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 Photo Festival, Inverness, September 2019. The exhibition will be the headline show of the FLOW festival.
Did you like this? Share it:

PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES.

PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES: TRANSPORTATION PHOTOGRAPHS

FROM THE NATIONAL GALLERIES OF SCOTLAND 
2 June 2018 – 13 January 2019
Scottish National Portrait Gallery
1 Queen Street, Edinburgh EH2 1JD
0131 624 6200 | Admission FREE
#PlanesAndTrains

Part of Edinburgh Art Festival 2018

The extraordinary advances in the technology of travel over the past 170 years, and their wide-ranging impact on our lives will be the subject of a dramatic and inspiring new exhibition of photographs at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery (SNPG) this summer. Planes, Trains and Automobiles will draw upon the outstanding collection of the National Galleries of Scotland to consider the rapid expansion of transportation from the end of the Industrial Revolution to the present day. It will feature 70 exceptional images, including key images by Alfred G Buckham and Alfred Stieglitz, which demonstrate how the technologies of photography and transport have evolved in tandem, each of them broadening our horizons and radically altering our perception of our ever-shrinking world.

The exhibition will include iconic photographs such as The Steerage, a career-defining image by the American photographer Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946), made in 1907, while he was travelling to Europe by sea; and Inge Morath’s striking portrait Mrs Eveleigh Nash, The Mall, London (1953). Walking on the first-class deck, Stieglitz looked down into the third-class steerage area below him. Immediately struck by the strength of the composition created by the group of travellers gathered there, he quickly retrieved his camera, and captured the jarring class divide. Celebrated both for its modernist composition and its social commentary, the resulting photograph is one of the most recognisable images in the history of photography. Similarly, Morath (1923-2002), one of the first female photographers to work for renowned photo agency Magnum, used the door frame of an open-topped car to artfully divide her composition, suggesting the social gulf between the wealthy Mrs Nash and her chauffeur.

One of aerial photography’s pioneers was Alfred G Buckham (1879-1956) who took breath-taking photographs in the skies above Edinburgh. Just as fascinating as his photographs, are Buckham’s dare-devil techniques to capture the perfect shot. He gave this sage advice to budding aerial photographers: ‘It is essential to stand up, not only to make the exposures but to see what is coming along ahead. If one’s right leg is tied to the seat with a scarf or a piece of rope, it is possible to work in perfect security’. Buckham also pioneered early layering of multiple negatives to create the perfect shot giving his photographs an ethereal, otherworldly quality.

The Industrial Revolution led to the rapid expansion of the railways, which had a huge impact on the way that people lived and worked and led to the expansion of many towns and cities. As early as 1845, the railway line in Linlithgow was photographed by David Octavius Hill (1802-70) and Robert Adamson (1821-48), who travelled by train to document the main sights of the town.

The Forth Bridge was the longest bridge in the world when it opened in 1890 and it is now widely regarded as a symbol of Scottish innovation and cultural identity. Radical in style, materials and scale, it marked an important milestone in bridge design and construction during the period when railways came to dominate long-distance land travel. Evelyn George Carey (1858-1932), a young engineer working on the construction of the bridge, made an incredible series of photographs as the building work progressed. In one of these photographs Carey records the amusing sight of two men demonstrating the cantilever principle – resulting in the boy sitting at the centre of the ‘bridge’ being lifted into the air. This series of photographs inspired the German contemporary photographer Dieter Appelt (b.1935) to make Forth Bridge – Cinema. Metric Space – a photographic montage of 312 separate silver gelatine prints which together offer a beautiful, lyrical interpretation of an engineering masterpiece.

Another innovation explored in Planes, Trains and Automobiles is the Victorian phenomenon of the stereograph. Made of two nearly identical scenes, which when viewed together in a special device, create a single three-dimensional image; this new photographic technology essentially mimicked how we see the world. It sparked curiosity and encouraged the public to view images of far-flung places from the comfort of their own home. The natural association between travel and transport meant that modes of transport were one of the most popular themes for stereographs. This exhibition will feature over 100 stereographs from the National Galleries of Scotland’s collection in a dynamic wall display, alongside digital interpretations.

