The Guisers by Margaret Mitchell

Over three Halloweens (2015-7), Margaret Mitchell photographed children who visited her home as Guisers. Their highly individual costumes displayed not only their originality but also conveyed aspects of the inner world of the child. Sophie spoke with Margaret about the project and took a look through the newspaper that Margaret has published in time for Halloween.

From the series ‘The Guisers’ image © Margaret Mitchell 2018

From the series ‘The Guisers’ image © Margaret Mitchell 2018

 

From the series ‘The Guisers’ image © Margaret Mitchell 2018

From the series ‘The Guisers’ image © Margaret Mitchell 2018

 

DS: We enjoy your work at Document Scotland, Stephen wrote about your projects ‘Family’ and ‘In This Place’ for the Document Scotland site in 2017. Your portraiture and long term projects feature children frequently, how did this project get started?

MM: All my photography is generally concerned with the intricacies and complexities of people and their lives. Other work has looked at issues around family, childhood, social geography and equality, of people and their lived experiences – all stories of people basically. This work presents a particular childhood experience within a centuries old tradition that continues to be practiced in Scotland.  Through the tradition of guising at Halloween and the costumes– the disguises – worn by over 60 guisers, we are given an insight into a child’s world and also a document of a time.

‘The Guisers’ started out back in 2015 as a reaction to what I observed as a parent living in a community where the tradition of guising is very strong in childrens’ lives here in Glasgow. I realised some people in the UK believed Halloween to be a recent American import which surprised me as I went guising as a child in the 70’s and my son continues to do so. Guising has been a tradition in Scotland and parts of the UK and Ireland for hundreds of years with its roots suggested to be in the Celtic Samhain festival. It was taken to America by emigrants from these various Celtic origins and added to other cultural influences to become the American trick-or-treat.

So this brings us back to nowadays and what contemporary children are doing in Scotland. What the tradition of guising and visiting neighbours’ houses means and within that what they choose, plan (often weeks in advance) and then create, to disguise themselves as and then perform a ‘party piece’ just as I did as a child. So I decided to start documenting this important and intriguing tradition but also to provide an insight into a child’s world through their costume, and within that, their fantasy and play choices.

 

From the series ‘The Guisers’ image © Margaret Mitchell 2018

From the series ‘The Guisers’ image © Margaret Mitchell 2018

 

From the series ‘The Guisers’ image © Margaret Mitchell 2018

From the series ‘The Guisers’ image © Margaret Mitchell 2018

 

DS: Guisers are a familiar site at Halloween in Scotland, and as a child I remember dressing up and going around the neighbourhood. The scale of this project though seems quite incredible to me – there are so many, who are all these characters?

MM: In my community there is a strong tradition of guising and we get an abundance of visitors every year – last year alone I counted over 80 guisers. I am sure it is different for different areas even within this city. When my son was younger, I would host Halloween parties and as he got older, guising itself took over. But it’s significant to remember that this is local children who are visiting our home, children whose parents you know or whom you know through friends of friends, who come as a group, or with parents and this is a sense of celebration, of excitement and of a community sharing. The photos only represent a relatively small number of the guisers who visit because I cannot take photographs and also listen to their songs and dances and jokes, manage apple-dooking and also do a photo. Some children visit me between school getting out – where they go dressed up for Halloween and celebrate during the day – and them starting guising proper at about 6 pm. Other children are photographed during guising itself when they come in, do their joke, dance or song and then do a photograph.  Someone called it my ‘Guisers Studio’ and I like that idea, that these children in that time of being in that emotional space in their mind, pop in and get their portrait taken. This day that becomes an exciting and celebratory evening during a distinct and important childhood experience. As mentioned, I know these children or they come with parents, friends, and friends of friends, so their participation is often spontaneous.

 

DS: The expressions suggest a pride in their costumes, and a seriousness – how do they behave during the portraits, what’s the exchange between you like, any funny stories? 

MM: I wouldn’t say anything particularly funny happens as the children are really quite serious in both the costumes they choose and also in the party piece they choose to perform. It is something they often plan a long time in advance – parents have even told me what their child starts planning just after Christmas is over! So very obviously, it is a major event in some children’s lives, greatly loved by them and with a lot of significance.

When children visited, I would ask about their costumes and why they chose that particular disguise. The reasons can be incredibly detailed and complex and through this, little insights are given into how a child is thinking when they choose to dress as they do. For example, some want to be creepy, they want to adhere to this idea of a ‘spooky’ Halloween and within that confronting darker undertones of life.

 

From the series ‘The Guisers’ image © Margaret Mitchell 2018

From the series ‘The Guisers’ image © Margaret Mitchell 2018

 

Others become more intricate, more abstract and subsequently more revealing in their reasoning. Some of this is evident in their appearance, added to by some information they shared with me when asked. One child told me he was a ‘Victorian Gentleman’ because he liked to speak 18th Century English. I find this fascinating that these interior worlds of a child’s play are then presented on this evening of guising. Another told me he was ‘Untitled’ when I asked who he was which I thought was intriguing as he looked like he had been in an accident. Most of the costumes are home-made, mash ups of fantasy play. Some are as expected: the zombie, the witch, the movie characters. Others are slightly darker, more invented, something that tends to appear as the children become a little older and inventing more, not reproducing certain common strands.

We have to remember too though that we are looking at these photographs through adult eyes, perhaps taking our own knowledge and experience of the world and laying those onto these children when it may not be the correct interpretation. I try to remain mindful of that but at the same time I believe some costumes are incredibly revealing into these childhood worlds, into a world of play, of fantasy, and for some, the consolidation of the darker elements in life.

