Frank McElhinney

Frank McElhinney’s work first came to our attention in 2014 when he won first place at that year’s Jill Todd Award for his intriguing, unique aerial photographs. Since then this prolific artist has gone from strength to strength, creating several bodies of work focussing on Scotland’s landscape and how it relates to our country’s past, both near and distant. One of these, Adrift, is currently on display at Street Level Photoworks, Glasgow, as part of Tabula Rasa II. Here, he speaks to Sarah about his projects, processes, themes and methods.

Adrift: Learable, Sutherland (2016) © Frank McElhinney all rights reserved

SAF: Frank, you graduated from the Glasgow School of Art in 2014. Can you tell us a bit about how you got into photography? What were you doing before you became a student?

FM: After working in manufacturing for 20 years I decided out of the blue to become an artist. I attended several different night classes whilst building up a portfolio for entry into art school. So it’s a rather mundane answer I’m afraid, but I got into photography through adult education courses at Glasgow City College and GSA.

SAF: Your degree show plans were forced to change when the Mackintosh building caught fire in May 2014 – can you explain how this affected your work?

FM: Yes, it was a bit of a shock at the time. I’d spent over three years working on a project about the Battle of Bannockburn whose 700th anniversary was to coincide with the degree show that never happened. The main affect on my own work was the instillation of a great sense of urgency around production. Three days after the fire I went to the source of the River Forth at Loch Chon and began making a series of kite aerial photographs that won first prize in the Jill Todd Photography Award. The drive towards constant production has stayed with me.

Fire in the Mack, Friday the 23rd of May (2014) © Frank McElhinney all rights reserved

SAF: Speaking of the work you entered into the Jill Todd competition, how did you come to use the kite for making your photographs? Were there any technical challenges to this approach?

FM: Using the kite came from the need to make one specific picture. At the Battle of Bannockburn thousands of people drowned in the burn and the River Forth. I wanted to photograph the confluence of these two bodies of water from above and the kite was the simplest way to achieve that perspective. The kite is literally a joy to work with. The only challenge is the wind itself. Too much gusting and the kite will crash, not enough and a long journey might be wasted.

False Start, Limitless Ending: Confluence of Kelty Water and River Forth (2014) © Frank McElhinney all rights reserved

SAF: Your recent work, Adrift, also uses aerial photography – this time, to respond to the current migration crisis with reference to areas of Scotland once inhabited by subsistence farmers. The link is an oblique rather than an obvious one – can you tell us more about your process with this project and how you decided which locations to concentrate on?

FM: Even sympathetic media coverage of today’s migration crisis often represents refugees in problematic ways. I chose not to photograph people at all but to look instead at migration through the lens of Scottish history. The Scottish diaspora has affected all parts of the country but I focused on abandoned settlements in the Highlands and Islands. I was inspired by the early work of Tom Devine who described how the Highland Clearances were underpinned by ethnic inferiorisation of the Gaels and resulted in an almost complete cultural erasure. Whilst working on a previous project I’d also been struck by the fact that even today, of the 45 most populous cities and towns in Scotland only four of them appear on the northern side of the map.

SAF: Your work creates interesting visual conversations between past and present – responding to current events while illuminating Scotland’s history. You mention a previous project – 45 Sun Pictures in Scotland, for which you used another type of alternative photographic process – pinhole photography. Can you tell us a little about how that work came about?

FM: In September 2014, I was on a month long residency in Cromarty. At the beginning I held a workshop for local people where we made pinhole cameras, filled them up with photographic paper and tied them on lampposts and trees around the village. At the end of the month we retrieved and scanned the images that had been burned into the paper. Looking at those abstract ‘solargraphs’ with the sun tracking across the sky, I reflected that the fate of the entire nation was being decided during the exposures. Within a few days of the referendum on independence it was clear nothing had been settled, the country was still pregnant with change. Solargraphs seemed an appropriate way of saying something about that unexpected situation. So I made 200 pinhole cameras and installed them around Scotland’s 45 most populous cities and towns. I made a picture of Scotland that was, in the end, woefully incomplete.

45 Sun Pictures in Scotland: Dundee (2014-2015) © Frank McElhinney all rights reserved

SAF: It’s almost as if, through your practice, you’re creating alternative geographical surveys of the land – linking the physical terrain to more abstract ideas about identity and nationhood, with reference to events both recent and ancient. There are definite strands running through your work, though the subject matter changes. What projects do you have planned for 2017?

FM: When I look at the land I see history and I think about how I can use history to address contemporary issues, (such as nationhood, conflict and migration), rather than simply represent historic events or the land itself. I like your description ‘alternative geographical surveys of the land’, but at the same time I am also making alternative histories that connect with the present.

