A Contested Land: Behind the lens #2

As we approach our forthcoming exhibition at the Martin Parr Foundation in Bristol in January, 2019, each of the four Document Scotland photographers gives an insight into the work they have made for the show. Here, Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert tells of his project ‘Let Glasgow Flourish’:

Pro-Scottish Independence march, organised in the ‘All Under One Banner’ name, through the streets and to the battlefield in Bannockburn on the 704th anniverary of the Battle of Bannockburn. It was estimated that 10,000 people took part in the march calling for a second independence referendum. © Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert, 2018.

 

“I’ve always marvelled at the thought that walking down the street any one person you see has a multitude of experiences and stories to tell, you take that one person and the stories you could tease out of them, and multiply that by everyone in the street and then the city, the country. So many stories, so many nuanced versions of life all informed by different upbringings and experiences.

And so it is with political views, a multitude of nuanced political views abound, and this has never been more obvious than in the streets of Glasgow, and Scotland, over these past few years. 

After a decade of photographing in Japan I moved home to Glasgow in 2012, knowing the referendum on Scottish independence from the United Kingdom was going to be gearing up as we approached the 2014 Scottish Independence referendum date. I wanted to be back in the country to see it all, to experience it, and of course to vote. 

 

A Unionist demonstration takes place as the Scottish Cabinet sits at the Fernhill Community Centre for the fifth in a series of meetings outside of Edinburgh following publication of Scotland’s Future, the Governments’s white paper book on Scottish Independence.  May 2014, in Rutherglen, Scotland. © Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert 2018

 

I attended the rallies and marches of both sides, pro-Union and pro-Independence, trying to understand both sides of the argument, photographing it all. Photographing what we were told at the time was a ‘once in a generation’ referendum. For me, trying to describe in pictures the colour, energy and anticipation of what would come before us was the greatest challenge, but also the most rewarding part of the experience. It felt as if anyone in Scotland could have been there, on those marches. For both sides it was a peoples’ crusade: the divisions cut across race, class, gender and location.  

Now four years on and not much has been settled, we’re still walking on daily shifting sands of political information. A second Independence referendum is still a debated issue, still on a hand of cards yet to be played and for the time being kept close to the SNP’s chest. The political game of cards has seen many other hands played: the chaos of Brexit; Scotland welcoming refugees (as it always has) seeking asylum and the extreme minority Scottish Defence League staging rallies to espouse their hatred against them; anti-Trump demonstrations taking place when the American President insults the people of Scotland, as elsewhere, with his below par versions of truth, except Scotland is home to two of his golf courses; and at Faslane peace protestors continue to link arms and sing against Trident missiles which are still the true monster in the Scottish loch. 

 

 ‘Nae (No) Nukes Anywhere’ anti-nuclear weapons rally outside HM Naval Base Clyde, home to the core of the UK’s Submarine Service, in protest against Trident nuclear missiles. The rally was attended by peace protestors from across the UK who came “to highlight the strength of support from many UN member states for Scotland, a country hosting nuclear weapons against its wishes.” Faslane, Scotland, September 2018. © Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert, 2018.

 

There hasn’t been a shortage of political theatre in the streets to watch, to listen to, and to photograph. Some views you can understand, some you wince at when you hear them spoken, but the one thing we can be proud of and take from it all, pro- or anti-, is that the people of Scotland are awake.”

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.

See more information and the press release here

Martin Parr Foundation
316 Paintworks
Arnos Vale
Bristol
BS4 3AR

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

Free entry to all exhibitions.

Touring exhibition dates

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

 

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Homage to Catalonia

On the day the Catalonian government announces it plans for independence from Spain, Stephen McLaren recounts his experiences from there in the week leading- up to the tumultuous vote.

© Stephen McLaren 2017 all rights reserved.

A yes sign displayed in the streets of Catalonia © Stephen McLaren 2017 all rights reserved.

I first strolled down the famous Ramblas of Barcelona in the summer of 1991. This was a year before the city would be the host for the 25th Olympic Games which would prove to be so successful in raising Barcelona’s international profile. In front of the worlds tv cameras the games were used by Barcelona’s government to revitalise its urban core and announce itself as a world class city, open to curious travellers and lovers of Modernista architecture, glorious food and new Mediterranean styles. I was one of those early Scottish visitors with pesetas in my pocket to revel in the city’s tapas bars and uber-stylish nightclubs.

A group of African boys at the Barcelona v Girona football game © Stephen McLaren 2017 all rights reserved.

