Returning to Muirhouse: Martello Court by Paul S Smith

There is a lot of discussion at present about what our towns and cities will look and feel like in the post-COVID world.

A death spiral of economic activity and loss of both permanent and transient populations, could lastingly render the centres barren wastelands, redundant in many different senses. With tourist numbers in decline and employees choosing to work from home, the whole service infrastructure required is becoming obsolete. The flip side, is that people are fostering an interest in localism, in how peoples’ immediate environment can serve their daily and weekly needs by starting to re-imagine what life could be like without the imperative for travelling and commuting for entertainment, employment and enjoyment.

In a sense, much of this reconfiguration has already taken place. Many of the communities housed in the areas surrounding our big cities have changed dramatically in the last three decades. They are urecognisable from what they looked like, at least, in the past. Whilst many of these changes have been cosmetic, masking deep, underlying societal problems, there’s no doubt that by altering their physical appearance, many of our peripheral housing estates, for example, have been given an outward appearance of change and improvement.

One such place is Muirhouse, one of a collection of housing schemes in the north of Edinburgh developed in the 1950s as the original process of reconfiguring the city’s centre took place. This involved slum clearing – some would say slum cleansing – scattering the capital’s population to the edges of the city, dispersing communities and displacing many of the chronic problems largely out-of-sight on Edinburgh’s fringes.

To anyone growing up in that era, places such as Muirhouse were often labelled with descriptions such as ‘notorious’, ‘violent’ or ‘deprived’ and were seen, if they were ever looked at, as a blight on the city, best ignored and forgotten about. The architecture was grey and brutal, with the area being dominated by the Soviet-style Martello Court, a 200-foot, 23 story edifice which became the epicentre and synonym for all the area’s problems.

Almost 30 years ago, Network photographer John Sturrock chronicled the community as part of the Positive Lives – Responses to HIV photodocumentary project which graphically laid bare many of the challenges facing the people of Muirhouse at the time: crime, poverty, drugs, disease. Nevertheless, what was also communicated was a strong sense of resistence and community camaraderie. A feeling that people could, and would, survive. In recent years, Document Scotland has featured the work of two other photographers who have both made work on the estate: Yoshi Kametani’s often wry and colourful portrait of the place and Paul Duke’s No Ruined Stone, an insider’s view, which laced reality with positivity.

This year, as the privations of lockdown gripped the nation, photographer Paul S. Smith embarked on his own project to document and interpret life in Muirhouse. Born in England, Paul’s family moved to Edinburgh when he was a boy, and he grew up in one of the more leafy areas of the city which abut Muirhouse. His memories tally with those of so many of the place, negative stereotypes reinforced by hearsay, rumour and suspicion. It is to his credit that, three decades on, he has chosen to revisit his childhood and confront these memories and prejudices.

We caught up with Paul and asked him a bit about his work and the approach he is taking to making it.

DocScot: Can you tell us a bit about the project?

Paul S Smith: The work Martello Court is a five-year project which began in early-March 2020 during my studies at the RCA, London. With the project I hope to give an objective eye to the people that live and work in Muirhouse, giving myself an opportunity to understand a place that dominated the imaginations of my childhood. As stated by Document Scotland’s Stephen McLaren in 2018: “Places in which we grow up rarely leave us, they exert a pull across the decades and often force us in later life to re-examine how we have become the person we are today“.

DS: The inspiration to do the work goes much further back, to your family’s time in Edinburgh…

PSS: In the summer 1987 my father gained the position as the headmaster of the prestigious public school – Edinburgh Academy. As a family we all moved to city from High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire and lived within the school grounds. My sister and I (aged eight) were fortunate enough to attend the school for free. With a Dutch mother, English father and little understanding of Scotland, we had to adjust to life in Edinburgh. I subsequently spent my adolescence there, although not always fitting in with the etiquette of public school life. It was not until the early-1990s that I first heard of Muirhouse.


It was the first class of the day at the senior school I overheard a class mate of mine describing how his brother had just been attacked whilst visiting Murihouse; a housing scheme toward the periphery of north Edinburgh (a scheme that would later be the setting for the book and film Trainspotting). He was angry, talking about his disgust of the place and the people who lived there. What I remember most is his portrayal of the poor state of the housing, describing the residents as “animals”. Rather than being appalled by his story I became instead fascinated in what I had heard. As already having the feeling of an outsider at the school, I wondered where this place was and what the residents really looked like. Way before the invention of Google Maps and, despite being just over a mile from where I lived, I never visited the scheme – instead cycling along, what I saw as the safety of, Ferry Road and occasionally looking over to where the scheme was, hopefully passing residents who were leaving and taking a bus to the city centre.

DS: The urban landscape there is dominated by Martello Court. This then became the inspiration for the project…

PSS: Within Muirhouse is the tower block Martello Court which during the 1970s became known because as Terror Tower. Standing twenty-three stories high, the block can be seen from a distance. I remember using excuses to visit Edinburgh Castle, Carlton Hill and Arthur’s Seat just to see the tower block from that distance – never telling anybody of my intention. What I liked was that despite the towers marginal location it still had a narrative within the city’s consciousness.

DS: It’s quite a leap from you as a boy to working on a photography project in the area all these years later. How did it come about?

PSS: The project Martello Court began whilst I was studying on the Masters of Research (MRes) at the Royal College of Art, RCA (finishing October 2020). As a class we were asked to respond to a page from any book that had particular significance to us. Wondering what to do I opted for Trainspotting. I decided to select a page where the name ‘Muirhouse’ was first used; then marked all the other words out. This activity helped to highlight the housing scheme away from the framework of the text. I presented the work to my class the next week. Unbeknown to me this was to be the starting point for the project; as during my first tutorial – and lengthy conversations about Scotland, outsider identity and the various housing schemes of North Edinburgh – my tutor finished by saying: “Well, I guess you’re going back to Edinburgh then!”.

DS: How did you start the photography in Muirhouse?

PSS: My first point of contact was the concierge at Martello Court, Gabriella, who put me through to the head of Martello Court Residence Association – Etta McInnes. Etta is an 88-year-old third floor resident and she gave me access to the garden, offices and stairwell in the building. She is my future point of contact for the next few years. Etta has lived on the estate for 30 years and ‘runs the show’; in fact after spending time with her I did once refer to the block as Mar-Etta Court. I had the pleasure of meeting Etta’s son Ian, on my last visit in August, who about of mother: “You didn’t have to even watch the news, you just need to go and talk to my mother and she’ll tell you everything, you know what I mean. She is better than Sky News. Ironically, Ian went to school with both Irvine Welsh and Gordon Strachan, both former residents of the scheme.

DS: Did you have any doubts or anxieties about making the work?

PSS: I found the experience of the architecture of Martello Court at first daunting, but after meeting the various characters and nationalities that inhabit the space, I discovered a warm and welcoming environment – not at all as its reputation or nickname, Terror Tower, would suggest. For my photographic work I mapped out several areas that would best suit portraits around the tower block and, on the day of my shoot, I found the residents to be particularly involved with my project and understood my interest in the area and its present population. Despite of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic I found the residents still happy to be photographed and interviewed on their views of isolation and their hopes for the future.

DS: Thank you Paul for sharing this work with us. We look forward to finding out how the project develops over the coming years. Good luck!

Paul S Smith is a lecturer in photography at Buckinghamshire College Group with a focus on alternative landscapes and communities within the United Kingdom, Europe and America. More information about his work can be found on his website.

Etta McInnes, Martello Court. © Paul S Smith, 2020 all rights reserved.
Martello Court © Paul S Smith, 2020, all rights reserved
Martello Court © Paul S Smith, 2020, all rights reserved
Martello Court © Paul S Smith, 2020, all rights reserved
Martello Court © Paul S Smith, 2020, all rights reserved
Martello Court © Paul S Smith, 2020, all rights reserved
Martello Court © Paul S Smith, 2020, all rights reserved
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Glasgow Women, by Nicola Stead

I had already noticed Nicola Stead’s portraits of Glasgow women on her website, stumbled into by chance following links and clicks, and I was taken by the simplicity of them, but also the strength of the women that showed through the great use of light, and sharpness of focus, as well as their expressions. Lovely portraits.
Then, surreptitiously, Nicola reached out to us here at Document Scotland asking if we’d be interested to run the work, to share her story…. – thanks, Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert.


Julia has lived in Glasgow her whole life. She is a regular member of The Govanites. At 79 years old, she is considered the baby of the group. ©Nicola Stead 2020

Janet is 84 and has lived in Govan all her life. “I think there are good opportunities in Govan for women my age.” ©Nicola Stead 2020

The struggles and achievements of Glasgow women are highlighted within this series, offering a celebration of their lives as well as acknowledging their historical and cultural contribution to the city. Forging links between Glasgow women’s history and women in the city today, the work explores the legacy of Isabella Elder, one of Glasgow’s greatest philanthropists. I discovered Elder through Glasgow Women’s Library. Through research at the library I found the grave of Isabella Elder in Glasgow’s Necropolis. The story of her life and her good deeds fascinated me and from there the journey began.

Elder took a particular interest in women’s education, financing and supporting the foundation of Queen Margaret College in 1883, which enabled Scottish women to be admitted to higher education for the first time. Elder also took an active interest in the welfare of the women of Govan, the site of her late husband’s shipbuilding business. She established a school of domestic economy for local women as well as founding the Elder Cottage Hospital, Cottage Nurses Training Home, Elder Park and the Free Library in the area. She is one of the few historical women commemorated with a statue in Glasgow, which stands in Govan’s Elder Park.

Gilded Lily is a women-led organisation in Govan, which aims to support women to succeed in their own ambitions. They offer a variety of workshops and weekly group meetings. ©Nicola Stead 2020
Salma is originally from Syria and has lived in Glasgow for 1&1/2 years.“There are good opportunities for women from the asylum seeker and refugee community to be part of the wider community of Govan, however the women really need to invest their time to see the results’. ©Nicola Stead 2020

By examining communities of women in Glasgow now, my aim is to discover if Elder’s legacy of female empowerment is still apparent 135 years later. This strand of the series focuses on a variety of women’s groups and organisations in Govan, which reflect the cultural diversity of the area. These groups provide support, nurture, and inspiration for the women involved.

Fouzia is originally from Algeria and has lived in Govan for 2 years. “I am a regular member of Govan Community Project’s women’s group. I also attend cooking and sewing classes at Gilded Lily. All these opportunities have helped to build my confidence.” ©Nicola Stead 2020
Traci is originally from Falkirk and has lived in Govan for 4 years. “There are lots of community groups, and lots of women-led activities in Govan.” ©Nicola Stead 2020
The Women’s Group is a place for women from the asylum seeker and refugee community in Govan to come together and share food, discussion, and participate in arts activities. ©Nicola Stead 2020

In my conversations with the women I asked them to consider whether they thought there were good opportunities for women in their area. I also asked them to choose a place that they would like to be photographed, somewhere that represented a safe space for them. Many chose the location their organisations meet, others chose their home or a place where they felt at home such as a local park or favourite café. I have been greatly impressed and inspired by the women I had the pleasure of meeting throughout this project. I believe that they collectively represent a positive continuation of the legacy of the pioneering and empowering work that Isabella Elder carried out before them. These strong, determined women of Glasgow are well and truly keeping Isabella’s spirit alive.

Nancy is 89 years old and has lived in Govan her whole life. The Govanites is a social group for pensioner aged women in Govan where Nancy goes to meet with her friends. ©Nicola Stead 2020.
Eveleen is originally from Malaysia and has lived in Glasgow for 47 years. “There are opportunities here for women to learn and meet new people.” ©Nicola Stead 2020

Nicola Stead’s photography website, and on Instagram.


We hope you have enjoyed the above article and images. Since forming in 2012 all the work featured on this site, and the work undertaken to enable it, has been free of charge. Now, times are changing. To continue we feel we need to ask for your support, to help us manage our time and energies, and to continue sharing photography we care about. Please visit our Patreon page and consider being a supporter. Thank you – Jeremy, Sophie, Colin. 

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Et in Arcadia Ego by Bill Duncan

I am always intrigued by creative people who manage to cross-pollinate their practice by involving other disciplines.

I first came across the work of Angus-based writer Bill Duncan in the first years of this century, when he published a couple of wry, funny and beautifully-observed chronicles of Scottish life through the prism of Calvinism. His first work, entitled The Smiling School for Calvinists was particularly uproarious, a depiction of life in Broughty Ferry narrated in the vernacular which caused me to laugh out loud across many pages.

Around the same time, I was exhibiting Catching the Tide for the first time: it was embarking on a wee tour of the North East, and Bill very kindly purchased one of the images from the show. Dialogue and correspondence followed, but as so often in the modern world, we strayed off in different directions.