 

From the series ‘The Guisers’ image © Margaret Mitchell 2018

From the series ‘The Guisers’ image © Margaret Mitchell 2018

 

From the series ‘The Guisers’ image © Margaret Mitchell 2018

From the series ‘The Guisers’ image © Margaret Mitchell 2018

 

DS: I agree, it’s fascinating, especially seeing them in such a huge number, to interpret the images and their underlying narrative, what do you feel the project communicates in a wider context, what do you see here?

MM: Essentially, this work looks at the complexity of being a child as presented through their chosen costume – their disguise – at Halloween. In a wider framework this is a portrait of these children at this specific time, within this ongoing tradition in Scotland. It presents not only the varied disguises they are choosing and making (often with the parents’ help of course) but also offers us the viewer a little entry point into their world and their minds; to their experiences of being a child –  a guiser – in Glasgow, in Scotland in our present time. They are continuing this tradition that I myself did and all those who preceded through the years of guising and making lanterns from turnips, visiting their neighbours and performing for some nuts, sweeties and fruit in return. It is very much about community, about sharing. It is also about the experience of childhood and confronting darker elements and dealing with them. It is interesting that some children chose not to deal with or confront the ‘scary’. For example, one boy dressed as a footballer (‘I had a beard but it washed off’) because he does not like ‘scary stuff’. Another younger child also dressed as a footballer but had blood running down his legs in zombie mode. A good amount of these costumes are not based on anything factual or character-based but are invented by the wearer. There is a unicorn (two children inside) who I know walked to school and home again dressed as this fantastic unicorn. They told me they dressed as such so that if people got scared at Halloween, they might be happy when they saw them. A lot of thought and reasoning goes into this one night. A lot of childhood experience.

From the series ‘The Guisers’ image © Margaret Mitchell 2018

From the series ‘The Guisers’ image © Margaret Mitchell 2018

 

From the series ‘The Guisers’ image © Margaret Mitchell 2018

From the series ‘The Guisers’ image © Margaret Mitchell 2018

DS: Are planning to continue? This year will there be a queue of 50 guisers outside your door whilst you lie on the floor with the lights off?

MM: Haha well, I am not sure. I didn’t think I would last year and then I set up my ‘Guisers Studio’ at the last minute. So yes, perhaps I will. It usually comes from children and parents asking me so we will see. My son is getting older but he is still guising at least for one or two more years. Children in the project range from about 3 up to about 14, so there comes a time, a cut off, when they no longer want to go out guising.

 

Thanks Margaret for taking the time to talk to us in such depth about this project

To accompany this series Margaret has made a publication of all 60 guisers from the past 3 years that she photographed. All those involved will receive a free copy as a way of thanks for being involved and as a keepsake for this time in their lives, for their creativity and their intriguing presentation of being a child at Halloween.

Copies are available to purchase through Street Level Photoworks and online from Margaret at the links below.

https://margaretmitchell.co.uk/the-guisers/
https://margaretmitchell.bigcartel.com/

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We Feed The World

Sophie Gerrard’s images from the Western Isles are featured in the exhibition We Feed The World from The Gaia Foundation at The Bargehouse Gallery, Oxo Tower, London until 21st October.

Angus MacDonald moves his Highland Cattle across the bay towards his croft at low tide, Ardbhan, North Uist, Outer Hebrides, October 2017 image copyright © Sophie Gerrard 2018 all rights reserved

 

Ena, in her croft, Ardbhan, North Uist, Outer Hebrides, October 2017 image copyright © Sophie Gerrard 2018 all rights reserved

 

Curated by Cheryl Newman and bringing together an international team of world-renowned photographers, farming communities, farmers’ movements and civil society groups, We Feed the World is a unique and far-reaching communications initiative led by Gaia. It is designed to demonstrate the vital role of agroecology and food sovereignty for climate change resilience. Through powerful imagery and amazing stories of small scale, family farmers and local communities, We Feed the World will take this message out to the wider public.

Over the last two years, 40 award winning photographers including Rankin, Martin Parr, Pieter Hugo and Gabriela Iturbide, have documented the lives of nearly 50 farming communities across six continents. The aim of these iconic images is to celebrate the work of the small, family farmers who provide over 70% of the world’s food in ecologically and socially just ways, and to highlight the challenges they currently face. By putting the spotlight on these farmers and their diverse cultures and landscapes, we counter the image of the poor, struggling farmer with a truer picture that celebrates their knowledge, resilience and overwhelming success.

The images were featured in The Telegraph article Ideal Husbandry with words by Lucy Davies.

 

We Feed the World is open to the public at the Bargehouse Gallery on London’s Southbank from October 12th – 21st 2018, from 11 am to 6 pm daily. An inspiring programme of talks, workshops and films from farmers and communities from the food sovereignty movement, international activists, photographers and business leaders will run alongside at the Gallery and other venues.

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Wildfires: Somewhere Ahead I See You

To mark the Year of Young People 2018, WildFires presents three bodies of work by women who explore the whole – and varied – truths of what it is to be young, entering the tender places of their subjects’ private terrains, from where they form themselves and address the world. Flannery O’Kafka documents the profound physicality and mystery of heredity, while Sarah Amy Fishlock examines her father’s life after death in her own mind and in the images that remain of him. Kirsty Mackay’s new work examines the photographer’s own roots, the longing and sense of belonging to the place where she grew up – Glasgow.

image © Flannery O’Kafka 2017 from the series Thin Blood / Thick Water

Somewhere Ahead I See You is a resonant celebration of youth, its fluid and decisive moments, its fleeting darknesses and deep joys.

