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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‘Sun pictures and beyond’

Scotland’s pioneering role in the development of photography in the 19th century is being celebrated in a new display at the National Library of Scotland. The exhibition runs until March 26th, and entry is free.

It features one of the first ever books to be illustrated with photographs, William Henry Fox Talbot’s Sun Pictures in Scotland, published in 1845. Only 100 copies were produced and the National Library has one of the few complete copies that have survived.

 

A clean sandstone Scott monument under construction from 'Sun Pictures in Scotland'

A clean sandstone Scott monument under construction from ‘Sun Pictures in Scotland’ by William Henry Fox Talbot. 

 

Melrose Abbey, from 'Sun Pictures in Scotland' by William Henry Fox Talbot.

Melrose Abbey, from ‘Sun Pictures in Scotland’ by William Henry Fox Talbot.

 

The display, which opened on November 30, showcases examples of photographically illustrated books that followed this landmark publication in the second half of the century as photographic reproduction became simpler, quicker and more reliable. This includes work from some of Scotland’s early professional photographers such as George Washington Wilson, James Valentine, Thomas Annan and Scottish photographers abroad including William Notman and John Thomson.

Wilson and Valentine in particular followed Talbot’s lead by maximising the commercial opportunities of photography in book form, establishing successful studios in Aberdeen and Dundee. This included producing albums with original prints for tourists wishing to have souvenirs of the Scottish landscape and notable buildings. They also published illustrated books with photomechanical prints, which combined photography with existing commercial printing processes to create high quality prints on a large scale. Valentine went on to establish a globally successful business selling postcards.

Meanwhile, in Glasgow, Thomas and James Craig Annan became renowned for their photographically-illustrated books of architecture and fine art.

 

'Through Cyprus with a Camera, Vol 1, Cypriot Maid', by John Thomson

‘Through Cyprus with a Camera, Vol 1, Cypriot Maid’, by John Thomson

 

The display also features the work of Scots photographers abroad including John Thomson, one of the first photographers to visit the Far East. His final foreign trip was to Cyprus which resulted in a deluxe publication Through Cyprus with a camera from 1879 which can be seen in the display.

Curator Dr Graham Hogg who has produced the display said: “These books hold an important place in the history of photography and helped to establish an art form that still thrives in Scotland today. They represent only a small selection of the Library’s extensive holdings of photographically illustrated books relating to Scotland that were produced in the 19th century.”

Sun pictures and beyond: Scotland and the photographically-illustrated book 1845-1900 runs until March 26 at the National Library of Scotland, George IV Bridge, Edinburgh. Entry is free.

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North Sea Fishing

In Scotland’s Season of Photography, the Scottish Fisheries Museum is delighted to be hosting a striking exhibition of black and white images shot by Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert aboard the seine net fishing boats, Mairead and Argosy, in the North Sea in the 1990’s. These images capture the reality of the life at sea for the fishermen of Scotland’s North East fishing communities – the cramped conditions, the monotony, and the grueling work in harsh conditions.

 

Bill Smith secures the nets, aboard the 'Argosy' seine-net fishing boat in the North Sea, Scotland, February 1995. Photograph by ©Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert 1995.

Bill Smith secures the nets, aboard the ‘Argosy’ seine-net fishing boat in the North Sea, Scotland, February 1995. Photograph by ©Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert 1995.

 

12th November 2016 – 19th February 2017
Entry included in museum admission.

Here, Jeremy talks about how the work came about:

“Considering I come from a land-locked family I’ve done my fair share of bobbing about on the waves of the planet, and no sea has more bobbing than the North Sea (although going through the 40degress and 50 degree latitudes of the Southern Ocean was quite interesting). The North Sea – “a confused sea” as it was once described to me and, as one fishing trawler skipper told me, late at night, only the instrument panel lighting the bridge room, “the north sea, she’s a cruel mistress”.

