Another layer of steel

Andy Scott's Steel Man

During the spring and summer of 2014, I spent several months exploring the site of the former Ravenscraig steelworks in Lanarkshire.

Once Europe’s largest hot strip mill, the British Steel plant employed thousands of men – and some women – in what was commonly regarded as Scotland’s industrial heart from when it opened in 1957 to its controversial closure in 1992. When it shut, the surrounding area was devastated economically and socially and after the site was cleared in 1996, lay derelict and neglected for many years.

My project looked at the Ravenscraig site today and the people who were endeavouring to bring the area back to life. I photographed and interviewed people who had worked in the plant, as well as those now studying, working and living at the college, sports centre, businesses and housing estates slowly springing up on a site which is double the size of the principality of Monaco.

Andy Scott welding Steel Man in his studio workshop. Photograph © Colin McPherson 2015, all rights reserved.

Andy Scott welding Steel Man in his studio workshop. Photograph © Colin McPherson 2015, all rights reserved.

 

The result of my work was The Fall and Rise of Ravenscraig which was exhibited as part of Document Scotland’s Common Ground exhibition at Street Level Photoworks in Glasgow in the autumn of 2014. As with many projects, the story didn’t seem to end there. In the run up to the show, I had met Andy Scott, the acclaimed Scottish sculptor whose most celebrated work, the giant Kelpies statues was one of my favourite pieces of public art in the world.

I discovered that Andy was working on a new piece, which had been commissioned by a group of people connected with the steel industry in Lanarkshire, who wanted to make a commemorative statue to honour those who had lost their lives in the service of iron and steel making in Scotland. When I first visited Andy’s studio workshop in Glasgow, the parallels with steel making were instantly apparent: welding gear, safety equipment, heat and sparks flying everywhere. And before my eyes, rivet-by-rivet, Steel Man was taking shape.

Andy Scott during a break whilst working on Steel man. Photograph © Colin McPherson 2015, all rights reserved.

Andy Scott during a break whilst working on Steel Man. Photograph © Colin McPherson 2015, all rights reserved.

 

The major difference was scale: whilst Andy painstakingly crafted his statue with the precision of a jeweller, Ravenscraig was a belching furnace, a difficult and dangerous place of work, where many injuries were sustained and lives lost. Notwithstanding that places like Ravenscraig produced the steel which made everything from airplanes to washing machines and powered Scotland’s economy, those that worked there did so out of necessity, not choice. They also had no choice when the plant closed. Some took redundancy, some left the area to find employment and many simply never worked again.

Andy Scott working in his studio workshop in Glasgow. Photograph © Colin McPherson 2015, all rights reserved.

Andy Scott working in his studio workshop in Glasgow. Photograph © Colin McPherson 2015, all rights reserved.

 

As the statue progressed during the spring of 2015, it became apparent to me that it was not only a timely memorial to the past but a symbol of hope for the future. Ravenscraig today may not be the site of an economic powerhouse, but slowly, surely it is coming back to life. Steel Man is a poignant reminder of what has gone before, but as a piece of art by one of Scotland’s best-regarded contemporary creative minds, it offers us a glimpse of what is possible if a group of people are determined to make something happen. The fundraising effort to bring Steel Man to life involved people from the old industry and those determined that the site should have a positive future.

Steel Man taking shape in Andy Scott's studio workshop. Photograph © Colin McPherson 2015, all rights reserved.

Steel Man taking shape in Andy Scott’s studio workshop. Photograph © Colin McPherson 2015, all rights reserved.

 

Steel Man was finally unveiled at a moving and celebratory ceremony in June 2015, when the statue was shown off for the first time. Former steelworkers, trade unionists, religious and civic leaders were joined by local school pupils, supporters of the project and Andy Scott himself, who talked about the statue and how much it meant to him to create. There were prayers and dedications to those who had perished and as the wind whistled around, it was not difficult to image in noise, dust, smoke and heat of Ravenscraig past.

For me, it was another fascinating layer to the story of Ravenscraig, one which I first became acquainted with on a hot July afternoon in 1996, when the Independent commissioned me to photograph the destruction of the iconic cooling towers by controlled explosion. It took me fully two decades to return to Motherwell to take up the story again, but if I hadn’t, I would not have encountered so many interesting and inspirational people, and I would not have met Steel Man either.

Coverage of the making of Steel Man in the Independent. Photograph © Colin McPherson 2015, all rights reserved.

Coverage of the making of Steel Man in the Independent. Photograph © Colin McPherson 2015, all rights reserved.

Workmen preparing for the Steel Man unveiling. Photograph © Colin McPherson 2015, all rights reserved.

Workmen preparing for the Steel Man unveiling. Photograph © Colin McPherson 2015, all rights reserved.

Pipers welcome guests to the Steel Man unveiling. Photograph © Colin McPherson 2015, all rights reserved.

Pipers welcome guests to the Steel Man unveiling. Photograph © Colin McPherson 2015, all rights reserved.

Flowers growing on the Ravenscraig site. Photograph © Colin McPherson 2015, all rights reserved.

Flowers growing on the Ravenscraig site. Photograph © Colin McPherson 2015, all rights reserved.

Former steelworkers gather at the unveiling. Photograph © Colin McPherson 2015, all rights reserved.

Former steelworkers and their families gather at the unveiling. Photograph © Colin McPherson 2015, all rights reserved.

The unveiling ceremony of Steel Man. Photograph © Colin McPherson 2015, all rights reserved.

The unveiling ceremony of Steel Man. Photograph © Colin McPherson 2015, all rights reserved.

Andy Scott and Steel Man at the official unveiling. Photograph © Colin McPherson 2015, all rights reserved.

Andy Scott and Steel Man at the official unveiling at Ravenscraig. Photograph © Colin McPherson 2015, all rights reserved.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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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