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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Photography Courses in Scotland

Document Scotland photographer Colin McPherson will be once again running a series of photography courses this summer.

Based on the tiny car-free island of Easdale, 15 miles south of Oban, Colin and fellow photographer, Liverpool-based Adam Lee, will host the short residential courses, where photographers of all levels will be guided and assisted to create a small photo story about the island, its environment and people.

The course is designed to ‘re-set’ your creativity by looking at some ideas which can help to bind a series of images into one coherant narrative. Both Colin and Adam will draw on their own experiences to deliver a stimulating and fascinating insight into how participants can improve and finesse their work. The emphasis will be on collaboration amongst the six participants, who will be accommodated in two cottages on the island, both of which boast all the comforts of modernity with the historical charm of this former slate-mining island in Argyll. There is ample time to devote to each individual and their photography whilst sharing and exchanging ideas and suggestions amongst the group.

Each course lasts two-and-a-half days, with three nights accommodation and all meals included in the fee. There are six dates starting at the end of June and into July, 2018 and anyone interested is encouraged to book early as places on the courses are already starting to fill up.

Full and further information can be found on the courses dedicated website.

All photographs © Colin McPherson, 2018.

 

 

 

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Going with the Flow

The inaugural Flow Photography Festival took place across the Highlands and Islands of Scotland in September 2017 with the theme ‘People and Place’. The festival launched at Eden Court Theatre in Inverness, with several other galleries hosting work by internationally-acclaimed and award-winning photographers from Iceland, Finland, Scotland and Norway, icluding work by three Document Scotland photographers. In addition, the festival staged a series of concurrent events throughout the North of Scotland and the larger collections have just begun a tour of other venues. The man behind the festival, Matt Sillars, looks back on their first festival foray…

“As I write the main exhibitions from the inaugural photography festival in the Highlands and Islands are all bubble wrapped and packed in storage. However, An Lanntair in Stornoway, St Fergus Gallery in Wick and Timespan Gallery in Helmsdale all have shows with longer finish dates, so there is plenty to see well into November. The festival has been a real success with a set of  comment books burgeoning with positivity!

After two years planning the FLOW Photofest launched in September with a host of exhibitions from some of the leading photographers in the North including work by three Document Scotland members. Work from ‘When Saturday Comes’ by Colin McPherson and ‘North Sea Fishing’ by Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert was on show along with the St Andrews University exhibit ‘Scotland through the Lens – 175 years of documentary photography’ featuring work by Sophie Gerrard. It was a real pleasure being able to show school groups the work of Sophie and discuss the photography of Franki Raffles, who was also in the 175 years show, in the context of contemporary documentary work.

Designed as a biennial destination festival, showing in galleries and spaces across the Highlands and Islands, FLOW has set itself the task of showcasing challenging and exciting photography by photographers ‘from the North’, ‘based in the North’ or ‘making work in the North’.  We featured work by 19 photographers – Ragnar Axelsson and Sigga Ella (Iceland), Iiu Susiraja  (Finland), Andrea Gjestvang and Tonje Boe Birkland (Norway), Dominique Gais (France), Mat Hay, Kieran Dodds, Alex Boyd, Chris Friel, Evija Laiviņa, Tom Kidd, Robin Gilanders, Ross Gilmore, Colin McPherson, Jeremey Sutton-Hibbert, Mary Overmeer, Nicky Bird, Kevin Percival (all Scotland) and the St Andrews University Special Collection exhibit. We also featured the work of a rediscovered Inverness photographer from the 1930s, Andrew Paterson.

Talks and workshops featured Alicia Bruce and the Paterson Collection while the over subscribed portfolio review sessions were conducted by Malcolm Dickson. Katherine Parhar and James Pfaff. These were very well received and we hope will be a regular feature. A series of films on Photographers were shown and photogravure workshops were held by Highland Print Studio. This was all finished off by a ‘small walls trail’ featuring local shops and unusual walls.

