A Contested Land: Behind the lens #1

In the lead up to the opening of our forthcoming exhibition at the Martin Parr Foundation in Bristol in January, 2019, each of the four Document Scotland photographers gives an insight into the work they have made for the show. We start with Colin McPherson, who tells us about his project entitled Treasured Island.

“Last year, we sat down as a collective and discussed what the big issues were facing Scotland at present. Although it is blinding obvious to mention Brexit and all the ramifications and spin-offs from that, including the prospect of a second Independence referendum at some point, we wanted to look more broadly at what challenges and changes Scotland face, and how we could illustrate this through a collaborative photographic narrative.

One theme that we kept on coming back to was ‘land’. Taken in its broadest context, the relationship between our history and people has always been connected to a sense of place in Scotland. Whilst the issues around land-ownership and management, with its relevance to the environment and economic growth, are often debated, these subjects are best illuminated when narrated either through people, communities or by the photographer themselves. We wanted to show the diversity of Scotland within the idea of a project based around ‘land’ and to be able to stretch the imagination of our audiences to think beyond the obvious. As always, that’s a difficult task, but one I think we have achieved through A Contested Land, the title we settled on for the four individual bodies of work.

From ‘Treasured Island’, 2018. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2018 all rights reserved.

 

The problem is there are just so many interesting aspects to our ongoing relationship with the physical landscape of Scotland. Misty-eyed romanticism often clouds our judgement about where we live and how we relate to our surrounding environment. For myself, I wanted to tell a personal story, one which could resonate beyond the confines of where I made the work, and which would challenge me to re-examine my relationship and place within a very special community in Argyll.

My connection with the tiny, car-free island of Easdale goes back three decades. I first visited on holiday, and having fallen in love with the place, subsequently built a house and lived there for a year. It is a location best known for its history as the centre of the Scottish slate quarrying industry of the 19th century. Easdale slate was said to have roofed the world, and this industrial legacy is still very much in evidence today, with abandoned buildings, piles of slate spoil and disused flooded quarries configuring the landscape. I was more interested, however, in the parallels of life then and now, more specifically by looking at the difference in men’s lives in the past and today, and how memories of a bygone age still resonate today.

Life was indeed hard in the days when teams of men quarried for slate. The work was relentless and the conditions harsh. But life on Easdale was embellished by a strong sense of communal life, with a school, evening classes for adults and other activities. Paradoxically, it is much harder for islanders these days to engender the same sense of community, although Easdale today boasts a pub, has an active residents group and organises events such as the annual World Stone Skimming Championships. The main connection with the past, however, lies in the challenges and difficulties faced by the population today: the unpredictable weather and tough economic conditions both locally and further afield mean that life and living are almost as precarious today as during the quarrying heyday, when over 400 people lived on Easdale.

From ‘Treasured Island’, 2018. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2018 all rights reserved.

 

Making the work for Treasured Island allowed me to engage with the community on a new level personally. Although a frequent visitor to Easdale, I have seldom previously used my camera as a means of exploring and narrating life on the island. My family has played a small part in the regeneration of the island (the population now stands at 65, having decreased to just a handful in the 1960s), so this project, shot entirely in 2018, has been my way of rekindling my connection with the place, whilst reflecting the immense sense of pride and care people take for the island. They may not always agree on what’s best for Easdale, but the sense of ownership and a love for the island’s unique landscape is never far from any conversation with local people.

I aim to continue the work I began this year. I believe that it is important to keep documenting the changes around us. We cannot say with any certainty where Scotland, or Easdale, will be in five or ten years’ time, but whatever happens we will still look back to the past to inform ourselves about the present, and hopefully the future…”

Document Scotland’s A Contested Land will have its first showing at the Martin Parr Foundation in Bristol, England from 16th January until 16th March, 2019, before further showings in Scotland at Perth, Dunoon and Inverness.

Martin Parr Foundation
316 Paintworks
Arnos Vale
Bristol
BS4 3AR

Gallery opening times
Wed to Sat, 11am – 6pm
Sun to Tue, closed

Free entry to all exhibitions.

Touring exhibition dates

– Salon event at Stills Gallery, Edinburgh. 7th February 2019 (evening).
– Perth Art Gallery and Museum – 20th April 2019 – 23rd June 2019.
– Dunoon Burgh Hall – 20th July 2019 – 18th August 2019. Preview on 19th July.
 FLOW Photofest, Inverness, September 2019.

