Persisted” – portraits of women who have overcome domestic abuse, child loss, breast cancer, gender and sexual identity issues, mental health issues, rape, chronic illness and much more.

From the series “Nevertheless, She Persisted” – portraits of women who have overcome domestic abuse, child loss, breast cancer, gender and sexual identity issues, mental health issues, rape, chronic illness and much more.

DS: Can you introduce us to the project project Mhairi –  why did you start this, what’s it about?
The idea to create a body of work around women came to me in November 2016. In one week, I’d photographed two women who gave me some really positive feedback – both on the process of being photographed and with the end results.  They’d both been going through a tough time (chemo and bullying) and I wondered how I could use my skills as a photographer to help other women feel stronger.

One of the women was a friend of a friend.  Mette ended up being in the project but it was still a few months before I had a fully formed concept.  In early 2018, I researched as many women’s issues as I could think of and contacted several charities asking if they would be interested in teaming up to help me make some meaningful work.  SANDS Lothains, Breast Cancer Now, Edinburgh Women’s Aid and Changing Faces all put me in touch with women who were keen to be involved.  The rest of the participants answered my socail media shout outs.  Before I met any of the women, I told them a bit about myself, showed them my previous work, and explained what I hoped to achieve with this project.  I reassured them that anything they told me would be kept confidential until they decided to commit, and always made sure to give them time and space to think about it before deciding.  It was important to me to spend time building a relationship with the women as they had trustsed me with some very intimate details of their life.

From the series “Nevertheless, She Persisted” – portraits of women who have overcome domestic abuse, child loss, breast cancer, gender and sexual identity issues, mental health issues, rape, chronic illness and much more.

From the series “Nevertheless, She Persisted” – portraits of women who have overcome domestic abuse, child loss, breast cancer, gender and sexual identity issues, mental health issues, rape, chronic illness and much more.

DS: “Nevertheless, she persisted” became something of a strapline in the US last year, is this why you chose the title? How do audiences respond to it here?
I wanted a title which could encompass many stories.  With 25 women involved, it was important that the title was relateable to all of them – and to audiences.  The response to the title was very positive – many of the women said they felt like it fitted them perfectly.  Many of my friends said it was also appropriate for my own journey.  Several people have also commented that the loved the title and that the words have given them strength.  It was great to have such a positive response before I’d even released any of the images.  When Chelsea Clinton tweeted about the exhibition, I saw someone comment that they had never understood the title of her book (She Persisted) until he saw my series and realised the struggles we face.  That really touched me.

 

 

From the series “Nevertheless, She Persisted” – portraits of women who have overcome domestic abuse, child loss, breast cancer, gender and sexual identity issues, mental health issues, rape, chronic illness and much more.

From the series “Nevertheless, She Persisted” – portraits of women who have overcome domestic abuse, child loss, breast cancer, gender and sexual identity issues, mental health issues, rape, chronic illness and much more.

DS: Can you talk a little about your approach visually and how the images help tell these womens’ stories.
The aesthetic of the project ended up quite different from the original idea, but I think I made the right decisions in the end.  Almost all of the women were photographed in their own homes.  My first shoots were wider, including more of their environment.  However, apart from Nicky, whose portrait was taken in her stillborn son’s empty nursey, I found it hard to visually communicate their stories through their envirnoments.  I decided that it would be more effective to create strong portraits and tell their stories seperately.  I asked the women to write hand written postcards with comments on their journeys.  It was important to me that the women had some ownership of the project and I think doing this worked well.

The project has taken me on my own journey.  I’ve been affected by all the stories and the women have become very important to me.  They trusted me with their stories and I felt a huge responsibility to share them respectfully.  Because I worked with each woman one-on-one, they weren’t really aware of the scale of the project or the other stories.  It was really rewarding to see them support each other when I started sharing their stories on social media.  They have all said how honoured and privileged they are to be part of something with so many other strong women.  I think many of them women didn’t know their own strenghts when I first met them, but I have really seen them grow in the few months I’ve known them.  It’s been a rollercoaster ride for all of us and I’m delighted that the project – and the women – have received so much support.

From the series “Nevertheless, She Persisted” – portraits of women who have overcome domestic abuse, child loss, breast cancer, gender and sexual identity issues, mental health issues, rape, chronic illness and much more.

 

 

Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us Mhairi and congratulations with the exhibition.

Nevertheless, She Persisted telling the stories of women who have faced adversity is currently being exhibited at Out of the Blue 30–36 Dalmeny Street, Leith, Edinburgh, EH6 8RG until 18th May 2018.

www.outoftheblue.org.uk

See more of Mhairi’s work here

 

Did you like this? Share it: