In 2009, the Trussel Trust (the UK’s largest food bank charity) opened its first branch in Scotland. Ten years later The Scotsman reported that there were a staggering 52 food banks operating in Glasgow alone. It is clear that in Scotland, and across the UK, we are seeing an increase in food insecurity with serious consequences for the health and wellbeing of children and adults alike. This is not a new issue, but concerns have been brought into sharp focus as a result of the global pandemic, food supply issues in light of Brexit and threats posed by the economic downturn.
It has been projected that six food parcels will be given out every minute in the UK from October to December this year.
This work-in-progress project documents a food bank in the East End of Glasgow. It captures everyday people who volunteer their time and resources to provide sustenance to those in need.
“We live less than 100 yards from our local food bank in the East End of Glasgow. We first got to know the volunteers who run the food bank when we started helping deliver food parcels during the first UK lockdown when COVID-19 hit. Although it had been operating for many years prior to pandemic. Both the food bank and the (pay what you can) cafe are run out of the same church and share many of the same passionate volunteers that are the heart and soul of all operations.
Through this work we seek to highlight the invaluable service food banks provide to local communities. The work aims to illustrate the power and importance of grassroots community organisations that support and help society’s most vulnerable but also question why more and more people are reliant on the resources provided by food banks.
Throughout the project, we have spoken to volunteers about the uncertainty that this charity, and many like it, face. In the wake of government support for COVID-19, many existing funding programmes have been slashed or seriously cut back, which has left charities with an uncertain future. Not only is there anxiety around what lies ahead but the charity is also having to change their operations to abide by strict safety measures, which are changing on a weekly basis. What was once a busy social hub for those less fortunate to receive a hot meal, weekly basic shop and often some well needed company has now become a regimented process of allowing people in on a one-by-one basis.” – Colin and Saskia.
In light of these restrictions and setbacks, this project seeks to represent the hard-working individuals who keep this food bank running and how they strive to make sure that this organisation can not only provide food for the community, but can also provide a place for comfort, companionship and compassion.
Find your closest foodbank here. Please consider donating to your local foodbank if you don’t already do so. Thanks – Document Scotland.
Passing Place by Sandy Carson
Passing Place is an intimate portrait of both Sandy Carson’s mother and the ex-mining village he grew up in the West of Scotland after emigrating to America at a young age. This photographic memoir deals with separation, space, and the invisible family bonds that exist despite physical distance incurred by geographical displacement.
The name is inspired by one-lane rural roads with wide spots that are common in Scotland, allowing vehicles to pass each other and continue on their journey.
These photographs and memories made on annual visits home since 2001, are a testimony to Carson’s upbringing and a gentle reminder that absence creates longing and nostalgia across the miles. Carson was drawn to make a record of everyday domestic rituals and routines during the rare times he and his mother spent together, to distill time with her portending passing in 2016.
By uniting his photographs with the ephemera and family photos left behind by his mum, Carson is striving to fill the void by retracing their lives, embracing the formative years they spent together, and absorbing the ones they lost.
Within the book there is an essay by Stephen McLaren, of Document Scotland.
Hame Is Where The Heart Is, by Stephen McLaren.
A few years ago I wrote a book for the publisher, Thames and Hudson, called, Family Photography Now. It was an anthology showcasing recent photography projects from thirty-five photographers around the world who were using their families as a source of inspiration. The impulse for a photographer to use one’s own family as material has always been there, but in the last few years the number of photographers with at least one project delving into those complicated relationships with parents, children, and siblings, has exploded. “Stick close to what you know” is a totem that many educators pass onto students who are looking for a project to launch their career, and it seems that examining one’s own clan, has become the obvious choice for many emerging talents looking for inspiration.
Family Photography Now was reacting to a moment in the medium’s development when the domestic, the intimate, the close-to-home became once again, a keen source of creative camera work. In previous decades trailblazers like Richard Billingham, Larry Sultan, and Sally Mann, created seminal bodies of work in photo-book history, but Family Photography Now, picked-up on a new wave of artist who were using old family albums, casual iPhone snapshots and more formal portrait-based images of their family to good effect.