 

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A Contested Land

A Contested Land – new work and exhibition from Document Scotland. 

Set against the current political backdrop, Document Scotland’s four photographers examine the complex relationships between the nation’s people, history and landscape.

Showing at The Martin Parr Foundation, 15th January 2019 – 16th March 2019.

‘All Under One Banner’, Scotland. © Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert 2018.

 

“The Foundation supports and preserves the legacy of photographers who made, and continue to make, important work focused on the British Isles.” – Martin Parr.

 

A Contested Land.

When taking part in a tournament, competition or any sort of contest, it is usual to know what the prize is for winning. Whether it is a shiny medal or golden trophy, the outcome is usually something pre-determined or tangible, even if it is not ultimately obtainable by everyone competing. To the victor, the spoils: to everyone else the scars of defeat or the satisfaction not of winning but of having taken part.

If this description of where Scotland is as a nation today is somewhat allegorical, it is worth considering that the current and ongoing debate about the nation’s future hides the many layers of its story. Life continues to change and evolve, often in-spite of rather than because of the debates around the merits of becoming an independent nation, the ramifications of Brexit or the challenges posed by climate change or other seismic global events.

Into this miasma steps Document Scotland: four photographers passionate about dissecting their nation and disseminating their viewpoint beyond the border at Berwick in order to stimulate, inform and educate. By looking past the tired tropes and casual cliches which often cloud an accurate view of what Scotland is today, they aspire to offer a passionate yet dispassionate take on aspects of the nation unseen.

The past is ever-present in each of the collective’s four new individual projects which meld together to form A Contested Land, the title of Document Scotland’s forthcoming exhibition. 

 

from the series The Flows © Sophie Gerrard 2018

 

Easdale, Scotland. © Colin McPherson 2018.

 

 

‘Edinburgh Unchained’, © Stephen McLaren 2018.

 

Anti-nuclear demonstration, Faslane, Scotland. © Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert 2018.

 

For decades, Scotland’s largest city has been a hotbed of radical ideas, protest and, at times, insurgency. From the 1919 Red Clydeside rebellion, to opposition to the Poll Tax, from support for Spanish Republicans opposing General Franco to the hero’s welcome afforded to Nelson Mandela, politics has never been far from the surface in Glasgow. Today, set against the prospect of Brexit and a possible second referendum on Scottish independence, Glasgow is alive with political activity. The city has a long tradition of integrating people from elsewhere. In the past, Irish immigrants sought refuge from the Famine whilst Highlanders fled the brutal Clearances. In modern times asylum seekers have sought safe haven in the city. These events have helped shape Glasgow and given it a sense of identity and purpose and a pride that its people are ‘Clyde built,’ like the magnificent ships once manufactured on the river which snakes through the heart of the city: resilient, proud and unique.  As an insider, photographer Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert has spent a quarter-of-a-century documenting the raw and powerful political theatre which plays out in Glasgow’s public places. Saltires, tricolours and Union Jacks compete for space in vibrant and lively displays of standard-bearing, demonstrations and protests. Placards are waved, slogans chanted and the passion and belief on show evoke and provoke a visceral reaction based on one’s own point-of-view. What intrigues is not what divides the different sides of these arguments, but what, ultimately, unites: they are all Glaswegians. Strip away the banners, confiscate the flags, put them side-by-side on their marches, and you cannot tell these adversaries apart. It is what makes this work so poignant and beguiling. And offers the tantalising possibility of an undivided future, whatever the ramifications of current political discourse and disagreements.

 

from the series The Flows © Sophie Gerrard 2018

Sophie Gerrard’s work focuses on the gentle and undulating peat lands of Scotland’s Flow Country. Eschewing sentimentality, the photography looks at how this precious environmental resource has been desecrated and denuded over generations and how these almost magical places are being revived and reinvigorated through careful and considered conservation.  This is no abstract notion: survival of the peat bogs is a touchstone for the health of the nation. Once seen as ‘fair game’ for industrial-scale exploitation, Sophie poses a metaphorical question, asking us to consider our relationship with local and national areas of outstanding beauty and how these places of natural resources fit into Scotland’s topography and consciousness, linking people to the land, and vice-versa.

 

‘Edinburgh Unchained’, © Stephen McLaren 2018.

