A Contested Land: Behind the lens #3

In the lead up to our forthcoming exhibition A Contested Land opening at the Martin Parr Foundation in Bristol on 15th January 2019, each of the Document Scotland photographers gives an insight into their work, this week Sophie Gerrard talks about her new and ongoing work The Flows.

from the series The Flows © Sophie Gerrard 2018

 

As a young child, one of my early memories is the car journey we took as a family some summers to visit friends in Dunnet Head in Caithness, the most northern point of the Scottish mainland. This 7 hour drive took us north from Edinburgh over the Forth Road Bridge, up the A9, through the majestic Cairngorm mountains, onwards to Inverness then up the east coast by Dornoch and lastly through a very flat place. Often dusk by this point in our journey, endless flat views of boggy moorland flew past the windows,  stretching as far as we could see, “bleak” was the word so often used to describe it as we passed through – “empty, wasteland, nothing here, featureless and eerie”, not a place of picture postcard views, nor a place to stop for picnics or walks, a flat area of nothing to drive through in anticipation of reaching the rugged north coast on the other side.

This was the Flow Country and it’s a place which has fascinated me ever since.

In 2016 some editorial assignments took me to Durness, Bettyhill and Tongue, on the north coast of Scotland. As I drove though that landscape again, I was reminded me of my childhood journey to such an unusual and far away place.

The Flow Country (from the Norse ‘floi’ meaning ‘flat, deep, wet land’) is the largest blanket peat bog in Europe, possibly the world. There are no main roads through it, rather you choose your single track route through the peatlands and navigate it carefully. I took for ever, stopping every few miles to marvel at what I could see. This “bleak and featureless” place changing hourly, with its huge skies, far away horizons, and undulating topography, I couldn’t get enough of it.

from the series The Flows © Sophie Gerrard 2018

 

It quickly became a project in my mind, and so my research began, the more I read, the more it intrigued me – as a place from my childhood which had been spoken of so negatively, I learned of its fascinating political and ecological story.

Peatlands are a globally rare habitat, vital in combating climate change. They hold almost 30 per cent of all global terrestrial carbon – twice as much as all the world’s forests. Scotland holds a vast amount of this vital global resource. However during the 1980s, the Conservative Government under Margaret Thatcher offered tax incentives to the super rich, resulting in vast areas of the Flow Country being planted with non-native Sitka spruce which drained, damaged and ultimately killed large areas of the bog. Over 80 per cent of the UK’s peatlands have been damaged by decades of such mismanagement.

These trees are now being removed and the precious Flow Country is being repaired and restored through careful and considered conservation by the RSPB and their partners.

 

from the series The Flows © Sophie Gerrard 2018

 

The Flows explores this landscape, and also introduces those who work on the restoration project; scientists, researchers, conservationists, and also those who live and work in the straths and on the peat bog; farmers, anglers, hunters, newcomers and locals whose families have been in the area for generations. The work poses a metaphorical question, asking us to consider our relationship with local and national areas of outstanding beauty and how these places of natural resources fit into Scotland’s topography and consciousness, linking people to the land, and vice-versa.

The Flows is currently a work in progress and I look forward to developing it further. The exhibition at The Martin Parr Foundation A Contested Land will be the first showcase of this new work.

from the series The Flows © Sophie Gerrard 2018

from the series The Flows © Sophie Gerrard 2018

 

Document Scotland’s A Contested Land will have its first showing at the Martin Parr Foundation in Bristol, England from 16th January until 16th March, 2019, before further showings in Scotland at Perth, Dunoon and Inverness.

See more information and the press release here

Martin Parr Foundation
316 Paintworks
Arnos Vale
Bristol
BS4 3AR

Gallery opening times
Wed to Sat, 11am – 6pm
Sun to Tue, closed

Free entry to all exhibitions.

Touring exhibition dates

– Salon event at Stills Gallery Edinburgh 7th February 2019 (evening).
– Perth Art Gallery and Museum – 20th April 2019 – 23rd June 2019.
– Dunoon Burgh Hall – 20th July 2019 – 18th August 2019. Preview on 19th July.
FLOW Photofest, Inverness, September 2019.
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A Contested Land: Behind the lens #2

As we approach our forthcoming exhibition at the Martin Parr Foundation in Bristol in January, 2019, each of the four Document Scotland photographers gives an insight into the work they have made for the show. Here, Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert tells of his project ‘Let Glasgow Flourish’:

Pro-Scottish Independence march, organised in the ‘All Under One Banner’ name, through the streets and to the battlefield in Bannockburn on the 704th anniverary of the Battle of Bannockburn. It was estimated that 10,000 people took part in the march calling for a second independence referendum. © Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert, 2018.