Most importantly the festival organisation had a real collegiate feel with everyone involved coming on board with enthusiasm and commitment, from the Highland Council, who saw real merit in the ‘cityness’ of such a festival to the photographers who all contributed their work, at times, in the case of Andrea and Kieran, making new work for our festival.

We are now in the process of developing the positive links established and working towards a ‘curated’ gallery wall dedicated to photography in Inverness.  Quite soon there will be the opening of a Community Darkroom in Inverness and this, allied to the exhibition space, will see the profile of photography becoming more established in the North.

Our next official outing will be September 2019 – across the Highlands and Islands. Please come and see what we will have on show!”

Title image: The Faroe Islands. Photograph © Andrea Gjestvang, 2017 all rights reserved.

The Andrew Paterson Collection at Inverness College UHI.

 

Sigga Ella Title Wall at IMAG.

 

North Sea Fishing. © Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert, 2017 all rights reserved.

 

Ragnar Axelsson and Tom Kidd Eden Court Theatre, Inverness.

 

Adam, Heather Burn. © Matt Hay, 2017 all rights reserved.

 

Kieran Dodds with Gingers at IMAG.

 

Evija Laivina’s Beauty Warriors at Eden Court Theatre, Inverness.

 

‘Fraserburgh, 2010’. © Colin McPherson, 2017 all rightsreserved.

 

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A portrait of Tanera (Ar Dùthaich)

Tanera (Ar Dùthaich) is a project by Derbyshire-based photographer Kevin Percival which will be exhibited from this Sunday, 18th June, at Rhue Art in Ullapool.

The photographs featured focus on a tiny island off the west coast of Scotland, where Kevin lived and worked for several years. Like many of Scotland’s coastal communities, the challenges facing local people revolve around the struggle for employment, affordable housing and access to education and other services, and often uncertainty surrounding who actually owns the spaces and places around their homes. Tanera Mor is no different, having been bought and sold – and recently withdrawn from sale – several times over the last few decades. Nevertheless, people living on Tanera Mor, the largest of the fabled Summer Isles, work hard to make the place habitable and sustainable. As Kevin notes: “The island had a very small population when I lived there, but has a particularly interesting and close relationship with the local mainland communities. Many have lived or worked on the island, on the fish farm in the bay, fishing or running tours in the waters around the Summer Isles archipelago. As such Tanera occupies a specific place in hearts, minds and mythologies of the local people. The photographs are a ‘portrait of place’, shown through the people and the marks and effects they have on the landscape around them. Given the island’s small size, these traces often exist together, in close proximity, so you can see the effects of families living on the land 200 years ago, right next to what is happening today. Over time these traces build up, layered on top of each other forming a kind of catalogue of existence like a palimpsest. This becomes particularly evident in smaller, self-contained or continually populated landmasses, such as Tanera Mhor.”

Giving a voice to people in marginalised places, whether they reside in inner-cities or in Scotland’s vast, rural landscape, is often a calling for photographers. In many locations, history is buried beneath layers of time. Kevin’s interest and approach bears this out: “With this work I wanted to explore both this rich past, as a Viking sanctuary, and a fishing and crofting community, and its current state and the people who are leaving their traces today. Visually, I wanted to acknowledge the Romanticism of the Scottish wilderness, but contrast that with modernity – emphasising that this is a current workplace and home. Rural populations in Britain seem under-represented, both politically and photographically, and I wanted to present a project which encourages conversation around rural living and issues”

The project started in 2012 when Kevin moved to Tanera Mor for a job and it developed from there. He spent two years living on the island seasonally; eight months on, four months off and has returned to the island for at least a few weeks every year since. Shooting mostly on black and white film, Kevin’s aim was to reference the Romanticism and the photographers who have depicted Scottish islands before. As is common these days, Kevin’s approach sought to tap into the pace of life in the islands: “I also love using film because it slows me down, makes me really look at a scene and work through different compositions in my head. When every shot costs a few quid you quickly realise you can’t walk around with a motordrive going, you have to take your time with your subjects”