 

Building on previous work which looked at the historical ties that bind Scotland with slavery through the sugar industry, Stephen McLaren returns to the theme to explore and examine the hidden and almost forgotten link between Edinburgh’s wealth and the slave trade with Jamaica. In the immediate aftermath of this year’s Windrush scandal, it is a timely and forceful reminder that the past, in all its forms, is immediately around us. Behind the front doors of Edinburgh’s New Town lies the legacy of British colonial exploitation. With each pound passed down through the generations, Scotland distanced itself from its inheritance as architects and perpetrators of the widespread and cruel exploitation of many thousands of bonded and chained men, women and children. Stephen’s work does not exist merely to prick our consciousness, but to start a national conversation about acknowledging an historical wrong and discussion about reparations. It should also force Scotland to examine and re-evaluate the relationships with people and communities within and outwith its own borders.

Easdale, Scotland © Colin McPherson 2018

History is the starting point for Colin McPherson’s visual exploration of life on Easdale, the smallest permanently-inhabited Hebridean island on Scotland’s long, varied and sparse west coast. Once the epicentre of Scotland’s renowned slate quarrying industry, this fragile parchment of rock, sitting two hundred metres off the adjoining island of Seil, has become a by-word for repopulation and reinvention as its current community continues to battle traditional adversaries: economics and the environment. At its height in the 19th century, Easdale housed four hundred people; the quarrying provided work for the men and the slates they produced roofed the world, from the cathedrals in Glasgow and St. Andrews to the New World. When an epic storm decimated the island in the 1880s, the island went into decline and depopulation, only for a new band of pioneers to resettle and revive Easdale nearly a century later. The photographer’s personal connections with the island date back thirty years, and in this series he offers a contemporary commentary about the parallels with the past and how many of the 65 current residents live their lives.

In one sense, Scotland is not unique in that the problems it faces are identical in many other nations: environmental dangers demanding urgent governmental and public responses; poverty and lack of opportunity blighting a country of great natural wealth; inequality in all its forms scarring society, holding back peoples’ potential and draining the public purse. Viewed from afar, Scotland appears to be no different from any other country as the world evolves in the 21st century digital dynasty. However, drill down below the surface and what is revealed is a multi-layered tapestry, a hopscotch, hotchpotch history where the ebb-and-flow of power and wealth, emigration and immigration and an often rudderless sense of direction leaves the impression seen from within of a nation sailing precipitously through low-hanging haar towards an unknown destination. That is not to say there isn’t a strong sense of what constitutes Scottishness to guide the country. It pre-determines the national conversation, and if the 2014 Independence referendum highlighted one thing through the debate, discussion and diatribe, it was that those who live, work and breathe the air in Scotland feel first-and-foremost Scottish above all else. Scotland may not be colour coded like so many nations, including its much larger, more powerful and influential neighbour to the south but the sense of Scottishness runs through its citizens veins as strongly as the clear waters of any burn cascading its way down a craggy Munro into one of those fabled lochs or glens. So, whilst the direction of travel might be clear the ultimate destination remains tantalisingly unseen.

Scotland is mired in inconsistencies and contradictions. Vast tracts of its famous wilderness have been scarred by generations, centuries even, of public and private mismanagement, leaving a brutalised landscape, barely fit for human habitation and endeavour. The country’s precious marine resources are controlled by a mere five all-powerful fishing families. The wealth of the wealthiest is 250 times that of the poorest. Whilst the population of its major city conurbations continue to grow and expand, population growth in many areas is flatlining or even falling, leading to an unsustainable drain of the best and brightest from some of the most iconic and far-flung locations. The public response to this has been confused. During both the Independence and European Union referendums, the word which dominated the discussion was ‘change’. It became the go-to for anyone dissatisfied or desperate, demanding or downtrodden.

Although still rooted in many traditions of the past, one-eyed, lopsided romanticism has given way to glorious reinvention and innovative thinking. From the games designers of Dundee who brought the world Lemmings and Grand Theft Auto to Pride marches in the Outer Hebrides giving a voice to marginalised individuals, slowly but surely Scotland is loosening the grip of its moral masters, that toxic combination of power, vested interests and religious intolerance. The visual expression of this may be the flag-clad combatants who take to the streets to announce their political allegiances, displaying a fervour and belief long since lost by the footballing foot soldiers of the Tartan Army, but in quiet corners, small bedrooms and whispered conversations, Scotland is proving itself to be capable of radical thinking, a seed bed for creatives, dreamers and idealists.

