Document Scotland launches its Patreon initiative

DOCUMENT SCOTLAND SEEKS SUPPORT TO CONTINUE MAKING AND SHOWCASING THE BEST OF SCOTTISH DOCUMENTARY PHOTOGRAPHY

Document Scotland is launching an initiative to continue the work they do to support photography in Scotland. They are inviting individuals and organisations to become their patrons, and in doing so, putting the work of the collective on a sustainable financial footing.

Since their formation in 2012, Document Scotland’s photographers Sophie Gerrard, Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert and Colin McPherson have worked on collaborative and individual projects which have led to a series of high-profile exhibitions at home and abroad, the production of a number of publications and the staging of live public events in towns, cities and communities across Scotland.

Through our website, Document Scotland has been able to showcase new and historical work by Scottish photographers or stories about their nation. The website is now regarded as an important public resource for anyone interested in Scottish photography.

In order to continue this work, Document Scotland is launching our own Patreon site, where supporters will have access to added content which will be produced in addition to the website which will continue to be freely available and publicly visible. It can be viewed here: www.Patreon.com/DocumentScotland

Commenting on the initiative, Sophie Gerrard said: “Document Scotland’s commitment to photography in this country is at the heart of everything we do. We have collaborated with individual photographers, organisations and institutions over the last eight years to promote and disseminate outstanding work. We want this to continue, but recognise that we are living in a new financial landscape and that to be able to work this way, we need the support of people to become our patrons.

“By launching our Patreon initiative, we hope to take people on the next leg of our journey. Patrons’ support will mean we can work on our own projects and help other photographers. We are committed to remunerating contributors who work with us and as our support network grows, so will the opportunities for photographers to collaborate and work with us.”

Formed in 2012, Document Scotland is a collective of three Scottish documentary photographers brought together by a common vision to witness and photograph the important and diverse stories within Scotland at one of the most important times in our nation’s history. 

Document Scotland’s major exhibitions include their seven-month show entitled The Ties That Bind at the Scottish National Portrait in 2015-16, Beyond the Border, their first major exhibition outside Scotland, staged at Impressions Gallery in Bradford in 2014, Common Ground at Street Level Photoworks, Glasgow in 2014, at the Festival Interceltique, the world’s largest Celtic cultural event in 2017 and latterly through A Contested Land, which premiered at the Martin Parr Foundation in Bristol in 2019 and toured across Scotland and England throughout last year.

We look forward to hearing from you and taking you on the next stage of our journey!

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The Story Behind the Photograph with Colin McPherson

Hailstones, Kinnaber, 2000. Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

This Saturday, 30th May 2020, is the twentieth anniversary of the day I took a photograph that has come to symbolise my work and the project Catching the Tide, which documented Scotland’s last salmon net fishermen. To mark the occasion, Document Scotland is hosting a special online event, where my colleague Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert and I will be in conversation about the image, and what it has come to mean to me.

Entitled Hailstones, Kinnaber, 2000, the photograph was the high point of a dramatic day spent with two fishermen as they worked on the large, sandy expanse of beach at Kinnaber, just north of the town of Montrose on Scotland’s east coast. The image came to represent many things about the work that the men undertook: the physical nature of it, the constantly changing weather and the adherence to using traditional methods to fish for wild Atlantic salmon.

As the new century began, five years into my project, few could have imagined that two decades later a Scottish Government moratorium on net fishing on Scotland’s coast and in rivers would have effectively killed off the industry for good. At the time I took the photograph, there was an ever-dwindling number of men fishing this way around Scotland’s vast and varied coastline. The stocks of fish had withered, and pressure from scientists and anglers to stop the practice had led to the closure of the big salmon companies, leaving just a few individual fishermen and their families with the right to maintain working in a way which had sustained rural communities for centuries.

The photograph itself has become the leading image for a project which lasted two decades. Since I started photographing Catching the Tide in 1995, the work has been published and exhibited extensively, both in Scotland and internationally. The image has been used to illustrate newspaper and magazine articles and has appeared in reference books on the subject of the salmon.

For me personally, this one single image came to encapsulate everything about the project. It was not the first, or last, photograph, but undoubtedly the most significant. As well as being published widely, it also resides in a number of important archives, such as the photography collections of the National Galleries of Scotland the University of St. Andrews and others.

To mark the occasion, I have produced a special, limited edition A3 commemorative poster, which you can buy from my website. All the proceeds raised from the sale will go towards photographing Catching the Tide, the Final Chapter, which will commence later this year.

I hope you can join us on Saturday, when we will explore and discuss many of the aspects of how, where and when the photograph was taken. I look forward to seeing you then.


We hope you have enjoyed the above article and images. Since forming in 2012 all the work featured on this site, and the work undertaken to enable it, has been free of charge. Now, times are changing. To continue we feel we need to ask for your support, to help us manage our time and energies, and to continue sharing photography we care about. Please visit our Patreon page and consider being a supporter. Thank you – Jeremy, Sophie, Colin.

Become a Patron!
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On call on Colonsay

Life is changing for all of us. That much we know about the world we live in as the conseqienses the coronavisrus pandemic become more apparent. The future has never looked more uncertain and we can only guess and speculate what is in front of us now.