It’s encouraging that many photographers are re-taking ownership of their families life-stories in photography. Many have been taking a fresh look at their parents’ and grandparents’ family albums – often slightly battered and dusty from years of inattention – and finding pictures which, in their analogue, un-filtered nature, are suggestive of more innocent times and which they can adapt for their own ends. When telling a tale of the most complex and emotionally-laden institutions in all our lives, that approach of using family archives in conjunction with more considered formal portraits gives a richer and more nuanced take on the emotional maelstrom of family life.
In this book, Sandy Carson, has similarly used a mix-and-match approach to tell a story about his family, more specifically, his recently-passed mother, and it is one of the best exemplars of how photography can be used to investigate, record, and re-consider how our loved ones permeate and enrich our lives. One of Sandy’s inspirations involved a family heirloom which most of us will recognize from our own family past.
“ My mother had a collection of family photos, dictaphone tapes and artifacts she keeps in a big biscuit tin that date back to the 40’s onwards, all shot by different family members, passed on from my grandfather, who was an artist. Those snapshots and sound-bites had quite an influence on me growing up and I enjoyed revisiting the nostalgia each time I went home.”
Susan Sontag and Martin Parr have had much to say on how families represent themselves through the collected family archive. Sontag once astutely wrote, “Through photographs, each family constructs a portrait-chronicle of itself — a portable kit of images that bears witness to its connectedness.” Parr also recognized this tendency for families to create their own life-mytholgies through photographs when he said: “Most family photo albums are a form of propaganda, where the family looks perfect and everyone is smiling: we try to create fabrications about who we are.”
Sontag also wrote that “The photographer both loots and preserves, denounces and consecrates” and this suggests that the photographer runs the risk of being too embedded to make a dispassionate or objective account of their family story. This is something that Sandy seems to have taken on board.
“When I started making the photos I didn’t have any intention, other than to take back some memories of home, but after numerous visits over the years, the photos began to navigate towards a narrative, based on my family and their immediate surroundings. “
While Sandy’s book makes great use of the family archive, of a working-class family in central Scotland, he also spent much time and effort in the last years of his mum’s life to slow things down and create lasting portraits which are overloaded with loving intent.
“I found that the bigger the format, the more quality time I could spend with my family in set-up time – just slowing life down in general. I’ve shot digital on occasion but didn’t like the process or the end result. There just wasn’t any magic or nostalgic physicality to the digital files versus a piece of film. My family are old school and I feel like it’s only fair to shoot analogue with the aesthetic. “
Families by their very nature tend to be tight-knit units where secrets and certain intimacies are instinctively protected, hidden, and often denied. While some photographers may regard their family-based projects as a form of therapy or psychoanalysis, this camera-assisted examination does not necessarily lead to good outcomes. While each family is intrinsically unique, and therefore at least endlessly fascinating to those embedded in it, it takes an extra level of photographic intelligence to summon-up a body of work which elevates the unique narratives of each situation into something more rewarding by virtue of the universal themes it explores.
Sandy’s book accomplishes that goal by bringing a sense of unease and mystery into his story. Everything is not as it seems. Several of his featured relatives appear not to be “on the same page” either emotionally or perhaps genetically. The edited flow, over three distinct chapters in his life, is astute and largely chronological, but there’s plenty of room for us to speculate, as Sandy seems to suggest, whether the members of his family actually get on with each other, or whether a multitude of secrets and lies remain hidden.“All families are creepy in a way,” Diane Arbus wrote to a friend in 1968 and Sandy seems to acknowledge that fact in this complex and multi-faceted photographic memoir. What remains, though, beyond the speculation, is an enduring son’s devotion to his mother and the gifts she gave him in life.
Hardcover, 9 x 6.5 inches 108 pages Edition of 350
ISBN: 978-1-949608-23-6 Trade Edition: $40.00
Pre-sale runs through October 31.
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.
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!
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, JeremySutton-Hibbert.
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.
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.
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.
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 Tidefor 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Published with Bluecoat Press the book documents life on Vatersay in the Outer Hebrides over the 35 year period Paul visited the island.