The prize remains undefined and Scotland does not know is what it looks like. It is hard, if not impossible, to predict where and what Scotland will be in a generation’s time. The political tectonic plates are shifting and individuals and communities will be forced to adapt and survive in new and as yet unseen realities. With the game still very much in progress and the final result to be determined in remains an exciting time to be in Scotland, after all.

Document Scotland’s A Contested Land will have its first showing at the Martin Parr Foundation in Bristol, England from 16th January until 16th March, 2019, before further showings in Scotland at Perth, Dunoon and Inverness.

Martin Parr Foundation
316 Paintworks
Arnos Vale
Bristol
BS4 3AR

Gallery opening times
Wed to Sat, 11am – 6pm
Sun to Tue, closed

Free entry to all exhibitions.

 

Touring exhibition dates

– Salon event at Stills Gallery, Edinburgh. February 2019. Date to be confirmed.
Perth Art Gallery and Museum – 20th April 2019 – 23rd June 2019.
Dunoon Burgh Hall – 20th July 2019 – 18th August 2019. Preview on 19th July.
FLOW Photofest, Inverness, September 2019.
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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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Paul Walton’s ‘Hum’, reviewed by Frank McElhinney

This week I attended the opening of Paul Walton’s Hum, which runs until 9th February in an exhibition space on the 5th floor of Glasgow University’s St. Andrew’s building. I have been an admirer of Paul’s work for a number of years, and was impressed to see this collection of over 70 hand printed silver gelatin prints, brought together as Hum: Dispatch from the Lower Anthropocene. Walton, an ecologist and environmental campaigner by profession, uses photography to break down distinctions between science and art and explore a personal understanding of the human place in nature, of the history of life, and of environmental processes. The exhibition is reviewed here by Frank McElhinney, another contemporary Scottish artist whose work we have long admired, and has himself been interviewed for this blog (link below).

Hum: Dispatch from the Lower Anthropocene – an exhibition of photographs by Paul Walton

5:29am July 16th 1945, the precise moment of the first detonation of a nuclear weapon and, Paul Walton proposes, the commencement of the Anthropocene. It is this release of radionuclides imprinting directly upon geology that marks the crossing of the line into a new epoch when human impact on the environment becomes the defining characteristic of the period we currently live in.

In his exhibition of more than seventy hand made silver gelatin prints, Walton shares with the viewer his silent, slow burning rage. Cobwebbed daddy long legs and snail feeding trails, coexist alongside distressed plastics and metals. All show traces of decay and whether organic or manmade all are imperceptibly dusted with radioactive isotopes, touched by the cold winds blowing in from Siberia. All are strikingly presented in threes – triptychs, little trinities, the Trinity test, Jornada del Muerto desert, New Mexico 5:29am July 16th 1945.

Mabel Barber’s marine plankton, © Paul Walton 2017

In justified rage there is also a glimmer of hope. The hope that others will see what the photographer sees if his vision is communicated well enough. Photographs are anchored in stillness. Paul Walton’s photographs ask us to stop and think about time and humanity, to think about our place as aberrant species on this planet. If we see what he sees, that the Anthropocene is upon us, then surely we will change in ways that might yet stop the rot? That is one proposition or heartfelt plea of the work. And how much work, how much labour is vested in these photographs? This exhibition is Walton’s first but he has spent five years worth of weekends in the darkroom of Street Level Photoworks in Glasgow, slowly accumulating and developing the skills and the imagery to construct this rich multilayered narrative. This exhibition shows us his vision of the contemporary, precariously poised between the blind march toward End time and a conscious step away from the precipice.

Crane fly, © Paul Walton 2017

Re-photographed archival images are presented alongside new and unusual still lives that were made throughout Scotland. A nuclear blast in the Nevada desert, Paleolithic cave drawn men from Spain, and microscopic slides of marine plankton originally made by a woman who was run over by a coal truck on her bicycle after ten weeks of marriage to the photographers father. These vie for attention with sea torn aluminium from Seil, beached plastic on Tiree, bullet riddled steel plate from Perthshire and spilt milk in the Gorbals. Still life triptychs are bounded on a very long wall by grids of snagged carrier bags, little archaeologies of detritus flying in the wind like torn flags of forgotten nations. The perceived physical feat of production in such volume also plays its role in expressing the maker’s obsession with his subject. The viewer responds to the material reality encountered as well as to the visual aesthetic of the closely observed inter-connected still lives.