A year ago, Document Scotland photographer Colin McPherson visited the small inner Hebridean island of Colonsay to shoot a short story about two of its residents for whom life was about to change. Or so they hoped at the time. One year one, due to the global pandemic, that change has been put on hold.

Colonsay’s medical services are run and co-ordinated by husband-and-wide doctors David Binnie and Jan Brooks. In May 2019, they were nearing retirement after eight years overseeing the GP practice there. Colonsay’s approach to health is a bit old school: it relies on involving as many members of the community as necessary to deliver services by pooling and sharing knowledge and resources. It is not uncommon for the islanders to be called upon to use their skills as firefighters, ambulance crew, flight controllers or administrators to help keep the island’s 135 permananet residents and thousands of annual visitors safe and well.

Whilst he was there, Colin was given privileged access to all facets of the service, from attending consultations at the surgery which overlooks the main settlement and ferry terminal at Scalasaig, to accompnaying Dr Binnie on home visits. It gave him a chance to see how this beautiful island worked and what it looked like.

Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, however, the doctors’ retirement plans have been put on hold. Although at the time of writing there have been no cases on the island, Colonsay effectively remains closed to the outside world, with a lifeline ferry service delivering food and essentials the only contact with the mainland, a two-and-a-half hour sailing from Oban. Once the outbreak subsides and life starts to return to normal, the doctors will try to get their retirement plans back on track and renew the process of recruiting a replacement GP.

As well as photographing the doctors’ work and capturing aspects of life on Colonsay, Colin also shot a short film which has been used in the advertising campaign to find David and Jan’s replacement.

It was Colin’s first visit to the island in over thirty years. Like so many Hebridean islands, so much has changed, yet stayed the same. It will be fascinating to see how it changes as a result of the conronavisrus outbreak.

Island of Colonsay. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2019 all rights reserved.
The ferry arriving, Colonsay. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2019 all rights reserved.
A patient receives treatment, Colonsay. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2019 all rights reserved.
Burial ground, Colonsay. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2019 all rights reserved.
Dr David Binnie during a home visit, Colonsay. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2019 all rights reserved.
Dr Jan Brooks, Colonsay. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2019 all rights reserved.
Card in doctor’s practice, Colonsay. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2019 all rights reserved.

We hope you have enjoyed the above article and images. Since forming in 2012 all the work featured on this site, and the work undertaken to enable it, has been free of charge. Now, times are changing. To continue we feel we need to ask for your support, to help us manage our time and energies, and to continue sharing photography we care about. Please visit our Patreon page and consider being a supporter. Thank you – Jeremy, Sophie, Colin. 

Become a Patron!

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Archive feature: Jute Spinning in Dundee

There is a lot of debate these days about the role of journalism in our daily lives. Questions are asked as to where we get our information from, and the all-pervading accusation of ‘fake news’ is something which causes a real stooshie amongst the general public and also in the journalistic trade.

It’s easy to look back and imagine that there were glory days when everything we read and saw was trustworthy and of maximum veracity. This week, as the unfolding nightmare of COVID-19 surrounds our every move, the role of the journalist in narrating these historic events should not be undervalued. My mind drifted back to an assignment I did for the Independent newspaper in 1998. It’s not so much the subject (more of that later) which made me nostalgic, but rather the location. The city of Dundee, famous in modern history for the ‘Three Js’ – jute, jam and journalism.

Let’s muddle them up and take a look at jam first. There is indeed still a traditional Dundee marmalade maker which identifies itself with the city, although production takes place a few miles outside the city, up the Angus coast. The sweet smell of Seville oranges being lovingly cooked and permeating the city streets is, alas, no more. And ditto jute. And this is where my photographs come in.

Part of my brief as a photographer working for the Independent in Scotland was to ferret out interesting local stories which would be of relevance to the newspaper’s wider readership across the UK. In those days, the ‘Indy’ was very much image-led. More-often-than not, a story would be published on the strength of an interesting or arresting image. It was not uncommon to find the story itself wasn’t actually part of the package, rather the photograph would be emblazoned across the broadsheet’s page with nothing more than a deep caption to aid navigation and inform the reader. For a photographer this was a great challenge – and opportunity. Having to constantly think not only about an interesting story, but also whether the illustration would be strong enough to make the paper meant you were always on the look out for little gems and nuggets which would first-and-foremost make a good picture.

I stumbled across Tay Spinners in the way I discovered many of my stories during that period. A small item was mentioned in the local paper in Dundee telling us that Europe’s last remaining jute spinning mill was about to close, due to delays and red tape with the delivery of the raw material from Bangladesh. With supplies no longer reliable, Tay Spinners in the city’s Arbroath Road, took the decision to close its door for good at the end of 1998.

Jute spinning had begun in Dundee in 1838 and at its height the city – which was nicknamed Jutopolis – boasted 150 mills with a workforce of around 40,000, both men and women. The steep decline set in during the 1950s with the invention and manufacture of cheaper, less labour-intensive synthetic alternatives to jute, mainly used in the carpet industry. Ironically, when Tay Spinners closed, it was seen as a modern and profitable factory, far removed in atmosphere from the famed ‘dark, Satanic mills’ of old. Nevertheless, the sad decision to close did present me with an opportunity and I was lucky to be allowed into the facility, to meet and mingle with the workers and photograph undisturbed.