524 million journeys were made by public transport in Scotland last year and Planes, Trains and Automobilesexplores this common form of travel. Photographers have been repeatedly drawn to the theme of commuting, fascinated by its ability to show humanity in movement, following regulated routes to work. Among these are documentary photographers Humphrey Spender (1910-2005) and Larry Herman (b.1942) who both made work observing Glasgow and Glasweigians on their daily commute.

From photographs of the iconic Forth Bridge to images of commuting, Planes, Trains and Automobiles is a photographic celebration of transportation in all its forms.

Christopher Baker, Director, European and Scottish Art and Portraiture, National Galleries of Scotland, said:  This is the third in a hugely popular series of thematic exhibitions drawn entirely from the outstanding collection of photography held by the National Galleries of Scotland. The carefully selected photographs on display show how technology and transport have impacted on so many aspects of our lives and provided such a rich and thought-provoking focus for outstanding Scottish and international photographers, from very earliest days of the medium to today’s innovators.”

Did you like this? Share it:

“No Ruined Stone” by Paul Duke

(c) Paul Duke

Paul Duke’s new book of photography, No Ruined Stone, reminds us that the 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.

Muirhouse, built in the 1950s as a council estate to the west of Edinburgh has had a troubled recent history with substandard high-rise housing, chronic unemployment and endemic drug use among many of its younger residents creating seemingly intractable social problems. It has also had a reputation for strong community spirit and looking after its own as Scottish legends and former Muirhouse residents, Gordon Strachan and Irvine Welsh, can attest to. Photographer, Paul Duke, also grew-up in Muirhouse, and although he left to study and then work in London, family roots have repeatedly drawn him back and recently he decided that photography was the ideal way to re-connect with the community that dominated his childhood years.

In, No Ruined Stone, Paul’s black and white landscapes and portrait photographs are enigmatic and loaded with the kind of symbolism that only someone with a deep and complex knowledge of Muirhouse could achieve. Long-overdue re-development of the housing stock is re-shaping the estates and the clash between undergoing construction and the natural world that tenaciously clings on around these zones provides many of the strongest images in the book. Locals, who Paul encounters in and around the neighborhood, are photographed as they are found, the exchange seems natural and there is little attempt made to heroise.

To find out more about this new body of work, Document Scotland asked Paul to elaborate on the impetus for returning to Muirhouse to shoot the photographs which make up No Ruined Stone.

(c) Paul Duke

DocScot: Tell us about your history with Muirhouse? How has it changed since your early days there?

PD: I was raised in Muirhouse and lived there for the first eighteen-years of my life. Despite the fact that poor social conditions made it a very tough place to grow up, I had a very happy and loving childhood there. My formative years were greatly shaped by a strong maternal influence and two inspiring and very brilliant young art teachers at school, Richard White and Maldwyn Stride. My mother brought up two boys on her own, it wasn’t easy for her emotionally nor financially, but she was determined to keep us out of trouble and instilled in us both, strong moral values. My brother, like me, went onto study at the Royal College of Art in London – that meant everything to her, to break the mould of expectation for young men from a deprived Scottish housing estate.

My father moved back close to the area some time after my mother left, so I returned fairly frequently to visit him. I still have relatives who live in the area to this day.

The physical change has been significant – my house, school and a big chunk of the original Muirhouse estate have been razed to the ground as part of an urban regeneration scheme. However, many of the social ills that dogged the area back in my early days are still unfortunately prevalent.

DocScot: When and how did the idea come to you to take a series of photos? Were you focussed on what you wanted to achieve or were you just seeing what you saw?