Slug feeding trails, © Paul Walton 2017

Hum: a low steady continuous sound. Jornada del Muerto: journey of the dead man. In a talk given at the exhibition opening Walton spoke about the influence of his late geologist father on his world-view, his obsessions and indirectly his photography. He spoke of his own professional interest in declining sea bird species and tracing root causes back through the food chain to the impact of global warming on marine plankton. Climate change and the power games humans play with nature hum, ever present, weaving their way into the fabric of our lives through our environment and eventually into our bodies themselves. Walton’s quiet photographs signal a mortal struggle. He remembers as a boy more than forty years ago, standing on a hill with his father, being inspired by stories of the wide-open plains of Siberia. This was a space of freedom and ‘fresh air’. Air that blows across Europe from the east, air that carries low level radiation: “he and I breathed in the cooling soviet isotopes, gyred in from Siberian test sites, down into our bellies, and there they stay, as geology hums, shrugs like the eider, and a new epoch begins.”

 – Frank McElhinney

Hum: Dispatch from the Lower Anthropocene  is on display at St Andrew’s building (5th floor), Eldon St, University of Glasgow, until February 9th. Mon – Thur 7.30 – 21.00, Fri 7.30 – 17.30.

Frank McElhinney was interviewed by Sarah in January 2017 – read the feature here.

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Photography Courses in Scotland

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

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

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

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

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

All photographs © Colin McPherson, 2018.

 

 

 

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Going with the Flow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Andrew Paterson Collection at Inverness College UHI.

 

Sigga Ella Title Wall at IMAG.

 

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

 

Ragnar Axelsson and Tom Kidd Eden Court Theatre, Inverness.

 

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

 

Kieran Dodds with Gingers at IMAG.

 

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

 

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

 

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Sarah Amy Fishlock / CBUK Creative Workshops

In recent weeks Sarah Amy Fishlock has been working on a series of workshops with the Glasgow branch of the UK charity Child Bereavement UK, based in Maryhill. Devised in close collaboration with the organisation, the workshops coincide with the first meetings of the Glasgow Young People’s Advisory Group, modelled on the existing setup in branches south of the border. These meetings encourage young people aged 11-25 to work together in a supportive environment, using their own experiences to work on projects focussing on ways to help themselves and other young people who are grieving. Throughout September 2017, Sarah worked on a range of collaborative creative activities with the young people and CBUK staff, using photography, collage and zine-making techniques to both explore the process of grief and build resilience and self-care skills in the here and now.

© Sarah Amy Fishlock 2017, all rights reserved

© Sarah Amy Fishlock 2017, all rights reserved.

© Sarah Amy Fishlock 2017, all rights reserved.

© Sarah Amy Fishlock 2017, all rights reserved.

© Sarah Amy Fishlock 2017, all rights reserved

© Sarah Amy Fishlock 2017, all rights reserved.

 

Child Bereavement UK supports families and educates professionals when a baby or child of any age dies or is dying, or when a child is facing bereavement.

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Here We Are, by Burberry

Here We Are, an exhibition of over 200 photographs of British documentary work by 30 photographers, including work from Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert’s North Sea Fishing series, has gone on show in London, until 1st October. The show is curated by Christopher Bailey, President and Chief Creative Officer, Burberry; Lucy Kumara Moore, writer, curator and Director of Claire de Rouen; and co-curated by photographer Alasdair McLellan.

 

Burberry ‘Here We Are’ British documentary photography show at Old Sessions House, in London.

 

HERE WE ARE – EXHIBITION OVERVIEW
A major photography exhibition exploring the British way of life and character on display at Burberry’s new show venue, Old Sessions House.
* ‘Here We Are’ will bring together the work of over 30 of the 20th century’s most celebrated social and documentary photographers, from 18 September – 1 October 2017.

 

‘Here We Are’, by Burberry. Credit: Burberry. 

 

* The exhibition will be displayed over three floors of Burberry’s new show venue Old Sessions House in Clerkenwell, which will open to the public for the first time since its restoration.
* The exhibition will feature over 200 works and will be divided into themes which reflect different aspects of the British way of life.

* The exhibition will showcase important bodies of work by individual photographers as discrete, monographic presentations, alongside the thematic displays.