Looking ahead I have two new exhibitions in development for 2017 and 2018. The first relates once again to migration but looks even further back in time to the old Roman border between Caledonia and Britannia, the Antonine wall – this will be shown at the Auld Kirk Museum, Kirkintilloch, in April and May 2017. The second project is a collaboration with John Farrell, whom I met at art school. John and I were born and raised in Lanarkshire a few miles apart, and that’s where the project is based. Our working title is Coal, Steel and Earth. I am focusing on Kingshill Nature Park, formerly the site of a pit where my maternal grandfather worked as a coal miner. John is focused on what remains of Ravenscraig steelworks, where coincidentally my paternal grandfather worked as a platelayer. The exhibition is provisionally planned for 2018, at Summerlee Museum of Scottish Industrial Life. Beyond these immediate projects I have a few ‘slow burners’ including that lost project that claims me every time I drive up the A91 past Stirling and look out over the long loop of the burn as it flows into the Forth. I used to think that the moment for Remembering Bannockburn had gone up in smoke forever, but there is still work to be done out there.

Coal, Steel and Earth: Kingshill trench and tree (2016) © Frank McElhinney all rights reserved

 

Remembering Bannockburn: Confluence of Bannockburn and River Forth (2014) © Frank McElhinney all rights reserved

 

Thank you for taking the time to speak to us, Frank. We’re really excited to see where your work takes you!

Adrift is currently on display as part of Tabula Rasa II, Street Level Photoworks, Glasgow, until 4th February.

 

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Sarah Amy Fishlock joins Document Scotland

Document Scotland begins a new era in our short and full life. We are delighted to announce that long-time friend and occasional collaborator, Glasgow-based photographer Sarah Amy Fishlock has joined us, and together we look forward to joining our energies and expertise, and building on all that Document Scotland has so far achieved in promoting documentary photography in and about Scotland.

 

We welcome photographer Sarah Amy Fishlock to the Document Scotland team.

 

Sophie Gerrard spoke with Sarah about how she got started in photography, her projects, some of her influences and what’s next.

From the series Middlemen © Sarah Amy Fishlock 2011 all rights reserved.

SG: So welcome to Document Scotland Sarah, we’re looking forward to working with you – perhaps we can start with you telling us a bit about yourself…

SAF: I was born and brought up in Glasgow. When I left school I did a degree in Literary Studies at Glasgow University – it was originally going to be an Honours English Literature degree, but I cut it short when I realised that I wanted to go to art school. My father, whom I was close to and who passed his love of visual art on to me, passed away a year after I left school. I remember being in Venice with my mother soon afterwards, and taking a photo with my little point and shoot camera – a view of a corner building, from a bridge. The photo is pretty ordinary but I remember the moment really clearly as the instant I realised I wanted to do something creative, although I wasn’t quite sure what that would be.

Even though it was photography that sparked my interest in the creative industries, I started studying Visual Communication (now Communication Design) at Glasgow School of Art when I was 21, originally intending to specialise in Graphic Design. After taking a short introduction to black and white photography course in 2nd year (my first time in a darkroom), I fell in love with the process of photography. My boyfriend at the time, though not a professional photographer, was really interested in photography, and would buy me various cheap cameras for birthdays and christmases – Olympus Trip, Holga, Fuji Instax – so my first forays into photography were really experimental. I fell in love with the way my everyday surroundings could become beautiful through photography. I spent lots of time in the darkroom during my degree – now, I can’t even remember what I was printing, but I remember it being a really meditative experience, and crucial in helping me to form ideas of what a future career could look like.

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From the series Middlemen © Sarah Amy Fishlock 2011 all rights reserved.

SG: It sounds like your starting point was quite instinctive – tell us a little about how you developed your passion and interest …

SAF: During my degree, the artists I loved were those who made the ordinary extraordinary. I was fascinated by images of the American south – Robert Frank, William Eggleston, Stephen Shore. I still love those photographers, but I realised during my studies that my own style of photography would be more intimate, the stories I tell more focused. The Iraqi interpreters that I worked with during Middlemen, my degree project, have been through trauma that most people can’t imagine, but I wanted to tell the story of their quiet persistence, their day-to-day challenges and triumphs – a story about what happens after conflict, when people must rebuild their lives. One of the primary influences on this work was KayLynn Deveney’s The Day to Day Life of Albert Hastings – the simple story of the artist’s friendship with an elderly widower, illuminated by Deveney’s lyrical, painterly imagery.

Today, two of my main influences are Sian Davey and Bertien van Manen – two artists who produce slow, quiet, unhurried projects, in which the viewer is given an intimate glimpse into other worlds.

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From the series Amye & Ahren © Sarah Amy Fishlock 2012 all rights reserved.

SG: We’ve enjoyed your work such as Middlemen and Amye & Ahren and featured them in Document Scotland publications and salons, you’ve also created Goose Flesh photography zine. You’re clearly a prolific and driven individual, what motivates you?

SAF: For me, photography is a way of making contact with the world. It was hard to get Middlemen started – it look a long time and a lot of persistence to find the men, but once I did, I began to understand how humbling and illuminating it can be to help someone tell their story. While discussing a new project with a friend recently, something he said struck me – ‘the best projects are the most difficult’. For me, that’s definitely true – I want my work to challenge not only the viewer but myself, as a photographer and as a human being – to think differently, to change perspective, to reconsider opinions.