The project is not intended as a complete history of Tanera, nor a catalogue of everyone who has ever lived there or ever contributed to the fabric of the place. With a place like Tanera Mor, periodically inhabited for over 1000 years, such a task would be impossible. Kevin’s intention is to create a small but timeless snapshot, focused on the particulars of how the island has been managed for the past 20 or so years. Luckily, Kevin found the people he was living and working with supportive, as he explains: “I was really lucky that everyone was so welcoming, from the people who own/run the island to the local fish-farmers, course tutors and tour boat operators. I ended up photographing people from wildly different backgrounds, but for whom the island was a strong presence within their lives. Most people living in remote areas like the Highlands and Islands find they have to become modern crofters, or I suppose you could call it ‘portfolio workers’. In order to survive, most people work two or three jobs. Likewise, the island takes on very different roles for each person. For artists, writers and other creatives it is a gateway to contemplation or inspiration, for the scallop divers, creelers and fish-farmers it is their living”

Tanera (Ar Dùthaich) will be on show from this Sunday until 24th August, 2017.

 

Tanera. Photograph by Kevin Percival, 2017 all rights reserved.

Tanera. Photograph by Kevin Percival, 2017 all rights reserved.

Tanera. Photograph by Kevin Percival, 2017 all rights reserved.

Tanera. Photograph by Kevin Percival, 2017 all rights reserved.

Tanera. Photograph by Kevin Percival, 2017 all rights reserved.

Tanera. Photograph by Kevin Percival, 2017 all rights reserved.

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Read all about it!

Hogmanay revellers, Edinburgh, 1995. Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved

 

With An Independent Eye now up-and-running at Oriel Colwyn, Document Scotland’s Colin McPherson explains how his current exhibition came about and what led to the photographs being transferred from printed page to gallery wall.

“Something must be done! That oft-repeated phrase, beloved of campaigners, complainers, politicians and journalists, was on my lips when the Independent newspaper announced in early-2016 that it would cease publication as a newspaper and concentrate its output online. The title, founded 30 years previously, had provided me the opportunity over more than two decades to cover news, features, travel, sport and much, much more for the title and its sister, the Independent on Sunday.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, Fife, 1997. Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved

 

“So I decided to bring out a small compendium of images which I had either been commissioned to take for the paper, or had submitted and had published since my first assignment for them back in 1995. The 48-page book, A5-size, containing some memorable and favourite images, proved to be very popular as people looked for a small souvenirs of something disappearing from our newsstands in the UK. I had first worked for the Indy in Scotland and when I relocated south of the border in 2004, the work followed me down there. It was always an interesting mix of assignments and working for them always felt like a pleasure. Even when the papers shrank from broadsheet to tabloid, there were still people who understood the value and power of the picture, something which informed the way the Indy presented itself to the world. Their love of the monochrome image was especially prevalent in the early days and often a whole half-page would be surrendered to a photograph in order to tell or lead into a story.

“By the time the final edition rolled off the presses on the 26th March 2016, I had had over 1000 images published from stores and features across the world, some on assignment, some ideas which I had taken to the Indy myself and which they had printed.

An Independent Eye at Oriel Colwyn, 2017. Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved

 

“But the story didn’t end there. Shortly after An Independent Eye was published, Paul Sampson, the curator of Oriel Colwyn, the photography gallery with a burgeoning reputation for staging contemporary photography shows, contacted me and suggested the book would be the basis of an interesting and informative exhibition. Over the subsequent months we gently patted ideas back-and-forward until it was decided that we should display a selection of images from the book alongside the original newspaper cuttings showing the published images. As I had preserved cuttings from many of the most important stories I covered, it proved easy to put together. The result is a show which brings the recent past into focus and allows the viewer to see the original setting and context of where the pictures appeared. There are a smattering of famous people and places, iconic locations and momentous political events. Being on commission for a newspaper such as the Indy meant that every assignment looked and felt different to one another, or at least that’s how the photographers who worked for them wanted to make it look.

Fittingly, the exhibition opened on 26th March this year, precisely one year to the day since the Indy’s disappearance from the country’s newsagents and kiosks.”

