Aye by Jörg Meier

Glasgow has long history of photographers chronicling life on its streets and in the schemes.

Some have been restless natives, others interlopers. Some passed through, others stayed and got to know Scotland’s biggest city and most populous conurbation. Glasgow gives generously to visitors, ready with smiles and stories, yet half-hidden are the truths which underpin a narrative of poverty, inequality and myriad social ills. It has all been photographed before.

It is these themes which offer the exploring eye an opportunity to grasp the Glaswegian reality. It’s no mean city and there’s no half measures, after all. Our memory bank of images is often saturated by Glasgow’s past. From Thomas Annan during the Victorian era, through Joseph McKenzie and Oscar Marzaroli’s (currently on show at Street Level Photoworks) peripatetic perambulations around the city slums, we have become familiar with a style of photography which leans heavily on tropes as metaphor. That’s not to say these photographers’ documentation of the way we lived is inaccurate or cliched. Far from it. It is a vivid truth, naked and unvarnished.

More recently, the images made by French Magnumista Raymond Depardon have come into plain sight. Shot in 1980, we see a city in its most forlorn and decayed state, updated in shocking, vibrant tints. Beauty in brutality. It is almost as if the past has been coloured in for us. A reminder what was and still is. Still more now find Glasgow a canvas on which to re-imagine the present. A roll call which includes Document Scotland’s own and others who gravitate to and navigate through the city.

To these canons of work we can now add Jörg Meier, a German who stumbled across Glasgow almost by accident in 2019 and has since embedded himself in the Dear Green Place and befriended her people. His work immediately sets you at ease. Here is a photographer who is comfortable in his surroundings. It is not difficult to imagine him striking up conversations in bars and cafes, his inquisitive nature satisfied by Glasgow’s warm embrace. His work, set out somewhat haphazardly in a project called ‘Aye’, provokes us into emotions, like all photography of value should do. It is, it seems to me, as if he has been here forever. Was that him refusing to pay Maggie’s Poll Tax? Or out on a pro-Independence demo? Or tumbling out of a gig at the Barrowlands? Or even gliding through the crowd to an Old Firm match. He looks at home here, at least that what his photography tells us.

Jörg was initially attracted to Glasgow on an exploratory trip to Scotland which involved a bike ride to Falkirk, alma mater of his favourite band, Arab Strap. But it was Glasgow he fell for. It reminds him, he tells me, of his native Dortmund, of how and where he grew up four decades ago, of the lamented decline of heavy industry, the decay and depression – and cold. With this history at the forefront of his mind, he started looking around Glasgow and seeing parallels in the shapes and forms of his childhood. Soon, he was making connections through a project near Ibrox which helps and supports people who need a second chance in life. It is at this point that his photography breaks on through to the other side.

Away from the rain-lashed streets, the eternally grey skies and banks of housing etched out in geometric shapes and sizes funnelling back from the meandering, sleepy river Clyde, he befriends locals in a way which is both genuine and heartfelt. It feels like a solid relationship is established. His portraiture leans on an idiosyncrasy which hides and reveals much simultaneously. We feel empathy and sympathy, but we still do not know the whole story. It feels good to be inside, although there is a hint of damp menace in the surroundings. Like being in a room heated only with a two-bar electric fire on a cold day outside. Nevertheless, it is warm an intimate.

He trades on ambiguity, in the way so much contemporary German photography does. It is, however, underpinned by an intellect, the difference being it is not cold nor calculated, rather enquiring, inquisitive in nature. It lets Glasgow flourish.

I ask Jörg if his project is finished. The answer is somewhat noncommittal. Like all of us, he is held in check by Covid’s chains, unable for now to rekindle his love for Glasgow, to take up with its people and restart the relationship. There is so much to do when released from the pandemic purgatory. In the meantime, enjoy what he has shown us this far on his journey. I look forward to seeing him working in Glasgow again soon. We’ll say aye to that.

To hear Colin McPherson’s interview with Jörg Meier, please become one of our valued supporters on our Patreon platform.