From the series Middlemen © Sarah Amy Fishlock 2013 all rights reserved.

From the series Amye & Ahren © Sarah Amy Fishlock 2012 all rights reserved.

I always begin by researching my subject: this is really important when working with a different culture, as during Middlemen, or with disabilities, like Amye & Ahren. I read around the subject and look at other artists’ work for inspiration. I’ve learned to always make work about subjects that interest me, even if they don’t seem ‘photograph-able’ to begin with – there’s always a way in. I then look for ways to access the people I want to work with – this might be through a charity, like the Scottish Middle Eastern Council who helped me meet the middlemen, or a mutual friend, who introduced me to Amye. I treat my projects as collaborations between myself and the subject – their comfort always comes first. It’s important to me that when I show my work, the people I’ve photographed are happy with and proud of the result.

In 2013 I started Goose Flesh with a small grant from Ideastap as a way of showcasing work by emerging and established artists from, living in, or connected to Glasgow, in a compact, accessible, affordable form. So far, five issues of the zine have been produced, alongside exhibitions in a range of venues around Glasgow, from Trongate 103 to the Arches. My interest in zines continued during my residency at the Citizens Theatre (2013-14 ), for which I produced two zines documenting my projects – it was a great way to bring the work back to the community that inspired it. I now teach zine workshops to university students and community groups around Scotland. This is something I’d like to continue and develop in 2017, perhaps alongside one of my photography projects. Goose Flesh is on hiatus at the moment while I develop my own photography projects – but it’ll definitely be back at some point in the future!

From the series Five Lands © Sarah Amy Fishlock 2016 all rights reserved.

From the series Five Lands © Sarah Amy Fishlock 2016 all rights reserved.

SG: Have you had any surprises along the way? Unexpected moments or challenges when making your work?

SAF: I am always humbled and pleasantly surprised by the people I photograph – the middlemen and their families welcomed me into their homes, gave me lots of delicious food, and shared their stories with me. Amye and Ahren did the same, despite the daily difficulties and challenges they face as a single parent family living with autism.

I’ve begun a few projects that have later fizzled out because I wasn’t sure exactly what the focus of the story should be. It’s important to identify precisely what interests you about a situation, even if you can’t envisage the outcome right at the beginning.

From the series Five Lands © Sarah Amy Fishlock 2014 all rights reserved.

From the series Five Lands © Sarah Amy Fishlock 2016 all rights reserved.

SG: We’ve seen that your new work Beloved Curve, has been selected for Focus Photography Festival in Mumbai, and you’ve just returned from exhibiting it with Uncertain States in East London – many congratulations.  What’s coming up for you next?

My most recent project, Beloved Curve, is a departure from my previous work – it’s a series of experimental double exposures looking at my relationship with my father and my experiences of mourning his loss. I have enjoyed immensely the process of working in a different way, and I’m really proud of what the project has achieved – as well as being exhibited in Glasgow and Edinburgh this year, it’s been featured by BBC News In Pictures, the Guardian and Fiona Rogers’ Firecracker. Thanks to this coverage, I’ve recieved great feedback from members of the public who’ve connected with the work – it’s important to me that my work has resonance beyond the photography community, and I’m delighted that this project has achieved that.

I want to continue looking at some of the themes Beloved Curve touches on, but with a documentary slant – getting back into telling other people’s stories. I’m currently researching what I hope will be a long term project about child bereavement in Glasgow, as well as some smaller documentary projects.

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From the series Beloved Curve © Sarah Amy Fishlock 2016 all rights reserved.

I’m really excited to have the opportunity to join Document Scotland at this stage in my career – I think it’s important to have other artists to collaborate with, and to support and be supported by. I feel passionately about getting Scotland’s photography seen, not only by people in the industry, but also making connections with those outside it. Document Scotland is making this happen, through the website, events and salons as well as exhibitions. It’s a very exciting time for photography in Scotland, and I’m really pleased to be a part of it.

SG: Thank you for joining us Sarah and for taking the time to do this interview Sarah, we’re excited to be working with you!

If you’d like to see more of Sarah’s work please …

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The past present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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:

 

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St Andrews Photography Festival & Salon

Celebrating 175 years of Scottish Photography in the home of Scottish Photography

We at Document Scotland are very pleased to involved with the first ever St Andrews Photography Festival 2016 where we will be presenting a Document Scotland public exhibition and a free Salon  afternoon of talks, multimedia and discussion about documentary photography in Scotland.

 

Document Scotland Exhibition

Featuring work by the four members of Document Scotland this exhibition is on at The Scores Railings – an outside street location open 24 hours – on the north side of St Andrews as you make your way to the Aquarium and the beach. The exhibition includes Drawn To The Land by Sophie Gerrard, North sea Fishing by Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert, A Fine Line by Colin McPherson and Scotia Nova by Stephen McLaren.

Screen shot 2016-07-25 at 18.02.56

 

Minty, Isle of Mull, 2014 © Sophie Gerrard all rights reserved

Minty, Isle of Mull, 2014 from the series ‘Drawn to The Land’ © Sophie Gerrard all rights reserved

 

Aboard the seine netter 'Argosy', on the North Sea, 1995. ©Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert, all rights reserved.