An Independent Eye, the exhibition, is a joint collaboration with Glasgow’s Street Level Photoworks and the intention is that the show will tour to Scotland (venue and date TBC) and other venues across the UK over the coming months and years. It runs until 31st May, 2016 at Oriel Gallery, Colwyn Bay, north Wales.

Traveller children, Liverpool, 2004. Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved

 

Demonstrators, Berlin, 2015. Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved

 

Peat cutters, Lewis, 1996. Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved

 

Family, Swaziland, 2008. Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved

 

Male racegoers, Aintree, Liverpool, 2012. Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved

 

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Gone fishing

Fisherman Felix Impas Jr. from the Philippines, Peterhead, 2016. Photograph © Keith Lloyd Davenport, all rights reserved.

 

The work of Scottish photographer Keith Lloyd Davenport first came to our attention last year when Document Scotland held a portfolio review session in Cardiff at the launch of our Common Ground exhibition at the city’s Millennium Centre.

It’s fair to say that tackling the subject of fishermen as a documentary photographer offers both abundant source material, but comes also with a series of pitfalls. Whist the allure of Scotland’s coastal and fishing communities draws us into a rich history set against the contemporary narrative of a once-thriving industry in seemingly terminal decline, the fact that so many great photographers have spent time and effort capturing fishing in all its forms means that the bar is set incredibly high in terms of producing something relevant, interesting and different from what has gone before. Indeed in his ongoing project Mare Liberum, Freedom of the Seas, Davenport cites two legendary bodies of work, Pleine Mer by Jean Gaumy, and Fish Story by Allan Sekula as major influences. So far, so good. When it came to Davenport’s work, made chiefly at a number of locations around north east Scotland since 2014, the then final year photography student at Newport showed us a set of images which although technically good and aesthetically pleasing, left a void in terms of connecting with the subject and telling a story. There was something there, but we could not at that stage see what it was.

Fast forward almost a year, and Davenport’s project reached a milestone as a small selection formed part of his MA final show exhibition. To supplement this, he produced a newspaper with images from the project, giving further context and meaning to his work. This publication has transformed the work and what is presented on the pages illuminates both the photography and the story behind it. The idea came from discussions with friend and fellow photographer, Rocco Venezia, (who also collaborated with the design of the newspaper) to have something other than prints on the wall for the exhibition at West Wharf Gallery in Cardiff.

Mare Liberum, Freedom of the Seas by Keith Lloyd Davenport. Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

 

The end result connects us with the people involved in the story and the state of the Scottish fishing fleet at a time when the implications of Brexit – unknown and uncharted – will probably redefine what it means to be a fisherman in Scotland in the 21st century as the Common Fisheries Policy recedes over the horizon and into history.

It was Davenport’s connection to the area he was born – the town of Banff on the Buchan coast – which gave him the initial impetus to make the work. It is places such as this which have seen the greatest changes in fishing over the past two decades as the European Union’s decommissioning policy has wielded the axe to so many small and medium-sized fishing boats. Concurrently, the consolidation of the industry now means that so-called super trawlers now rule the roost and these enormous and incredibly high-tech vessels compete in Scotland’s territorial waters with boats from outwith the country, to land almost all the nation’s catch.

One of the most striking aspects of the work presented on the pages of his newspaper is the ethnic mix of the crew of the boats which Davenport worked with. It nails the lie that the fishing industry supports scores (hundreds? thousands?) of ‘indigenous’ jobs. I look at the Filipino faces staring back at me from the pages (around 1000 men from the Philippines have crewed for the Scottish fishing industry in the last decade) and wonder what this multicultural workforce makes of Peterhead or Fraserburgh and what these communities make of the men whose honest toil puts fish on our plates and in the nation’s chippies. It is a further mark of how the world of traditional, manual work continues to change in the interconnected, global world of business.

Scotland’s skippers were the most enthusiastic Brexiteers and it will be interesting to see how this plays out over the coming years. Hopefully Davenport, his studies behind him, will continue to find the motivation and skill to continue with this striking and worthwhile project.