June 11th – July 21st 2018
FLOW Photofest Gallery Wall
Eden Court, Inverness IV3, UK
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Nevertheless, She Persisted by Mhairi Bell-Moodie

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

www.outoftheblue.org.uk

See more of Mhairi’s work here

 

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10 From The North | 10 bho Tuath – an An Lanntair exhibition

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Sarah Amy Fishlock joins Document Scotland

Document Scotland begins a new era in our short and full life. We are delighted to announce that long-time friend and occasional collaborator, Glasgow-based photographer Sarah Amy Fishlock has joined us, and together we look forward to joining our energies and expertise, and building on all that Document Scotland has so far achieved in promoting documentary photography in and about Scotland.

 

We welcome photographer Sarah Amy Fishlock to the Document Scotland team.

 

Sophie Gerrard spoke with Sarah about how she got started in photography, her projects, some of her influences and what’s next.

From the series Middlemen © Sarah Amy Fishlock 2011 all rights reserved.

SG: So welcome to Document Scotland Sarah, we’re looking forward to working with you – perhaps we can start with you telling us a bit about yourself…

SAF: I was born and brought up in Glasgow. When I left school I did a degree in Literary Studies at Glasgow University – it was originally going to be an Honours English Literature degree, but I cut it short when I realised that I wanted to go to art school. My father, whom I was close to and who passed his love of visual art on to me, passed away a year after I left school. I remember being in Venice with my mother soon afterwards, and taking a photo with my little point and shoot camera – a view of a corner building, from a bridge. The photo is pretty ordinary but I remember the moment really clearly as the instant I realised I wanted to do something creative, although I wasn’t quite sure what that would be.

Even though it was photography that sparked my interest in the creative industries, I started studying Visual Communication (now Communication Design) at Glasgow School of Art when I was 21, originally intending to specialise in Graphic Design. After taking a short introduction to black and white photography course in 2nd year (my first time in a darkroom), I fell in love with the process of photography. My boyfriend at the time, though not a professional photographer, was really interested in photography, and would buy me various cheap cameras for birthdays and christmases – Olympus Trip, Holga, Fuji Instax – so my first forays into photography were really experimental. I fell in love with the way my everyday surroundings could become beautiful through photography. I spent lots of time in the darkroom during my degree – now, I can’t even remember what I was printing, but I remember it being a really meditative experience, and crucial in helping me to form ideas of what a future career could look like.

saf_middlemen_2

From the series Middlemen © Sarah Amy Fishlock 2011 all rights reserved.

SG: It sounds like your starting point was quite instinctive – tell us a little about how you developed your passion and interest …

SAF: During my degree, the artists I loved were those who made the ordinary extraordinary. I was fascinated by images of the American south – Robert Frank, William Eggleston, Stephen Shore. I still love those photographers, but I realised during my studies that my own style of photography would be more intimate, the stories I tell more focused. The Iraqi interpreters that I worked with during Middlemen, my degree project, have been through trauma that most people can’t imagine, but I wanted to tell the story of their quiet persistence, their day-to-day challenges and triumphs – a story about what happens after conflict, when people must rebuild their lives. One of the primary influences on this work was KayLynn Deveney’s The Day to Day Life of Albert Hastings – the simple story of the artist’s friendship with an elderly widower, illuminated by Deveney’s lyrical, painterly imagery.

Today, two of my main influences are Sian Davey and Bertien van Manen – two artists who produce slow, quiet, unhurried projects, in which the viewer is given an intimate glimpse into other worlds.

saf_amyeahren_1

From the series Amye & Ahren © Sarah Amy Fishlock 2012 all rights reserved.

SG: We’ve enjoyed your work such as Middlemen and Amye & Ahren and featured them in Document Scotland publications and salons, you’ve also created Goose Flesh photography zine. You’re clearly a prolific and driven individual, what motivates you?

SAF: For me, photography is a way of making contact with the world. It was hard to get Middlemen started – it look a long time and a lot of persistence to find the men, but once I did, I began to understand how humbling and illuminating it can be to help someone tell their story. While discussing a new project with a friend recently, something he said struck me – ‘the best projects are the most difficult’. For me, that’s definitely true – I want my work to challenge not only the viewer but myself, as a photographer and as a human being – to think differently, to change perspective, to reconsider opinions.

From the series Middlemen © Sarah Amy Fishlock 2013 all rights reserved.

From the series Amye & Ahren © Sarah Amy Fishlock 2012 all rights reserved.

I always begin by researching my subject: this is really important when working with a different culture, as during Middlemen, or with disabilities, like Amye & Ahren. I read around the subject and look at other artists’ work for inspiration. I’ve learned to always make work about subjects that interest me, even if they don’t seem ‘photograph-able’ to begin with – there’s always a way in. I then look for ways to access the people I want to work with – this might be through a charity, like the Scottish Middle Eastern Council who helped me meet the middlemen, or a mutual friend, who introduced me to Amye. I treat my projects as collaborations between myself and the subject – their comfort always comes first. It’s important to me that when I show my work, the people I’ve photographed are happy with and proud of the result.