Aboard the seine netter ‘Argosy’, on the North Sea, 1995. ©Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert, all rights reserved.

 

'Site of the Battle of Redeswire, 2013' from 'A Fine Line - Exploring Scotland's Border with England' © Colin McPherson, 2013, all rights reserved.

‘Site of the Battle of Redeswire, 2013’ from the series ‘A Fine Line – Exploring Scotland’s Border with England’ © Colin McPherson, 2013, all rights reserved.

 

From the series 'Nova Scotia', Scotland. ©Stephen McLaren, 2012, all rights reserved.

From the series ‘Nova Scotia’, Scotland. © Stephen McLaren, 2012, all rights reserved.

 

Salon Event 28th August 2016 3-5pm

On Sunday August 28th, we’re hosting a Salon afternoon event to showcase some excellent Scottish photography and multimedia, to get people together and to toast the good times of the St Andrews Photography Festival.

The event will be held at Martyr’s Kirk Research Library, 80 North Street, St Andrews, KY16 9TR from 3pm – 5pm and is as ever completely FREE to attend.

We will be presenting some of our own work by the collective members Colin McPherson, Stephen McLaren, Sophie Gerrard and Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert, and also some of our favourite work by others which we’ve enjoyed featured on our blog and website from the last couple of years.
We invite you to come along for an afternoon of some great photography, multimedia and lively discussion.
No need to book, if you would like to attend please just come along. We hope you can make it, and we look forward to the chat!

 

The audience at the Document Scotland Summer Salon event at Stills Gallery, Edinburgh

The audience at a Document Scotland Summer Salon event at Stills Gallery, Edinburgh, August 2013.

 

Press Release

“The University of St Andrews Library Special Collections Division is working with BID St Andrews – the business improvement body created to support businesses in the town – and local businesses to launch an annual photography festival in August which will celebrate the role and importance of St Andrews in the world of photography and engage with those who live, work in and visit the town.

BID Chairman, Alistair Lang, explains: “We are one of the most photographed and filmed towns in the world, yet few realise much of the technology we enjoy the benefits of today began with the work of a collection of photographic pioneers who lived and worked in St Andrews in the 1800s.”

Dr John Adamson is perhaps the most celebrated – a blue plaque adorns the wall of his former home in the town on South St, now The Adamson Restaurant. But many other names are to be celebrated for the role they played, including Sir Hugh Lyon Playfair, David Octavius Hill, Robert Adamson, Thomas Rodger and Sir David Brewster.

The first six-week-long festival – from August 1 to September 11 – which is being curated by the Universtiy Library’s Photographic Collections Manager Rachel Nordstrom, will see events and exhibitions focus on the earliest days of photography in St Andrews as well as Scottish documentary photography over the last 175 years and contemporary photography.”

The Festival was recently featured in The Scotsman

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Further info

To see the full schedule of events please see the full list of exhibitions and events here

To keep up to date visit the St Andrews Photography Festival Facebook page here.

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Roll out the barrel…

The first delivery of barrels to InchDairnie. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

This month sees the first new whisky distillery for a century officially opening in Fife.

Document Scotland photographer Colin McPherson was commissioned by the company responsible for the project, MacDuff International, a Swedish-own film with head offices in Glasgow, to document the construction of the InchDairnie facility from a brown-field building site to completed distillery.

Rather than setting a brief which would befit a commercial contract, McPherson was given unrestricted access to the site and the people working there, in order to photograph the various stages which brought the project together. He was asked only to focus on the workers and their work, to engage with them and show the many skills and attributes which are required to bring such a major project from concept to reality.

Over the course of 15 months from early-2015, McPherson made repeated visits to InchDairnie, watching the seasons changing and the buildings taking shape. The various contractors came and went and left behind their legacy. The distillery, designed and built by John Fergus and Co, began production by the end of the year as the building work continued through the wet and windy winter of 2015-16. By May 2016, with the building and landscaping work done, the final result looked as aesthetically pleasing as a fine glass of malt.

The photographs are to be archived by MacDuff International as a permanent record of the project and discussions are under way about a possible publication to mark this historic moment and showcase the work made by McPherson over the last year. In the meantime, McPherson is planning to return to InchDairnie in the coming months to photograph the team of distillers and other workers employed permanently on site.

 

Construction gets underway at InchDairnie. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

Construction gets underway at InchDairnie. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

 

Contractors welding parts for the stills. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

Contractors welding parts for the stills. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

 

Copper stills arriving at InchDairnie. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

Copper stills arriving at InchDairnie. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

 

Project director Ian Palmer in his office. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

Project director Ian Palmer in his office. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

 

An electrician working on site. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

An electrician working on site. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

 

Stacking and storing barrels. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

Stacking and storing barrels. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

 

A contractor installing machinery. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

A contractor installing machinery. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

 

Computer screens with data. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

Computer screens with data. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

 

Examining newly-arrived barrels. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

Examining newly-arrived barrels. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

 

Fife barley ready to harvest. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

Fife barley ready to harvest. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

 

The completed distillery. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016 all rights reserved.