Many years passed until Bill and I were re-united, this time in Argyll on Easdale, the island location for my annual photography courses. Bill signed up and produced an insightful and beautifully-crafted series about one of the residents which alerted me to his talent as a visual storyteller as well as writer.

Recently, Bill got back in touch to let me know that his series Et in Arcadia Ego, a allegorical series of images set on a Highland hunting estate was about to be published in the forthcoming SSHoP journal Studies in Photography. I thought this would be an ideal opportunity to find out more about Bill’s lens-based work.

He takes up the story: “I have been working on a photographic exploration of Highland deerstalking for four years. The project incorporates elements of landscape, nature and working lives within the wider context of Highland culture. The project has a distinctive backstory, in that I am an urban Scot with no connections with the culture and lifestyle depicted here. Indeed, some of the most challenging aspects of the project were human as much as technical: it was not easy to gain the trust of a fairly private and closely-knit community. So far I have spent numerous days on the hill with the stalkers across the seasons in all weathers, generating a large number of wide-ranging images. The project is ongoing.

As a keen hillwalker I have long been fascinated by the Red Deer and its place in Scottish culture. The project title refers generally to the concept of an imagined pastoral ideal from classical literature where goatherds tended their flocks in a sylvan paradise. More specifically, it refers to Poussin’s painting Et in Arcadia Ego, where a group of shepherds are exposed to the presence of death in their supposed idyll. I saw a parallel between these goatherds and the Highland deerstalkers who manage their herds in a landscape that is often romanticised. The images portray the animals in life and death.

Some anecdotes relating to the project may be of interest: the extensive hill fog on one of the days depicted led resulted in water ingress to my camera, corroded electronics and an expensive repair. Other conditions imposed interesting challenges: the requirement to maintain the uncompromising walking pace wordlessly demanded by the stalkers in ever-changing light and weather across miles of ascent and descent taught me the virtue of Aperture over Manual priority and precluded the use of filters, promoting instead a raw documentary aesthetic. The need to remain still and silent and, literally, to adopt a low profile, were also quickly learned and constantly observed. In addition to landscape, work and nature, the project also touches upon more controversial areas of animal ethics and social class.”

The photographs certainly have a primal, uncompromising energy about them. What interests me here is process and it is fascinating to hear that he is motivated strongly around issues which affect rural Scotland. That is something, of course, which Document Scotland is continually exploring and dissecting. It’s a pleasure to amplify other voices working on photography projects concerning our landscape and we’d like to thank Bill for sharing this work with us.

Et in Arcadia Ego. © Bill Duncan 2020, all rights reserved.
Et in Arcadia Ego. © Bill Duncan 2020, all rights reserved.
Et in Arcadia Ego. © Bill Duncan 2020, all rights reserved.
Et in Arcadia Ego. © Bill Duncan 2020, all rights reserved.
Et in Arcadia Ego. © Bill Duncan 2020, all rights reserved.
Et in Arcadia Ego. © Bill Duncan 2020, all rights reserved.

We hope you have enjoyed the above article and images. Since forming in 2012 all the work featured on this site, and the work undertaken to enable it, has been free of charge. Now, times are changing. To continue we feel we need to ask for your support, to help us manage our time and energies, and to continue sharing photography we care about. Please visit our Patreon page and consider being a supporter. Thank you – Jeremy, Sophie, Colin. 

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Homeless in Covid, by Iain McLean

A few days back photographer Iain McLean told Colin and I that he’d been working on a series of portraits of homeless people, and assisted by the Simon Community Scotland. Today he shares with us some of the work, which is still ongoing and due to be exhibited in October, along with his thoughts on the project. – Jeremy

Radislav from Poland
Radislav was in Glasgow with his friend. He was photographed in the Ibis Hotel showing his open hand with a drawing of the landscape of his homeland which he missed greatly. ©Iain McLean.

DS – How did the project come about?
Iain McL. – I wanted to volunteer during the Covid epidemic and after a conversation with a client they offered me a commission to photograph a charity’s work during Covid. 
The Simon Community Scotland were fairly local and I was already aware of them and the work they do, so I contacted Hugh Hill (Director of Services and Development) and put my idea to him.

I imagine gaining access, and trust is difficult in such a situation, how did you go about that?
My contact at the charity is Julie and I felt our very first meeting went well and she really understood what I could offer. In my experience it is rare to be given the opportunity to work with an organisation who encourage you to pursue a creative idea. A refreshing experience! 
I initially did some volunteering in their warehouse, sorting clothes and helping load and unload food deliveries all the while taking some casual portraits and recording the events. This seemed to go well. We then visited the Ibis Hotel where I met the Simon Community staff and managers to have a look around and say hello. Once they realised I wasn’t a blow-hard they began to allow more access to travel to other services to meet and photograph both staff and clients.

Radislav from Poland
Radislav was in Glasgow with his friend. He was photographed in the Ibis Hotel showing his open hand with a drawing of the landscape of his homeland which he missed greatly. ©Iain McLean 2020.
Paul from England
Paul was looking for a way to get back home and to see family members he missed. Paul had literally nothing, which in itself was distressing but I was amazed to hear that he had saved a girl from drowning in the River Clyde last year in an apparent suicide attempt. His open hand is seen reaching out to help. ©Iain McLean 2020

What was your aim and goals for the project?
It quickly became apparent that there were 2 threads to the project – one was creating a library of stock images for the charity and the other was producing a conceptual project challenging the common perception of what a homeless person should look like.

How long have you been working on it?
I first contacted the Simon Community in mid April, with May and June being the most productive months.

Have you worked on these issues of homelessness before? Were there any surprises, or any issues you’ve learned from the project?
I had not worked with homeless people before but it was a profound and moving experience. My expectations were probably the same as most people’s, namely that I’d be meeting down-at-heel people with substance and/or mental health problems.I couldn’t have been more wrong. I’ve met travellers, religious people, immigrants, refugees, professional people, young and old and all races & genders. Many of them victims of circumstance.

Liah from England
Liah was very active in selecting her photos and interested in how she was presented. She was photographed with and without her glasses and took an active part in selecting what images we used. Her phone was her lifeline, although she was one of few people who saw their phone as an item of comfort. ©Iain McLean 2020
Hatim from Sudan 
Hatim was very widely travelled, and over the past 5 years had stayed in Sweden, London and Wales. He was a confident, eloquent man who was enjoying the welcome he received in Scotland and intended staying here to see what opportunities came up. He talked highly of the help he had received from the Simon Community Scotland and was pictured holding a card he kept with their contact details on it. ©Iain McLean 2020

How were the sitters themselves about being photographed, was it easy to gain their trust and collaboration?
The sitters were all invited to participate with the promise of a free print (or prints) in the week following the shoot. 
Most were keen to tell me their story but a few were quiet participants so were simply photographed and then left.