I think my first experience on the North Sea was on a fishing trawler, on an overnight assignment photographing fishing trawlers for a paper. There was a fisherman’s protest, lots of trawlers all together, protesting latest EU rules and regulations, net sizes and quotas. I got sent out to photograph. It was a night of adventure: watch dawn rise, shoot the other boats, back to harbour, home by lunchtime. The skipper that night, Ronnie, was a decent chap. I asked him how long he usually goes out for at a time, “10 days”, was the reply. “Can I come next time?” I asked. He smiled, he laughed, he replied, “if you think you can handle it, you can come, but there’s no going back. If you’re sea sick you’ll be sea sick for 10 days”. Count me in.”

The results of this expedition are captured in these striking images which serve as an important record of a period and style of fishing which is already passing into history and the Scottish Fisheries Museum is pleased to be able to provide our visitors with an insight into the working conditions for seine net fishermen, operating far from the safety and comforts of the shore.

We feel equally privileged to be hosting the inaugural display of this exhibition which will then tour other venues nationwide. The production has been made possible thanks to the generous sponsorship of several organisations including Street Level Photoworks in Glasgow, Scottish Fishermen’s Trust, Scottish Fishermen’s Organisation and Loxley Colour Photo Lab.

Aboard the 'Argosy' seine-net fishing boat, in the North Sea, Scotland, February 1995. Photograph by ©Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert 1995.

Aboard the ‘Argosy’ seine-net fishing boat, in the North Sea, Scotland, February 1995. Photograph by ©Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert 1995.

The Scottish Fisheries Museum-partnered exhibition will then tour to the following venues across the country over the next year:

12th Nov. 2016 – 19th Feb. 2017 – Scottish Fisheries Museum, Anstruther

23rd Feb 2017- End of March 2017 – Arbuthnot Museum, Peterhead

8th April – 13th May 2017 – Montrose Museum

20th May – 29th June 2017 – Signal Tower Museum, Arbroath

8th July – 27th August 2017 – Bonhoga Gallery, Shetland Isles

9th Sept – 21st October 2017 – St Fergus Gallery, Wick

28th Oct – 9th December 2017 – Thurso Art Centre

6th Jan 2018 – 24th Feb 2018 – Beacon Arts Centre, Greenock

A related Education Pack developed by the Scottish Fisheries Museum’s Learning and Access Officer will be available for subsequent venues to engage with their local young people.

The Scottish Fisheries Museum will host a talk by the photographer Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert and featured fishing boat skipper Ronnie Hughes on Friday 2nd December, from 6pm.

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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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Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert “Best Shot”

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Jeremy’s image from the Glasgow shipyards, taken in 1992 and currently featured in the exhibition Govan/Gdansk at Street Level Photoworks in Glasgow was featured in the Guardian this week with an interview by Ben Beaumont Thomas.

 

You can read the interview here:

“In the 1990s I lived in Govan, on the south side of Glasgow, near the shipyard. At the time, it was owned by a Norwegian company called Kværner, but before that it had been John Brown’s and Fairfield’s. Those are the famous names in Scottish shipbuilding. You hear talk of the days when 10,000 men worked in the yards. Sadly, that was before my time.

In the 1990s, I travelled a lot in eastern Europe. I remember talking with a worker in north east Romania, far from any coast or shipbuilding area, and he knew of Glasgow as a shipbuilding port. I always thought that was great: I love the fact that my city is known either for Rangers and Celtic – or for shipbuilding.

I wanted to grab my own little slice of Glasgow history. These are the shipyards that helped build the city and make its industrial capabilities renowned the world over. There are three yards in Glasgow now. Two are owned by BAE Systems and dedicated to defence. I haven’t tried to get in, but I’ve been told it’s pretty much impossible. The third yard, Ferguson Marine, nearly went into liquidation in 2014.