PD: I knew during the making of the ‘At Sea’ project that I wanted to return to Scotland to make more work. Both my parents passed away around that period of time therefore it felt timely to continue to explore my own Scottish identity as well as this notion of national identity, which interests me greatly.

There was a strong pull to go back to my roots and I knew from the beginning that I wanted to make a body of work that celebrated the fighting spirit, dignity and hope of the residents living there today – I was very focused on that but always kept my eyes open. I made the project over two years so it was a very organic and intuitive experience. Working with a large format camera slowed down the process of making photographs – this was intentional. I also wanted to play with the visual language, to create a narrative that struck the balance between objective documentary and a subjective project.

(c) Paul Duke

DocScot: How did you explain to interested observers what you were upto?

PD: Muirhouse is a small close-knit community and word gets around quickly. I made early visits to walk around and meet people before I started making any photographs. After that, I made regular monthly visits and never missed a trip over the whole period of making the project – it was really important to be consistent. Residents therefore got used to seeing me around, trust and familiarity followed. The warmth, kindness and support I experienced when I explained what I was doing, was humbling.

DocScot: Was it important to shoot in overcast or non-summer weather?

PD: The most important thing was to always keep things free. I never allowed myself to get caught-up in lighting preference as I had no control over that – everything was shot with natural light. I made the most of the light I had to work with on any given day and enjoyed the challenge.

DocScot: How did the book come about?

Last year, I approached German photo book publisher, Hartmann Books. Markus Hartmann was previously director of photography at Hatje-Cantz before setting up his own publishing company. Markus was raised in Berlin and I think the photographs and subsequent social message I had created struck a personal chord with him. Markus and his team were therefore very keen to publish the series.

DocScot: What kind of future do you think Muirhouse has and are you likely to have any role in that?

PD: In terms of the residents, yes, Muirhouse has a good future. I had the great privilege to make friends with a handful of dynamic, committed and inspiring community activists. If developers and politicians consult these individuals and others like them over the course of time, then I am confident that Muirhouse will successfully deal with the pressing social inequities that exist, but only with their consultation.

I have no immediate plans to take on any active role but I have expressed some future involvement. However, I do hope in the interim that the content of the book highlights social inequity, challenges deep-rooted class prejudice and offers a far-reaching insight into a deprived and disenfranchised community.

(c) Paul Duke

DocScot: What you are up to in the short-medium term and how is your photographic practice developing.

PD: I am currently developing a new project, again based in Scotland. It’s still in the germination period so not a lot to expand on at this stage, but I do hope to start shooting in earnest this coming September. This project will form the third and final part of a trilogy of works exploring modern day Scotland.

Many thanks to Paul for the interview and for sharing his work. The book, No Ruined Stone, is published by Hartmann Projects and can be bought here…http://www.hartmannprojects.com/publications/paul-duke-publication

(c) Paul Duke

(c) Paul Duke

(c) Paul Duke

Did you like this? Share it:

Nevertheless, She Persisted by Mhairi Bell-Moodie

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

www.outoftheblue.org.uk

See more of Mhairi’s work here

 

Did you like this? Share it:

A PERFECT CHEMISTRY: PHOTOGRAPHS BY HILL & ADAMSON

A PERFECT CHEMISTRY:
PHOTOGRAPHS BY HILL & ADAMSON
27 May – 1 October 2017
SCOTTISH NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY
1 Queen Street, Edinburgh EH2 1JD
Admission: £10 (£8) | 0131 624 6200
#HillAndAdamson

Hill and Adamson, Sandy (or James) Linton, his boat and bairns ca.June 1845

This summer the Scottish National Portrait Gallery will explore the captivating images produced by the unique partnership of Scottish photographic pioneers David Octavius Hill (1802-1870) and Robert Adamson (1821-1848). A Perfect Chemistry will comprise over 100 photographic works dating from just four short years in the 1840s, when these two men changed the path of photography and created a remarkable body of work that has had an unparalleled impact on the medium. This will be the first time in 15 years that these treasured photographs will have been the subject of a large exhibition in the UK.