How did you decide on the manner in which you’ve photographed people against the white backdrop, and with the idea of photographing items they own and cherish?
The items were photographed in the hand of the sitter, with the hand being a metaphor for hope and open-ness as well as being symbolic of the Covid crisis – hand cleanliness etc. I felt the portraits needed more than just a short explanation of the person and their circumstances so used the idea of ‘comfort’ during this troubled time to give the work some extra depth. The white background was a deliberate act to take the homeless person away from any cliched location and to present them as a dignified, empowered person. A blank canvas. I was trying to develop the idea when my friend John Linton pointed me to the work of Stefan Ruiz who’s project ‘Cholombianos’ is shot on location against a white backdrop, and I saw that this technique would be perfect for my homeless project.

What are your hopes for the project? Are there plans to exhibit it or publish it?
We hope to exhibit in October. There are a couple of venues in the pipeline but we’re keen to get the portraits shown in as many locations as possible, so would be happy to hear from any suitable locations….and of course we will be back on the phone to Document Scotland too!

Thank you Iain for sharing the work, we look forward to seeing how the project develops.


We hope you have enjoyed the above article and images. Since forming in 2012 all the work featured on this site, and the work undertaken to enable it, has been free of charge. Now, times are changing. To continue we feel we need to ask for your support, to help us manage our time and energies, and to continue sharing photography we care about. Please visit our Patreon page and consider being a supporter. Thank you – Jeremy, Sophie, Colin. 

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Tom Leppard, the Tattooed Hermit

Last week, via Twitter I found this little set of images by a good friend and colleague, the London-based photographer Richard Baker. I was struck by the text and images which I thought formed a tender little portrait of both a day out as a working photographer, and also of Tom Leppard, the tattooed hermit of Skye. Within my own years as a Glasgow-based photographer working in papers and magazines I was aware of Tom Leppard, but never ever photographed him, so I was interested last week on stumbling into Richard’s pictures and text below. Kindly Richard has allowed us to share them with you, many thanks! – Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert.

Tom Leppard, by Richard Baker.

In the winter of 2007, as part of a book project on the concept of Home, I was asked to travel to Scotland to visit a tattooed hermit, called Tom Leppard (then 72), who had for 22 years, been living in seclusion in a self-adapted retreat, at a secret location on the Isle of Skye.

The tattooed hermit, Tom Leppard (1935-2016) at his secret island hideaway on the Isle of Skye, Scotland in 2007. ©Richard Baker.

Converting the north-facing dry-stone walls of a sheep shelter into a sunken, habitable space, he had created a roof using a blue tarpaulin weighted down by heavy rocks to stop the strong winds – a technique used throughout the Western Isles and outer Hebredes. Entering the shelter was like experiencing Shackleton’s cabin on ‘Endurance’ – every nook and cranny, crammed with the items of a survivalist and with blue tarpaulin light that gave the eerie impression of a twilight world.

Protected inside against harsh winters, he used his knowledge of survival skills learned from his career in the Royal Navy and army, to help him stay fit and largely healthy. By then however, his memory was failing and muscular ailments troubled him. Few, except trusted friends who concerned themselves with his welfare, knew his exact whereabouts and they came to check on him periodically when poor weather prevented him from crossing a 2km-wide Loch in an old canoe to pick up mail and to buy essentials. His days were spent washing, cleaning and carrying out maintenance jobs that kept his home meticulously clean.

The tattooed hermit, Tom Leppard (1935-2016) at his secret island hideaway on the Isle of Skye, Scotland in 2007. ©Richard Baker.
The tattooed hermit, Tom Leppard (1935-2016) at his secret island hideaway on the Isle of Skye, Scotland in 2007. ©Richard Baker.

I’d arranged with a local man to ferry me over early to meet Tom and I spent a cold day with him. The only thing that was asked of me was to not reveal where Tom lived, and to take a couple of bottles rum, a reminder of his Navy days. I remember we talked about his life there and how he coped with loneliness and isolation through dark winters. He showed me his collection of books, all carefully wrapped in plastic covers and how he carefully stored his dry food, to stop them going mouldy from damp. We warmed ourselves with a tot of rum and I photographed him going about his daily chores: fetching water, washing his clothes in freezing water, and feeding his beloved birds.

Tattooed hermit Tom Leppard replenishes bird seed for nearby beloved wildlife in trees near secret hideaway shelter on Skye, Scotland in 2007. ©Richard Baker.
The tattooed hermit, Tom Leppard (1935-2016) at his secret island hideaway on the Isle of Skye, Scotland in 2007. ©Richard Baker.

“I decided I wanted to be the biggest of something, the only one of something .. it had to be a tattoo,” said Tom. And after a few more tattoos, he at one time became recognised in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most tattooed man in the world. The idea was that I would photograph him showing off his body markings but I soon realised when I reached the island, that it was much too cold to ask him to disrobe.

The tattooed hermit, Tom Leppard (1935-2016) at his secret island hideaway on the Isle of Skye, Scotland in 2007. ©Richard Baker.

At some point in the afternoon, the boat to collect me again turned up and the last I saw of Tom was a small, waving figure on the beach – a happy, smiling man on the periphery of society totally comfortable, seemingly at peace, with his own off-grid social distance.

Tom Leppard (b1935) was a remarkably resilient septuagenarian who eventually agreed to move off his island hideaway to enter local sheltered accommodation on the mainland. He passed away in 2016.

Richard Baker is on Instagram, and Twitter.


We hope you have enjoyed the above article and images. Since forming in 2012 all the work featured on this site, and the work undertaken to enable it, has been free of charge. Now, times are changing. To continue we feel we need to ask for your support, to help us manage our time and energies, and to continue sharing photography we care about. Please visit our Patreon page and consider being a supporter. Thank you – Jeremy, Sophie, Colin. 

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Document Scotland launches its Patreon initiative

DOCUMENT SCOTLAND SEEKS SUPPORT TO CONTINUE MAKING AND SHOWCASING THE BEST OF SCOTTISH DOCUMENTARY PHOTOGRAPHY

Document Scotland is launching an initiative to continue the work they do to support photography in Scotland. They are inviting individuals and organisations to become their patrons, and in doing so, putting the work of the collective on a sustainable financial footing.