“When I first went to the island of Vatersay in 1978 I was only twelve, but immediately I could feel that the landscape and people resonated with some inner reality of my own.
This is why I felt a sense of homecoming and why I’ve been returning to the island ever since.
Vatersay is the southernmost inhabited island of the Outer Hebrides, and the rugged landscape is the backdrop against which everything happens, from the smallest occurrences to the most momentous, lending a perspective that gives significance whilst at the same time making you aware of the ephemeral nature of the world and our place in it.
The remoteness and the scale of the island nurtures a sense of community, continuity and connection with the past, and I hope that through this book I can contribute to that narrative.”
We featured Paul’s project as a portfolio a wee while ago on the Document Scotland site and are delighted to see it’s now going to be a book. Paul kindly spoke to us and answered a few questions the day before the launch of his kickstarter launched…
DS: Why did you first start the project?
PG: It evolved very slowly into a project, growing out of my love of the island. As a young artist it was natural for me to turn to something close to my heart for inspiration.
DS: How easy was it to establish the trust and collaboration of the islanders?
PG: That simply grew out of my ongoing relationship with the people there. There are always people who are more comfortable in front of a lens and some less so. The fact that they know me makes a huge difference and most are now used to my photographic habits and are fairly relaxed about me taking photos, though I try to make it as little intrusive as possible.
DS: How often are you there?
PG: In my teenage years and into my twenties I was there once or twice a year in the holidays. When I moved to Amsterdam in 1994 this became less frequent but since 2010 I’ve been trying to get back every year, though I have missed a couple.
DS: What has been the most rewarding aspect of undertaking the project and spending time there?
PG: Spending time there has always been very rewarding in itself and I always feel recharged after my stay. As for the project itself, it has been great to see and hear how much the islanders themselves value the work. Many of them have my photos hanging in their houses and that is a huge affirmation for me that my work has worth.
DS: What made you decide to publish it as a book?
PG: As a project it could of course go on indefinitely and I’m certainly intending to continue visiting the island and taking photographs. But it just feels like the right time to give it a more public form, both as exhibition and as a book.
DS: How did you do the process of editing 30-years of work into one book?
PG: Yes, that was tricky! I had a couple of exhibitions last year so that really helped in finding a core to the book. But it was really just a question of going through all the material and finding the strongest images that said something about the island.I could have made various versions of the book but I wanted to focus on the islanders and their environment, to make a kind of portrait. However, it is in no way an academic documentation. It is more a personal reflection on the people and place.
The people in the images seem to love the photos and I have shown many of them a digital version of the book. In fact, I recorded their comments and some of these appear in the book as captions.
DS: Did you work with an editor?
PG: No, but for the shows last year there was a bit of discussion with Elliott Halls Gallery in Amsterdam and Malcolm Dickson at Street Level Photoworks, but our choices were fairly much in line.
DS: Were there design considerations to be made about the book, and how you wanted it to look? What influenced those decisions?
PG: Of course the design is very important. I wanted there to be a certain informal flow and rhythm and avoid a too academic approach. At the same time I wanted to allow each image to breath, and that has been the crux of the process, to get the right balance between these two qualities. I’ve had some great feedback on that through the photo-book club and some friends here in Amsterdam.
DS: Are there further plans for the project and work?
PG: A couple of exhibitions are planned for next spring. One in a new art’s centre in Oban as the opening show, and one in Amsterdam at the Elliott Halls Glallery.
If you’d like to learn more and support this project, do check out Paul’s kickstarter here…
Best of luck with the kickstarter Paul, we’re sure it’ll be a huge success!
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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!
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.
The event is free, but please register to join the online Zoom via Eventbrite. I hope you can join us!
About this Event
The Creative Informatics team are delighted to be partnering with Visual Arts Scotlandfor Friday Forum, a new series of regular online events, featuring speakers from across the creative industries.
Friday Forum is an online sharing event for creatives, where they can showcase snippets of their work, give virtual tours around their current studio spaces, talk about a particular topic or theme, or provide insights into their creative practice or career.