Like many such assignments, the priority was to get a photograph which could hold a page. Beyond that, any ideas of shooting a wider feature would have to wait for another day – if that day ever came. In the world of an endless, rolling cycle of news, chances are I would be on to the next story the following day and the opportunity to return quite often couldn’t happen due to work pressures and distances involved. On the day of the original assignment I shot everything on colour film (this was in the pre-digital age) and used a local newspaper office to process the negatives and wire it to the picture desk in London. It duly appeared – with a three-line caption – the following day. As I had a gap in my diary, I returned a few days later to Dundee and managed then to spend more time getting to know the workforce and the processes involved in their jobs without the pressure of a deadline. This time, maybe with an eye to producing something more lyrical and with a more historical feel to it, I chose to shoot not only in monochrome with my 35mm camera, but using my beloved Hasselblad XPan, my favourite-ever machine. Using it on a day-to-day deadlined assignment was a non-starter (the negative, with dimensions of 65mm x 24mm couldn’t be scanned on my portable device). Instead, with time not an issue, I produced a small body of work which built on the colour images I made on the original trip.

Although the black-and-white images have not been published or exhibited at all widely, they did eventually come to the attention of the National Galleries of Scotland and a set of four were purchased for the nation’s photography collection. Given the opportunity I do wish I could have spent even more time at Tay Spinners, but sometimes you just have to be grateful for what you get. I was on that occasion.

Which leads me finally to the last of the Js in Dundee: journalism. It’s still there, although it too is in a much slimmed-down, denuded form. I suspect I would not recognise what passes for a newsroom or picture desk these days. All my work is done remotely if I do shoot assignments for newspapers. And with decreasing dimensions of publications and shrinking circulations, the opportunities to showcase a simple story and mark an important moment in a city and country’s history are becoming almost as extinct as the ‘Three Js’ are in Dundee.

There’s certainly no prospect of jam tomorrow!

Tay Spinners, Dundee. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 1998 all rights reserved.

 

Tay Spinners, Dundee. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 1998 all rights reserved.

 

Tay Spinners, Dundee. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 1998 all rights reserved.

 

Tay Spinners, Dundee. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 1998 all rights reserved.

 

Tay Spinners, Dundee. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 1998 all rights reserved.

 

Tay Spinners, Dundee. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 1998 all rights reserved.

 

Tay Spinners, Dundee. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 1998 all rights reserved.

 

Tay Spinners, Dundee. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 1998 all rights reserved.

 

Tay Spinners, Dundee. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 1998 all rights reserved.


We hope you have enjoyed the above article and images. Since forming in 2012 all the work featured on this site, and the work undertaken to enable it, has been free of charge. Now, times are changing. To continue we feel we need to ask for your support, to help us manage our time and energies, and to continue sharing photography we care about. Please visit our Patreon page and consider being a supporter. Thank you – Jeremy, Sophie, Colin. 

Become a Patron!

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The Great Football Grounds of the North by Brian Sweeney

It’s Saturday afternoon during the coronavirus outbreak and I have the blues. Our football grounds, like the cities and towns across the country, are silent and empty. Like everyone else, I won’t be going to a game today.

There’s something particularly sad and sombre for a football fan to see our stadiums unused and redundant. No cheering crowds or chanting. The weekly routine of supporters making their way to see their favourites, criss-crossing the country in support of their heroes, has been paused. Local pitches, which would normally echo to the exhortations of amateurs are deserted. Turnstiles locked, kiosks closed, bars devoid of punters. It’s a desolate scene being played out across Scotland and beyond.

As a photographer and football fan who spends a lot of my time combining both activities, this current period or furlough (where did that word spring from?) has allowed me to look at work on the subject of our national game by a number of other photographers. It’s always interesting to see work that approaches a subject from a different angle to oneself. For me, there is no game without the fans, and the architecture of the grounds and stadiums remains soft-focused in the background. Others take a different view.

I was delighted to discover a series of photographs by Glasgow-based Brian Sweeney in the new edition of Nutmeg, the Scottish football periodical. In an oddly prescient feature, one conceived, no doubt, before any notions of a lockdown of society and a shutdown of sport, they have reproduced a selection of Sweeney’s images from his project entitled The Great Stadiums of the North. The title is somewhat ironic. It is a playful documentation of football’s far-flung outposts in Scotland, the Faroe islands and Iceland. It is a lyrical look at venues which we wouldn’t normally associate in our minds as being hotbeds of football, but serves as a reminder just how important the game is to local communities in sparsely-populated areas on the fringes of the North Atlantic. An avid football fan and proferssional photographer himself, Sweeney has been shooting the series for over 25 years and it has been shown at various locations across Europe. A planned show at Sogo Arts in Glasgow, however, has been postponed indefinitely due to the current situation.