Since their formation in 2012, Document Scotland’s photographers Sophie Gerrard, Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert and Colin McPherson have worked on collaborative and individual projects which have led to a series of high-profile exhibitions at home and abroad, the production of a number of publications and the staging of live public events in towns, cities and communities across Scotland.

Through our website, Document Scotland has been able to showcase new and historical work by Scottish photographers or stories about their nation. The website is now regarded as an important public resource for anyone interested in Scottish photography.

In order to continue this work, Document Scotland is launching our own Patreon site, where supporters will have access to added content which will be produced in addition to the website which will continue to be freely available and publicly visible. It can be viewed here: www.Patreon.com/DocumentScotland

Commenting on the initiative, Sophie Gerrard said: “Document Scotland’s commitment to photography in this country is at the heart of everything we do. We have collaborated with individual photographers, organisations and institutions over the last eight years to promote and disseminate outstanding work. We want this to continue, but recognise that we are living in a new financial landscape and that to be able to work this way, we need the support of people to become our patrons.

“By launching our Patreon initiative, we hope to take people on the next leg of our journey. Patrons’ support will mean we can work on our own projects and help other photographers. We are committed to remunerating contributors who work with us and as our support network grows, so will the opportunities for photographers to collaborate and work with us.”

Formed in 2012, Document Scotland is a collective of three Scottish documentary photographers brought together by a common vision to witness and photograph the important and diverse stories within Scotland at one of the most important times in our nation’s history. 

Document Scotland’s major exhibitions include their seven-month show entitled The Ties That Bind at the Scottish National Portrait in 2015-16, Beyond the Border, their first major exhibition outside Scotland, staged at Impressions Gallery in Bradford in 2014, Common Ground at Street Level Photoworks, Glasgow in 2014, at the Festival Interceltique, the world’s largest Celtic cultural event in 2017 and latterly through A Contested Land, which premiered at the Martin Parr Foundation in Bristol in 2019 and toured across Scotland and England throughout last year.

We look forward to hearing from you and taking you on the next stage of our journey!

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The Story Behind the Photograph with Colin McPherson

Hailstones, Kinnaber, 2000. Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

This Saturday, 30th May 2020, is the twentieth anniversary of the day I took a photograph that has come to symbolise my work and the project Catching the Tide, which documented Scotland’s last salmon net fishermen. To mark the occasion, Document Scotland is hosting a special online event, where my colleague Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert and I will be in conversation about the image, and what it has come to mean to me.

Entitled Hailstones, Kinnaber, 2000, the photograph was the high point of a dramatic day spent with two fishermen as they worked on the large, sandy expanse of beach at Kinnaber, just north of the town of Montrose on Scotland’s east coast. The image came to represent many things about the work that the men undertook: the physical nature of it, the constantly changing weather and the adherence to using traditional methods to fish for wild Atlantic salmon.

As the new century began, five years into my project, few could have imagined that two decades later a Scottish Government moratorium on net fishing on Scotland’s coast and in rivers would have effectively killed off the industry for good. At the time I took the photograph, there was an ever-dwindling number of men fishing this way around Scotland’s vast and varied coastline. The stocks of fish had withered, and pressure from scientists and anglers to stop the practice had led to the closure of the big salmon companies, leaving just a few individual fishermen and their families with the right to maintain working in a way which had sustained rural communities for centuries.

The photograph itself has become the leading image for a project which lasted two decades. Since I started photographing Catching the Tide in 1995, the work has been published and exhibited extensively, both in Scotland and internationally. The image has been used to illustrate newspaper and magazine articles and has appeared in reference books on the subject of the salmon.

For me personally, this one single image came to encapsulate everything about the project. It was not the first, or last, photograph, but undoubtedly the most significant. As well as being published widely, it also resides in a number of important archives, such as the photography collections of the National Galleries of Scotland the University of St. Andrews and others.

To mark the occasion, I have produced a special, limited edition A3 commemorative poster, which you can buy from my website. All the proceeds raised from the sale will go towards photographing Catching the Tide, the Final Chapter, which will commence later this year.

I hope you can join us on Saturday, when we will explore and discuss many of the aspects of how, where and when the photograph was taken. I look forward to seeing you then.


We hope you have enjoyed the above article and images. Since forming in 2012 all the work featured on this site, and the work undertaken to enable it, has been free of charge. Now, times are changing. To continue we feel we need to ask for your support, to help us manage our time and energies, and to continue sharing photography we care about. Please visit our Patreon page and consider being a supporter. Thank you – Jeremy, Sophie, Colin.

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What Does Photography Mean To You?

Over here in Document Scotland HQ we’re fans of those who promote democracy within photography, who give voices to all photographers, where all opinions are welcome and valid. For that reason we enjoy the podcasts brought to us by Grant Scott’s UN of Photography every Wednesday, in which he explores the topic of the week in photography, the debate, the controversy and what’s being said on social media. The weekly podcast has become a great source of interest and inspiration, as a photographer is invited to join the chat, and to send Grant an audio file in which they try to answer the question “what does photography mean to you?”

Today, it’s the turn of Document Scotland’s Colin McPherson who gives his thoughts and opinions on where we are now when it comes to support, funding and opportunities for photographers. Although it was recorded before the current coronavirus crisis, the ideas and observations are as relevant now as they were before as we move beyond, what he describes as, “the end of photography”.

Listen to Colin here:

A while back now, in the same series, Glasgow-based photographer Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert posted his views in response to an invite from Grant. Jeremy talks in the below podcast about how he views his camera as a passport into different situations and cultures, and how he hopes his photography can be shared and make a little difference in the world, to help change prejudices, or to educate, and to share the feeling of being somewhere for those less fortunate to travel.

Have a listen, and let us know what you think, you can always tweet Grant on @UNofPhoto, Jeremy on @JshPhotog, and Colin on @germanocean. Many thanks.


We hope you have enjoyed the above article and images. Since forming in 2012 all the work featured on this site, and the work undertaken to enable it, has been free of charge. Now, times are changing. To continue we feel we need to ask for your support, to help us manage our time and energies, and to continue sharing photography we care about. Please visit our Patreon page and consider being a supporter. Thank you – Jeremy, Sophie, Colin. 

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On call on Colonsay

Life is changing for all of us. That much we know about the world we live in as the conseqienses the coronavisrus pandemic become more apparent. The future has never looked more uncertain and we can only guess and speculate what is in front of us now.

