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.

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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.
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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

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The past present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Welcome to Document Scotland

Welcome to Document Scotland.

We’re three photographers, with more than 50 years experience of photographing projects, assignments and commissions in Scotland and worldwide. We’re passionate about photography, photographers, Scotland, and documenting the times and places we live in.

We aim to encourage and promote documentary photography in Scotland and by Scottish photographers by creating a forum for ideas, discussion and sharing outstanding work. Our aspiration is for contemporary Scottish documentary photography to be exhibited, published and enjoyed throughout the world. We believe that we are living in an exceptional period of Scottish history and that photography has a vital role in documenting the changes which are taking place in Scotland.

Whether you would like to discuss or comment upon the photographs you see on these pages, or would like to license images you find here for reproduction or for exhibiting, or even if you are looking to commission photography for a project you have in mind, then we would love to hear from you.

Scottish flag flutters near Crosbost, Lewis, Scotland in February 2001. ©Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert 2001, All rights reserved.

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