The images resonate charm and individuality and take us on an odyssey from fog-filled Paisley to snow-covered Akranes. Some grounds are merely rectangles hewn out of the rock. Others are mini-Hampdens, with neat rows of terracing and ramshackle stands. They are all theatres of dreams. The linear collides with the wonky in grounds which look home made and fragile. On the edge, in more sense than one. What marks the photos out is the northern light: penetrating and freezing, even when the sun is shining. It has you reaching for the Bovril, toes curling with cold. As Sweeney states in Nutmeg: “There’s no frills and flourishes on these stadiums. They’re put together in the most practical way possible, matching the local environment and often using local materials. Not too much design has gone into them, yet they have such beauty.”

When this is all over, whenever that is, then we can populate the football grounds again and enjoy the Saturday afternoons we have become accustomed to down through many decades and generations. Maybe it will be a time too to discover these wonderful little grounds, tucked away, anonymous, but still a beautiful part of the beautiful game?

Isle of Eriskay. Photograph © Brian Sweeney, 2020 all rights reserved

 

Forres Mechanics. Photograph © Brian Sweeney, 2020 all rights reserved

 

Embo, Sutherland. Photograph © Brian Sweeney, 2020 all rights reserved

 

Akranes, Iceland. Photograph © Brian Sweeney, 2020 all rights reserved

 

Reykjanes, Iceland. Photograph © Brian Sweeney, 2020 all rights reserved

 

Wick Academy. Photograph © Brian Sweeney, 2020 all rights reserved

 

Keflavik, Iceland. Photograph © Brian Sweeney, 2020 all rights reserved

 

John O’Groats. Photograph © Brian Sweeney, 2020 all rights reserved


We hope you have enjoyed the above article and images. Since forming in 2012 all the work featured on this site, and the work undertaken to enable it, has been free of charge. Now, times are changing. To continue we feel we need to ask for your support, to help us manage our time and energies, and to continue sharing photography we care about. Please visit our Patreon page and consider being a supporter. Thank you – Jeremy, Sophie, Colin. 

Become a Patron!

——–

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A Contested Land – behind the lens #5

‘Untitled, 2019’ from Treasured Island. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2019 all rights reserved.

 

In the lead up to the opening of our latest showing of A Contested Land, which takes place as part of FLOW Photofest in Inverness in September, Document Scotland’s photographers give an insight into the work they have made for the show. Here, Colin McPherson, tells us about one of his favourite images his project entitled Treasured Island.

“Serendipity is one of the great pleasures of photography. Some might confuse it with the famed and often-debated ‘decisive moment’ but in order to get into that space and place to click the shutter at the correct time, the photographer does rely on what in everyday life can be termed good luck.

And so it was with this image. I was nearing the end of making the work for my contribution to Document Scotland’s A Contested Land exhibition which was due to launch at the end of January this year at the Martin Parr Foundation. Being from an editorial background, I always believe in shooting until the very last available moment, and was fortunate enough to be given the time over Hogmanay to finish of the project with some key images at what is a very important time annually for the people of Easdale Island, the subject of my work.

The small inner-Hebridean island is famed for its flooded slate quarries, a legacy of a once thriving industry long-since moribund. One of the quarries is the venue each year for the World Stone Skimming Championships and in recent years, the quarries have become ever more popular with locals and visitors alike looking for cool places to swim. With the explosion in interest recently of cold water or wild water swimming, Easdale has become a destination for those prepared to dip their toes – and more – into its cold, clear water.

The photograph featured here was taken on New Year’s Day. Twenty-nineteen had dawned bright and blue, and as always with the first day of January, there seemed to a mood of optimism in the air. A time to clear out the bad memories and start afresh. Everything that day appeared quiet, calm and perfect, like the undisturbed surface of the water in the quarries. First-footing is still a tradition on Easdale island, where shortly after midnight people visit their neighbours, wish them well and head off into the night. Just before midday, I came across my own group of first-footers, intrepidly about to take their first steps into what the islanders call ‘the swimming quarry’.

At that moment, as the group moved in unison towards the water, it was time to forget the trials and tribulations that the world faces. Climate change, Brexit, austerity, whatever your political poison, was lost and forgotten in that magical, optimistic moment when a phalanx of young people went where no-one else had so far ventured in 2019.

Set against the open sea, the quarry’s water appears as if it is made of a different substance. The mountains in the background gives the image its scale and drama. I composed the frame to allow a sense that the group were walking towards, or into something. Their pale skin marks them out brightly against the blue background. I took about three or four shots, but this one was the only one in which their bodies are all balanced and natural, although a couple of them are obviously trying hard to stay upright as the cold water hits them. I love the way their clothes are all piled up on the water’s edge, metaphorically they are leaving their cares behind them.

It was a bit of luck that I’d been first-footing the back shore of the island and therefore  happened to be there to see this scene with my camera. Serendipity, indeed.

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A Game of 2 Halves in Coatbridge

The memories are still ripe in my mind. The rain sliding in a grey sheet across the train window, the cold air colliding with our faces and the wind catching our breath as we alight from the train at the inappropriately-named Coatbridge Sunnyside station. In the distance, piercing the sodden winter gloom, bright stripes of red and yellow paint greet our arrival at Cliftonhill Stadium, home for the last century to Albion Rovers Football Club, one of the also-rans of the Scottish game who have, according to some, merely been making up the numbers since their formation back in Victorian times.