Photograph © Jörg Meier, 2020 all rights reserved.
Photograph © Jörg Meier, 2020 all rights reserved.
Photograph © Jörg Meier, 2020 all rights reserved.
Photograph © Jörg Meier, 2020 all rights reserved.
Photograph © Jörg Meier, 2020 all rights reserved.
Photograph © Jörg Meier, 2020 all rights reserved.
Photograph © Jörg Meier, 2020 all rights reserved.
Photograph © Jörg Meier, 2020 all rights reserved.
Photograph © Jörg Meier, 2020 all rights reserved.
Photograph © Jörg Meier, 2020 all rights reserved.

Since forming in 2012 all the work featured on our site, and the work undertaken to enable it, has been free of charge. Now, times are changing. To continue we feel we need to ask for your support, to help us manage our time and energies, and to continue sharing photography we care about, and that we hope you enjoy. Please visit our Patreon page (via button below!) and consider being a supporter, it would greatly help us and be much appreciated. Thank you – Jeremy, Sophie, Colin. 

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Returning to Muirhouse: Martello Court by Paul S Smith

There is a lot of discussion at present about what our towns and cities will look and feel like in the post-COVID world.

A death spiral of economic activity and loss of both permanent and transient populations, could lastingly render the centres barren wastelands, redundant in many different senses. With tourist numbers in decline and employees choosing to work from home, the whole service infrastructure required is becoming obsolete. The flip side, is that people are fostering an interest in localism, in how peoples’ immediate environment can serve their daily and weekly needs by starting to re-imagine what life could be like without the imperative for travelling and commuting for entertainment, employment and enjoyment.

In a sense, much of this reconfiguration has already taken place. Many of the communities housed in the areas surrounding our big cities have changed dramatically in the last three decades. They are urecognisable from what they looked like, at least, in the past. Whilst many of these changes have been cosmetic, masking deep, underlying societal problems, there’s no doubt that by altering their physical appearance, many of our peripheral housing estates, for example, have been given an outward appearance of change and improvement.

One such place is Muirhouse, one of a collection of housing schemes in the north of Edinburgh developed in the 1950s as the original process of reconfiguring the city’s centre took place. This involved slum clearing – some would say slum cleansing – scattering the capital’s population to the edges of the city, dispersing communities and displacing many of the chronic problems largely out-of-sight on Edinburgh’s fringes.

To anyone growing up in that era, places such as Muirhouse were often labelled with descriptions such as ‘notorious’, ‘violent’ or ‘deprived’ and were seen, if they were ever looked at, as a blight on the city, best ignored and forgotten about. The architecture was grey and brutal, with the area being dominated by the Soviet-style Martello Court, a 200-foot, 23 story edifice which became the epicentre and synonym for all the area’s problems.

Almost 30 years ago, Network photographer John Sturrock chronicled the community as part of the Positive Lives – Responses to HIV photodocumentary project which graphically laid bare many of the challenges facing the people of Muirhouse at the time: crime, poverty, drugs, disease. Nevertheless, what was also communicated was a strong sense of resistence and community camaraderie. A feeling that people could, and would, survive. In recent years, Document Scotland has featured the work of two other photographers who have both made work on the estate: Yoshi Kametani’s often wry and colourful portrait of the place and Paul Duke’s No Ruined Stone, an insider’s view, which laced reality with positivity.

This year, as the privations of lockdown gripped the nation, photographer Paul S. Smith embarked on his own project to document and interpret life in Muirhouse. Born in England, Paul’s family moved to Edinburgh when he was a boy, and he grew up in one of the more leafy areas of the city which abut Muirhouse. His memories tally with those of so many of the place, negative stereotypes reinforced by hearsay, rumour and suspicion. It is to his credit that, three decades on, he has chosen to revisit his childhood and confront these memories and prejudices.

We caught up with Paul and asked him a bit about his work and the approach he is taking to making it.

DocScot: Can you tell us a bit about the project?