In 2013 I started Goose Flesh with a small grant from Ideastap as a way of showcasing work by emerging and established artists from, living in, or connected to Glasgow, in a compact, accessible, affordable form. So far, five issues of the zine have been produced, alongside exhibitions in a range of venues around Glasgow, from Trongate 103 to the Arches. My interest in zines continued during my residency at the Citizens Theatre (2013-14 ), for which I produced two zines documenting my projects – it was a great way to bring the work back to the community that inspired it. I now teach zine workshops to university students and community groups around Scotland. This is something I’d like to continue and develop in 2017, perhaps alongside one of my photography projects. Goose Flesh is on hiatus at the moment while I develop my own photography projects – but it’ll definitely be back at some point in the future!

From the series Five Lands © Sarah Amy Fishlock 2016 all rights reserved.

From the series Five Lands © Sarah Amy Fishlock 2016 all rights reserved.

SG: Have you had any surprises along the way? Unexpected moments or challenges when making your work?

SAF: I am always humbled and pleasantly surprised by the people I photograph – the middlemen and their families welcomed me into their homes, gave me lots of delicious food, and shared their stories with me. Amye and Ahren did the same, despite the daily difficulties and challenges they face as a single parent family living with autism.

I’ve begun a few projects that have later fizzled out because I wasn’t sure exactly what the focus of the story should be. It’s important to identify precisely what interests you about a situation, even if you can’t envisage the outcome right at the beginning.

From the series Five Lands © Sarah Amy Fishlock 2014 all rights reserved.

From the series Five Lands © Sarah Amy Fishlock 2016 all rights reserved.

SG: We’ve seen that your new work Beloved Curve, has been selected for Focus Photography Festival in Mumbai, and you’ve just returned from exhibiting it with Uncertain States in East London – many congratulations.  What’s coming up for you next?

My most recent project, Beloved Curve, is a departure from my previous work – it’s a series of experimental double exposures looking at my relationship with my father and my experiences of mourning his loss. I have enjoyed immensely the process of working in a different way, and I’m really proud of what the project has achieved – as well as being exhibited in Glasgow and Edinburgh this year, it’s been featured by BBC News In Pictures, the Guardian and Fiona Rogers’ Firecracker. Thanks to this coverage, I’ve recieved great feedback from members of the public who’ve connected with the work – it’s important to me that my work has resonance beyond the photography community, and I’m delighted that this project has achieved that.

I want to continue looking at some of the themes Beloved Curve touches on, but with a documentary slant – getting back into telling other people’s stories. I’m currently researching what I hope will be a long term project about child bereavement in Glasgow, as well as some smaller documentary projects.

saf_belovedcurve2

From the series Beloved Curve © Sarah Amy Fishlock 2016 all rights reserved.

I’m really excited to have the opportunity to join Document Scotland at this stage in my career – I think it’s important to have other artists to collaborate with, and to support and be supported by. I feel passionately about getting Scotland’s photography seen, not only by people in the industry, but also making connections with those outside it. Document Scotland is making this happen, through the website, events and salons as well as exhibitions. It’s a very exciting time for photography in Scotland, and I’m really pleased to be a part of it.

SG: Thank you for joining us Sarah and for taking the time to do this interview Sarah, we’re excited to be working with you!

If you’d like to see more of Sarah’s work please …

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Jo Spence

Photo Therapy, (1984-86) Jo Spence in collaboration with Rosy Martin Copyright the Estate of Jo Spence. Courtesy Richard Saltoun Gallery

Photo Therapy, (1984-86) Jo Spence in collaboration with Rosy Martin Copyright the Estate of Jo Spence. Courtesy Richard Saltoun Gallery

 

The work of Jo Spence, British photographer, educator and writer (1934 – 1992) is the focus for Stills Gallery’s summer exhibition. Curated by Ben Harman, the exhibition presents a powerful and important collection of Jo Spence’s work from her documentary work and collaborative projects to her self exploratory portraiture.

From Stills exhibition introduction:

‘Typically working in collaboration with individuals or groups, using the camera as a tool to empower herself and others, Jo Spence explored how photography can represent, frame and construct reality. She worked tirelessly to address issues such as class, family, sexuality, illness and death and made a hugely influential contribution to photographic practice and debates around the politics of representation.’

 

Children’s Educational Work , 1973-75 Jo Spence in collaboration with Terry Dennett Installation view at Stills, Edinburgh, 2016 Courtesy the Estate of Jo Spence and Richard Saltoun Gallery Photo © Alan Dimmick

Children’s Educational Work , 1973-75 Jo Spence in collaboration with Terry Dennett Installation view at Stills, Edinburgh, 2016 Courtesy the Estate of Jo Spence and Richard Saltoun Gallery Photo © Alan Dimmick

 

Children’s Educational Work , 1973-75 Jo Spence in collaboration with Terry Dennett Installation view at Stills, Edinburgh, 2016 Courtesy the Estate of Jo Spence and Richard Saltoun Gallery Photo © Alan Dimmick

Children’s Educational Work , 1973-75 Jo Spence in collaboration with Terry Dennett Installation view at Stills, Edinburgh, 2016 Courtesy the Estate of Jo Spence and Richard Saltoun Gallery Photo © Alan Dimmick

 

The exhibition is divided into three sections

  • Children’s Educational Work (1973-75) Documentary work from her long term collaboration with Terry Dennett including images from Children Photographed, Adventure Playgrounds and The Secret World of Children.
  • Self Portraits (1978-92) Jo’s challenging and powerful self exploratory images made in collaboration with others and including photographs about her breast cancer diagnosis.
  • The Polysnappers (1981) A rare collection of panels from the degree show work Family, Fantasy and Photography by the collaborative group formed when Jo Spence was a student.