This place is far removed from the higher echelons and glories of the game. It is, however, a place of ritual and pilgrimage. Whilst bus loads of Celtic fans have departed each Saturday from this corner of North Lanarkshire for the sunny upslopes of Parkhead, the few that remain behind have cast their lot in with their local football team, and exhibit the same amount of passion, devotion and love for a club which has steadfastly refused to be pulled across the religious divide that defines so much of this part of Scotland.

In their distinctive and almost hallucinogenic red and yellow colours, Albion Rovers have been ploughing and plodding along for as long as anyone can remember, often derided, frequently ignored, but always there. That we cannot place their name on the map has even become something of a badge of honour for club and supporters. They have this unique identity, one which would be sorely missed if The Wee Rovers ever exited the Scottish League.

And this is nearly what occurred during a tumultuous 2018-19 season: somehow, against all the odds and expectations, Rovers managed to come back from the dead, overhauling fellow sufferers Berwick Rangers and condemning the Northumbrians to relegation and oblivion. It was a close thing, but Albion Rovers survived.

Set amongst these tales of the constant struggle for survival are individual stories, some of heroism, most of stoicism. And one of a photographer: Iain McLean. Almost two decades ago, Glasgow-based McLean was casting around, looking for a long-term project, something sporting to get his teeth into. After rejection from a local rugby club, he received a positive response from Rovers and set about documenting behind-the-scenes at this iconic little club.

Iain McLean’s ‘A Game of 2 Halves’ Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2019 all rights reserved.

 

After a hiatus lasting several years, McLean once again focused his attention on Cliftonhill and was fortunate enough to witness both promotions and relegations, the contrasting emotions now visible in his newly-opened exhibition entitled A Game of 2 Halves, on show at the Summerlee, the Museum of Scottish Industrial Life in Coatbridge, until 27th October, 2019. It is, due to its location, necessarily folksy and fun, but nevertheless there is a fine body of work which shows a keen eye and dedication to stick with the subject through thin and thin (as life is at Rovers).

McLean’s dynamic monochrome images sit alongside cases of ephemera and souvenirs, memory-jogging reminders of seasons gone by, all in those distinctive bright colours. McLean’s work, however, shows us a colourful side to the Rovers: a kaleidoscope of characters, often in fancy dress, compete with the friendly smiles of tea ladies and kit men, all of whom make up the cast at Cliftonhill.

My own experiences of watching my team playing against Albion Rovers in Coatbridge are many and varied: the seemingly bright idea to take a new girlfriend to her first-ever football match – a stultifying nil-nil draw, which, amazingly, never deterred her from future games. Then there was the time a young boy was admonished for throwing bits of rubble around the tumbledown terracing: “Stop that, Billy, you’re making a mess,” was followed instantly by “Fuck off, dad, I’m tidying the place up!” And no trip was complete with a pre-match pint in Owen’s bar, just a wayward corner kick away from the stadium.

And then there was Victor Kasule: the singularly most mercurial talent I have ever borne witness to on the football fields of Scotland. A diamond in a sea of mud. The grace, skill, poise and speed which could leave any opponent for dead, a winger who could weave his way through any defence and into any bar, the other place where he was very much at home. ‘Vodka’ Vic came to prominence at a time when there was not a single black player playing in any of the professional leagues in this country. And while his career may have trailed off after spells in England and Finland, his legacy and the memories of his dazzling footwork, have upgraded his status from favourite to legend at Albion Rovers and Meadowbank Thistle.

I ask McLean whether he is likely to continue the journey he has been on with Rovers. He is uncertain and I get the feeling he is worried about repetition and seeing the same places and faces over and over again. I don’t think so. My sense is there is a lot more to discover here and that the project could unfold in many ways. In the meantime, raise a glass and wave a scarf to the players, officials, volunteers and supporters of the mighty Albion Rovers. And to Iain McLean for documenting their emotions.

Iain McLean’s ‘A Game of 2 Halves’ Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2019 all rights reserved.

 

Iain McLean’s ‘A Game of 2 Halves’ Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2019 all rights reserved.

 

Iain McLean’s ‘A Game of 2 Halves’ Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2019 all rights reserved.

 

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Craig Easton’s Fisherwomen

Born in Edinburgh, Craig Easton is a photographer whose work is deeply rooted in the documentary tradition. His photography often uses a mix of intimate portraiture and large format landscape to explore social histories and identity. His early career was defined by his work for the groundbreaking Independent newspaper in London and he has since gone on to win numerous international awards for both his commissioned work and personal projects.

This week, Craig launches the first exhibition of images from his Fisherwomen series in Montrose tomorrow, a project looking at the working lives of women who work onshore in the fishing industry along the east coasts of Scotland and England. As the show opened in Angus, Craig kindly agreed to share some insights into his photography.

Where did you get the inspiration or idea from to photograph the fisherwomen?