Paul S Smith: The work Martello Court is a five-year project which began in early-March 2020 during my studies at the RCA, London. With the project I hope to give an objective eye to the people that live and work in Muirhouse, giving myself an opportunity to understand a place that dominated the imaginations of my childhood. As stated by Document Scotland’s Stephen McLaren in 2018: “Places in which we grow up rarely leave us, they exert a pull across the decades and often force us in later life to re-examine how we have become the person we are today“.

DS: The inspiration to do the work goes much further back, to your family’s time in Edinburgh…

PSS: In the summer 1987 my father gained the position as the headmaster of the prestigious public school – Edinburgh Academy. As a family we all moved to city from High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire and lived within the school grounds. My sister and I (aged eight) were fortunate enough to attend the school for free. With a Dutch mother, English father and little understanding of Scotland, we had to adjust to life in Edinburgh. I subsequently spent my adolescence there, although not always fitting in with the etiquette of public school life. It was not until the early-1990s that I first heard of Muirhouse.


It was the first class of the day at the senior school I overheard a class mate of mine describing how his brother had just been attacked whilst visiting Murihouse; a housing scheme toward the periphery of north Edinburgh (a scheme that would later be the setting for the book and film Trainspotting). He was angry, talking about his disgust of the place and the people who lived there. What I remember most is his portrayal of the poor state of the housing, describing the residents as “animals”. Rather than being appalled by his story I became instead fascinated in what I had heard. As already having the feeling of an outsider at the school, I wondered where this place was and what the residents really looked like. Way before the invention of Google Maps and, despite being just over a mile from where I lived, I never visited the scheme – instead cycling along, what I saw as the safety of, Ferry Road and occasionally looking over to where the scheme was, hopefully passing residents who were leaving and taking a bus to the city centre.

DS: The urban landscape there is dominated by Martello Court. This then became the inspiration for the project…

PSS: Within Muirhouse is the tower block Martello Court which during the 1970s became known because as Terror Tower. Standing twenty-three stories high, the block can be seen from a distance. I remember using excuses to visit Edinburgh Castle, Carlton Hill and Arthur’s Seat just to see the tower block from that distance – never telling anybody of my intention. What I liked was that despite the towers marginal location it still had a narrative within the city’s consciousness.

DS: It’s quite a leap from you as a boy to working on a photography project in the area all these years later. How did it come about?

PSS: The project Martello Court began whilst I was studying on the Masters of Research (MRes) at the Royal College of Art, RCA (finishing October 2020). As a class we were asked to respond to a page from any book that had particular significance to us. Wondering what to do I opted for Trainspotting. I decided to select a page where the name ‘Muirhouse’ was first used; then marked all the other words out. This activity helped to highlight the housing scheme away from the framework of the text. I presented the work to my class the next week. Unbeknown to me this was to be the starting point for the project; as during my first tutorial – and lengthy conversations about Scotland, outsider identity and the various housing schemes of North Edinburgh – my tutor finished by saying: “Well, I guess you’re going back to Edinburgh then!”.

DS: How did you start the photography in Muirhouse?

PSS: My first point of contact was the concierge at Martello Court, Gabriella, who put me through to the head of Martello Court Residence Association – Etta McInnes. Etta is an 88-year-old third floor resident and she gave me access to the garden, offices and stairwell in the building. She is my future point of contact for the next few years. Etta has lived on the estate for 30 years and ‘runs the show’; in fact after spending time with her I did once refer to the block as Mar-Etta Court. I had the pleasure of meeting Etta’s son Ian, on my last visit in August, who about of mother: “You didn’t have to even watch the news, you just need to go and talk to my mother and she’ll tell you everything, you know what I mean. She is better than Sky News. Ironically, Ian went to school with both Irvine Welsh and Gordon Strachan, both former residents of the scheme.

DS: Did you have any doubts or anxieties about making the work?

PSS: I found the experience of the architecture of Martello Court at first daunting, but after meeting the various characters and nationalities that inhabit the space, I discovered a warm and welcoming environment – not at all as its reputation or nickname, Terror Tower, would suggest. For my photographic work I mapped out several areas that would best suit portraits around the tower block and, on the day of my shoot, I found the residents to be particularly involved with my project and understood my interest in the area and its present population. Despite of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic I found the residents still happy to be photographed and interviewed on their views of isolation and their hopes for the future.