The artistic partnership between the painter Hill and the engineer Adamson was remarkable in many respects: only four years after the invention of photography was announced to the world in 1839, the Scottish pair had not only mastered and improved upon the new medium, but were producing breathtaking works in extraordinary quantities. Their innovative images appear surprisingly fresh even today and their subjects range from intimate portraits to beautiful cityscapes that document the urbanisation of the Scottish capital. A Perfect Chemistry will also feature fascinating images of the Newhaven fisherfolk which form one of the most significant groups within Hill and Adamson’s oeuvre; these outstanding photographs belie the technical challenges faced by the duo and are arguably among the first examples of social documentary images in the history of photography.

The meeting between Hill and Adamson was precipitated by a polarizing religious dispute: on 18 May 1843 a group of ministers walked out of the Church of Scotland’s annual General Assembly in Edinburgh and officially established the Free Church of Scotland. The event rocked the nation and political status quo, sending reverberations around the world. Hill was so moved by the ministers standing up for their beliefs that he decided to commemorate the event in a large-scale painting representing all 400 of them. He turned to Adamson, 19 years his junior, as the first and only professional calotypist in Edinburgh, to photograph the sitters as preliminary sketches for his grand painting.

Hill quickly became smitten by the new art form and within weeks of meeting, the two men entered into a partnership and began making photographs together. Within a matter of months their works were featured in exhibitions and receiving critical acclaim, often being compared to Rembrandt’s etchings due to the strong chiaroscuro (or contrasting dark and light) quality of the prints.

Ironically, Hill had approached photography as a means to expedite his painting yet it took him 23 years to finish his large commemorative canvas: The First General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland; Signing Act of Separation and Deed of Demission (1843-66).The imposing picture was ultimately sold to the Free Church of Scotland and it continues to hang today in their headquarters in Edinburgh.

The success of Hill and Adamson’s partnership relied on professional alchemy as well as personal affinity, with both men working and living in Rock House, a landmark building located on Edinburgh’s Calton Hill. Since making calotypes required natural sunlight, the photographers used the house’s south-facing garden as their studio, employing a series of props and several different backgrounds for their outdoor images.

These portraits made at Rock House represent a real ‘who’s who’ of Edinburgh’s society and illustrate the vibrancy of the capital’s cultural life in the 1840s; eminent sitters ranged from the artist Sir David Allan, to Isabella Burns Begg, the sister of poet Robert Burns, and the inventor of chloroform James Young Simpson. A string of foreign sitters also attested to the international nature of the capital at this time.

Hill’s artistry gave him an eye for composition, evident in an intriguing portrait of Lady Ruthven, whom he posed with her back to the camera to exploit the intricate lace detailing of her shawl against her dress. The image reads as a metaphor for photography itself: the negative and positive image captured on paper. Adamson appeared to push the boundaries of photography—demonstrating skills few possessed at such an early period in the history of the art form. To create calotypes the photographers dealt with a complex process of applying light-sensitive chemical solutions to paper in order to create the images. The steps involved were cumbersome and variable, yet the consistently high quality of the prints indicate they had perfected the process and mastered the fickle chemistry of early photography.

The exhibition also will reveal how Hill and Adamson made clever use of stylistic and practical devices when creating their pictures. Books not only suggested the sitter was educated, but the white pages allowed light to bounce back on the subject (at a time when there were no studio lights), while the actual object would keep the sitters’ fidgety hands occupied for the duration of the exposure. Poses were held anywhere from 30 seconds to several minutes depending on the available sunlight, and any fidgeting during that time would result in a blurred image. The resulting photographs nevertheless display remarkable vitality, and in some, carry the sense of spontaneity of a modern snapshot like in the group portrait Edinburgh Ale where the sitters exhibit relaxed poses and faint smiles.