* Inspired by the spirit captured in British social portraiture, Burberry’s September collection for men and women will be presented at Old Sessions House on Saturday 16 September at 7pm.
Exhibiting photographers – ‘Here We Are’ will feature over 200 works by over 30 photographers including Alasdair McLellan, Andy Sewell, Armet Francis, Bill Brandt, Brian Griffin, Charlie Phillips, Chris Steele-Perkins, Colin Jones, Colin O’Brien, Dafydd Jones, Daniel Meadows, Homer Sykes, Ian Berry, Ian Macdonald, Ian Tyas, Jane Bown, Janette Beckman, Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert, Jo Spence, Karen Knorr, Ken Russell, Mark Power, Martin Parr, Olivier Richon, Peter Marlow, Roger Mayne, Shirley Baker, Stuart Franklin, Tessa Traeger, Tom Wood and Tony Ray-Jones.

More information and further interviews and work from the show can be explored via the Burberry App for smartphones.

Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert being interviewed about his work, at the Burberry ‘Here We Are’ British documentary photography show at Old Sessions House, in London.

‘Here We Are’
18 September – 1 October 2017
10am-9pm daily
Old Sessions House, 22 Clerkenwell Green
Free entry

PUBLIC PROGRAMMING & EVENTS
In addition to ‘Here We Are’, we will run a varied programme of events and activities and will include temporary versions of Burberry’s all-day café Thomas’s and a Claire De Rouen book shop.
We are endeavoring to curate a programme of events in collaboration with exhibiting photographers and key creative partners which will respond to key themes of the exhibition. Drawing upon the specific expertise of each partner, the programme will include a rich and varied selection of talks, tours, workshops, conversations and book signings. Visitors will be able to sign up to the public programmes and events via Burberry.com.

OLD SESSIONS HOUSE
This September, Burberry’s show will be taking place at a new venue, Old Sessions House in Clerkenwell. The space will be opening its doors to the public for the first time since its restoration. As well as being the home to the ‘Here We Are’ exhibition, the venue will run a programme of events and activities and will include temporary versions of Burberry’s all-day café Thomas’s and a Claire de Rouen bookshop. Old Sessions House will be open daily, from 10am–9pm, 18 September – 1 October 2017. Old Sessions House is an 18th-century Grade II* listed building, for which construction started in 1779. It opened for use in 1782 as Middlesex Sessions House and was once the largest courthouse in England. With an architecture that has attracted attention from artists and topographers over the years, the building is Palladian in style, with a facade constructed in Portland stone and an interior featuring a grand coffered dome at its centre. Visit www.theoldsessionshouse.com for further information.

 

 

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FLOW PhotoFest

Document Scotland are very pleased to announce that we’re being represented in the inaugural Flow PhotoFestival, with two bodies of work. The new photography festival takes place across the Highlands of Scotland throughout September.

Colin McPherson’s images of Scottish football culture, the When Saturday Comes series, are on show at the Eden Court, Bishops Rd, Inverness, IV3 5SA. From 2nd – 30th Sept.

Colin’s work documents the ‘beautiful game’ and photographs of football culture in Scotland. Exploring the social process which surrounds football, McPherson immerses himself, and the viewer, into the rituals and practices of the fan as they embark on their weekly experience of football. Attention is given to the banal and the everyday details of the manner in which football is performed by the fan in the season. McPherson produces illuminating and insightful work on a ubiquitous aspect of contemporary Scottish culture. This work was previously shown at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh.

 

‘Craigroyston, 2006’ from the series ‘When Saturday Comes’. ©Colin McPherson 2017, all rights reserved.

 

‘Alloa Athletic, 2010’ from the series ‘When Saturday Comes’. ©Colin McPherson 2017, all rights reserved.

 

Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert’s North Sea Fishing images are being exhibited at St. Fergus Gallery, Wick Library, Sinclair Terrace, Wick, KW1 5AB. The show runs from 9th Sept – 21st Oct.

High Life Highland are delighted to be hosting a striking exhibition of black and white images shot aboard the seine net fishing boats, Mairead and Argosy, in the North Sea in the 1990’s. These images, by Scottish documentary photographer Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert, capture the reality of the life at sea for the fishermen of Scotland’s North East fishing communities – the cramped conditions, the monotony, and the gruelling work in harsh conditions.

Aboard the ‘Argosy’ seine-net fishing boat, in the North Sea, Scotland, February 1995. Photograph by ©Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert 1995, all rights reserved.

 

Bill Smith secures the nets, aboard the ‘Argosy’ seine-net fishing boat in the North Sea, Scotland, February 1995. Photograph by ©Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert 1995, all rights reserved.

 

The FLOW PhotoFest runs through September at a variety of galleries and exhibition spaces throughout the Highlands of Scotland.

 

 

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A portrait of Tanera (Ar Dùthaich)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Gone fishing

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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