A Contested Land

A Contested Land – new work and exhibition from Document Scotland. 

Set against the current political backdrop, Document Scotland’s four photographers examine the complex relationships between the nation’s people, history and landscape.

Showing at The Martin Parr Foundation, 15th January 2019 – 16th March 2019.

‘All Under One Banner’, Scotland. © Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert 2018.

 

“The Foundation supports and preserves the legacy of photographers who made, and continue to make, important work focused on the British Isles.” – Martin Parr.

 

A Contested Land.

When taking part in a tournament, competition or any sort of contest, it is usual to know what the prize is for winning. Whether it is a shiny medal or golden trophy, the outcome is usually something pre-determined or tangible, even if it is not ultimately obtainable by everyone competing. To the victor, the spoils: to everyone else the scars of defeat or the satisfaction not of winning but of having taken part.

If this description of where Scotland is as a nation today is somewhat allegorical, it is worth considering that the current and ongoing debate about the nation’s future hides the many layers of its story. Life continues to change and evolve, often in-spite of rather than because of the debates around the merits of becoming an independent nation, the ramifications of Brexit or the challenges posed by climate change or other seismic global events.

Into this miasma steps Document Scotland: four photographers passionate about dissecting their nation and disseminating their viewpoint beyond the border at Berwick in order to stimulate, inform and educate. By looking past the tired tropes and casual cliches which often cloud an accurate view of what Scotland is today, they aspire to offer a passionate yet dispassionate take on aspects of the nation unseen.

The past is ever-present in each of the collective’s four new individual projects which meld together to form A Contested Land, the title of Document Scotland’s forthcoming exhibition. 

 

from the series The Flows © Sophie Gerrard 2018

 

Easdale, Scotland. © Colin McPherson 2018.

 

 

‘Edinburgh Unchained’, © Stephen McLaren 2018.

 

Anti-nuclear demonstration, Faslane, Scotland. © Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert 2018.

 

For decades, Scotland’s largest city has been a hotbed of radical ideas, protest and, at times, insurgency. From the 1919 Red Clydeside rebellion, to opposition to the Poll Tax, from support for Spanish Republicans opposing General Franco to the hero’s welcome afforded to Nelson Mandela, politics has never been far from the surface in Glasgow. Today, set against the prospect of Brexit and a possible second referendum on Scottish independence, Glasgow is alive with political activity. The city has a long tradition of integrating people from elsewhere. In the past, Irish immigrants sought refuge from the Famine whilst Highlanders fled the brutal Clearances. In modern times asylum seekers have sought safe haven in the city. These events have helped shape Glasgow and given it a sense of identity and purpose and a pride that its people are ‘Clyde built,’ like the magnificent ships once manufactured on the river which snakes through the heart of the city: resilient, proud and unique.  As an insider, photographer Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert has spent a quarter-of-a-century documenting the raw and powerful political theatre which plays out in Glasgow’s public places. Saltires, tricolours and Union Jacks compete for space in vibrant and lively displays of standard-bearing, demonstrations and protests. Placards are waved, slogans chanted and the passion and belief on show evoke and provoke a visceral reaction based on one’s own point-of-view. What intrigues is not what divides the different sides of these arguments, but what, ultimately, unites: they are all Glaswegians. Strip away the banners, confiscate the flags, put them side-by-side on their marches, and you cannot tell these adversaries apart. It is what makes this work so poignant and beguiling. And offers the tantalising possibility of an undivided future, whatever the ramifications of current political discourse and disagreements.

 

from the series The Flows © Sophie Gerrard 2018

Sophie Gerrard’s work focuses on the gentle and undulating peat lands of Scotland’s Flow Country. Eschewing sentimentality, the photography looks at how this precious environmental resource has been desecrated and denuded over generations and how these almost magical places are being revived and reinvigorated through careful and considered conservation.  This is no abstract notion: survival of the peat bogs is a touchstone for the health of the nation. Once seen as ‘fair game’ for industrial-scale exploitation, Sophie poses a metaphorical question, asking us to consider our relationship with local and national areas of outstanding beauty and how these places of natural resources fit into Scotland’s topography and consciousness, linking people to the land, and vice-versa.

 

‘Edinburgh Unchained’, © Stephen McLaren 2018.