Initially, from the paintings of Winslow Homer and John McGhie and the old sepia tinted photographs of the ‘herring lassies’ on bustling quaysides. I’d read a lot about the the herring trade, how the fleet followed the annual migration of the shoals from Shetland to Great Yarmouth in Norfolk. And I’d read about how the fisherwomen used to mirror the fishermen’s annual journey travelling on land from port to port to gut and pack the herring into barrels in open air curing yards and quaysides. It felt to me that these women had been rightly celebrated for their critical role in fishing in days gone by, but their contribution was now mostly unseen – working as they were behind closed doors in large fish processing factories, smokehouses and small family firms right up and down the east coast. Fishing has always attracted photographers and artists, but most often the focus has been on the fisher ‘men’ and not the fisher ‘women’. I wanted to address that and make pictures that both documented and celebrated the women’s role in the same way as the painters had done in the late 1800s.

Could you tell us a bit about how the project developed, where were the locations you worked in and how long it all took?

I began the work in 2013 in Fraserburgh, Peterhead and Aberdeen. I’ve worked in and around fishing communities all my career and extensively in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. I’d read Neil Gunn Silver Darlings and I knew the story of the herring girls and fisherwomen – how they used to wade through the freezing waves to carry their menfolk out to the boats to ensure they went to sea in dry clothing. How they baited the lines, mended the nets, gutted and packed the fish and essentially held the communities together whilst the men were at sea. I wanted to find today’s fisherwomen and so I started knocking on doors and making portraits in the processing houses in Aberdeenshire. You can imagine I got some odd looks and comments as I set up a backdrop and a large tripod in the middle of a working fish factory. Early on I decided to use the route of the traditional herring trade as a vehicle to explore the subject and to tie in the experience of the contemporary workers to the celebrated fisherwomen of the past. I continued to make portraits in various places on the east coast off and on over the next few years, until in 2017 when I decided to really concentrate on bringing it all together as a coherent project. I shot more pictures in Angus and Fife and then went up to Orkney and Shetland where the traditional herring season began in early summer each year. Speaking to the gutters, filleters and packers today, I realised they performed essentially the same role as their predecessors, but didn’t have the same connection from one fishing port to the next: the people in Shetland no longer travelled each season to Fraserburgh or Lowestoft and so the people of the southern ports didn’t have the same connection to the north. I wanted to remake that connection by shooting landscapes and seascapes along the length of the original route. The final piece in the jigsaw was to photograph and interview fisherwomen who had worked ‘at the gutting’ back in the 1940s, 50s and 60s – women who still remember the journey, still recalled the cacophony of the quaysides and could help make the connection to my contemporary portraits.

Did you discover anything unexpected, or was the project much as you had envisaged from the outset.

I’m not sure that I discovered anything ‘unexpected’ – I’d done a lot of research and was familiar with the story and the history. I discovered what I had hoped I would  find though and that was a fabulous camaraderie in the modern factory settings that can’t be that much different to the comradeship and fellowship of the herring girls when they stayed together in temporary ‘gutters huts’ or cheap lodgings as young women. There is still an enormous pride in their trade, it is still extremely skilled, arduous work and they are still the backbone of many fishing communities.

You have used a mix of archive material and your own work in the exhibition. Why?

To make the connection, to show how the modern fish workers are part of a long and important tradition, to tie the contemporary experience closely to the heritage. And one day, if this isn’t too bold, to maybe hang my pictures next to Homer’s, McGhie’s and the Jobling’s in a homage to the women of the fishing communities past and present. In some senses I see myself as an historian as much as a documentary photographer – it’s about recording social history, to preserve it for future generations. If those paintings hadn’t been made and those old black and white photographs of the herring girls hadn’t been taken, then we wouldn’t have the social history and we’d be all the poorer for it. It’s difficult sometimes to notice what’s important when our own experience is, by definition, ordinary and familiar to us, but I do think it’s important to see today in the context of history and it is as much my job to record this era as it was the artists of the past to record theirs. I don’t want it to sound grandiose, but I know that my life has been richly enhanced by photographs, paintings, literature, music etc etc from the past and so I feel it’s my responsibility to record what I see for future generations too.

How does this project fit into your other work?

Ah, good question. In the social history context mentioned above, it’s all interconnected I suppose.

More and more, recently, I’ve been recording audio or taking written testimony to work alongside the pictures, whether that is working with teenagers exploring how their dreams, hopes and ambitions are influenced by social background or location etc, as I did with the group project I’m leading called Sixteen, or whether it’s listening to the memories of fisherwomen and making connections between different generations, I feel that it is all about storytelling, listening and learning about real lives. The more we share and communicate with one another, the more we understand each other and it feels to me like that is more important now than ever. Maybe taking some pictures, talking to people and helping to tell their stories can play some small part in that.

A small selection of the work will be shown at Montrose Museum and Art Gallery from 19th April – 1st June, 2019, with a preview on the opening night. Craig will be expanding the work into the English fishing ports in the coming months and a wider show will happen at the Hull Maritime Museum in August, then aspects of it will travel to other galleries and museums along the route.

From ‘Fisherwomen’ by Craig Easton. Copyright photograph 2019, all rights reserved.