Each Friday Forum will feature four contributors who will give short, 10 minute presentations or talks followed by a Q&A session. If you are interested in presenting at a future Friday Forum, find out how you can get involved at https://bit.ly/FF-Apl1.
Our speakers for Friday Forum #4 include:
Megan Rudden is a Leith-born, Glasgow-based, Sometimes-visual artist working across performance, writing, drawing, and object making. Her interdisciplinary practice considers issues of class, gender, labour, skill and reproduction. Megan has performed and exhibited at various locations across the UK including, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester and more recently, at the back of a car park in Dundee. Find out more at:www.meganrudden.co.uk/
Lynne Hocking-Mennie is a hand-weaver and scientist creating textile objects inspired by data at the interface of art/craft and science. Her work takes inspiration from concepts in genetics (DNA sequences, ancestry & mutation rates) and bioacoustics. Lynne creates items for sale and exhibition, and has undertaken national and international residencies on sound weaving. She is also the practitioner lead for academic research projects in Scotland that explore distributed design processes, collaborative creation of objects and hybrid digital-analogue practices in the applied arts sphere. Find out more at:www.lynnesloom.co.uk/
Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert is a member of Document Scotland, a collective of four Scottish documentary photographers , brought together by a common vision to witness and photograph important and diverse stories within Scotland. For the past seven years they have worked on their individual photographic projects, shared their work and the photography of others in self-printed publications, and exhibited nationally and internationally. Find out more at: www.documentscotland.com/
About Visual Arts Scotland
Visual Arts Scotland is a volunteer-run, charitable organisation for the exhibition and promotion of the arts in Scotland, committed to showing the diversity and quality of work across artforms. VAS is a leading platform for national and international contemporary fine and applied artists with a vibrant, active and participatory membership of practising artists, from emerging to established practitioners. Find out more at https://www.visualartsscotland.org
About Creative Informatics
Creative Informatics is a partnership between the University of Edinburgh , Edinburgh Napier University, CodeBase and Creative Edinburgh. Funded by the Creative Industries Clusters Programme managed by the Arts & Humanities Research Council as part of the Industrial Strategy, with additional support from the Scottish Funding Council. The programme is part of the City Region Deal Data Driven Innovation initiative. Find out more at https://creativeinformatics.org/
What is the town of St Andrews like during the pandemic? What are the townspeople doing? How are the workers and the students, the elderly and the young? And the seagulls, the ducks, the crabs, the oak trees, the bell towers and the relentless waves of the North Sea. What is happening in St Andrews and what is not?
Documenting St Andrews: Spring and Summer 2020 is a participatory project that produces and reproduces memory about St Andrews through photographs. The call for submissions is open to anyone using photography to document St Andrews between early March and late August 2020. Documenting is understood in its broadest sense here, derived from photography’s capacity to capture and preserve fleeting moments, and encompassing all kinds of ordinary shots. At the end of this summer, the photographs submitted to the project will cumulatively make up a unique image archive.
The project welcomes snapshots of parties from the ‘photo gallery’ of your phone taken at the beginning of March; it also anticipates photographs of the town on breezy July afternoons. We accept, among other formats, JPEGs, as well as photographs of the film that some of you will hasten to develop once darkrooms reopen.
Lossy image formats and social media are nothing new. But the combination of the two seems to be reproducing ideas that fetishise high resolution and beautiful shots, as well as enabling image environments permeated by advanced commodification through copyright, advertising, and collecting viewer data. Instead of rejecting beautiful and high-resolution images, the project wants to set up a more inclusive platform where photography functions as a participatory event within the community.
The project takes place in two spaces—on Instagram @documentingstandrews and in St Andrews. The virtual space and the physical space interact, intersect, converge, and part ways. It is our hope that photographs, which slip in and out of the two spaces in the form of digital files, can stitch together what seem distantly separated in the time of a global pandemic through creating collective memories that resonate across temporal and spatial boundaries.
This project is initiated by Weitian Liu, a research student at the University of St Andrews pursing an Mphil in History of Photography.