 


Document Scotland were kindly given the opportunity to speak to Ben Harman Director of Stills Gallery and curator of this exhibition, Mary-Ann Kennedy lecturer at Edinburgh Napier University and a member of the Polysnappers who worked with Jo in the 1980s and Malcolm Dickson Director of Street level Photoworks who curated an exhibition of Jo’s work in Glasgow in 2005.

We asked Ben, Mary Ann and Malcolm about their experiences working with Jo, creating work collaboratively, curating exhibitions in Scotland and why her work is important, and ever relevant in 2016.

We hope you enjoy the images and interviews. Do catch the exhibition at Stills if you can, it’s on until 16th October 2016 and one not to miss this Festival.

 


 

Document Scotland: Ben, what attracted you to curate this exhibition of Jo Spence’s work at Stills Gallery in Scotland at this time?

Ben Harman: In my previous job as Curator of Contemporary Art for Glasgow Museums I was regularly in touch with Terry Dennett from the Jo Spence Memorial Archive in London and I included Jo’s work in several exhibitions at GoMA between 2004 and 2013. Glasgow Museums had acquired work from Jo in about 1990, towards the end of her life. As far as I’m aware, it was the first public collection in the UK to do so.

Jo has been represented in themed group exhibitions at Stills in the past but a solo show in Edinburgh seemed long overdue. The timing of our display is largely due to our interest in presenting her work during the Edinburgh Art Festival at a time of year when we typically receive our highest audience figures. During last year’s festival, our exhibition of work by kennardphillipps was incredibly well received and so for 2016 we wanted to offer something similarly concerned with how photography can alter and inform our experiences of the social and political issues of our time.

Jo Spence installation view at Stills, Edinburgh, 2016. Courtesy the Estate of Jo Spence and Richard Saltoun Gallery Photo © Alan Dimmick

Jo Spence installation view at Stills, Edinburgh, 2016. Courtesy the Estate of Jo Spence and Richard Saltoun Gallery Photo © Alan Dimmick

 

DS: Malcolm, in 2005, along with Terry Dennet of the Jo Spence Memorial Archive, you curated the exhibition ‘Jo Spence : Photographer – Works from the Archive’ at Street Level Photoworks in Glasgow. Can you tell us a little about that exhibition.

Malcolm Dickson: Jo was, of course, a pioneer in photographic practices but also a prolific writer, teacher and cultural worker across the board. What appealed to us was the inspiring combination of an oppositional stance with an exploratory and playful spirit. She also had a salient position in terms of the subject which is never talked about – Class! Jo believed that everyday life is the source of all meaningful art – photography is a tool that can be used by everyone in any situation for self-knowledge, personal growth and of course social critique.

The exhibition at Street Level covered three decades – some from her early high street studio work in the mid 70s; works from the mid-80s on self-image, class and health; and the ‘Final Project’ in the 90s, in which we presented 15 newly produced and framed prints which illustrated her allegorical approach in still lives.

A wall also contained wallpapered posters from collectives she helped establish – Photography Workshop, Half Moon, Camerawork, the Hackney Flashers and the Polysnappers. We also had available a number of copies of Photography Politics which she co-edited with Terry.

 

DS: Ben, why did you focus on the particular elements of Jo Spence’s work you’ve gathered together for this exhibition at Stills?

BH: We wanted to find a way of presenting work that Jo is well-known for as well as material that hasn’t been seen in Scotland before. In this way the exhibition might serve as a point of interest for those that are familiar with her work as well as an introductory overview for those that are not.

Past exhibitions in Scotland, such as at Street Level Photoworks, Glasgow in 2005, have covered much of the ‘Final Project’, her last series made in collaboration with Terry Dennett, so we are only exhibiting two works from that series.

The term ‘Self Portraits’ is a bit inadequate in relation to Jo’s work which was always in collaboration with others but we found this to be a useful umbrella title under which to show examples from a variety of her projects and collaborations from the late 1970s onwards. These are presented in our front gallery.

The photographs from Children’s Educational Work has been available as research material but is very rarely seen. I felt it was important for this to be on display as it provides a fascinating background to Jo’s later work and shows where she wanted to take photography at a time when she had become completely disillusioned with her commercial photography business.

The Polysnappers material is quite simply unique and has not been on public display on this scale since 1981. The group were formed at the Polytechnic of Central London, where Jo had enrolled as a mature student in 1979, and Family, Fantasy & Photography was their final degree show. At the core of this work is a concern with the politics of representation. For the inclusion of this work I have to thank Mary Ann Kennedy who was a member of The Polysnappers (along with Jo Spence, Charlotte Pembrey and Jane Munro) and is based in Edinburgh.

 

Family, Fantasy & Photography, (1981) by The Polysnappers Installation view at Stills, Edinburgh, 2016 Courtesy Mary Ann Kennedy, Jane Munro, Charlotte Pembrey and Jo Spence Photo © Alan Dimmick

Family, Fantasy & Photography, (1981) by The Polysnappers Installation view at Stills, Edinburgh, 2016 Courtesy Mary Ann Kennedy, Jane Munro, Charlotte Pembrey and Jo Spence Photo © Alan Dimmick

 

Family, Fantasy & Photography, (1981) by The Polysnappers. Installation view at Stills, Edinburgh, 2016. Courtesy Mary Ann Kennedy, Jane Munro, Charlotte Pembrey and Jo Spence Photo © Alan Dimmick.