 

Building on previous work which looked at the historical ties that bind Scotland with slavery through the sugar industry, Stephen McLaren returns to the theme to explore and examine the hidden and almost forgotten link between Edinburgh’s wealth and the slave trade with Jamaica. In the immediate aftermath of this year’s Windrush scandal, it is a timely and forceful reminder that the past, in all its forms, is immediately around us. Behind the front doors of Edinburgh’s New Town lies the legacy of British colonial exploitation. With each pound passed down through the generations, Scotland distanced itself from its inheritance as architects and perpetrators of the widespread and cruel exploitation of many thousands of bonded and chained men, women and children. Stephen’s work does not exist merely to prick our consciousness, but to start a national conversation about acknowledging an historical wrong and discussion about reparations. It should also force Scotland to examine and re-evaluate the relationships with people and communities within and outwith its own borders.

Easdale, Scotland © Colin McPherson 2018

History is the starting point for Colin McPherson’s visual exploration of life on Easdale, the smallest permanently-inhabited Hebridean island on Scotland’s long, varied and sparse west coast. Once the epicentre of Scotland’s renowned slate quarrying industry, this fragile parchment of rock, sitting two hundred metres off the adjoining island of Seil, has become a by-word for repopulation and reinvention as its current community continues to battle traditional adversaries: economics and the environment. At its height in the 19th century, Easdale housed four hundred people; the quarrying provided work for the men and the slates they produced roofed the world, from the cathedrals in Glasgow and St. Andrews to the New World. When an epic storm decimated the island in the 1880s, the island went into decline and depopulation, only for a new band of pioneers to resettle and revive Easdale nearly a century later. The photographer’s personal connections with the island date back thirty years, and in this series he offers a contemporary commentary about the parallels with the past and how many of the 65 current residents live their lives.

In one sense, Scotland is not unique in that the problems it faces are identical in many other nations: environmental dangers demanding urgent governmental and public responses; poverty and lack of opportunity blighting a country of great natural wealth; inequality in all its forms scarring society, holding back peoples’ potential and draining the public purse. Viewed from afar, Scotland appears to be no different from any other country as the world evolves in the 21st century digital dynasty. However, drill down below the surface and what is revealed is a multi-layered tapestry, a hopscotch, hotchpotch history where the ebb-and-flow of power and wealth, emigration and immigration and an often rudderless sense of direction leaves the impression seen from within of a nation sailing precipitously through low-hanging haar towards an unknown destination. That is not to say there isn’t a strong sense of what constitutes Scottishness to guide the country. It pre-determines the national conversation, and if the 2014 Independence referendum highlighted one thing through the debate, discussion and diatribe, it was that those who live, work and breathe the air in Scotland feel first-and-foremost Scottish above all else. Scotland may not be colour coded like so many nations, including its much larger, more powerful and influential neighbour to the south but the sense of Scottishness runs through its citizens veins as strongly as the clear waters of any burn cascading its way down a craggy Munro into one of those fabled lochs or glens. So, whilst the direction of travel might be clear the ultimate destination remains tantalisingly unseen.

Scotland is mired in inconsistencies and contradictions. Vast tracts of its famous wilderness have been scarred by generations, centuries even, of public and private mismanagement, leaving a brutalised landscape, barely fit for human habitation and endeavour. The country’s precious marine resources are controlled by a mere five all-powerful fishing families. The wealth of the wealthiest is 250 times that of the poorest. Whilst the population of its major city conurbations continue to grow and expand, population growth in many areas is flatlining or even falling, leading to an unsustainable drain of the best and brightest from some of the most iconic and far-flung locations. The public response to this has been confused. During both the Independence and European Union referendums, the word which dominated the discussion was ‘change’. It became the go-to for anyone dissatisfied or desperate, demanding or downtrodden.

Although still rooted in many traditions of the past, one-eyed, lopsided romanticism has given way to glorious reinvention and innovative thinking. From the games designers of Dundee who brought the world Lemmings and Grand Theft Auto to Pride marches in the Outer Hebrides giving a voice to marginalised individuals, slowly but surely Scotland is loosening the grip of its moral masters, that toxic combination of power, vested interests and religious intolerance. The visual expression of this may be the flag-clad combatants who take to the streets to announce their political allegiances, displaying a fervour and belief long since lost by the footballing foot soldiers of the Tartan Army, but in quiet corners, small bedrooms and whispered conversations, Scotland is proving itself to be capable of radical thinking, a seed bed for creatives, dreamers and idealists.