At the foot of the Ramblas graffiti scrawled on a wall announced, “Catalonia is not Spain”. This surprised my 24 year old self as I thought I had travelled to Spain’s second city and to a country which had only seven years previous freed itself from the despotism of the fascist general Franco. I had yet to read Orwell’s, “Homage to Catalonia”, his gripping first-person account of the Spanish Civil War being fought in and around Barcelona, but after reading it I realised I had been naive in coming here and expecting the locals to speak the same language as other Spaniards, and to have similar politics and traditions to the Andalucians, the Madrileños and the Basques.

A banner at the recent Barcelona v Girona football game in Girona © Stephen McLaren 2017 all rights reserved.

It took me a while to get it but when I did I began to appreciate that Catalonia was indeed not Spain, it was proud of being its own national entity with centuries of distinct history and cultural achievements. But in 1991 Barcelona and the wider Catalan nation was still very much ruled by the politicians in Madrid who had found their voice in the post-Franco democratic era.
A few weeks ago I found myself in Barcelona again, the twentieth-or-so time I’ve visited this magical place since my first glimpse in 1991. I arrived for a short family holiday taking in Catalonia’s other urban jewel, Girona, and the seaside town of Cadaques, only ten miles from the French border and the home of the artist, Dali, but I knew that an independence referendum was being held at the end of my week’s travels and I felt duty bound to follow the build-up this landmark event with my camera.

Independence supporters in Barcelona sing the Catalan national anthem © Stephen McLaren 2017 all rights reserved.

 

A policeman in Barcelona plays with his handcuffs during the Catalonia referendum on independence.

Having followed the ebb and flow of the 2014 independence referendum in Scotland via the competing signage of “Yes” and “No” I knew that a visual survey of posters and banners would give me an idea of the allegiances of various neighborhoods. However as I walked round the dense and fascinating barrios of Gracia, Raval, Born and Poblemou all I found was a multitude of nationalist Estelada flags and numerous Si banners in windows and public squares but nothing from the opposing camp. It quickly became obvious that those wishing to remain part of Spain were refuseniks in this campaign and were hoping that it would all just go away, perhaps by  judicial action from the Spanish state.
I left for Girona, ninety minutes up the coast, to watch a football derby between the mighty Barca and Girona FC who are always playing the plucky underdog in this fixture. The city of Girona lies at the heart of the campaign for Catalan nationhood. The politician who called the referendum, Carles Puigdemont, is a local boy and the city’s cultural calendar is full of Catalan song, dance and literature so I knew this is where I would find the heartbeat of the Si camp.

A woman in Barcelona walks past graffiti during the Catalan independence referendum © Stephen McLaren 2017 all rights reserved.

Before the match both sets of supporters mingled in front of the stadium grabbing pamphlets and  flags from a huge throng of boisterous Si campaigners. “Welcome to the Catalan Republic” said a huge sign, confusingly to me, in English. Amongst the older sets of fans, groups of young African boys whose families had been welcomed to Girona in recent years proudly wore flags supporting the Si message. I briefly contemplated the possibility of a Celtic Rangers game in which rival supporters coalesced around a similar political campaign and then laughed darkly to myself.
Barca would go onto win the game convincingly but with a week to go until the referendum was due to take place there was a tension around the game and in the city itself which I recognised from 2014 in Scotland. People seemed more focussed and self-conscious in public, the everyday activities of shopping for the dinner table and meeting friends in bars took on an intensity I found hard to convey in photographs. Politics is serious stuff but the politics of nationhood is always of a rawer and more intense variety as notions of identity and national allegiances play out in the public sphere.

A public notice board in Cadaques, Catalonia, announcing the independence referendum © Stephen McLaren 2017 all rights reserved.

In some ways the atmosphere in Girona felt similar to that which I had felt in Dundee in 2014 when it became the city most galvanised most by the Scottish independence campaign. Catalan flags were draped around many of the apartment buildings in the city, political gatherings were raucous, and the Catalan national anthem was song lustily in the beautiful winding streets of the historic city centre.

Girona in Catalonia during the independence referendum © Stephen McLaren 2017 all rights reserved.

Back in Barcelona with only three days to go until the vote, the tension was palpable. Tv news reports showed thousands of Spanish police being shipped-in on a huge ferry at the docks. Students were occupying their universities and groups of flag-wearing Si supporters could be found singing patriotic songs in the old section of the city. I watched several intense political street corner speeches invoking the democratic right to have a vote on self-governance and self-determination.

A dog with a Catalan flag during the independence referendum © Stephen McLaren 2017 all rights reserved.