DS: Thank you Paul for sharing this work with us. We look forward to finding out how the project develops over the coming years. Good luck!

Paul S Smith is a lecturer in photography at Buckinghamshire College Group with a focus on alternative landscapes and communities within the United Kingdom, Europe and America. More information about his work can be found on his website.

Etta McInnes, Martello Court. © Paul S Smith, 2020 all rights reserved.
Martello Court © Paul S Smith, 2020, all rights reserved
Martello Court © Paul S Smith, 2020, all rights reserved
Martello Court © Paul S Smith, 2020, all rights reserved
Martello Court © Paul S Smith, 2020, all rights reserved
Martello Court © Paul S Smith, 2020, all rights reserved
Martello Court © Paul S Smith, 2020, all rights reserved
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Et in Arcadia Ego by Bill Duncan

I am always intrigued by creative people who manage to cross-pollinate their practice by involving other disciplines.

I first came across the work of Angus-based writer Bill Duncan in the first years of this century, when he published a couple of wry, funny and beautifully-observed chronicles of Scottish life through the prism of Calvinism. His first work, entitled The Smiling School for Calvinists was particularly uproarious, a depiction of life in Broughty Ferry narrated in the vernacular which caused me to laugh out loud across many pages.

Around the same time, I was exhibiting Catching the Tide for the first time: it was embarking on a wee tour of the North East, and Bill very kindly purchased one of the images from the show. Dialogue and correspondence followed, but as so often in the modern world, we strayed off in different directions.

Many years passed until Bill and I were re-united, this time in Argyll on Easdale, the island location for my annual photography courses. Bill signed up and produced an insightful and beautifully-crafted series about one of the residents which alerted me to his talent as a visual storyteller as well as writer.

Recently, Bill got back in touch to let me know that his series Et in Arcadia Ego, a allegorical series of images set on a Highland hunting estate was about to be published in the forthcoming SSHoP journal Studies in Photography. I thought this would be an ideal opportunity to find out more about Bill’s lens-based work.

He takes up the story: “I have been working on a photographic exploration of Highland deerstalking for four years. The project incorporates elements of landscape, nature and working lives within the wider context of Highland culture. The project has a distinctive backstory, in that I am an urban Scot with no connections with the culture and lifestyle depicted here. Indeed, some of the most challenging aspects of the project were human as much as technical: it was not easy to gain the trust of a fairly private and closely-knit community. So far I have spent numerous days on the hill with the stalkers across the seasons in all weathers, generating a large number of wide-ranging images. The project is ongoing.

As a keen hillwalker I have long been fascinated by the Red Deer and its place in Scottish culture. The project title refers generally to the concept of an imagined pastoral ideal from classical literature where goatherds tended their flocks in a sylvan paradise. More specifically, it refers to Poussin’s painting Et in Arcadia Ego, where a group of shepherds are exposed to the presence of death in their supposed idyll. I saw a parallel between these goatherds and the Highland deerstalkers who manage their herds in a landscape that is often romanticised. The images portray the animals in life and death.

Some anecdotes relating to the project may be of interest: the extensive hill fog on one of the days depicted led resulted in water ingress to my camera, corroded electronics and an expensive repair. Other conditions imposed interesting challenges: the requirement to maintain the uncompromising walking pace wordlessly demanded by the stalkers in ever-changing light and weather across miles of ascent and descent taught me the virtue of Aperture over Manual priority and precluded the use of filters, promoting instead a raw documentary aesthetic. The need to remain still and silent and, literally, to adopt a low profile, were also quickly learned and constantly observed. In addition to landscape, work and nature, the project also touches upon more controversial areas of animal ethics and social class.”

The photographs certainly have a primal, uncompromising energy about them. What interests me here is process and it is fascinating to hear that he is motivated strongly around issues which affect rural Scotland. That is something, of course, which Document Scotland is continually exploring and dissecting. It’s a pleasure to amplify other voices working on photography projects concerning our landscape and we’d like to thank Bill for sharing this work with us.