From ‘Fisherwomen’ by Craig Easton. Copyright photograph 2019, all rights reserved.

From ‘Fisherwomen’ by Craig Easton. Copyright photograph 2019, all rights reserved.

From ‘Fisherwomen’ by Craig Easton. Copyright photograph 2019, all rights reserved.

From ‘Fisherwomen’ by Craig Easton. Copyright photograph 2019, all rights reserved.

 

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Chick Chalmers: American beauty

The United States of America is the great canvas onto which photography has painted history. As such, it is hard to imagine discovering a new body of work which truly illuminates American life, throwing into sharp relief the rugged contours of this singularly unique and diverse nation.

In 1980, Edinburgh-born documentary photographer Chick Chalmers (1948-98) was awarded a Scottish Arts Council grant as part of an exchange programme to visit the United States to take photographs. During a nine month period he visited almost every state over in an ancient VW camper van. The result was An American Roadtrip, which is currently being exhibited for the first time in almost four decades at Ten Gallery in the capital. These powerful yet subtle images reveal America’s hidden depths as depicted in everyday scenes in towns, cities and streets across the land. It is a remarkable set of photographs, one which although instantly calling to mind the great Robert Frank, nevertheless have something decisive and individual in their observational quality and forthright composition. These monochrome pictures set the stage for a country on the cusp of change: the stinking entrails of segregation sit uneasily with the creeping onset of Reaganomics which would render much of what Chick depicted as obsolete and redundant within a decade. These are moments in time to savour, and each one of the photographs on display invite the viewer to linger and ponder.

Like his photographs, Chick Chalmers was something of an enigma. His work was familiar to me, insomuch that the small amount he did produce was of such outstanding quality and interest that he was one of the ‘names’ which influenced my dreams of becoming a photographer. His series on life in Orkney shot in the mid-1970s produced many gems, none more so than ‘Sheep Being Transported For Sale In Kirkwall, Orkney’ a classic Scottish documentary image.

After An American Roadtrip was completed and premiered at Stills Gallery in 1982, Chick concentrated on teaching and his growing family. Despite the pleadings of friends and colleagues, he was happy to remain in the shadows, producing a fraction of the amount of work which his talent deserved. But that was his choice. And the beneficiaries of his wisdom and love were his students and his family. Although I didn’t know Chick personally, I remember precisely the day of his untimely death. I was attending a photocall with a number of other photographers where the world’s first bionic arm was being presented by scientists in Edinburgh. Suddenly a call came through that Chick was about to pass away and I recall at least three of the photographers present simply dropped their cameras and dashed across town to be with him. It is a mark of the man’s remarkable presence that he wished to be with so many friends at this pivotal moment of his life.

Legacy is an oft used and abused word in the world of photography. Few bodies of work survive the test of time and can be said to be truly important. I would content that Chick Chalmers’ An American Roadtrip deserves to be regarded as one of the great canons of work ever produced by a Scottish photographer. It is both exciting and gratifying that it is seeing the light of day once again, fittingly, in the city of his birth.

Untitled image from ‘An American Roadtrip’. © Chick Chalmers, all rights reserved.

Untitled image from ‘An American Roadtrip’. © Chick Chalmers, all rights reserved.

Untitled image from ‘An American Roadtrip’. © Chick Chalmers, all rights reserved.

Untitled image from ‘An American Roadtrip’. © Chick Chalmers, all rights reserved.

Untitled image from ‘An American Roadtrip’. © Chick Chalmers, all rights reserved.

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Forthcoming attraction

As part of the launch of A Contested Land, the first exhibition of which is currently on show at the Martin Parr Foundation in Bristol, we are staging one of our popular salon evenings at Stills Gallery in Edinburgh.

The event takes place on Thursday, 7th February and as well as presenting work from our new show, we are delighted to have two additional contributors to the evening’s entertainment. This will be our third salon at Stills, and we are very much looking forward to a stimulating, relaxed and enjoyable event.

Central to the evening’s programme will be presentations by three of Document Scotland’s photographers who will each talk about their own individual projects: Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert will guide us through Let Glasgow Flourish, his insider’s view of street politics in his native city, which has been the frontline in many of the recent political campaigns, from the Independence and Brexit referendums, to protests about refugee rights, arms fairs and nuclear weapons. Sophie Gerrard will talk about The Flows, her evocative and beautiful study of the unique landscape of the Flow Country in Caithness and Sutherland. The work discovers and explores issues behind the degradation and regeneration of this iconic location, which now enjoys protected status from rapacious exploitation. Colin McPherson’s Treasured Island looks at contemporary life through a historical prism on Scotland’s smallest permanently-inhabited inner Hebridean island, Easdale in Argyll. By weaving together the past and present, he tells the story of an island whose very survival is always in question, but whose population – numbering just 65 – is as resilient and imaginative as anywhere. Finally, we will look at Stephen McLaren’s Edinburgh Unchained, a fascinating investigation into the links between the wealth of Edinburgh and the city’s links to the African and Caribbean slave trade. This body of work poses questions which go beyond the merely rhetorical in seeking an explanation as to why Scotland’s capital still benefits for the actions and injustices carried out by Scots abroad in the 18th and 19th century.