Family, Fantasy & Photography, (1981) by The Polysnappers. Installation view at Stills, Edinburgh, 2016. Courtesy Mary Ann Kennedy, Jane Munro, Charlotte Pembrey and Jo Spence Photo © Alan Dimmick.

 

DS: Speaking of the Polysnappers, Mary Ann – in this exhibition at Stills we see a large (and rare) display of panels produced in 1981 by ‘The Polysnappers’ a group which you were a part of  – could you tell us a little about who they were and how/why they came about?

Mary-Ann Kennedy: I was a photography student at the then polytechnic of central London with a determination to work collaboratively whenever possible and a commitment to education and visual literacy. Charlotte, Jane and I had been working together when Jo joined the poly in our second year.  By the end of that year we formed the Polysnappers to address the politics of representation, visual literacy and the responsibilities of the image maker within an educational format – the travelling exhibition- that was accessible to a wide audience.

 

DS: What was the focus of your work as a group?

MAK: ‘Three Perspectives on Photography’ opened at the Hayward Gallery in 1979*, Community arts was beginning to embrace the use of photography, predominantly in its documentary format. Media education was interrogating film, TV and advertising but not the production and use of the photograph. We felt there was a space to visually work through the role photography plays in the formation of identities, in our understanding of the world and our place/position within it – and to make visible the personal as political.

Photography is a communicative tool, great for telling stories – as image makers we were concerned with the paucity of stories told, the voices silenced, and how photography too often colluded in those absences.

(* The Hayward Gallery’s first exhibition of photography described as “groundbreaking” by Gloria Chalmers in Portfolio Magazine)

 

DS: What was your experience of working collaboratively?

MAK: As with all collectives – we debated (argued!) but we found, acknowledged and worked to our individual strengths.  My memory may be of continual exhaustion but our depth of engagement and production level was only possible through collaboration.  We were able to push each other, network beyond our imagining as well well as learn new skills.  It was quite magic!

 

DS: What do you feel is the relevance and importance of showing this work in 2016?

MAK: The work was exhibited by the Cockpit Community arts project  for over 10 years but it has formed the basis of over 30 years teaching in higher education for me.  It may have been nostalgic for me to see it exhibited in a ‘retrospective’ –  I was rather concerned about how ‘dated’ it would look.  But it has been a salutary lesson in the response of, particularly, young women – the recognition that far too little has changed.  If the work is resonating with the current wave of feminism – a wider, more inclusive reflection on the role that photography plays in lived experience, then I’m indebted to Ben for showing it.

MD: The exhibition at Stills is a critical re-evaluation of Jo’s work and hones in on certain key material largely unseen since its original production – the collection from the Polysnappers for example; the original photographs from the studio portrait days and early days of Photography Workshop. It combines all the elements of Jo’s practice as a visual artist, activist, and educationalist very well and these elements are vital components in helping the public and younger artists to understand the inextricable link between them in a ‘practice’

 

Image credit: Various poster works, 1979 – 1995, Jo Spence. Courtesy Street Level Photoworks, Glasgow & Terry Dennett

Image credit: Various poster works, 1979 – 1995, Jo Spence. Courtesy Street Level Photoworks, Glasgow & Terry Dennett

 

DS: Ben, what was the reason to include only a small collection of Jo’s documentary work from the 1970’s in this current exhibition?

BH: It was important to have a representative balance of work in the exhibition so I didn’t want the content to be weighted too much in any one direction. However, Jo was extremely prolific and any one series or aspect of her work, such as this, could easily be drawn out for an exhibition in itself. There is also the practical reason that much of the documentary material from the 1970s is unframed and this has an affect on exhibition design and related costs.

I hope that each of the three sections of our exhibition offer enough of a taster to encourage visitors to go away and find out more about Jo’s work and ideas. A few comments have been made referring to our exhibition as a ‘retrospective’ which is flattering but far from the truth. Our presentation is really just the tip of the iceberg but the work must be seen!

In a note from Jo to Terry Dennett, discovered after her death in 1992, she quoted Woody Guthrie: “When I am gone don’t mourn – organise.”

 

Jo Spence, Adventure Playgrounds: Photographing housing communities and children’s playgrounds (1973-1975). Copyright the Estate of Jo Spence. Courtesy Richard Saltoun Gallery

Jo Spence, Adventure Playgrounds: Photographing housing communities and children’s playgrounds (1973-1975). Image © Copyright the Estate of Jo Spence. Courtesy Richard Saltoun Gallery

 

DS: What do you feel is the relevance and importance of showing Jo’s work in 2016. How is the show being received?

BH: We are 1 month into the exhibition and we are on track to have one of our busiest exhibitions on record. This is partly due to the enduring influence, importance and relevance of Jo’s work and ideas. The issues of class, illness, ageing, sexuality, family and gender politics that she addressed have not gone away. Her development of the Photo Therapy technique (with Rosy Martin) and her use of the camera as a tool to empower herself and others and to construct her own image seems to have anticipated contemporary trends.

MD: Although ten years apart, I think the recent show at Stills and the earlier one at Street Level have given substantial representation of Jo’s practice, and provided understanding of the convergence of political and artistic concerns that index community photography to all subsequent socially engaged practices in British Art.

I first met Jo in 1990 when she came to Glasgow and did a talk through the Free University of Glasgow that I was involved in at the time. She contributed an article around her book ‘Cultural Sniping’ to the relaunched Variant and her image was on the cover. The purchases made by Glasgow Museums of her work are very important in keeping her work circulating – Ben was an advocate of that in his previous role and it’s really satisfying to see that coming through in this excellent exhibition at Stills.