A year ago, Document Scotland photographer Colin McPherson visited the small inner Hebridean island of Colonsay to shoot a short story about two of its residents for whom life was about to change. Or so they hoped at the time. One year one, due to the global pandemic, that change has been put on hold.

Colonsay’s medical services are run and co-ordinated by husband-and-wide doctors David Binnie and Jan Brooks. In May 2019, they were nearing retirement after eight years overseeing the GP practice there. Colonsay’s approach to health is a bit old school: it relies on involving as many members of the community as necessary to deliver services by pooling and sharing knowledge and resources. It is not uncommon for the islanders to be called upon to use their skills as firefighters, ambulance crew, flight controllers or administrators to help keep the island’s 135 permananet residents and thousands of annual visitors safe and well.

Whilst he was there, Colin was given privileged access to all facets of the service, from attending consultations at the surgery which overlooks the main settlement and ferry terminal at Scalasaig, to accompnaying Dr Binnie on home visits. It gave him a chance to see how this beautiful island worked and what it looked like.

Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, however, the doctors’ retirement plans have been put on hold. Although at the time of writing there have been no cases on the island, Colonsay effectively remains closed to the outside world, with a lifeline ferry service delivering food and essentials the only contact with the mainland, a two-and-a-half hour sailing from Oban. Once the outbreak subsides and life starts to return to normal, the doctors will try to get their retirement plans back on track and renew the process of recruiting a replacement GP.

As well as photographing the doctors’ work and capturing aspects of life on Colonsay, Colin also shot a short film which has been used in the advertising campaign to find David and Jan’s replacement.

It was Colin’s first visit to the island in over thirty years. Like so many Hebridean islands, so much has changed, yet stayed the same. It will be fascinating to see how it changes as a result of the conronavisrus outbreak.

Island of Colonsay. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2019 all rights reserved.
The ferry arriving, Colonsay. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2019 all rights reserved.
A patient receives treatment, Colonsay. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2019 all rights reserved.
Burial ground, Colonsay. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2019 all rights reserved.
Dr David Binnie during a home visit, Colonsay. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2019 all rights reserved.
Dr Jan Brooks, Colonsay. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2019 all rights reserved.
Card in doctor’s practice, Colonsay. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2019 all rights reserved.

We hope you have enjoyed the above article and images. Since forming in 2012 all the work featured on this site, and the work undertaken to enable it, has been free of charge. Now, times are changing. To continue we feel we need to ask for your support, to help us manage our time and energies, and to continue sharing photography we care about. Please visit our Patreon page and consider being a supporter. Thank you – Jeremy, Sophie, Colin. 

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Peter Degnan’s ‘Mother Glasgow’

Trying to keep up to date with the current tumultuous news of life on Twitter it’s heartening to scroll to a Tweet which shows images and catches your eyes. Such has been the way this past week or so when I’ve discovered two photographers posting old images of Glasgow and beyond.  I dropped them both a note, and now have the pleasure of sharing some of their work and a few Q&A’s with them, over the coming days. Hope you enjoy them.

Today we start with the lovely work of Peter Degnan. I look at his images of the Jock Stein testimonial and get jealous; his image of the Granary building bring back memories of myself being on top of it photographing ship launches; and the whelk shop in the Barras, a place I was discussing with someone just recently… Great to see Peter, thank you for sharing it all. – Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert.

Peter introduces himself on his website with these words: 

I have been involved with photography seriously since about 1976 when I bought my first SLR camera, a Russian “Zenith E” with a 50mm lens. I became involved with camera clubs in the early days and although I enjoyed my time in them socially, the competitive and prescriptive nature of them was not always to my liking.

I was predominantly shooting in black and white and processing and printing all my own work at this time.

I am self-taught in both my photography taking and processing and printing and I was fortunate enough to always have a darkroom at home, so more often than not I could be found in there working on new projects. Although I did not set out to profit from my work I did manage to sell a few images following a small exhibition of my work in The Paisley Arts Centre.

Around the late 1990’s until about 2002 I took a break from working at the level I had been for a number of reasons. Firstly I had a major move of jobs and living location, secondly the kids were growing up and finally the dawn of digital photography was starting to take a hold and I was watching with interest.

Although I still had my film cameras and lenses, my first digital camera was to be a Fujifilm Finepix. I was basically dabbling with digital until such time as I switched from Windows computers and bought an iMac and simultaneously took out an Adobe subscription to Lightroom and Photoshop and this gave me the encouragement to start back where I had left off.

Up until about 2012 my taste in photography was wide ranging and included taking landscape, portraits and transport photographs. My passion however is documentary and street photography. I have always endeavoured to record as I was going about my photography and still do to this day. Although street photography can take many forms, it is the documentary element that interests me most. In 2019 I produced my first photo-book entitled “Mother Glasgow” and some of the images it contains can be seen in my My Galleries. This was followed up with a Zine version and both of these can be purchased using the Publications like above.

In 2019, in order for me to try and progress with my documentary/street photography, I decided to end my association with Nikon equipment and purchase a Fujifilm 100X-F camera which is my first mirror-less camera and I am enjoying using it as it is so discrete on the streets. I have recently supplemented this with the purchase of the excellent Fujifilm X-T3 and some lenses.

 

 

Govan, July 1977. aken from the bottom of Water Row in Govan this view shows what was the Meadowhall Granary on the north side of the Clyde. This whole vista has disappeared now, replaced by modern flats. ©Peter Degnan.

Govan, July 1977. Taken from the bottom of Water Row in Govan this view shows what was the Meadowhall Granary on the north side of the Clyde. This whole vista has disappeared now, replaced by modern flats. ©Peter Degnan.

 

Document Scotland – Roughly what period did you shoot these b/ws?

Peter Degnan – All of the photographs were produced between the mid 1970s and the late 80s. It was a very interesting time for Glasgow with lots of changes going on. It was also back in the film era and one regret I have is that I didn’t take more. I have resisted going public with a lot of the images because leaving a gap of over 40 years since I took them makes the contrast in people and places more noticeable.

 

The Barras, July 1978. This chap could be found roaming around The Barras at the weekend, and was one of many characters that frequented the area. There was so much underhand dealing going on at times in the Barras that his message I fear would fall on deaf ears. ©Peter Degnan.


What was the motivation behind you going out on the streets looking for images, and for attending events such as the Jock Stein testimonial?