 

“I’ve always marvelled at the thought that walking down the street any one person you see has a multitude of experiences and stories to tell, you take that one person and the stories you could tease out of them, and multiply that by everyone in the street and then the city, the country. So many stories, so many nuanced versions of life all informed by different upbringings and experiences.

And so it is with political views, a multitude of nuanced political views abound, and this has never been more obvious than in the streets of Glasgow, and Scotland, over these past few years. 

After a decade of photographing in Japan I moved home to Glasgow in 2012, knowing the referendum on Scottish independence from the United Kingdom was going to be gearing up as we approached the 2014 Scottish Independence referendum date. I wanted to be back in the country to see it all, to experience it, and of course to vote. 

 

A Unionist demonstration takes place as the Scottish Cabinet sits at the Fernhill Community Centre for the fifth in a series of meetings outside of Edinburgh following publication of Scotland’s Future, the Governments’s white paper book on Scottish Independence.  May 2014, in Rutherglen, Scotland. © Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert 2018

 

I attended the rallies and marches of both sides, pro-Union and pro-Independence, trying to understand both sides of the argument, photographing it all. Photographing what we were told at the time was a ‘once in a generation’ referendum. For me, trying to describe in pictures the colour, energy and anticipation of what would come before us was the greatest challenge, but also the most rewarding part of the experience. It felt as if anyone in Scotland could have been there, on those marches. For both sides it was a peoples’ crusade: the divisions cut across race, class, gender and location.  

Now four years on and not much has been settled, we’re still walking on daily shifting sands of political information. A second Independence referendum is still a debated issue, still on a hand of cards yet to be played and for the time being kept close to the SNP’s chest. The political game of cards has seen many other hands played: the chaos of Brexit; Scotland welcoming refugees (as it always has) seeking asylum and the extreme minority Scottish Defence League staging rallies to espouse their hatred against them; anti-Trump demonstrations taking place when the American President insults the people of Scotland, as elsewhere, with his below par versions of truth, except Scotland is home to two of his golf courses; and at Faslane peace protestors continue to link arms and sing against Trident missiles which are still the true monster in the Scottish loch. 

 

 ‘Nae (No) Nukes Anywhere’ anti-nuclear weapons rally outside HM Naval Base Clyde, home to the core of the UK’s Submarine Service, in protest against Trident nuclear missiles. The rally was attended by peace protestors from across the UK who came “to highlight the strength of support from many UN member states for Scotland, a country hosting nuclear weapons against its wishes.” Faslane, Scotland, September 2018. © Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert, 2018.

 

There hasn’t been a shortage of political theatre in the streets to watch, to listen to, and to photograph. Some views you can understand, some you wince at when you hear them spoken, but the one thing we can be proud of and take from it all, pro- or anti-, is that the people of Scotland are awake.”

Document Scotland’s A Contested Land will have its first showing at the Martin Parr Foundation in Bristol, England from 16th January until 16th March, 2019, before further showings in Scotland at Perth, Dunoon and Inverness.

See more information and the press release here

Martin Parr Foundation
316 Paintworks
Arnos Vale
Bristol
BS4 3AR

Gallery opening times
Wed to Sat, 11am – 6pm
Sun to Tue, closed

Free entry to all exhibitions.

Touring exhibition dates

– Salon event at Stills Gallery, Edinburgh. 7th February 2019 (evening).
– Perth Art Gallery and Museum – 20th April 2019 – 23rd June 2019.
– Dunoon Burgh Hall – 20th July 2019 – 18th August 2019. Preview on 19th July.
 FLOW Photofest, Inverness, September 2019.

 

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A Contested Land: Behind the lens #1

In the lead up to the opening of our forthcoming exhibition at the Martin Parr Foundation in Bristol in January, 2019, each of the four Document Scotland photographers gives an insight into the work they have made for the show. We start with Colin McPherson, who tells us about his project entitled Treasured Island.