The prize remains undefined and Scotland does not know is what it looks like. It is hard, if not impossible, to predict where and what Scotland will be in a generation’s time. The political tectonic plates are shifting and individuals and communities will be forced to adapt and survive in new and as yet unseen realities. With the game still very much in progress and the final result to be determined in remains an exciting time to be in Scotland, after all.

Document Scotland’s A Contested Land will have its first showing at the Martin Parr Foundation in Bristol, England from 16th January until 16th March, 2019, before further showings in Scotland at Perth, Dunoon and Inverness.

Martin Parr Foundation
316 Paintworks
Arnos Vale
Bristol
BS4 3AR

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

Free entry to all exhibitions.

 

Touring exhibition dates

– Salon event at Stills Gallery, Edinburgh. February 2019. Date to be confirmed.
Perth Art Gallery and Museum – 20th April 2019 – 23rd June 2019.
Dunoon Burgh Hall – 20th July 2019 – 18th August 2019. Preview on 19th July.
FLOW Photo Festival, Inverness, September 2019. The exhibition will be the headline show of the FLOW festival.
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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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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.

saf_middlemen_2

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.

saf_amyeahren_1

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.

saf_belovedcurve2

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 History Woman

Nicola Sturgeon meets with her dress makers  Totty Rocks before being voted in as Scotland's First Minister. Photograph © Peter McNally, 2014, all rights reserved.

Nicola Sturgeon meets with her dress makers Totty Rocks before being voted in as Scotland’s First Minister. Photograph © Peter McNally 2014, all rights reserved.

 

As the 2015 UK General Election campaign gathers pace, we are being bombarded by soundbites and overwhelmed by statistics whilst politicians appear on every television screen, newspaper and website we look at. There’s no getting away from politics, for the next couple of months, at least.

So we at Document Scotland are going to add to mix by showcasing work by Glasgow-based photographer Peter McNally, who has been granted unprecedented access to photograph one of the pivotal figures in the current contest for votes: Scottish National Party (SNP) leader and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

 

Nicola Sturgeon, on stage at the Corn Exchange, Edinburgh. Photograph © Peter McNally, 2014, all rights reserved.

Nicola Sturgeon, on stage at the Corn Exchange, Edinburgh. Photograph © Peter McNally 2014, all rights reserved.

 

The story starts during the Independence referendum campaign, when Peter was one of a small team of dedicated photographers working on behalf of the National Collective to document its campaigning activities as it sought to persuade Scots to vote Yes. Through this, Peter was able to make a visual record of the campaign, and in so doing, got close to the people making the news. Little did he know at the time, but his work was being noticed by the leaders of Yes Scotland and the SNP.

In the dramatic aftermath of the 18th September 2014 vote, Alex Salmond resigned and his then deputy, Nicola Sturgeon was elevated to the position of First Minister. This followed on directly from a nationwide tour which the party undertook, with Sturgeon speaking at packed venues and the party’s annual conference. By this time, Peter had already been contacted and offered the opportunity to photograph behind-the-scenes. It was a chance he grabbed gladly. As Peter explained: “The SNP tour was a first of its kind in Scottish and British politics and saw Nicola visit Edinburgh, Dumfries, Dundee, Inverness, Glasgow and Aberdeen whilst engaging directly with the public with a talk then an open question-and-answer session.” Shortly into the assignment Nicola Sturgeon became the SNP party leader at the party’s National Conference in Perth then soon after that, Scotland’s first female First Minister. Peter was on hand to capture it all.

Nicola Sturgeon waiting for an interview inside the BBC radio mobile studio. Photograph © Peter McNally, 2014 all rights reserved.

Nicola Sturgeon waiting for an interview inside the BBC radio mobile studio. Photograph © Peter McNally 2014, all rights reserved.

 

In terms of creating an archive of images from an historic moment, the SNP saw the value of what they were proposing through Peter’s work. As Peter noted: “The SNP team were interested in developing both an in-house style of photography they could have as a go-to resource and also a historic documentation that would act as a public record.” But there’s realpolitik involved too, according to Peter: “The project also fits in well with Nicola’s own vision of a more accessible and transparent governance.”