I took this in 1992, a year before Glasgow gave Nelson Mandela the freedom of the city – another project I worked on. I was 24 and wanted to get into the yards before that world disappeared. I remember being impressed by the monumental scale of it all. Parts of the ship seem quite organic: the blades of the propeller look like the underside of a whale. I shot it on an old Nikon in black and white, as that puts the focus on shapes and sizes. People have asked me if it’s perspective that makes the workers look so tiny. But it’s not. They are to scale.

A launch is an incredible thing. You hear all the klaxons going off, the speeches, the champagne bottle being broken against the ship. Then the wedges and things that hold the ship in place somehow get removed and the ship starts to slide. As it gathers pace, those huge restraining chains make an enormous noise and all the rust and dust rises into the air. The sound would echo off the buildings all around. It was a romantic, emotional moment.

A guy agreed to take me round in exchange for a print to hang in his house. I was no student of shipbuilding. I just reacted to what was in front of me. I seem to remember thinking the yards were “stour” – that’s a great Glasgow word, meaning musty and dusty. I mean, you’re outdoors and beside a river, so you get a lot of fresh air, but these are still big dusty places.

I’ve spent a lot of time on Greenpeace ships: the Arctic Sunrise, the Rainbow Warrior. I travelled the world: the Pacific, Brazil, Korea, New Guinea. Also, in the 1990s, I spent a lot of time on North Sea fishing boats. For a landlubber, I’ve done a lot of boatwork.”

 

Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert’s shipyard photos feature in Govan/Gdansk, at Street Level Photoworks, Glasgow, until 31 July.

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Northern Light Conference and Exhibition

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I was really pleased to be invited earlier this month to present a paper about my work Drawn To The Land at the recent conference and exhibition Northern Light: Landscape Photography and Evocations of The North at Sheffield Hallam University.

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Drawn To the Land exhibited at Northern Landscape exhibition SIA Gallery, Sheffield Hallam University, July 4th 2016

 

The conference and related exhibition explore the ways that photographic images address notions of a Northern landscape – whether drawing on established traditions of art and photography or whether concerned with contemporary photographic and lens based practice.  The conference will bring together scholars and practitioners to discuss a wide range of practices and critical approaches, from both contemporary and historical perspectives.

The group exhibition features work by Mark Adams, Tom Baskeyfield, Jacqueline Butler, Anne Cambell, Matthew Conduit, Kevin Crooks, Michael Day, Liza Dracup, Sabine Dundure, Sophie Gerrard, Alexandra Hughes, Henry Iddon, Mitch Karunaratne, Anna Lilleengen, Adam Murray, Mario Popham, Simon Roberts, Theo Simpson, Ravinder Surah, Jonny Sutton, Patrick Wichert, Chi Yan Wong

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Northern Landscape exhibition SIA Gallery, Sheffield Hallam University, July 4th 2016

Key note speakers at the conference were photography writer and curator Liz Wells and photographer Simon Roberts. The two days were filled with interesting discussion and debate around representation of the north and landscape photography from UK and worldwide based colleagues and photographers.

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Northern Landscape exhibition SIA Gallery, Sheffield Hallam University, July 4th 2016

 

Sheffield Conference

Presenting my paper at the Northern Landscape Conference at Sheffield Hallam University, July 4th 2016

 

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Some works featured in the exhibition, clockwise from top left Aileen Harvey, Liza Dracup, Alexandra Hughes and Simon Roberts

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Northern Light, An exhibition exploring  contemporary photographic practice in relation to the northern landscape and its representations is on at SIA Gallery in Sheffield until 31st July.

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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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April Salon Event – Skye!

To mark the end of our exhibition at The Scottish National Portrait Gallery, The Ties That Bind – we are off on the road again to present our work and work by photographers we admire to new audiences in Scotland. April 27th will see us in Skye – at the wonderful ATLAS Arts – if you’re nearby please do come along and join us.

The event is free – as ever – and all are welcome – see more information here

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See ATLAS Arts website at www.atlasarts.org.uk

Thank you to Creative Scotland and The University of St Andrews Special Collections for funding this Document Scotland Salon event.

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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.

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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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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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