From the outset my photography style has always been of the documentary/photojournalistic style. It wasn’t a conscious decision it was just something I felt comfortable doing and always had a fascination for old photographs that recorded life. I was always on the lookout for events. The Jock Stein Testimonial I knew would be a huge event given the love the support had for him so I was determined to get in on that. I have also taken pictures at political rallies, marches and some during the miners strike. I am glad for example that I took photographs of The Barras in its heyday, because it is just a shadow now of what it was.

 

1978. A full stadium welcomed Jock Stein on the night and his Lisbon Lions. ©Peter Degnan.

 

Was it easy getting access? You look very close to your subjects, and in amongst it all, what was your approach?

I was basically an amateur photographer trying to get the shots that I wanted so getting in close was required. I discovered that so long as I looked and acted the part nobody challenged me. For example the Jock Stein Testimonial. Myself and a friend noticed that the Daily Record photographers wore red Adidas cagoules when covering games so we bought these out of Millets Stores. On the night we entered the stadium through the turnstiles with our kit and red cagoules on and walked down onto the track around the pitch where the invalid cars would drive. The police just parted and let us through. That is why the pictures look close up, I was standing on the pitch trying my best to look professional and it worked. Probably impossible to attempt now due to security and issuing of accreditation bibs etc.

1978. A full stadium welcomed Jock Stein on the night and his Lisbon Lions. ©Peter Degnan.

 

Did the work get exhibited much or published back then?

No not really. I was basically doing my own thing and building up an archive of work. I was doing all my own darkroom work at the time as well. I did have a small exhibition of work in the bar of the Paisley Art Centre which resulted in a few sales of prints but that was about it. I never really pushed my work but I knew there could be interest in it at some time.

Were you looking at other photography back then? Who was inspiring you, if anyone?

I would have to say that the biggest influence on my work has been Oscar Marzaroli. I became aware of his work early on in my photography journey and have been an admirer to this day. I met him briefly at the Third Eye Centre in 84. I was looking at one of his photographs and I became aware of him standing beside me. We chatted about his work and I asked him for advice on how maybe some day I could get work exhibited. His simple advice was, “Just keep taking photographs”. I have also been a big fan of Don McCullin. Not so much his excellent war photography but they way he would capture every day life.

 

Govan, 1981. I took a number of shots in and around Govan capturing the change to that part of Glasgow. It was in the process of loosing its tenement community and ship building industry. This was taken just after a snowfall and captures two policemen wandering down one of the oldest streets in Govan, Water Row, towards what was the ferry landing. ©Peter Degnan

 

Govan Subway, 1977. As Glasgow was modernising above ground the same could be said for below ground with its Subway system. Major reconstruction meant the old Victorian era wooden rolling stock had to go and this shot was taken capturing this process at the Broomloan Road works in Govan. It shows workmen stripping the bogies off of the carriages and preparing them to be scrapped. ©Peter Degnan

 

Did you have contact with other photographers, or for in any collective way at all?

Not really, apart from the usual Camera Club experiences early on. I am self taught in both the taking and processing of my work and haven’t studied photography in an academic way. Everything I know and practice has been through experience and trial and error. Social media can be a good way of meeting like minded photographers and I have recently attended a couple of workshops on Street Photography, followed up by sharing my work with the StreetSnappers Collective both on-line and through contributing to a book we recently produced.

 

 

Glasgow Loyalist March, 1981. This element of Glasgow life was always something I wanted to capture. Not because I support it but because it is an important part of the sectarian tapestry that blights the city. The march started in North Street and meandered through Bridgeton Cross to Glasgow Green. The contrast of tenements coming down to create a new modern Glasgow is juxtaposed by the March, which was amongst other things protesting about the upcoming visit to Glasgow of Pope John Paul 2nd. ©Peter Degnan.

 

Glasgow Loyalist March, 1981. This element of Glasgow life was always something I wanted to capture. Not because I support it but because it is an important part of the sectarian tapestry that blights the city. The march started in North Street and meandered through Bridgeton Cross to Glasgow Green. The contrast of tenements coming down to create a new modern Glasgow is juxtaposed by the March, which was amongst other things protesting about the upcoming visit to Glasgow of Pope John Paul 2nd. ©Peter Degnan.

 

You’ve made a book recently ‘Mother Glasgow’, how did that come about and what was the process?
Did you edit that yourself?

As previously mentioned, I resisted sharing many of my B&W negative film images until I decided the time was right. Last year I decided that the time had come to do this and given it is so easy these days to produce photo books I decided to bite the bullet. I chose around 50 images depicting Glasgow in the 70s and 80s, including a section on The Barras. I edited the book and laid it out using the Book module in Adobe Lightroom. The resulting PDF of the book was uploaded to Mixam and in a couple of weeks time I had my first book which I had titled “Mother Glasgow”. It was really quite emotional to see my work like this after all these years. I realised that not everyone would want to go for the expense of a hard backed book so I decided to produce a Zine of “Mother Glasgow” and these have sold very well. The feedback I have received over “Mother Glasgow” has been very rewarding.

 

The Barras, April 1985. Taken through the window of one of the many mussel and whelk shops at The Barras. This woman wearing her headscarf whilst working inside the shop was typical of most women at the time. The absence of pre-packed food and scales for weighing loose produce is a sign of the time. ©Peter Degnan.

 

The Barras, October 1977. At this time The Barras was great for photography, but it could also be a dangerous place with traders often asking if you were from the DSS (Social Security) and even getting “Heavies” to stand beside you watching what you were photographing. This chap had just pointed me out to the crowd as being from the DSS. It gives the picture a sort of Thomas Annan feel with all the people just staring into the camera. ©Peter Degnan

 

Where can people buy your book?

The hardback version of “Mother Glasgow” is available from Blurb at the following location:
https://www.blurb.co.uk/b/9436438-mother-glasgow

The smaller Zine (A5) version is available to order through my website by ordering using the Contact Me form.  https://peterdegnanphotography.com

Are you on Social media, if so, what are the accounts?

I have the website as mentioned above and I am also on Twitter @peterdegnan2.


 

We hope you have enjoyed the above article and images. Since forming in 2012 all the work featured on this site, and the work undertaken to enable it, has been free of charge. Now, times are changing. To continue we feel we need to ask for your support, to help us manage our time and energies, and to continue sharing photography we care about. Please visit our Patreon page and consider being a supporter. Thank you – Jeremy, Sophie, Colin. 

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The Great Football Grounds of the North by Brian Sweeney

It’s Saturday afternoon during the coronavirus outbreak and I have the blues. Our football grounds, like the cities and towns across the country, are silent and empty. Like everyone else, I won’t be going to a game today.

