Passing Place – Sandy Carson’s new book

Passing Place by Sandy Carson

Passing Place is an intimate portrait of both Sandy Carson’s mother and the ex-mining village he grew up in the West of Scotland after emigrating to America at a young age. This photographic memoir deals with separation, space, and the invisible family bonds that exist despite physical distance incurred by geographical displacement.

The name is inspired by one-lane rural roads with wide spots that are common in Scotland, allowing vehicles to pass each other and continue on their journey.

These photographs and memories made on annual visits home since 2001, are a testimony to Carson’s upbringing and a gentle reminder that absence creates longing and nostalgia across the miles. Carson was drawn to make a record of everyday domestic rituals and routines during the rare times he and his mother spent together, to distill time with her portending passing in 2016.

By uniting his photographs with the ephemera and family photos left behind by his mum, Carson is striving to fill the void by retracing their lives, embracing the formative years they spent together, and absorbing the ones they lost.

See images from the book, and an interview with Sandy Carson, here, previously on Document Scotland.

Within the book there is an essay by Stephen McLaren, of Document Scotland.

Hame Is Where The Heart Is, by Stephen McLaren.

A few years ago I wrote a book for the publisher, Thames and Hudson, called, Family Photography Now. It was an anthology showcasing recent photography projects from thirty-five photographers around the world who were using their families as a source of inspiration. The impulse for a photographer to use one’s own family as material has always been there, but in the last few years the number of photographers with at least one project delving into those complicated relationships with parents, children, and siblings, has exploded. “Stick close to what you know” is a totem that many educators pass onto students who are looking for a project to launch their career, and it seems that examining one’s own clan, has become the obvious choice for many emerging talents looking for inspiration.

Family Photography Now was reacting to a moment in the medium’s development when the domestic, the intimate, the close-to-home became once again, a keen source of creative camera work. In previous decades trailblazers like Richard Billingham, Larry Sultan, and Sally Mann, created seminal bodies of work in photo-book history, but Family Photography Now, picked-up on a new wave of artist who were using old family albums, casual iPhone snapshots and more formal portrait-based images of their family to good effect.

It’s encouraging that many photographers are re-taking ownership of their families life-stories in photography. Many have been taking a fresh look at their parents’ and grandparents’ family albums – often slightly battered and dusty from years of inattention – and finding pictures which, in their analogue, un-filtered nature, are suggestive of more innocent times and which they can adapt for their own ends. When telling a tale of the most complex and emotionally-laden institutions in all our lives, that approach of using family archives in conjunction with more considered formal portraits gives a richer and more nuanced take on the emotional maelstrom of family life.

In this book, Sandy Carson, has similarly used a mix-and-match approach to tell a story about his family, more specifically, his recently-passed mother, and it is one of the best exemplars of how photography can be used to investigate, record, and re-consider how our loved ones permeate and enrich our lives. One of Sandy’s inspirations involved a family heirloom which most of us will recognize from our own family past.

“ My mother had a collection of family photos, dictaphone tapes and artifacts she keeps in a big biscuit tin that date back to the 40’s onwards, all shot by different family members, passed on from my grandfather, who was an artist. Those snapshots and sound-bites had quite an influence on me growing up and I enjoyed revisiting the nostalgia each time I went home.”

Susan Sontag and Martin Parr have had much to say on how families represent themselves through the collected family archive. Sontag once astutely wrote, “Through photographs, each family constructs a portrait-chronicle of itself — a portable kit of images that bears witness to its connectedness.” Parr also recognized this tendency for families to create their own life-mytholgies through photographs when he said: “Most family photo albums are a form of propaganda, where the family looks perfect and everyone is smiling: we try to create fabrications about who we are.”

Sontag also wrote that “The photographer both loots and preserves, denounces and consecrates” and this suggests that the photographer runs the risk of being too embedded to make a dispassionate or objective account of their family story. This is something that Sandy seems to have taken on board.

“When I started making the photos I didn’t have any intention, other than to take back some memories of home, but after numerous visits over the years, the photos began to navigate towards a narrative, based on my family and their immediate surroundings. “

While Sandy’s book makes great use of the family archive, of a working-class family in central Scotland, he also spent much time and effort in the last years of his mum’s life to slow things down and create lasting portraits which are overloaded with loving intent.