Hill and Adamson also captured the fisherfolk of nearby Newhaven. The men and women of the village were known throughout Edinburgh and beyond for their distinctive costumes, and their reputation for bravery had made them a part of popular culture in the nineteenth century, even featuring as characters in novels by Sir Walter Scott. With the limitations of the medium, the photographers could not capture the boats at sea and interestingly some of their most iconic works from the series, depict the men beside their beached boats or tending to their fishing lines ashore. These shoots were not a casual day out at the shore; in order to record these subjects the two men had to transport all their cumbersome equipment (wooden box cameras, tripods, paper, and support stands) to the site. Such complex requirements didn’t stop Hill and Adamson from travelling around Scotland—Glasgow, Linlithgow and St Andrews — and even as far afield as Durham and York in England. The Newhaven images are rare examples of social documentary photography and a selection of the Newhaven photographs was shown at the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace in London in 1851; an early indication of the importance of the partnership to the history of photography.

The untimely death of Adamson on 14 January 1848, at the age of 26, marked the end of this unparalleled partnership, but their legacy continues. The fact that the photographs continue to delight is indicative of the special chemistry shared by these two Scottish pioneers. The last exhibition of this scale of Hill and Adamson’s fragile works was Facing the Light at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in 2002.

Christopher Baker, Director of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, commented: “Hill and Adamson’s works are the foundation of the photography collection at the National Galleries of Scotland. Their contribution to the history of photography was profound and enduring and is appreciated all over the world. The National Galleries holds the most comprehensive collection in existence and this very carefully selected exhibition will demonstrate the full range of their achievement. We are delighted to be providing visitors with an opportunity to view such important and inspiring works as part of our long-term commitment to promoting the appreciation of photography.”

Sue Dawe, EY Managing Partner for Edinburgh and Head of Financial Services in Scotland, said: “EY has long been a supporter of the arts and I am delighted that we are able to continue our sponsorship in Scotland with the National Galleries of Scotland. The work showcased in this exhibition demonstrates a legacy of industry and ingenuity for which Scotland is renowned worldwide. On behalf of EY, I am proud to help celebrate the efforts of two creative, Edinburgh-based photographers who were dedicated to their craft and documenting Scotland’s social history.”

A Perfect Chemistry: Photographs by Hill & Adamson is part of the Edinburgh Art Festival.

Did you like this? Share it:

Graham MacIndoe – Coming Clean

Untitled from the series Coming Clean, negative: 2004-2010; printed 2015 by Graham MacIndoe (b.1963). © Graham MacIndoe

 

GRAHAM MACINDOE: COMING CLEAN
8 April – 5 November 2017
Scottish National Portrait Gallery
1 Queen Street, Edinburgh, EH2 1JD
Admission free
#GrahamMacIndoe

Powerful self-portraits depicting drug addiction of acclaimed Scottish photographer to be shown by National Galleries of Scotland

A compelling and powerful series of photographs that document an acclaimed Scottish photographer’s devastating descent into drug addiction are to be given an exclusive first public showing this spring at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery (SNPG).

Graham MacIndoe: Coming Clean will exhibit 25 personal and graphic images taken throughout the six-year period in which heroin and crack cocaine seized hold of successful New York-based photographer Graham MacIndoe (b.1963).

These hugely original photographs intimately record MacIndoe’s downward trajectory from professional photographer with a flourishing career to struggling opiate addict, a journey of anguish and isolation that was to culminate in an arrest for drug possession and a four-month stint in New York’s notorious Riker’s Island prison and five months in an American immigration detention centre before he got clean.

The images both powerfully confront the perilous destructiveness of addiction and explore the genre of self-portraiture in a way unrivalled in the photographic medium.

Graham MacIndoe studied painting at Edinburgh College of Art and received a Masters degree in photography at the Royal College of Art in London, before moving to New York in 1992 where he later pursued a career as a professional photographer. His work began to appear in some of the world’s leading publications, including The New York Times and The Guardian.

