Alishia Farnan lives and works in Glasgow, Scotland. She is one of the winners of the Jill Todd Photography Award 2019 and she studied photography at Edinburgh Napier University and Glasgow School of Art. Her body of work Social State explores social spaces and the everyday, specifically working men’s clubs in the west of Scotland.
“Born and raised in the west of Scotland, I grew up in an area that has a history steeped in the steel and coal industries. Generations of families live closely together in neighbourhoods and community spirit is fundamental to the area.
Men from these areas traditionally socialised in buildings based on their current or former profession – working men’s clubs were ‘the’ place to be. Weddings, funerals, christenings, birthdays were/are hosted in these multi purpose buildings.
Over the past twenty years, as traditions have changed, these buildings have become haunts for older generations instead of appealing to the younger crowds – many have fallen into financial hardship and have closed their doors. ‘Social State’ seeks to document these historic buildings before the social landscape changes beyond recognition.”
Sophie recently spoke with Alishia about this body of work.
DS: Hi Alishia thank you for speaking to us about your work, can we start with the beginning – how did you start in photography – where did it begin for you and why?
AF: I started working with photography about 2007 when I realised that I wasn’t any good at drawing, or painting and that photography was a good alternative. From there I studied it at school and continued onto Edinburgh Napier University before completing my undergrad degree at Glasgow School of Art in 2015.
DS: Your project Social State documents working men’s clubs in the west of Scotland, you’ve said that with this project you’re aiming to document these historic buildings before the social landscape changes beyond recognition – what led you to find and photograph these locations in the first place and why?
AF: These places, and the industries connected to them, have been around me all of my life. Born and raised in the west of Scotland, I grew up in an area that has a history steeped in the steel and coal industries. Generations of families live closely together in neighbourhoods and community spirit is fundamental to the area. My Gran is a historian specialising in mining in Lanarkshire, so I spent my childhood running around bings. I also had many roast dinners in my local ex-servicemen’s club with my maternal grandparents growing up. I went back to that ex-servicemen’s club in 2012 for a wedding reception and I felt a wave of nostalgia and fondness for the building. I had already started documenting interiors in my work and this seemed like a good opportunity for a new body of work.
DS: Your photographs are devoid of people, what led you to photograph these spaces when they were empty?
AF: Due to the declining memberships in a lot of these clubs there are often few people in during the week – I have had clubs tell me it’s a busy day when there were 8 men in having a drink and a game of pool. As a result of this I don’t need to work around a busy crowd or ever ask anyone to leave, I just document the spaces as I find them.
I like the idea of the viewer imagining who goes there, I think in the images you can see a portrait of the members: skid marks on the floor, scuffs on the wall, seats that have marks where people have sat for 40 years. In my photography as a whole I don’t include people and I prefer to let the spaces I work in speak for themselves.
DS: What’s significant about these places and these people for you?
They are significant because they are often the lifeblood of an area. Miners’ welfares and social clubs were hubs during the miners strikes, many of the clubs were built by the original members and now they continue to function as spaces fundamental to the community in which they reside. There is a richness to these buildings that is often immediately visible when you step inside, generations of members are proudly displayed on the walls and there’s always at least one person sitting at the bar who can tell you the entire history of the building.
DS: If you continued this project to other parts of the country what different stories or similarities do you think you’d find, also as a female accessing these once traditionally male spaces – how do you reflect on the significance of that?
I think these spaces function in similar ways, and with similar histories around the country – there will be differences dependent on industry and local history which is what makes them interesting to me. I think they still are predominantly male spaces however, there are many clubs, especially bowling, that are full of women when I visit. If I’m honest, it’s not something that I tend to dwell on when I’m making the work. Although, I was once speaking to a man in a bowling club about one that I had been to which only offers a half membership to women and he asked ‘who’s their president? Donald Trump?’
DS: What does the future hold – both for these places & the people that use them and for you as a photographer? You’ve been a winner in the Jill Todd – congratulations – where are things heading next?
AF: Thank you! Being in Jill Todd has been a lovely experience and I’m very thankful to have been included this year. In the long term I’m looking at producing Social State as a book, perhaps a series of books as the project progresses. In the short, I am at the beginning of consolidating a body of images that I have taken over the past few years with the aim to create a short run book. Project wise, Social State will continue until I have documented all the clubs in the west of Scotland and I am also in the planning stages for another project looking at similarly traditional spaces, again in Scotland.
DS: You established Peach Estate – can you give us some information about that too?
AF: I established Peach Estate with my friend and former GSA classmate Jenny Lindholm in 2016, the year after we graduated. We both felt the urge to create a platform for sharing work by photographers that we loved. We see it as a curatorial platform, we like to make selections of the artists’ work to compliment their own archives and also the artists we share around their feature. We have been lucky over the past three years to have grown a following of people who engage with us on a daily basis – it’s a really rewarding project to work on. What’s next? We would love to create a book, and to have a physical exhibition at some point – but for now, it’s solely digital.