“I found that the bigger the format, the more quality time I could spend with my family in set-up time – just slowing life down in general. I’ve shot digital on occasion but didn’t like the process or the end result. There just wasn’t any magic or nostalgic physicality to the digital files versus a piece of film. My family are old school and I feel like it’s only fair to shoot analogue with the aesthetic. “

Families by their very nature tend to be tight-knit units where secrets and certain intimacies are instinctively protected, hidden, and often denied. While some photographers may regard their family-based projects as a form of therapy or psychoanalysis, this camera-assisted examination does not necessarily lead to good outcomes. While each family is intrinsically unique, and therefore at least endlessly fascinating to those embedded in it, it takes an extra level of photographic intelligence to summon-up a body of work which elevates the unique narratives of each situation into something more rewarding by virtue of the universal themes it explores.

Sandy’s book accomplishes that goal by bringing a sense of unease and mystery into his story. Everything is not as it seems. Several of his featured relatives appear not to be “on the same page” either emotionally or perhaps genetically. The edited flow, over three distinct chapters in his life, is astute and largely chronological, but there’s plenty of room for us to speculate, as Sandy seems to suggest, whether the members of his family actually get on with each other, or whether a multitude of secrets and lies remain hidden.“All families are creepy in a way,” Diane Arbus wrote to a friend in 1968 and Sandy seems to acknowledge that fact in this complex and multi-faceted photographic memoir. What remains, though, beyond the speculation, is an enduring son’s devotion to his mother and the gifts she gave him in life.

The book is available now for pre-Order from YoffyPress.

Anticipated release Fall 2020

Photographs by Sandy Carson
Introduction by Allan McNaughton
Essays by Daniel Kalder and Stephen McLaren

Hardcover, 9 x 6.5 inches
108 pages
Edition of 350

ISBN: 978-1-949608-23-6
Trade Edition:  $40.00

Pre-sale runs through October 31.

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Sandy Carson “Steadfast Love”

curly_with_hammer

Curly with Hammer © Sandy Carson all rights reserved

 

Sandy Carson is a Scottish photographer now living in Austin, Texas. He is an established photojournalist in America and has rarely been back to Scotland. Recently however, he returned to catch-up with his family in Newmains, Lanarkshire and started a series of photographs about his folks called, Steadfast Love, a series of intimate portraits including archive material that his mum has collected over the years. Document Scotland caught-up with Sandy in San Francisco where he was working on his excellent project, “Black Friday”, which you can see on his website…..www.sandycarson.com

 

DS What was it like going back to your family home to take pictures with a degree of intent?

SC When I started making the photos I didn’t have any intention, other than to take back some memories of home, but after numerous visits over the years, the photos began to navigate towards a narrative, based on my family and their immediate surroundings. I do have specific photographs I intend to make each time I go back since the project has some structure now but it’s really casual and mostly candid. It’s interesting making observational pictures of your parents and their routines when you don’t see them from one year to another but despite how bland and ritualistic it can be, I find it always entertaining.

curly_hanging_out_washing

Curly hanging out the washing © Sandy Carson all rights reserved

 

(C) Sandy Carson

© Sandy Carson all rights reserved

 

DS What were you looking for?

SC  To make a respectful and light hearted self-portrait of my parents in their retirement and to document the village that I grew up since I emigrated at such a young age. My parents are getting old and after being in the States for two decades, I feel like my photography can help me understand them more from the chunk of time I’ve been absent in the family. My family are quite content and support anything I’m doing really, just as long as I’m afloat and eating ok. They are not connected to the internet world and rarely see my photos unless a family member reports to them what I’ve been up to on the internet. I send prints occasionally, a few of them they don’t like so much and think I’m daft when I am making photos of them. My mother has a collection of family photos, dictaphone tapes and artifacts she keeps in a big biscuit tin that date back to the 40’s onwards, all shot by different family members, passed on from my grandfather, who was an artist. Those snapshots and sound-bites had quite an influence on me growing up and I enjoy revisiting the nostalgia each time I go home.

mums_prayer_book

Mum’s prayer book © Sandy Carson all rights reserved

 

mary_doll

Mary Doll © Sandy Carson all rights reserved

 

DS What was your camera set-up when taking the pics close to home? Why did you make that choice?