MacIndoe’s success led him to take portraits of the most recognisable people in the world, from Hollywood actors and authors to international artists and pop stars. However, he began to use alcohol and drugs in part to mitigate the stress arising from this demanding lifestyle, and also upheaval in his personal life, but his heroin habit gradually overtook everything that once mattered.

MacIndoe has now been clean for seven years, largely thanks to an innovative prison rehab program, what he describes as “a compassionate judge” and the support of his partner Susan Stellin, a reporter with whom he co-wrote Chancers: Addiction, Prison, Recovery, Love: One Couple’s Memoir, published by Random House in June 2016.

The recovery has seen MacIndoe prosper again, as a working photographer and as adjunct professor of photography at Parsons The New School in New York City, while he and Stellin were awarded a 2014 Alicia Patterson Foundation Fellowship for a project about deportation. In addition to being represented in the National Galleries of Scotland collection, his photographs also reside in the collections of The New York Public Library, The British Council, The V&A Museum, The Museum of Fine Arts, St Petersburg, Florida and The National Media Museum, Bradford.

While other photographers have shown the excesses of drug-taking in graphic detail before, the position usually adopted has been one of voyeur; not of subject. In MacIndoe’s case, his images do not show an individual exploited for a mass audience, so the power and control rests firmly with himself, and never before has a photographer captured addiction with such subjective honesty and rigour from the inside. This produced body of work is not only truly ground-breaking in its content, but in fact requires a certain degree of courage in viewing.

Coming Clean’s images are a result of a powerful interdependence between MacIndoe’s strong compulsions, the drive to capture the consequences of his addiction, and of his dexterous ability to do so.

The photographer hoped to avoid glamorising what had become “a solitary existence, the monotonous repetition of an addict’s daily life. I turned the camera on myself because I wanted to photograph addiction from the inside – a perspective most people never see”.

He admits that, “even in that haziness of addiction I was thinking like a photographer… how these pictures would be perceived”, and throughout this, his photographer’s eye remained keen and strong, even if everything else did not.

In their use of light, composition and ambiance, this eye emanates through Coming Clean’s images. Using basic digital cameras with self-timers, MacIndoe recorded himself while engaging in his personal drug rituals. His skilful use of light and shadow created a series of haunting self-portraits that reveal the squalor and stark reality of addiction.

Almost all the photographs are set within the small and limiting confines of his flat in Brooklyn. There is little connection with or evidence of the outside world and the few views of the city outside recorded from the window only seem to reinforce the isolating and claustrophobic existence. The only figure to appear in the scenes is MacIndoe himself, whose ghost-like presence is often exaggerated through the piercing light. In one portrait he is photographed against a window—turning his back literally and figuratively on the outside world—and the strong backlight has effectively distorted his body so that his head appears to float up and away.

Though no image, perhaps, is as symbolic of Coming Clean as that in which a clearly incapacitated MacIndoe rests his head on a seat, the evidence of a recent heroin injection in his contorted face and blood trickling from his forearm. Not only does MacIndoe, albeit inadvertently, frame the whole shot with his outstretched hand, but in his final action before descending into unconsciousness leaves the viewer with the understanding that amid the chaos, what he had been reaching out for was is the one thing he’d been left with any discernible control over; his camera.

Graham MacIndoe said: “It is a great honour to have the first showing of this body of work at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. Although the images were taken during a difficult time, I am grateful to have made it through that period and hope this series shows that recovery is possible even from the depths of serious addiction. I never anticipated that these photographs would find a place in the national collection, so I’m especially excited for the opportunity to exhibit them in the city where I first discovered photography”.

Annie Lyden, International Photography Curator at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, said: “These photographs offer a rare insight into a very real aspect of the human condition. Graham’s honesty and courage in documenting this particular moment of his life allows us to see the rawness and isolation of addiction from the inside. The images are powerful and are at times upsetting, but you will not find a more candid and revealing series of self-portraits than Graham MacIndoe’s Coming Clean photographs.”