Selfies with supporters, Eden Court Theatre, Inverness. Photograph © Peter McNally, 2014 all rights reserved.

Selfies with supporters, Eden Court Theatre, Inverness. Photograph © Peter McNally 2014, all rights reserved.

 

Peter’s work is set to continue and is being updated continually on the internet, as he explained: “Right now we are focusing on documenting campaign events in the run up to the General Election in May. My own vision is to not only tell the story that is front and centre but to try and capture moments behind the scenes. I hope this will make for a more complete and hopefully interesting look at this one section of Scottish politics. Currently it’s been so busy with the General Election campaign that we haven’t really had time to discuss how the project might progress. There have been informal discussion about documenting more in depth on a day-to-day basis and even setting up a dedicated team to deal with editing and archiving. As it’s an SNP project I am funded by them but the parliament have their own photographers so there may be a need to work more closely with them in the future.”

 Nicola's husband Peter Murrell proudly looks on as Nicola thanks friends and family at a reception in Bute House. Photograph © Peter McNally, 2014 all rights reserved.

Nicola’s husband Peter Murrell proudly looks on as Nicola thanks friends and family at a reception in Bute House. Photograph © Peter McNally 2014, all rights reserved.

 

As Peter concludes: “We are also in the process of organising an archive on Flickr. There are lots of idea out there. I think after the General Election we will be able sit down and see how we would like to progress. There are also opportunities for exhibiting and publishing a photo book, something I am keen to work on. For now though, I’ll keep shooting and try to keep it interesting for people.”

The First Minister's portrait is added to the walls at the official residence at Bute House in Edinburgh.  Photograph © Peter McNally, 2014 all rights reserved.

The First Minister’s portrait is added to the walls at the official residence at Bute House in Edinburgh. Photograph © Peter McNally 2014, all rights reserved.

 

If you are interested in keeping up with Peter’s work you can visit the official SNP photo archive on flickr and follow Peter’s work on Instagram or on his website.

 

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Summerhall Salon, Edin., 12/7.

We’re pleased to announce that Stephen McLaren will be giving a short talk this Saturday at the Yestival2014-organised Summerhall Salon of photography talks, at Summerhall Salon in Edinburgh, from 1-3pm.

Talking alongside Stephen will be photographers Alan McCredie and Alex Boyd, and Sarah Bromage of the Scottish Political Archive.

You can reserve a free ticket here.

photoweb

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Alan McCredie, 100 Weeks of Scotland

Flodden field on the 500th anniversary of the Battle of Flodden, Alan McCredie ©

Flodden field on the 500th anniversary of the Battle of Flodden. Photograph © Alan McCredie, all rights reserved.

 

Alan McCredie, an Edinburgh-based photographer, had the genesis of a great project-idea in October 2012. Realising that the Independence referendum was exactly 100 weeks in the future, he decided he would start “100 Weeks of Scotland”, a photographic endeavour to record events and scenes from all over Scotland in the lead up to the referendum. As Alan on the website (100weeksofscotland.com) says…

“It is intended to show all sides of the country over the next two years. Whatever the result of the vote Scotland will be a different country afterward. These images will show a snapshot of the country in the run up to the referendum. The photos will be of all aspects of Scottish culture – politics, art, social issues, sport and anything else that catches the eye.”

Many projects which sound like a “great idea” at the time often falter as real-life intrudes on the ability to shoot relentlessly on the same topic. However Alan has stuck with it, shooting across the whole of the country week-in, week-out, and now the end of the project is coming over the horizon.

Astutely he managed to get the Scotsman interested in showcasing his weekly photo digests and has thus given him a good platform to leverage the project and make it a decent proposition for a book and exhibition.

Alan covers many different subjects in the project, occasionally shooting around work for his main clients in the theatre, fashion and design industries. One week it may be wintery landscapes, the next it might be a series of portraits of a soap opera. In addition to a wide range of subjects, Alan also writes thoughtfully on his topics and brings a lot of contextual information which make you want to know more about what he has been shooting.

Eilidh C. , Alan McCredie ©

Eilidh C. Photograph © Alan McCredie, all rights reserved.