Et in Arcadia Ego. © Bill Duncan 2020, all rights reserved.
Et in Arcadia Ego. © Bill Duncan 2020, all rights reserved.
Et in Arcadia Ego. © Bill Duncan 2020, all rights reserved.
Et in Arcadia Ego. © Bill Duncan 2020, all rights reserved.
Et in Arcadia Ego. © Bill Duncan 2020, all rights reserved.
Et in Arcadia Ego. © Bill Duncan 2020, all rights reserved.

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

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Document Scotland launches its Patreon initiative

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Story Behind the Photograph with Colin McPherson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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On call on Colonsay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Archive feature: Jute Spinning in Dundee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There’s certainly no prospect of jam tomorrow!

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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


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

Become a Patron!

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The Great Football Grounds of the North by Brian Sweeney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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


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

Become a Patron!

——–

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A Contested Land – behind the lens #5

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Contested Land, at FLOW

 

The next showing of Document Scotland’s current exhibition, A Contested Land, featuring work by Sophie Gerrard, Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert, Stephen McLaren and Colin McPherson, will be at FLOW Photofest 2019, and held at Inverness College UHI.

FLOW Photofest 2019 – the international photography festival running across the Highlands & Islands and Moray in the North of Scotland, will launch on 6th September in Inverness.

 

FLOW would be delighted if you would be able to attend their official opening on the 6th September (6:00-8:00 p.m.) at:

Inverness Museum and Art Galley (IMAG)
Castle Wynd
Inverness
IV2 3EB

On show at IMAG will be work by Michael Flomen, Jana Romanova and Hannah Laycock. At Eden Court Theatre, a short walk away (and open till 10.00pm) we have work on show from:

Beka Globe
Jen Kinney
Tini Poppe
John Farrell
Adam Panczuk
Jeff J Mitchell
Daniel White
Sarah Riisager
Elena Chernyshova

At Inverness College UHI we have a major show from Document Scotland – A Contested Land.

The Launch night will also feature a visual display of work being shown outside Inverness in Thurso, Stornoway, Elgin, Findhorn, Uist and Ullapool by:

David Buchanan,
Iain Sarjeant (in association with Street Level Photoworks)
Kotryna Ula Kiliulyte,
Kacper Kowalski
Linda Lashford
Paul Glazier (in association with Street Level Photoworks)

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Drawn To The Land – Perth Museum and Art Gallery

Sophie was commissioned by Perth Museum and Art Gallery to continue her long term project Drawn To The Land, the resulting work is currently being exhibited at the gallery until the end of October.

Anna MacKinnon rolling fleeces at Amulree, Perthshire. June 2019

Anna MacKinnon rolling fleeces at Amulree, Perthshire. June 2019. From the series Drawn To The Land.  Image © Sophie Gerrard 2019 all rights reserved.

 

Laighwood, Perthshire, May 2019

Laighwood, Perthshire, May 2019. From the series Drawn To The Land.  Image © Sophie Gerrard 2019 all rights reserved.

 

Lucy gathering ewes, Foswell, Auchterarder, Perthshire, June 2019. From the series Drawn To The Land.  Image © Sophie Gerrard 2019 all rights reserved.

 

Mary, Connachan, Perthshire, April 2019.

Mary, Connachan, Perthshire, April 2019. From the series Drawn To The Land.  Image © Sophie Gerrard 2019 all rights reserved.

Drawn To The Land continues to be a fascinating journey for me. For this chapter it took me to Perthshire, where I also worked with Perth Museums’ photographic archive, following the journey of John Watt who documented Laighwood, a hill farm near Dunkeld, in the late 50s. I returned to that farm and met and photographed Elizabeth, who features in some of Watt’s earlier images. I also continued to work with Mary, a farmer who featured early in Drawn To the Land, revisiting her and continuing her story. Anna and Lucy are in their 20s and work as contract shepherds in Perthshire, their lives are an important new addition, giving alternative perspectives and a fresh approach to a traditional farming way of life.