 

A family attending a rally for independence in Girona, Catalonia © Stephen McLaren 2017 all rights reserved.

Unlike in 2014 Scotland there was no-one with an opposing view to counter-balance the Si message and it wasn’t hard to work out that the Spanish governments refusal to acknowledge the vote would lead to widespread absenteeism from those who preferred to remain part of Spain.
My return ticket, booked for two days before the vote, meant I couldn’t be there to witness the police violence which marred the referendum itself but you tell it was coming. The Spanish PM, Rajoy was on TV bellowing his intransigence from an American visit to fellow strongman, Donald Trump. Police vans prowled much of the city centre and none of the boys in blue were cracking a smile. In the end those who wanted to vote were able to despite a clumsy and reprehensible crackdown from authorities in Madrid but a lack of international recognition remains a major stumbling block for those espousing Catalan nationhood as does the unwillingness of the opposing view to participate widely in a referendum.

A rally for independence in Girona, Catalonia © Stephen McLaren 2017 all rights reserved.

That scrawl of graffiti on the Ramblas from 1991 which alerted me to the idea that Catalonia is not Spain is now being replaced across Barcelona with more aggressive assertions of Catalan separateness . However it remains far from certain that these demands will come to fruition in the face of a bullying state which insists on the indivisibility of Spain above all else. In the following days which will be tense and doubtlessly full of bellicose political posturing It is to be hoped that the democratic impulse and a negotiated settlement is not allowed to flounder in this most culturally rich part of Europe.

A Catalan cultural event in Girona © Stephen McLaren 2017 all rights reserved.

 

Women running for charity in Girona, Catalonia, and supporting independence © Stephen McLaren 2017 all rights reserved.

 

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Picture Power, Radio4

It’s always been said that the members of Document Scotland have a great face for radio, so we took everyone at their word… We’re very pleased to announce that next week you’ll be able to hear our dulcet tones, our lovely Scottish accents on Radio 4.

Miles Warde of Radio 4 very nicely came along to the opening night of our ‘Common Ground’ show last August at Street Level Photoworks in Glasgow, and interviewed us about the photography we’d been doing all year in the run up to the show and the run up to the Sept 18th referendum on Scottish Independence. Miles has craftily woven comments and quotes together, from interviews with Sophie as she was out photographing on the streets, and then interviews with the rest of us at the gallery opening, and has produced a 15minute programme which will broadcast on Wednesday 4th February, at 13:45hrs, on BBC Radio4.

The programme is one in the Picture Power series, in which Miles talks to various photographers about how they covered the big news stories of 2014. All programmes will be worth a listen we are sure!

We’d be ever so grateful if you could tune it to listen and in advance help spread the word to anyone who may be interested. Thank you.  And of course, huge thanks to Miles Warde and the team at Picture Power!

Radio 4's Miles Warde speaks to Colin McPherson, at the Common ground photography exhibition at Street Level Photoworks,  in Glasgow, Scotland 28 August 2014

Radio 4’s Miles Warde speaks to Colin McPherson, at the Common ground photography exhibition at Street Level Photoworks, in Glasgow, Scotland, 28 August 2014

 

Common Ground photography exhibition at Street Level Photoworks,  in Glasgow, Scotland 28 August 2014

Common Ground photography exhibition at Street Level Photoworks, in Glasgow, Scotland
28 August 2014

 

Radio 4's Miles Warde speaks to Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert, at the Common Ground photography exhibition at Street Level Photoworks,  in Glasgow, Scotland 28 August 2014

Radio 4’s Miles Warde speaks to Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert, at the Common Ground photography exhibition at Street Level Photoworks, in Glasgow, Scotland, 28 August 2014

 

Neil-exhibition-streetlevel

Sophie’s project – Scottish Sweet Sixteen – features first time voters, like Neil pictured here. They can be heard in the programme seeing their portraits on the walls of Streetlevel Photoworks for the very first time.

 

Radio 4's Miles Warde speaks to Stephen McLaren and Colin McPherson, at the Common Ground photography exhibition at Street Level Photoworks,  in Glasgow, Scotland 28 August 2014

Radio 4’s Miles Warde speaks to Stephen McLaren and Colin McPherson, at the Common Ground photography exhibition at Street Level Photoworks, in Glasgow, Scotland, 28 August 2014

 

Document Scotland are...  Common Ground photography exhibition at Street Level Photoworks,  in Glasgow, Scotland 28 August 2014

Document Scotland are… Common Ground photography exhibition at Street Level Photoworks, in Glasgow, Scotland
28 August 2014

 

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