There’s something particularly sad and sombre for a football fan to see our stadiums unused and redundant. No cheering crowds or chanting. The weekly routine of supporters making their way to see their favourites, criss-crossing the country in support of their heroes, has been paused. Local pitches, which would normally echo to the exhortations of amateurs are deserted. Turnstiles locked, kiosks closed, bars devoid of punters. It’s a desolate scene being played out across Scotland and beyond.

As a photographer and football fan who spends a lot of my time combining both activities, this current period or furlough (where did that word spring from?) has allowed me to look at work on the subject of our national game by a number of other photographers. It’s always interesting to see work that approaches a subject from a different angle to oneself. For me, there is no game without the fans, and the architecture of the grounds and stadiums remains soft-focused in the background. Others take a different view.

I was delighted to discover a series of photographs by Glasgow-based Brian Sweeney in the new edition of Nutmeg, the Scottish football periodical. In an oddly prescient feature, one conceived, no doubt, before any notions of a lockdown of society and a shutdown of sport, they have reproduced a selection of Sweeney’s images from his project entitled The Great Stadiums of the North. The title is somewhat ironic. It is a playful documentation of football’s far-flung outposts in Scotland, the Faroe islands and Iceland. It is a lyrical look at venues which we wouldn’t normally associate in our minds as being hotbeds of football, but serves as a reminder just how important the game is to local communities in sparsely-populated areas on the fringes of the North Atlantic. An avid football fan and proferssional photographer himself, Sweeney has been shooting the series for over 25 years and it has been shown at various locations across Europe. A planned show at Sogo Arts in Glasgow, however, has been postponed indefinitely due to the current situation.

The images resonate charm and individuality and take us on an odyssey from fog-filled Paisley to snow-covered Akranes. Some grounds are merely rectangles hewn out of the rock. Others are mini-Hampdens, with neat rows of terracing and ramshackle stands. They are all theatres of dreams. The linear collides with the wonky in grounds which look home made and fragile. On the edge, in more sense than one. What marks the photos out is the northern light: penetrating and freezing, even when the sun is shining. It has you reaching for the Bovril, toes curling with cold. As Sweeney states in Nutmeg: “There’s no frills and flourishes on these stadiums. They’re put together in the most practical way possible, matching the local environment and often using local materials. Not too much design has gone into them, yet they have such beauty.”

When this is all over, whenever that is, then we can populate the football grounds again and enjoy the Saturday afternoons we have become accustomed to down through many decades and generations. Maybe it will be a time too to discover these wonderful little grounds, tucked away, anonymous, but still a beautiful part of the beautiful game?

Isle of Eriskay. Photograph © Brian Sweeney, 2020 all rights reserved

 

Forres Mechanics. Photograph © Brian Sweeney, 2020 all rights reserved

 

Embo, Sutherland. Photograph © Brian Sweeney, 2020 all rights reserved

 

Akranes, Iceland. Photograph © Brian Sweeney, 2020 all rights reserved

 

Reykjanes, Iceland. Photograph © Brian Sweeney, 2020 all rights reserved

 

Wick Academy. Photograph © Brian Sweeney, 2020 all rights reserved

 

Keflavik, Iceland. Photograph © Brian Sweeney, 2020 all rights reserved

 

John O’Groats. Photograph © Brian Sweeney, 2020 all rights reserved


We hope you have enjoyed the above article and images. Since forming in 2012 all the work featured on this site, and the work undertaken to enable it, has been free of charge. Now, times are changing. To continue we feel we need to ask for your support, to help us manage our time and energies, and to continue sharing photography we care about. Please visit our Patreon page and consider being a supporter. Thank you – Jeremy, Sophie, Colin. 

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A Contested Land – behind the lens #5

‘Untitled, 2019’ from Treasured Island. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2019 all rights reserved.

 

In the lead up to the opening of our latest showing of A Contested Land, which takes place as part of FLOW Photofest in Inverness in September, Document Scotland’s photographers give an insight into the work they have made for the show. Here, Colin McPherson, tells us about one of his favourite images his project entitled Treasured Island.

“Serendipity is one of the great pleasures of photography. Some might confuse it with the famed and often-debated ‘decisive moment’ but in order to get into that space and place to click the shutter at the correct time, the photographer does rely on what in everyday life can be termed good luck.

And so it was with this image. I was nearing the end of making the work for my contribution to Document Scotland’s A Contested Land exhibition which was due to launch at the end of January this year at the Martin Parr Foundation. Being from an editorial background, I always believe in shooting until the very last available moment, and was fortunate enough to be given the time over Hogmanay to finish of the project with some key images at what is a very important time annually for the people of Easdale Island, the subject of my work.

The small inner-Hebridean island is famed for its flooded slate quarries, a legacy of a once thriving industry long-since moribund. One of the quarries is the venue each year for the World Stone Skimming Championships and in recent years, the quarries have become ever more popular with locals and visitors alike looking for cool places to swim. With the explosion in interest recently of cold water or wild water swimming, Easdale has become a destination for those prepared to dip their toes – and more – into its cold, clear water.

The photograph featured here was taken on New Year’s Day. Twenty-nineteen had dawned bright and blue, and as always with the first day of January, there seemed to a mood of optimism in the air. A time to clear out the bad memories and start afresh. Everything that day appeared quiet, calm and perfect, like the undisturbed surface of the water in the quarries. First-footing is still a tradition on Easdale island, where shortly after midnight people visit their neighbours, wish them well and head off into the night. Just before midday, I came across my own group of first-footers, intrepidly about to take their first steps into what the islanders call ‘the swimming quarry’.

At that moment, as the group moved in unison towards the water, it was time to forget the trials and tribulations that the world faces. Climate change, Brexit, austerity, whatever your political poison, was lost and forgotten in that magical, optimistic moment when a phalanx of young people went where no-one else had so far ventured in 2019.

Set against the open sea, the quarry’s water appears as if it is made of a different substance. The mountains in the background gives the image its scale and drama. I composed the frame to allow a sense that the group were walking towards, or into something. Their pale skin marks them out brightly against the blue background. I took about three or four shots, but this one was the only one in which their bodies are all balanced and natural, although a couple of them are obviously trying hard to stay upright as the cold water hits them. I love the way their clothes are all piled up on the water’s edge, metaphorically they are leaving their cares behind them.

It was a bit of luck that I’d been first-footing the back shore of the island and therefore  happened to be there to see this scene with my camera. Serendipity, indeed.

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