The completed distillery. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016 all rights reserved.

 

 

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Harry Benson CBE, an exhibition

We’re pleased to hear that Glasgow-born photojournalist Harry Benson CBE, and Honorary Patron of Document Scotland, is having an exhibition at the Scottish Parliament later this year. The press release from Holyrood, reproduced below, tells all…

The Presiding Officer, the Rt Hon Tricia Marwick, with Harry Benson CBE.

The Presiding Officer, the Rt Hon Tricia Marwick, with Harry Benson CBE.

 

An exhibition featuring the work of one of the world’s most renowned photographers, Harry Benson CBE, is to go on display at the Scottish Parliament in August.

The free exhibition, Harry Benson: Seeing America, will include some of the photographer’s most iconic images capturing significant moments in America’s social, political and cultural history over the last 50 years.

Harry Benson’s credentials on photographing American history are unrivalled. Glasgow-born Benson essentially arrived in America with the Beatles and went on to photograph every US President since Dwight D. Eisenhower. Benson was present during Bobby Kennedy’s assassination and teargassed during the James Meredith March with Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. He started by covering America for the Daily Express and by 1968, was fulfilling his ambition of working for Life magazine.

 

Cassius Clay hits George Harrison of The Beatles,- copyright Harry Benson 1964.

Cassius Clay hits George Harrison of The Beatles,- copyright Harry Benson 1964.

 

This new exhibition will bring together many of his well-known images including the photograph of President and Mrs Reagan dancing, which featured on the cover of Vanity Fair, images documenting the civil rights movement and tensions in 1960s America, the Watergate journalists Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward and Richard Nixon’s resignation speech. It will also feature many well-known American entertainers including Frank Sinatra, James Brown, Jack Nicholson, Dolly Parton, Kevin Spacey and Brad Pitt.

The free exhibition will be on display at the Parliament from Friday 12 August until Saturday 3 December. It will be the first exhibition of Harry Benson’s work to go on display in Scotland since 2008.

Reagan's Dance, copyright Harry Benson 1985

Reagan’s Dance, copyright Harry Benson 1985

 

The Presiding Officer, the Rt Hon Tricia Marwick, who announced the exhibition whilst she was in New York for Scotland Week, said: “Harry Benson’s work is admired across the world and he is undoubtedly one of Scotland’s greatest exports.

“This new exhibition is Harry’s unique take on America over the last 50 years and will feature some of his most iconic photographs.

“As the debate on the forthcoming US Presidential election intensifies, this exhibition shines a light on some of the defining moments of America’s past.

“This exhibition is a “must see” for anyone with an interest in American history, politics and culture.”

Glasgow-born, Harry has photographed some of the world’s biggest stars from The Beatles to Muhammad Ali over a career spanning 60 years.

Harry Benson CBE said: “Growing up in Glasgow, one year at the end of term when I had narrowly passed my qualifying exam to the next level, my teacher, Miss MacKenzie, stopped me as I shuffled out of the classroom and said, “Benson, I don’t worry about you one bit.” It was the nicest thing anyone had ever said to me. I wish I could have gone back years later to thank her.

“To have my retrospective, my American journey, at Parliament is an incredible privilege. My wife, Gigi, and my daughters, Wendy and Tessa, join me in thanking the Scottish Parliament for this truly remarkable honour.”

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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

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Home and away with Albion Rovers

Booklet Cover

Cliftonhill is one of the most evocative grounds in Scottish football, yet one suspects hardly anyone in Scotland could describe what it looks like or even – given Albion Rovers’ name – where it is. Photographer Iain McLean has spent many years visiting the ground as a fan and a photographer. His project, entitled More Than Just A Football Club has recently been published in book form. Here he chats to Document Scotland’s Colin McPherson, himself an aficionado of lower-league Scottish football, about his striking images of the Coatbridge-based club.

CM: I have several memories of visiting Cliftonhill in the 1980s with the team I supported, Meadowbank Thistle. The rubble-strewn ground was in a ruinous state, with its dungeon-like toilets and crumbling main stand and an owner who seemed part of the problem not the solution. And yet… it was always one of my favourite away days. From arriving at the ironic-sounding Sunnyside station to a pint in Big O’s before the game, the trip to Albion Rovers was always eagerly anticipated. When did you first connect with the club?

IM: In season 2000/01 my friend and Rovers stalwart Bill Walker suggested coming along to the club when I was on the lookout for a longterm photo project. I had never been to Coatbridge before and knew nothing of its history never mind anything about Albion Rovers. I’ll never forget seeing the stadium for the first time – a blaze of yellow and red alongside a busy road. It had an oddly exotic appearance from the outside with the colours standing out against the cold North Lanarkshire backdrop. I was impressed. Bill secured me permission to take pictures and I got started immediately. I found the fans to be welcoming and despite the state of the stadium – as you say, it was in need of a bit of TLC – I had a good feeling about being there. I originally shot on film – HP5 – developing and printing in my shed, and in the first season produced a few decent prints from games against Peterhead, Dumbarton and East Stirlingshire.