 

In addition this project, Alan is a member of the Independence-leaning arts group, National Collective. He enjoys working collaboratively with about six other photographers from the group and there is a current joint-project for coming up with a series of National Collective posters which might run in bus shelters or online campaigns. On his featured page on the website, Alan explains his vision for a post-referendum Scotland: “The essence of the Scotland I would like to live in – entirely inclusive, welcoming, and most of all outward looking in its beliefs and ideas. Only through a rich exchange of different viewpoints and attitudes can a country truly be said to be wealthy”

Certainly the Independence referendum seems to have galvanized many artists and writers in Scotland to contribute in some way to the “national conversation” that is supposed to be accompanying the referendum in its passage through Scottish civic society. The conversation may occasionally get a bit shouty but it is giving many people with a creative voice, including photographers, an opportunity to explore more personal stories close to home. Ironically as newspapers cut back on the number of photojournalists they employ so the number of photographers developing strong documentary projects, like 100 Weeks of Scotland, seems to be on the rise.

“Documentary photography in Scotland is very strong at the moment, there seem to be lots more people doing it, more of a sense of not working alone. Working with the National Collective has been great in that I enjoy working collaboratively and knocking ideas about. And sometime you just want to be able to ask a daft question about how a bit of your camera works! It’s good that the National Collective now have a dedicated space down in Leith called the Art Cave, and I’m looking forward to putting on a mini-exhibition of 100 Weeks of Scotland down there in the spring.”

Document Scotland enjoyed picking some favourite images from Alan’s project to accompany this blog but we also wanted to hear some anecdotes about specific images from the photographer.

Centrepoint, Alan McCredie ©

Centrepoint Photograph © Alan McCredie, all rights reserved.

 

“I had been photographing the many places that claim to be the ‘centre of Scotland’ and this was one of those places. I had done a lot of research beforehand and had consulted maps and other photos to work out exactly where to photograph. I had checked this location on Google Street View before setting off and it was a little uninspiring. I didn’t really hold out too much hope for a decent shot. As I got to the exact location according to my GPS, I genuinely could not quite believe it when I saw the road sign at the edge of the road. It points almost directly to one of the supposed centre points of Scotland (follow the arrow about two-thirds up the hill). There were roadworks nearby and I suppose the sign was placed there accidentally. I think it shows that it can sometimes just take a small stroke of luck to give a shot that little extra.”

mccredie2

Hogmanay Bins. Photograph © Alan McCredie, all rights reserved.

 

 

Greek Orthodox Priest, Alan McCredie ©

Greek Orthodox Priest. Photograph © Alan McCredie, all rights reserved.

“This image was a very quick portrait and one that I like a lot. I had been working for the Carnegie UK Trust and was photographing one of their events. As soon as I saw the priest I really wanted to get a shot of him. I kept circling, but didn’t want to intrude as he was deep in conversation. Moments before he left I finally got my chance and I asked if I could take his portrait. I don’t think he was too sure about it and I took one shot, before he turned to go. I don’t think I could have got a better one if I had shot fifty more and I don’t think I would have asked him to stand the way he did if I had had more time. It is his positioning, and body shape that makes the image work for me.”

Alan McCredie ©

Photograph © Alan McCredie, all rights reserved.

 

Barber Van, Alan McCredie ©

Barber Van. Photograph © Alan McCredie, all rights reserved.

 

“I was lost in an industrial estate of endless roundabouts in Stirling when I spotted this barber van. I drove up to it and took a few shots and then drove on. I stopped for petrol a few minutes later and quickly checked the images. They were OK but it was fairly obvious it really needed somebody in the shot to make it work. I headed back and realised that, actually, I really did need a haircut. 15 minutes later, freshly shorn, I took a few images of the owner of the van and drove on. £6.50 for a pretty good haircut, and a nice image was well worth it.”

 

Leith Academy School Prom 2013, Alan McCredie ©

Leith Academy School Prom 2013. Photograph © Alan McCredie, all rights reserved.

 

“This is one of my favourite images. I was doing some images of a high school prom as a favour for a friend and had been snapping away as the kids arrived. The moment I saw this couple enter I knew I had to get a shot of them. At first it was difficult to get them not to smile so I photographed away knowing I would get my chance eventually. After not too long they were very quickly getting bored and this was the last, and best, and best frame that I shot. Essentially I bored them into getting the image I wanted.”

 

Burger Van, Alan McCredie ©

Burger Van. Photograph © Alan McCredie, all rights reserved.

 

Seafront at Arbroath, Alan McCredie ©

Seafront at Arbroath. Photograph © Alan McCredie, all rights reserved.