The exhibition includes images made earlier in the project, around 2015, these new works and archive images from John Watt’s collection made at Laighwood and other locations in Perthshire from 1959 – 1961.

 

Shepherd moving blackface sheep at Laighwood, Butterstone, Perthshire. Image by John Watt between 1959 and 1961, © Perth Museum and Art Gallery archive.

Shepherd moving blackface sheep at Laighwood, Butterstone, Perthshire. Image by John Watt between 1959 and 1961, © Perth Museum and Art Gallery archive.

 

Elizabeth Bruges, Perthshire Highland Show. Image by John Watt between 1959 and 1961, © Perth Museum and Art Gallery archive.

Elizabeth Bruges, Perth Highland Show. Image by John Watt between 1959 and 1961, © Perth Museum and Art Gallery archive.

 

Elizabeth Bruges, shown above in a photograph by Watt, at a time when her father oversaw the hill farm, is now herself an owner of Laighwood, alongside with her brothers, I met and photographed her for this recent chapter of the project. Hers is an interesting story and one which highlights in many ways the hurdles many women in agriculture faced at the time.

Elizabeth, Laighwood, Butterstone, Perthshire, May 2019.

Elizabeth, Laighwood, Butterstone, Perthshire, May 2019. From the series Drawn To The Land.  Image © Sophie Gerrard 2019 all rights reserved.

 

A photograph of Elizabeth gathering sheep, Laighwood, Butterstone, Perthshire, April 2019. From the series Drawn To The Land.  Image © Sophie Gerrard 2019 all rights reserved.

 

Elizabeth Bruges of Laighwood, Butterstone, Perthshire with copy of The Story of a Scottish Black Face Sheep.

Elizabeth Bruges of Laighwood, Butterstone, Perthshire with copy of The Story of a Scottish Black Face Sheep. © Paul Adair, Perth Museum & Art Gallery 2019 all rights reserved.

 

Installation shot of drawn to The Land at Perth Museum and Art Gallery. July 2019

Installation shot of drawn to The Land at Perth Museum and Art Gallery. July 2019

 

Installation shot of drawn to The Land at Perth Museum and Art Gallery. July 2019

Installation shot of drawn to The Land at Perth Museum and Art Gallery. July 2019

Paul Adair of Perth Museum said…

 ‘My  first encounter with Sophie’s exhibited work was at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in 2016. The Ties That Bind was a Document Scotland group show and Sophie was exhibited work from her Drawn to the Land series. I loved everything about her work. The quiet stillness of her studies- portraits of lives through carefully observed details. The colour palette of her film-based work seemed so right for the material she was recording.

Sophie’s series on women working the land included Mary McCall Smith’s farm near Crieff in Perthshire. I saw an opportunity to work with Sophie to develop her Perthshire work for a display at Perth Museum & Art Gallery. I am delighted that Culture Perth & Kinross has been able to commission Sophie to work with additional Perthshire women in farming. As well as making a fantastic exhibition, acquiring some of Sophie’s work is a valuable addition to the photographic archive here at Perth Museum & Art Gallery. The archive already has a strong documentary theme and this cross over between art and social document inherent to photography fulfils makes for a potent combination.’

Installation shot of drawn to The Land at Perth Museum and Art Gallery. July 2019

Installation shot of drawn to The Land at Perth Museum and Art Gallery. July 2019

 

It’s important to me to continue this work, and I’d grateful that Perth Museum saw an opportunity for collaboration. Working with the archive has been a fascinating addition. Women who work the land in Scotland are under represented, they have been for centuries, indeed representations of landscape, landscape photography and farming have often been presented through a male viewpoint. I hope that this project can continue to explore these themes and continue to take me to the far corners of Scotland.

Sophie Gerrard’s Drawn to the Land is on until 31 October 2019 at Perth Museum and Art Gallery. Admission is free. Read the full press release here.

Perth Museum & Art Gallery, 78 George St, Perth, PH1 5LB

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A Game of 2 Halves in Coatbridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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