Albion Rovers v Arbroath, 2014. Photograph © Iain McLean, all rights reserved

Albion Rovers v Arbroath, 2014. Photograph © Iain McLean, all rights reserved

 

CM: Ah yes, those evocative colours, bright red and almost luminous yellow, certainly stood out from the more familiar grey sky which seemed to be ever-present there. I was particularly fond of Rovers’ mid-1980s strip which featured a series of red diagonal stripes to complement the then sponsors Tunnocks. A design classic. Your images are monochrome of course, so we’ll just have to add the colour in our imagination. What was the rationale behind using black-and-White for the project?

IM: Despite the colourful exterior,  as soon as I saw the inside of the stadium I knew the photographs had to be mono as the inside harked back to another time. Black-and-white gives the pictures a more timeless feel and also gives the whole project continuity. Your own excellent pictures in When Saturday Comes are to an extent dictated by editorial needs, but I have a little bit more freedom when it comes to how the pics are presented.

CM: Actually the WSC images reflect very much my approach to photographing football – the magazine gives me complete autonomy, it’s just the style I’ve developed over the last decade. I’d be interested in photographing a football project in mono, but I’m so drawn to the colour palette that I can’t imagine ever doing it. I think your images work really well in black-and-white as the emotion of what you capture is laid bare more starkly. You have also had the opportunity to stay close to the story, as it were, and develop a strong narrative. I love the ups-and-downs you portray. Were the Rovers supporters aware of who you are and what you are doing?

IM: I started very anonymously, just quietly mooching around seeing what was happening. Slowly the fans have become aware of me and what I am up to and I suspect I am viewed with something between mild suspicion and vague curiosity. The pics have been exhibited a few times as well as been published in local and national press, so they are well used to seeing their photographs in the public domain. I also offer a free print to anyone who asks for one by way of thanks as it is the least I can do to repay people for their help. Given that our average gate is around the 400 mark, I’m a bit limited with potential models but try not to feature the same characters too often. There are some brilliant subjects though and amongst my favourites are Andy and Mary. They are real golden-hearted gems who are, as they say in football, 110% loyal to the club, attending fundraising nights and events. Mary swears that by taking her knitting to away games it brings the club good luck. The fans (hopefully) realise that I am not out to embarrass anyone or make them appear foolish – certainly there are often quirky scenes or incidents that present themselves, but I love showing the humanity and warmth this particular group of people have. I guess the project could be about anything – I originally approached a local rugby club – but lucky for me Albion Rovers came along at the right time.

CM: Have you ever thought about widening it to include the playing staff, management, etc. Albion Rovers have had a few great characters down the years: I can imagine a night out with the legendary Vic Kasule might have had the film spinning through your camera! I suppose what I am asking is are you intending to carry on the the series, or do you feel the book marks the final chapter? It’s always difficult to know when to draw a project to a halt. There are usually milestones, after which the photographer takes stock and decides whether it’s worth carrying on. Where are you with it all?

IM: At one point I attempted to contact local people with a view to photographing them and hearing their thoughts about living next to a football stadium. Sadly nobody replied to the leaflets I posted through doors, but it may be worth another push with this idea perhaps offering some kind of incentive. Every time I think about bringing the project to an end a new opportunity arises. This year we are playing some excellent football and are currently holding our own in League 1, which is surprising because we were everyone’s favourites for the drop. So I have had new opportunities to visit new clubs (who are not in League 2) and also had the chance to record last year’s League Championship win, which as you would imagine was a fantastic day for the club and also for photo opportunities. Eventually I’d like to have a large exhibition of the photos – but first need a location and a good editor! The club have been accommodating and really helpful towards me. Provided I am not a nuisance I am allowed to go about my business in a quiet and discreet manner. I have seen various directors, chairmen and managers come and go but I rarely have any dialogue with them, although last week I met one of the directors for the first time when he was helping serve tea and coffee in the players lounge! A recent request to photograph the home, away and referee’s changing rooms was granted without any quibble and I am sure the club see the positive side to the project when we get good media coverage and have exhibitions here and there.

CM: So where can we get a hold of More Than Just A Football Club then?

IM: The 50 page photojournal is available priced £9.99 (+ p&p) from my websiteIt is also available from: Street Level Photoworks, Albion Roversfootball club, Summerlee Museum and Battlefield Framers in Glasgow.

CM: Thanks very much Iain, it’s been great talking to you. Up the Rovers!