 

Jo Spence, Contact Sheet - Gypsies, Vintage Gelatin Silver Print, 1974 © Jo Spence & Terry Dennett image courtesy of Hyman Collection, London

Jo Spence, Contact Sheet – Gypsies, Vintage Gelatin Silver Print, 1974 Image © Copyright the Estate of Jo Spence. Courtesy Hyman Collection, London

 

Jo Spence, Contact Sheet - Gypsies, Vintage Gelatin Silver Print, 1974 © Jo Spence & Terry Dennett image courtesy of Hyman Collection, London

Jo Spence, Contact Sheet – Gypsies, Vintage Gelatin Silver Print, 1974 Image © Copyright the Estate of Jo Spence. Courtesy Hyman Collection, London

 

 

 

Many thanks to Malcolm, Ben and Mary Ann for speaking with us. Generous thanks also to Terry Dennett, The Jo Spence Memorial Archive & The Hyman Collection.

The Jo Spence exhibition is on at Stills Gallery, Cockburn Street, Edinburgh until 16th October 2016.

Further Resources:

 

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St Andrews Photography Festival & Salon

Celebrating 175 years of Scottish Photography in the home of Scottish Photography

We at Document Scotland are very pleased to involved with the first ever St Andrews Photography Festival 2016 where we will be presenting a Document Scotland public exhibition and a free Salon  afternoon of talks, multimedia and discussion about documentary photography in Scotland.

 

Document Scotland Exhibition

Featuring work by the four members of Document Scotland this exhibition is on at The Scores Railings – an outside street location open 24 hours – on the north side of St Andrews as you make your way to the Aquarium and the beach. The exhibition includes Drawn To The Land by Sophie Gerrard, North sea Fishing by Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert, A Fine Line by Colin McPherson and Scotia Nova by Stephen McLaren.

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Minty, Isle of Mull, 2014 © Sophie Gerrard all rights reserved

Minty, Isle of Mull, 2014 from the series ‘Drawn to The Land’ © Sophie Gerrard all rights reserved

 

Aboard the seine netter 'Argosy', on the North Sea, 1995. ©Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert, all rights reserved.

Aboard the seine netter ‘Argosy’, on the North Sea, 1995. ©Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert, all rights reserved.

 

'Site of the Battle of Redeswire, 2013' from 'A Fine Line - Exploring Scotland's Border with England' © Colin McPherson, 2013, all rights reserved.

‘Site of the Battle of Redeswire, 2013’ from the series ‘A Fine Line – Exploring Scotland’s Border with England’ © Colin McPherson, 2013, all rights reserved.

 

From the series 'Nova Scotia', Scotland. ©Stephen McLaren, 2012, all rights reserved.

From the series ‘Nova Scotia’, Scotland. © Stephen McLaren, 2012, all rights reserved.

 

Salon Event 28th August 2016 3-5pm

On Sunday August 28th, we’re hosting a Salon afternoon event to showcase some excellent Scottish photography and multimedia, to get people together and to toast the good times of the St Andrews Photography Festival.

The event will be held at Martyr’s Kirk Research Library, 80 North Street, St Andrews, KY16 9TR from 3pm – 5pm and is as ever completely FREE to attend.

We will be presenting some of our own work by the collective members Colin McPherson, Stephen McLaren, Sophie Gerrard and Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert, and also some of our favourite work by others which we’ve enjoyed featured on our blog and website from the last couple of years.
We invite you to come along for an afternoon of some great photography, multimedia and lively discussion.
No need to book, if you would like to attend please just come along. We hope you can make it, and we look forward to the chat!

 

The audience at the Document Scotland Summer Salon event at Stills Gallery, Edinburgh

The audience at a Document Scotland Summer Salon event at Stills Gallery, Edinburgh, August 2013.

 

Press Release

“The University of St Andrews Library Special Collections Division is working with BID St Andrews – the business improvement body created to support businesses in the town – and local businesses to launch an annual photography festival in August which will celebrate the role and importance of St Andrews in the world of photography and engage with those who live, work in and visit the town.

BID Chairman, Alistair Lang, explains: “We are one of the most photographed and filmed towns in the world, yet few realise much of the technology we enjoy the benefits of today began with the work of a collection of photographic pioneers who lived and worked in St Andrews in the 1800s.”

Dr John Adamson is perhaps the most celebrated – a blue plaque adorns the wall of his former home in the town on South St, now The Adamson Restaurant. But many other names are to be celebrated for the role they played, including Sir Hugh Lyon Playfair, David Octavius Hill, Robert Adamson, Thomas Rodger and Sir David Brewster.

The first six-week-long festival – from August 1 to September 11 – which is being curated by the Universtiy Library’s Photographic Collections Manager Rachel Nordstrom, will see events and exhibitions focus on the earliest days of photography in St Andrews as well as Scottish documentary photography over the last 175 years and contemporary photography.”

The Festival was recently featured in The Scotsman

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Further info

To see the full schedule of events please see the full list of exhibitions and events here

To keep up to date visit the St Andrews Photography Festival Facebook page here.

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Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert “Best Shot”

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Jeremy’s image from the Glasgow shipyards, taken in 1992 and currently featured in the exhibition Govan/Gdansk at Street Level Photoworks in Glasgow was featured in the Guardian this week with an interview by Ben Beaumont Thomas.