SC I made the photographs using 35mm, medium and large format. I find that the bigger the format, the more quality time I can spend with my family or subjects in set-up time – just slowing life down in general. I’ve shot digital on occasion but didn’t like the process or the end result. There just wasn’t any magic or nostalgic physicality to the digital files versus a piece of film. My family are old school and I feel like it’s only fair to shoot analogue with the aesthetic. It’s also nice to take a break from using digital cameras when I got back, as I use them to death for my commercial and editorial work, here in the states.

DS Tell us something about your family as individuals and as a family unit?

SC They are just your average Scottish working class retirees and comedians battling on and keeping each other going. They vacation in Spain like a lot of Scotland holidays makers and support Glasgow Rangers, despite their epic fail in the premiere league. In-house bar opens at 9pm every night, (sometimes earlier).

dinner

Dinner © Sandy Carson all rights reserved

 

Sandy Carson's parents (C) Sandy Carson

© Sandy Carson all rights reserved

 

DS When was the last time you were in Scotland? What changes have you noticed? What were the biggest challenges taking pictures, both on the road, and nearer to home?

SC I came back last summer for a visit with my girlfriend. It hasn’t changed around where I grew up, except for graffiti being painted over, or the local neds changing their gang names. It’s always been a challenge and kind of scary making photos sometimes in schemes. I’ve definitely been swung-at, chased and asked why I am taking photos, even by children. The last thing I want is to get stabbed again! Why else would I take photos in schemes if I’m not from the Social Security? On the road and out of the scheme, you just become another tourists taking photos pretty much.

police_station

Police station © Sandy Carson all rights reserved

 

swing_park1

Swing Park © Sandy Carson all rights reserved

 

neighborhood_question

Neighborhood Question © Sandy Carson all rights reserved

 

DS What are your plans for further photography in Scotland?

SC I plan on continuing this project and see what corner it takes me, or until I think it’s done. I’m planning on riding my bike with some friends from John O’Groats to Land’s End this summer, which should make for a good adventure and good photo ops. Maybe we’ll stop through my parents house for a cuppa?

mum_watching_tour_de_france

Mum watching Tour de France © Sandy Carson all rights reserved

 

mums_nightstand

Mum’s nightstand © Sandy Carson all rights reserved

 

primary_school_and_70th_birthday_portraits

Primary School and 70th birthday portraits © Sandy Carson all rights reserved

 

mum_slippers

Mum’s slippers © Sandy Carson all rights reserved

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Why I Took This PIcture……Giulietta Verdon-Roe

It had been a long day.

I had started early, going straight to Home-Start Levenmouth offices and interviewing all who worked there.

It was just before Christmas and everyone was running around trying to organise the bags of presents which had been donated. Never ending lists filled with children’s names were being checked off and discussed…

“who would like the fire-engine over the small truck?”
“is she too old for this book?”
“her sister might steal that”
“ooo this is perfect for…”
“she’s a Tom boy she won’t like that!”

I was told that these were likely to be the only presents that these children received this year, so it was very important to find the right thing for the right child.

After the morning of sorting out toys and interviewing, I had arranged to meet with a volunteer and her young charge. We went to an arts and craft centre in a park where we painted magnets. It was incredibly windy and it was difficult to even open the car doors without them closing in your face as we climbed back into the car. It was freezing cold and the last of the trees clinging leaves flew from their branches. The magnets were going to be presents that the young girl could give to her Mum for christmas.

I took pictures through-out the day and found myself learning a great deal about the community I was documenting, the role of a volunteer and the children and parents they then helped.

On our way back we stopped off at the local super-market. The little girl I was with charged around pointing at everything and hoping she could persuade her volunteer to buy it.

I was so aware of her wanting these things and equally aware of her mums inability to afford them and there it was, aisles and aisles of toys that all the parents had to walk down and say no to. That’s why I took this picture.

Giulietta’s photograph, and others from her series, “Home-Start Levenouth”, can be seen at Fotospace Gallery, Rothes Halls, Glenrothes, as part of the “Seeing Ourselves” exhibition, which is curated by Document Scotland. The exhibition continues until August 1st 2013.
Document Scotland’s latest newspaper, which accompanies the exhibition can be bought online. Treat yourself.  http://www.documentscotland.com/seeing-ourselves-newspaper/

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