“Last year, we sat down as a collective and discussed what the big issues were facing Scotland at present. Although it is blinding obvious to mention Brexit and all the ramifications and spin-offs from that, including the prospect of a second Independence referendum at some point, we wanted to look more broadly at what challenges and changes Scotland face, and how we could illustrate this through a collaborative photographic narrative.

One theme that we kept on coming back to was ‘land’. Taken in its broadest context, the relationship between our history and people has always been connected to a sense of place in Scotland. Whilst the issues around land-ownership and management, with its relevance to the environment and economic growth, are often debated, these subjects are best illuminated when narrated either through people, communities or by the photographer themselves. We wanted to show the diversity of Scotland within the idea of a project based around ‘land’ and to be able to stretch the imagination of our audiences to think beyond the obvious. As always, that’s a difficult task, but one I think we have achieved through A Contested Land, the title we settled on for the four individual bodies of work.

From ‘Treasured Island’, 2018. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2018 all rights reserved.

 

The problem is there are just so many interesting aspects to our ongoing relationship with the physical landscape of Scotland. Misty-eyed romanticism often clouds our judgement about where we live and how we relate to our surrounding environment. For myself, I wanted to tell a personal story, one which could resonate beyond the confines of where I made the work, and which would challenge me to re-examine my relationship and place within a very special community in Argyll.

My connection with the tiny, car-free island of Easdale goes back three decades. I first visited on holiday, and having fallen in love with the place, subsequently built a house and lived there for a year. It is a location best known for its history as the centre of the Scottish slate quarrying industry of the 19th century. Easdale slate was said to have roofed the world, and this industrial legacy is still very much in evidence today, with abandoned buildings, piles of slate spoil and disused flooded quarries configuring the landscape. I was more interested, however, in the parallels of life then and now, more specifically by looking at the difference in men’s lives in the past and today, and how memories of a bygone age still resonate today.

Life was indeed hard in the days when teams of men quarried for slate. The work was relentless and the conditions harsh. But life on Easdale was embellished by a strong sense of communal life, with a school, evening classes for adults and other activities. Paradoxically, it is much harder for islanders these days to engender the same sense of community, although Easdale today boasts a pub, has an active residents group and organises events such as the annual World Stone Skimming Championships. The main connection with the past, however, lies in the challenges and difficulties faced by the population today: the unpredictable weather and tough economic conditions both locally and further afield mean that life and living are almost as precarious today as during the quarrying heyday, when over 400 people lived on Easdale.

From ‘Treasured Island’, 2018. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2018 all rights reserved.

 

Making the work for Treasured Island allowed me to engage with the community on a new level personally. Although a frequent visitor to Easdale, I have seldom previously used my camera as a means of exploring and narrating life on the island. My family has played a small part in the regeneration of the island (the population now stands at 65, having decreased to just a handful in the 1960s), so this project, shot entirely in 2018, has been my way of rekindling my connection with the place, whilst reflecting the immense sense of pride and care people take for the island. They may not always agree on what’s best for Easdale, but the sense of ownership and a love for the island’s unique landscape is never far from any conversation with local people.

I aim to continue the work I began this year. I believe that it is important to keep documenting the changes around us. We cannot say with any certainty where Scotland, or Easdale, will be in five or ten years’ time, but whatever happens we will still look back to the past to inform ourselves about the present, and hopefully the future…”

Document Scotland’s A Contested Land will have its first showing at the Martin Parr Foundation in Bristol, England from 16th January until 16th March, 2019, before further showings in Scotland at Perth, Dunoon and Inverness.

See more information and the press release here

Martin Parr Foundation
316 Paintworks
Arnos Vale
Bristol
BS4 3AR

Gallery opening times
Wed to Sat, 11am – 6pm
Sun to Tue, closed

Free entry to all exhibitions.

Touring exhibition dates

– Salon event at Stills Gallery, Edinburgh. 7th February 2019 (evening).
– Perth Art Gallery and Museum – 20th April 2019 – 23rd June 2019.
– Dunoon Burgh Hall – 20th July 2019 – 18th August 2019. Preview on 19th July.
 FLOW Photofest, Inverness, September 2019.

 

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