Groundsman, Cliftonhill. Albion Rovers v Montrose, 2014. Photograph © Iain McLean, all rights reserved

Groundsman, Cliftonhill, 2014. Photograph © Iain McLean, all rights reserved

 

Albion Rovers v Montrose, 2014. Photograph © Iain McLean, all rights reserved

Albion Rovers v Montrose, 2014. Photograph © Iain McLean, all rights reserved

 

Albion Rovers mascot, 2015. Albion Rovers v Montrose, 2014. Photograph © Iain McLean, all rights reserved

Albion Rovers mascot, 2015. Photograph © Iain McLean, all rights reserved

 

Berwick Rangers v Albion Rovers, 2011. Photograph © Iain McLean, all rights reserved

Berwick Rangers v Albion Rovers, 2011. Photograph © Iain McLean, all rights reserved

 

Rangers v Albion Rovers, 2014. Photograph © Iain McLean, all rights reserved

Rangers v Albion Rovers, 2014. Photograph © Iain McLean, all rights reserved

 

Colin McPherson is “In Conversation With…” writer Kevin Williamson on Thursday 7th April, 2016 at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh at 6pm. Entrey is free.

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Independent day

Indy1t

To mark today’s final printed edition of the Independent, Document Scotland’s Colin McPherson talks about his contribution to the newspaper and the motivation behind the publication of a book of his photographs taken on assignment for, or published by, the paper.

Document Scotland (DS): Today, 26th March, the last edition of the Independent will hit the streets. What has been your involvement with the paper?

Colin McPherson (CM): I started working on a freelance basis for the ‘Indy’ in 1995. At the time, I was living in Edinburgh and photographing on a regular basis for the Scotsman and Herald newspapers. The first call I took from the picture desk of the Independent was to assign me the not-too-difficult task of taking a picture of St. Bernard’s Well, for a feature about writers’ favourite places. Given that it was a static object, it was pretty hard to get that wrong.

Peat cutters, Lewis, 1996. Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Peat cutters, Lewis, 1996. Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

 

DS: From those humble beginnings you quickly started working on a regular basis for the paper. Have you any other recollections of those early days?

CM: Yes. Almost as soon as the assignments came rolling in, my former picture editor at the Edinburgh Evening News and Scotsman, Rod Sibbald, took the reigns at the Indy. We always had a good relationship and we would talk on the phone early each morning to see if or what might be of interest to the paper. It would be too strong to say he relied on my suggestions, but he regularly took them up and sent me off across Scotland to get a stand-alone image or cover some major story. The Indy was still broadsheet format at the time, and the ethos of the paper still meant that pictures were as of much value as words.

DS: Were you shooting in colour then, or was it the trademark black-and-white, for which the Independent was famed for?

CM: It was strange. Right up until the late-1990s, the picture desk would allow you to chose. If I arrived on a job and thought, ‘this will make a cracking black-and-white’ I’d  shoot it like that. For some features, where time wasn’t an issue, I’d even have the luxury of making prints in my darkroom and sending them to London. Unthinkable nowadays. Gradually they wanted everything on the news, features and sports pages shot in colour, which they turned mono on the computer. It was then that the look and quality of the paper began to change.

DS: You must have covered some fascinating events and visited amazing places with your camera!

CM: Yes, I was really fortunate that in those days picture desks would have the trust in you – and generally the budgets – to back your ideas. I spent a few days in Sancta Maria Abbey in East Lothian in March 1996 based on persuasion. The result was a page of pictures in the features section on Easter Saturday, appropriately enough, given the subject matter. I loved travelling to the farthest outposts of Scotland and discovering ways of life which were either frozen in time or disappearing, such as peat cutting, salmon netting and doing a feature on Scotland’s last jute mill, in Dundee shortly before it closed.

Taxi driver, Moldova, 2004. Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Taxi driver, Moldova, 2004. Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

 

DS: It was a very explosive time politically in Scotland. And there were other major news stories. Did you cover big events too?

CM: Yes. I was at Dunblane on the day of the primary school shootings, which was really hard. And there was a lot of politics: the campaign to re-establish a parliament in Edinburgh was in full swing and there was Tony Blair’s victory in the 1997 General Election. Every day there seemed to be something going on and eventually it all led to the establishment of the Holyrood parliament and the infamous building project that went with it.

From the Independent Saturday Magazine, 26th March, 2016.

From the Independent Saturday Magazine, 26th March, 2016.

 

DS: You swapped Scotland for England in 2004, but still kept working for the paper. How easy was that?

CM: Not that straightforward. The daily had gone tabloid, not only in format but mentality. The picture editor at the time didn’t seem to value images as much and many of the ‘big beast’ photographers had moved on – the likes of Brian Harris, David Rose, Tom Pilston and John Voos. Luckily, Sophie Batterbury was in charge at the Independent on Sunday and still commissioned me regularly from my base in north west England. Eventually the picture desks of the two titles merged and I was able to work more regularly across both papers again.

DS: What made you decide to publish a book with your images taken on assignment or published in the Independent?

CM: I wanted to do something to commemorate the paper, to mark its passing. It’s an infrequent event, the death of a newspaper and I thought it might be nice to share some of my favourite images. I didn’t want it to be an authoritative history of my involvement, rather some snapshots of life and how its lived. And some humour too.

DS: The book came together quite quickly, how did you make it happen?