We are delighted also to be able to include work by two of Scotland’s most outstanding current photographers, both of whom are making consistently captivating work. We have previously featured Arpita Shah’s work live and it is a pleasure to be able to invite her back again to see her latest stories. She is a photographic artist and educator based in Edinburgh and works between photography and film, exploring the fields where culture and identity meet. As an India-born artist, Shah spent an earlier part of her life living between India, Ireland and the Middle East before settling in the UK. This migratory experience is reflected in her practice, which often focuses on the notion of home, belonging and shifting cultural identities. Arpita is also co-founder of Focàs Scotland, an initiative that supports local and international emerging photographers.

Glasgow-based Margaret Mitchell’s work spans over two decades and has recently started to receive the recognition it richly deserves. A first-time collaborator with Document Scotland, Margaret will talk about two projects: Family (1994) & In This Place (2016-17). Taken over 20 years apart, these two connected series ask whether the choices we have in life are ultimately predetermined by upbringing, locality and socio-economic position intertwining with the issues of social inequality that they raise.

Document Scotland is looking forward to a great event and we hope that those who have already bought tickets will have an enjoyable and thought-provoking evening.

Please note that the event is now officially sold out, however, if you wish to attend, please email colin@documentscotland.com for the up-to-date situation regarding the waiting list and returns.

‘Edinburgh Unchained’. © Stephen McLaren, 2019 all rights reserved.

‘The Flows’. © Sophie Gerrard, 2019 all rights reserved.

‘Treasured Island’. © Colin McPherson, 2019 all rights reserved.

‘Let Glasgow Flourish’. © Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert, 2019 all rights reserved.

‘In This Place’. © Margaret Mitchell, 2019 all rights reserved.

‘Nalini’. © ArpitaShah, 2019 all rights reserved.

 

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A Contested Land: Behind the lens #4

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 Stephen McLaren talks about his new and ongoing work Edinburgh Unchained.
“After I finished taking photographs for my 2015 project, A Sweet Forgetting, which looked at how Scottish slave-owners made their fortunes in the production of sugar by thousands of enslaved Africans in 18th and 19th century Jamaica, I felt that there was some unfinished business here for me. Specifically I wanted to know how wider Scottish society had related to the rapacious nature of the slave-colonies in the Caribbean? What did they know, when did they know it, and what did they do about it? 

Edinburgh Unchained. Photograph © Stephen McLaren, 2018 all rights reserved.

 

These are the kinds of historical questions that photography struggles with, or certainly my kind of photography struggles with. How to photograph the social and historical attitudes of a population?

Anyway, one way through the puzzle, I found was to look at one specific Scottish location, Edinburgh’s New Town, and using historical records try and make some kind of visual record of how slavery impacted the lives of the city’s denizens.

Edinburgh Unchained. Photograph © Stephen McLaren, 2018 all rights reserved.

 

In Edinburgh Unchained, I have attempted to show how those genteel Georgian streets laid out to create room for a burgeoning Scottish middle class, benefited enormously from slavery in the Caribbean during the 18th and 19th centuries. 

Edinburgh Unchained. Photograph © Stephen McLaren, 2018 all rights reserved.

 

In 1834, when slave-ownership was finally abolished, the British government paid out £20m to compensate around 3,000 families that owned slaves for the loss of ‘property’. This sum is the equivalent of around £16.5bn today and equates to around 40% of UK’s gross national product in that year. This was the biggest bailout of private interests in British history and the government debt was only finally paid off in 2017.

The New Town in Edinburgh benefited disproportionally from this bailout and thanks to a ground-breaking database from University College London, we know that 320 Edinburgh addresses were compensated by the government for every slave that was owned by these households. 

Edinburgh Unchained. Photograph © Stephen McLaren, 2018 all rights reserved.

 

In Autumn 2018, I downloaded the UCL database of compensated slave-owners from New Town, Edinburgh, and using GPS I walked and cycles around every street. I photographed every address in whose owners had been compensated in 1834 and found that, thanks to very strict preservation orders, virtually all these addresses currently still exist. Not every house contained slave-owners as many were represented by local agents and lawyers, but a great many were fairly ordinary people, who just happened to own slaves.

Virtually all of the properties I visited are respectable Georgian-era buildings, most are still private dwellings, but occasionally we see how commercial life has taken over some of these properties in the intervening period. What is certain is that Edinburgh, as a city, benefited from slavery, both from the huge government compensation bailout, but also from 150 years of brutal human exploitation of African labour.

Edinburgh Unchained. Photograph © Stephen McLaren, 2018 all rights reserved.

 

In Edinburgh Unchained I suggest that the profits from slavery have been deeply embedded in the very fabric of Edinburgh life and society, and that ultimately, the city, and Scotland as a whole, has a massive debt to pay to the countries of the Caribbean for the depravity and human exploitation which lay at the heart of this transatlantic crime against humanity. 

If you would like to read my Guardian article on why Scotland has a real financial debt to pay the countries of the Caribbean for the era of slavery please follow this link…https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jan/13/slave-trade-slavery-scotland-pay-debts

 

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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