 

See more of Alan’s Scottish photo-odyssey at www.100weeksofscotland.com.

 

 

 

 

 

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History making

Canon Kenyon Wright receives the applause of delegates to the Scottish Constitutional Convention. © Colin McPherson 1995, all rights reserved.

Hold the front page: Canon Kenyon Wright receives the applause of delegates to the Scottish Constitutional Convention.
© Colin McPherson 1995, all rights reserved.

 

A week, as the old saying goes, is a long time in politics.

But how do we measure 18 years? On another of many historic days in modern Scottish politics, the government of our devolved parliament today launches its White Paper, setting out a prospectus for an independent Scotland. Spool back almost exactly 18 years ago to St. Andrew’s Day 1995, and we find another day which was a stepping stone to where we are today: the publication by the Scottish Constitutional Convention of a document entitled Scotland’s Parliament, Scotland’s Right at the Church of Scotland General Assembly building on the Mound in Edinburgh.

Scottish political and civic leaders arriving at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, 30th November 1995. © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Scottish political and civic leaders arriving at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, 30th November 1995.
© Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

The dramatis personae that day were very different to today’s protagonists and looking back, seem almost anachronistic and unbelievable: on the one side a Protestant minister, Canon Kenyon Wright, espousing home rule on the other a Conservative MP, Secretary of State Michael Forsyth, the Westminster government’s man in Scotland who was implacably opposed to the establishment of a devolved parliament in Edinburgh.

the steps at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland building on The Mound. © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Reading the Declaration of Arbroath on the steps at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland building.
© Colin McPherson, 1995, all rights reserved.

The day’s proceedings consisted of two events. Firstly, Secretary of State Forsyth, circling like a vulture in the grey, cold Edinburgh skies, popped up in front of the former Royal High School building – then slated as the location for the putative parliament – and warned all-and-sundry of the dangers and delusions behind devolution.

Campaigners with banners arriving at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland building. © Colin McPherson 1995, all rights reserved.

Campaigners with banners arriving at the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland building.
© Colin McPherson 1995, all rights reserved.

The main event, however, was the gathering on the Mound of the great-and-good of Scottish political and civic society, there to show solidarity with an idea which was growing in the public’s mind, and to sign the document which would underpin the campaign for the parliament to be reconvened for the first time since 1707.

Campaigners seated within the main hall of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland building. © Colin McPherson 1995, all rights reserved.

Campaigners seated within the main hall of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland building.
© Colin McPherson 1995, all rights reserved.

With all the pomp and pageantry of a quasi-state occasion, it looked and felt like the Scottish Establishment were there en masse. But there were noticeable absentees: The Conservatives opposed it and the SNP abstained, angered by the lack of any mention of independence within the Convention. Nevertheless, up the delegates all trooped, dutifully signing a document which with eerie similarity to today’s publication was dubbed “a blueprint for Scottish devolution.”

David Steel MP (left) signing a Scottish Constitutional Convention (SCC) document entitled 'Scotland's Parliament, Scotland's Right'. © Colin McPherson 1995, all rights reserved.

David Steel MP (left) signing the Scottish Constitutional Convention document entitled ‘Scotland’s Parliament, Scotland’s Right’.
© Colin McPherson 1995, all rights reserved.

The rest, as we know, is history. Forsyth and the Tories were blown away in 1997 and within two years the parliament had sat for the first time at the General Assembly building. The final twist to the story for me that day drew on the lesson about “right time, right place.” I was covering the day’s events for the Independent, and in those days I would process my films and file my pictures from the Scotsman office, at that time a stone’s throw from the Mound. I happened to be on the editorial floor late in the afternoon when I overheard a discussion amongst senior editorial staff about which photograph the paper should run on the front page, an image which they hoped would sum up the occasion.

Secretary of State for Scotland and Conservative Party politician Michael Forsyth, pictured outside the former Royal High School building. © Colin McPherson 1995, all rights reserved.

Conservative Secretary of State for Scotland Michael Forsyth, pictured outside the former Royal High School building.
© Colin McPherson 1995, all rights reserved.

I had just wired all my photographs and the editor started talking loudly about the moment at the end of the signing ceremony when all those gathered had stood up and spontaneously started to applaud Canon Wright, the Convention’s figurehead and unifying force behind the campaign. The editor wondered if the Scotsman’s photographer had captured that moment. Unfortunately he hadn’t. I hadn’t thought much of that congratulatory moment, so had not sent the image to the Independent. Indeed I hadn’t even processed the roll of film which contained the photograph. Within the hour, the film was developed and a print made, which was then scanned and laid out on the page for first edition. And so, the following morning, I was proud to say it was my picture which had captured that historic day for Scotland in the Scotsman. (In case you are wondering, the Independent used the photograph of Michael Forsyth.)

Signatures on the Scottish Constitutional Convention document entitled 'Scotland's Parliament, Scotland's Right',. © Colin McPherson 1995, all rights reserved.

Signatures on the Scottish Constitutional Convention document entitled ‘Scotland’s Parliament, Scotland’s Right’. © Colin McPherson 1995, all rights reserved.

 

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Why I Took This Picture……..Robert Ormerod

Starting a new series is always a tentative process:  The fulfilment of an idea that may have been gathering momentum in a closet somewhere in a corner of your mind.  Will a story translate from idea form to visual reality?  Will I waste my time working on something that may lead to nothing?

The night before I made this image my mind was still going through familiar questions.  I had spent a few days on the political youth project and so I was planning to visit the Conservative conference in Troon to push forward with the project.  However I was unsure if a party political conference would provide the kind of interesting images that I was looking for.  Would there be enough young people in attendance to justify making the trip?  Would the building provide the right character and back-drop to my images? I’m sure all photographers are familiar with this self-questioning and critical approach to their own ideas. The truth is it all probably stems from the same thing- fear of failure.  And there is only one to deal with this and that is to keep pushing forward.

So I made the trip to Troon, regardless of my reservations, fears and doubts, and I pushed forward with the project.  To my surprise I arrived in Troon to find that the conference was not being held in a sparkling, modern conference centre but in a town hall with original decor dating back a few decades.  As I wandered through the crowded corridors and past the various stalls it quickly became apparent that there were plenty of interesting young Conservatives to photograph.  I settled on these aged yellow curtains in, what looked like an old school gym hall, as my background.  The light was good and I decided the curtains would provide a nice contrast with the fresh, suited-and-booted individuals I had seen at the conference.  I balanced my reflectors on some chairs and began approaching subjects.

Robert’s photograph, and others from his series, Political Youth, can be seen at Fotospace Gallery, Rothes Halls, Glenrothes, as part of the ‘Seeing Ourselves’ exhibition, which is curated by Document Scotland. The exhibition finishes today, July 31st 2013.
Document Scotland’s latest newspaper, which accompanies the exhibition, can be bought via our publications page.

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100 Weeks

David Cameron and Michael Moore appear on the steps of St. Andrew’s House with Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon for the press photocall, prior to signing the documents to authorise a referendum on Scottish Independence, Edinburgh, Scotland. ©Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert 2012, all rights reserved.

 

“In the shade of St. Andrew’s House the press awaited the appearance of, and handshake between, Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond and British Prime Minister David Cameron. The cold seeped to the marrow of journalists and photographers, as the police and politician’s aides kept us all behind barriers. With little fanfare, and with the lone shout of one saltire-carrying spectator, the politicians appeared; some smiles, a shake of the hand, all stage left away from the door upon which was written The Scottish Government; the photographers cursed, their intended image abruptly altered; the politicians stood, all looking their separate ways, and then with a few words from Alex Salmond, they turned and headed indoors, to the heat and to sign the historic 30 Clause document which gives the Scottish Government the authority to hold the referendum on Scottish independence. An historic day, marking the beginning of the 100 weeks of political campaigning, but a day which lacked an iconic image.” – Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert

 

The television cameras check their white balance colour temperatures, in the press conference room, Edinburgh, Scotland. ©Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert 2012, all rights reserved.

 

The television trucks and journalists coffee cups, at St. Andrew’s House, Edinburgh, Scotland. ©Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert 2012, all rights reserved.

 

The journalists chat, awaiting First Minister Alex Salmond’s press conference, St. Andrew’s House, Edinburgh, Scotland. ©Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert 2012, all rights reserved.

 

First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond addresses the press after his historic meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron, in St. Andrew’s House, Edinburgh, Scotland. ©Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert 2012, all rights reserved.

 

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