CM: The idea came to me to do something almost the day I heard that the Indy was closing. From that moment it was a bit of a scramble to get quotes for printing, decide on the layout and – most importantly and interestingly for me – select which images I wanted to show. I deliberately avoided including too many staged photographs, relying rather on individual pictures which could tell their own story. I wanted some humour in there too and I took a few liberties with the design to include a couple of pairs of images set against each other. At the end-of-the-day it’s a small, self-published book which I hope people will derive some enjoyment from. For me, it’s a keepsake, something to remember happy times out-and-about photographing for a wonderful, friendly newspaper, one which will be sorely missed by many people.

'An Independent Eye'. Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

‘An Independent Eye’. Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

 

DS: There’s already been quite a lot of interest in the book. Where can we get copies from?

CM:  Yes, it was featured by Phil Coombes on the BBC In Pictures website, and today’s final edition of the Independent Magazine carries a celebration of their photography which contains one of my images, which is very flattering. The book is available exclusively through my website. Get one, before it too disappears!

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Dunblane remembered

1996 Dunblane massacre

Twenty years ago this weekend, on 13th March 1996, a lone gunman entered Dunblane Primary School and shot dead 16 pupils and their teacher, before killing himself. Document Scotland photographer Colin McPherson was one of the first Press photographers on the scene and recalls the impact the day had on the town, its people and himself.

“I was in the offices of the Herald newspaper in Edinburgh on the morning of the shooting. A journalist came into the photographer’s room looking for one of the staff snappers and blurted out that there had been a shooting at a primary school in Dunblane. Within an hour, I had arrived in the small town to be confronted by a wave of panicking parents making their way from all directions towards the school.

“There were around half-a-dozen Press photographers who all arrived simultaneously and soon we were joined by many more, as word spread across the Central Belt of the enormity of the situation. I remember the silence, the only sound being feet scurrying across the roads and pavements. People gathered in numbers, little clusters of parents and children, outside the school perimeter. It all seemed so calm, and yet occasionally you would see people embracing, sobbing and consoling each other. None of the police were armed, yet this was only 90 minutes after the grim events had taken place.

“After a very difficult hour-or-so working on the street outside the gates, watching police, ambulances and people being led into and out of the school, I went round the back of the buildings and found a vantage point to get a shot of the whole site. I was astonished to see children looking out of a classroom window, seemingly oblivious to what had unfolded, guarded by a solitary, uniformed police officer.

“It was a raw, cold day, and the emotion of it all seemed to be frozen. I am sure it was just that no-one could imagine such an event taking place in such a sleepy and pleasant location such as Dunblane. The organised stoicism of people that day, the dignity in the way they conducted themselves, will remain with me forever. It was as if they were immediately aware of the potential of destructive consequences being visited on their community and collectively the people were saying: ‘you will not break us’.

“I don’t remember any particular hostility to the Press in general or photographers in particular. So many of the journalists were parents too, of course, and that solidarity seemed to come through. By the lunchtime of the 13th, writers and photographers from London started arriving and it was time for me to organise developing my films, scanning and sending photos to the Independent.

The enormity of it all didn’t hit me until later that day when I was driving back home in the dark. In those pre-internet days news travelled more slowly, so the first time I ‘caught up’ with the story was on Radio Scotland’s teatime news. The whole thing hit me like a ton of bricks at that point. The rest of the journey was very difficult.

“I was asked to return to Dunblane by the Independent for the next two days, after that the picture editor gave me the chance to cover another story, the Glasgow Science Festival, for which I was very grateful.

“I returned to Dunblane often in the weeks and months after the massacre. There were political and Royal visits, remembrance services and an official inquiry. The images I took that day had a lasting impression on me and my career: the photographs were syndicated by Sygma, and I was asked to join the prestigious agency, for whom I then worked for a number of years.

Twenty years on, I still feel the emotion of that terrible day every time I drive past or near Dunblane. I think of the people and what they suffered and how they rebuilt their lives and their community and hope that no-one has to go through what they went through.”

A young girl is carried away. Photograph © Colin McPherson 1996, all rights reserved.

A young girl is carried away. Photograph © Colin McPherson 1996, all rights reserved.

 

An ambulance arriving at Dunblane primary school. Photograph © Colin McPherson 1996, all rights reserved.

An ambulance arriving at Dunblane primary school. Photograph © Colin McPherson 1996, all rights reserved.

 

A crying woman is comforted outside Dunblane primary school. Photograph © Colin McPherson 1996, all rights reserved.

A crying woman is comforted outside Dunblane primary school. Photograph © Colin McPherson 1996, all rights reserved.

 

A police officer stands guard. Photograph © Colin McPherson 1996, all rights reserved.

A police officer stands guard. Photograph © Colin McPherson 1996, all rights reserved.

 

A group of adults and children embracing. Photograph © Colin McPherson 1996, all rights reserved.

A group of adults and children embracing. Photograph © Colin McPherson 1996, all rights reserved.

 

Document Scotland has taken the decision to publish a small selection of Colin’s images to accompany his testimony. We hope that you understand that these are for illustrative purposes and we do not seek to offend or upset anyone by doing so.

 

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