Did you like this? Share it:

‘Sun pictures and beyond’

Scotland’s pioneering role in the development of photography in the 19th century is being celebrated in a new display at the National Library of Scotland. The exhibition runs until March 26th, and entry is free.

It features one of the first ever books to be illustrated with photographs, William Henry Fox Talbot’s Sun Pictures in Scotland, published in 1845. Only 100 copies were produced and the National Library has one of the few complete copies that have survived.

 

A clean sandstone Scott monument under construction from 'Sun Pictures in Scotland'

A clean sandstone Scott monument under construction from ‘Sun Pictures in Scotland’ by William Henry Fox Talbot. 

 

Melrose Abbey, from 'Sun Pictures in Scotland' by William Henry Fox Talbot.

Melrose Abbey, from ‘Sun Pictures in Scotland’ by William Henry Fox Talbot.

 

The display, which opened on November 30, showcases examples of photographically illustrated books that followed this landmark publication in the second half of the century as photographic reproduction became simpler, quicker and more reliable. This includes work from some of Scotland’s early professional photographers such as George Washington Wilson, James Valentine, Thomas Annan and Scottish photographers abroad including William Notman and John Thomson.

Wilson and Valentine in particular followed Talbot’s lead by maximising the commercial opportunities of photography in book form, establishing successful studios in Aberdeen and Dundee. This included producing albums with original prints for tourists wishing to have souvenirs of the Scottish landscape and notable buildings. They also published illustrated books with photomechanical prints, which combined photography with existing commercial printing processes to create high quality prints on a large scale. Valentine went on to establish a globally successful business selling postcards.

Meanwhile, in Glasgow, Thomas and James Craig Annan became renowned for their photographically-illustrated books of architecture and fine art.

 

'Through Cyprus with a Camera, Vol 1, Cypriot Maid', by John Thomson

‘Through Cyprus with a Camera, Vol 1, Cypriot Maid’, by John Thomson

 

The display also features the work of Scots photographers abroad including John Thomson, one of the first photographers to visit the Far East. His final foreign trip was to Cyprus which resulted in a deluxe publication Through Cyprus with a camera from 1879 which can be seen in the display.

Curator Dr Graham Hogg who has produced the display said: “These books hold an important place in the history of photography and helped to establish an art form that still thrives in Scotland today. They represent only a small selection of the Library’s extensive holdings of photographically illustrated books relating to Scotland that were produced in the 19th century.”

Sun pictures and beyond: Scotland and the photographically-illustrated book 1845-1900 runs until March 26 at the National Library of Scotland, George IV Bridge, Edinburgh. Entry is free.

Did you like this? Share it:

Jo Spence

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

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

 

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

From Stills exhibition introduction:

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

The exhibition is divided into three sections

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

 


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

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

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

 


 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

DS: What was your experience of working collaboratively?

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

Further Resources:

 

Did you like this? Share it:

April Salon Event – Skye!

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

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

Screen shot 2016-04-13 at 23.36.31

 

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

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

Common-Ground-Press-Release-Wales-9

Did you like this? Share it:

Scottish National Galleries blog – Sophie Gerrard

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

Screen shot 2016-04-10 at 16.16.48
In 2013 I began an exploration of my own relationship with the Scottish landscape. Having lived away for ten years, I wanted to understand the connection I, like many Scots, have with ‘home’.

Read the full blog post here

Did you like this? Share it:

Panel Discussion – Women on the Land – 9th March 2016

On Wednesday 9th March at 12:45pm Sophie will be taking part in a panel discussion with historian Dr Elizabeth Ritchie (University of the Highlands and Islands) and crofter and writer Liz Paul, will look at the history and context of women crofters in Scotland and beyond.

This panel discussion will take place in The Scottish National Portrait Gallery and all are welcome!

 

Screen shot 2016-03-03 at 14.24.47

Did you like this? Share it: