Sandy Carson is a Scottish photographer now living in Austin, Texas. He is an established photojournalist in America and has rarely been back to Scotland. Recently however, he returned to catch-up with his family in Newmains, Lanarkshire and started a series of photographs about his folks called, Steadfast Love, a series of intimate portraits including archive material that his mum has collected over the years. Document Scotland caught-up with Sandy in San Francisco where he was working on his excellent project, “Black Friday”, which you can see on his website…..www.sandycarson.com
DS What was it like going back to your family home to take pictures with a degree of intent?
SC When I started making the photos I didn’t have any intention, other than to take back some memories of home, but after numerous visits over the years, the photos began to navigate towards a narrative, based on my family and their immediate surroundings. I do have specific photographs I intend to make each time I go back since the project has some structure now but it’s really casual and mostly candid. It’s interesting making observational pictures of your parents and their routines when you don’t see them from one year to another but despite how bland and ritualistic it can be, I find it always entertaining.
DS What were you looking for?
SC To make a respectful and light hearted self-portrait of my parents in their retirement and to document the village that I grew up since I emigrated at such a young age. My parents are getting old and after being in the States for two decades, I feel like my photography can help me understand them more from the chunk of time I’ve been absent in the family. My family are quite content and support anything I’m doing really, just as long as I’m afloat and eating ok. They are not connected to the internet world and rarely see my photos unless a family member reports to them what I’ve been up to on the internet. I send prints occasionally, a few of them they don’t like so much and think I’m daft when I am making photos of them. My mother has a collection of family photos, dictaphone tapes and artifacts she keeps in a big biscuit tin that date back to the 40’s onwards, all shot by different family members, passed on from my grandfather, who was an artist. Those snapshots and sound-bites had quite an influence on me growing up and I enjoy revisiting the nostalgia each time I go home.
DS What was your camera set-up when taking the pics close to home? Why did you make that choice?
SC I made the photographs using 35mm, medium and large format. I find that the bigger the format, the more quality time I can spend with my family or subjects in set-up time – just slowing life down in general. I’ve shot digital on occasion but didn’t like the process or the end result. There just wasn’t any magic or nostalgic physicality to the digital files versus a piece of film. My family are old school and I feel like it’s only fair to shoot analogue with the aesthetic. It’s also nice to take a break from using digital cameras when I got back, as I use them to death for my commercial and editorial work, here in the states.
DS Tell us something about your family as individuals and as a family unit?
SC They are just your average Scottish working class retirees and comedians battling on and keeping each other going. They vacation in Spain like a lot of Scotland holidays makers and support Glasgow Rangers, despite their epic fail in the premiere league. In-house bar opens at 9pm every night, (sometimes earlier).
DS When was the last time you were in Scotland? What changes have you noticed? What were the biggest challenges taking pictures, both on the road, and nearer to home?
SC I came back last summer for a visit with my girlfriend. It hasn’t changed around where I grew up, except for graffiti being painted over, or the local neds changing their gang names. It’s always been a challenge and kind of scary making photos sometimes in schemes. I’ve definitely been swung-at, chased and asked why I am taking photos, even by children. The last thing I want is to get stabbed again! Why else would I take photos in schemes if I’m not from the Social Security? On the road and out of the scheme, you just become another tourists taking photos pretty much.
DS What are your plans for further photography in Scotland?
SC I plan on continuing this project and see what corner it takes me, or until I think it’s done. I’m planning on riding my bike with some friends from John O’Groats to Land’s End this summer, which should make for a good adventure and good photo ops. Maybe we’ll stop through my parents house for a cuppa?