View of Banff from Macduff, 2016. Photograph © Keith Lloyd Davenport, all rights reserved.

 

Working aboard the Troon-based trawler Progress, 2015. Photograph © Keith Lloyd Davenport, all rights reserved.

 

Peterhead Fishermen’s Mission, 2016. Photograph © Keith Lloyd Davenport, all rights reserved.

 

Renyl Lofranco from the Philippines, Peterhead, 2016. Photograph © Keith Lloyd Davenport, all rights reserved.

 

Pyramid Takeaway, Banff, 2016. Photograph © Keith Lloyd Davenport, all rights reserved.

 

Vic from the Philippines aboard the Progress, 2015. Photograph © Keith Lloyd Davenport, all rights reserved.

 

Cod and haddock for sale in Peterhead Fish Market, 2016. Photograph © Keith Lloyd Davenport, all rights reserved.

 

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The past present

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It would be easy to label Larry Herman’s work as ‘old school’.

His photography is indeed imbued with an aesthetic sense which resonates the past. Grainy, monochrome images which depict life at a time when Scotland’s Industrial Age was coming to an end and the new service economy and its illegitimate offspring, unemployment and job insecurity, had not yet pervaded everyday life. This would do an injustice to Herman’s work, however, the context of which is directly relevant to peoples’ lives today: our never-ending struggle for financial security and survival; the ceaseless toil of work; the quest to find justice in an increasingly unequal Britain.

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Clydeside 1974-76 currently on show at Glasgow’s Street Level Photoworks, offers us a glimpse of a world which, in strict terms, no longer exists: The men in the blast furnace at the Ravenscraig steel mill, the workers dwarfed by ships under construction on the Clyde; a woman, head bowed in concentration, sewing pockets to garments in a factory in Campbeltown, of all places. These locations, once the lifeblood of countless Scottish communities, swept away in the Thatcherite firestorm, now consigned to memory and preserved in a thoughtful, honest and soulful manner by Larry Herman’s photographs. They are intimate moments which humanise industry.

The title of the show may be geographically misleading, but the sentiments and honesty behind the work endures and cuts through this narrow definition of the life and land surrounding Scotland’s most famous – and infamous – river. By including images from as far afield as rural Argyll and Ayrshire, we are allowed to spy different aspects of life and work in 1970s Scotland. The pictures do not romanticise working life in Scotland, often the curse of the commentariat which likes to hark back to some ‘golden age’ when the world was Clyde built (neglecting to observe that this was all done on the blood, sweat and tears of the working man and woman). At the same time, Herman’s images do not portray a negativity and grimness of the occasional visitor or voyeur. His was a project, constructed over two years, which allowed him the time and space to develop his themes and narrate carefully a political strand to his output which subtlety and successfully takes a stand.

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If inequality is an oft-bandied word in today’s political lexicon, then some of Herman’s images in this show demonstrate starkly that it has always existed. The photograph of the fatted, ruddy country squires sits uneasily with a picture of family life in the vast, sprawling streets-in-the-sky of Glasgow’s Red Row flats. It is classic epic and everyday, woven together by a determinedly singular vision of the world, which has sustained a passion and fire in Herman’s work until this day, where he still shoots stories and projects with those same political themes at their core.

We emerge from the gallery, blinking in the early-October sunshine as people of all races, cultures and backgrounds colourfully tumble down Argyle Street, shopping bags swinging, music blaring. I remind myself that so much has changed for the better in this city and the regions surrounding it in the past 40 years, but at the same time, so much has remained the same.

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Larry Herman’s photographs are a reminder that photography can still prick our conscience and be a call to action, even after all these years. It is a timely rejoinder to anyone who thinks ‘old school’ is dated and irrelevant in the digital age.

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Clydeside 1974-76 by Larry Herman continues at Street Level Photoworks until 27th November, 2016. There will be a Q&A event with Larry Herman, Noni Stacey and gallery director Malcolm Dickson on Saturday 22nd October at 3pm, which is free to attend.

Gallery photographs © Colin McPherson, 2016, all rights reserved.

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