 

You can read the interview here:

“In the 1990s I lived in Govan, on the south side of Glasgow, near the shipyard. At the time, it was owned by a Norwegian company called Kværner, but before that it had been John Brown’s and Fairfield’s. Those are the famous names in Scottish shipbuilding. You hear talk of the days when 10,000 men worked in the yards. Sadly, that was before my time.

In the 1990s, I travelled a lot in eastern Europe. I remember talking with a worker in north east Romania, far from any coast or shipbuilding area, and he knew of Glasgow as a shipbuilding port. I always thought that was great: I love the fact that my city is known either for Rangers and Celtic – or for shipbuilding.

I wanted to grab my own little slice of Glasgow history. These are the shipyards that helped build the city and make its industrial capabilities renowned the world over. There are three yards in Glasgow now. Two are owned by BAE Systems and dedicated to defence. I haven’t tried to get in, but I’ve been told it’s pretty much impossible. The third yard, Ferguson Marine, nearly went into liquidation in 2014.

I took this in 1992, a year before Glasgow gave Nelson Mandela the freedom of the city – another project I worked on. I was 24 and wanted to get into the yards before that world disappeared. I remember being impressed by the monumental scale of it all. Parts of the ship seem quite organic: the blades of the propeller look like the underside of a whale. I shot it on an old Nikon in black and white, as that puts the focus on shapes and sizes. People have asked me if it’s perspective that makes the workers look so tiny. But it’s not. They are to scale.

A launch is an incredible thing. You hear all the klaxons going off, the speeches, the champagne bottle being broken against the ship. Then the wedges and things that hold the ship in place somehow get removed and the ship starts to slide. As it gathers pace, those huge restraining chains make an enormous noise and all the rust and dust rises into the air. The sound would echo off the buildings all around. It was a romantic, emotional moment.

A guy agreed to take me round in exchange for a print to hang in his house. I was no student of shipbuilding. I just reacted to what was in front of me. I seem to remember thinking the yards were “stour” – that’s a great Glasgow word, meaning musty and dusty. I mean, you’re outdoors and beside a river, so you get a lot of fresh air, but these are still big dusty places.

I’ve spent a lot of time on Greenpeace ships: the Arctic Sunrise, the Rainbow Warrior. I travelled the world: the Pacific, Brazil, Korea, New Guinea. Also, in the 1990s, I spent a lot of time on North Sea fishing boats. For a landlubber, I’ve done a lot of boatwork.”

 

Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert’s shipyard photos feature in Govan/Gdansk, at Street Level Photoworks, Glasgow, until 31 July.

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Northern Light Conference and Exhibition

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I was really pleased to be invited earlier this month to present a paper about my work Drawn To The Land at the recent conference and exhibition Northern Light: Landscape Photography and Evocations of The North at Sheffield Hallam University.

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Drawn To the Land exhibited at Northern Landscape exhibition SIA Gallery, Sheffield Hallam University, July 4th 2016

 

The conference and related exhibition explore the ways that photographic images address notions of a Northern landscape – whether drawing on established traditions of art and photography or whether concerned with contemporary photographic and lens based practice.  The conference will bring together scholars and practitioners to discuss a wide range of practices and critical approaches, from both contemporary and historical perspectives.

The group exhibition features work by Mark Adams, Tom Baskeyfield, Jacqueline Butler, Anne Cambell, Matthew Conduit, Kevin Crooks, Michael Day, Liza Dracup, Sabine Dundure, Sophie Gerrard, Alexandra Hughes, Henry Iddon, Mitch Karunaratne, Anna Lilleengen, Adam Murray, Mario Popham, Simon Roberts, Theo Simpson, Ravinder Surah, Jonny Sutton, Patrick Wichert, Chi Yan Wong

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Northern Landscape exhibition SIA Gallery, Sheffield Hallam University, July 4th 2016

Key note speakers at the conference were photography writer and curator Liz Wells and photographer Simon Roberts. The two days were filled with interesting discussion and debate around representation of the north and landscape photography from UK and worldwide based colleagues and photographers.

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Northern Landscape exhibition SIA Gallery, Sheffield Hallam University, July 4th 2016

 

Sheffield Conference

Presenting my paper at the Northern Landscape Conference at Sheffield Hallam University, July 4th 2016

 

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Some works featured in the exhibition, clockwise from top left Aileen Harvey, Liza Dracup, Alexandra Hughes and Simon Roberts

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Northern Light, An exhibition exploring  contemporary photographic practice in relation to the northern landscape and its representations is on at SIA Gallery in Sheffield until 31st July.

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April Salon Event – Skye!

To mark the end of our exhibition at The Scottish National Portrait Gallery, The Ties That Bind – we are off on the road again to present our work and work by photographers we admire to new audiences in Scotland. April 27th will see us in Skye – at the wonderful ATLAS Arts – if you’re nearby please do come along and join us.

The event is free – as ever – and all are welcome – see more information here

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See ATLAS Arts website at www.atlasarts.org.uk

Thank you to Creative Scotland and The University of St Andrews Special Collections for funding this Document Scotland Salon event.

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Scottish National Galleries blog – Sophie Gerrard

Our exhibition The ties That Bind is now in its final month at The Scottish National Portrait Gallery – and to mark this, Sophie has written a blog piece for the Scottish National Portrait Gallery talking about how she made her work Drawn To The Land.

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In 2013 I began an exploration of my own relationship with the Scottish landscape. Having lived away for ten years, I wanted to understand the connection I, like many Scots, have with ‘home’.

Read the full blog post here

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