Over here at Document Scotland we were recently excited to find out that Craig Atkinson, under his Cafe Royal Books publishing name, was going to be publishing a book of photographs from the Gorbals area of Glasgow, by renowned advertising and portrait photographer John Claridge. Our curiosity was piqued, we hadn’t known that John Claridge had done such photography, his premenence as an advertising photographer, for which he has been widely awarded within the industry, goes before him. But who knew that he’d done black and white in Glasgow’s Gorbals? We had to find out more, and very nicely and graciously Cafe Royal Books have allowed us to preview their new ‘zine, and John Claridge took some time out from his schedule to answer a few questions for us.
Document Scotland– Sir, you’ve had an extensive career, and to the younger viewer editorial or documentary work is perhaps not what first springs to mind when we think of your own work, we think more of advertising, and portraiture, so how does the Gorbals work fit into your career? Did you shoot a lot of editorial reportage?
John Claridge– I’ve always shot documentary and editorial work. When I was on an advertising assignment I would always find time and take time out to shoot my personal work. When shooting an advertising campaign I guess you’re looking for and solving solutions based on a specific brief. With my personal work, I’m exploring my own psyche and opinion about the world.
DS– When was the Gorbals work shot, were you there on assignment, or for personal work? You’re from London’s East End, we wondered did you feel an affiliation to the Gorbals area and the people? You seem to have had access to homes, how receptive were the people to being photographed?
JC– The Gorbals pictures were shot in 1965 over a two-day period for a charity to bring awareness of the dire circumstances people were living in. The majority of these pictures have never been published before. Only one or two have ever been seen. Being from London’s East End I certainly felt an affinity. The people in the Gorbals seemed to have a similar resilience, generosity and sense of humour despite their terrible circumstances and living conditions. I would never want to change my background or where I came from. Times were hard, but in a strange way living was easy. Not one day went by without laughing at something. Sharing and spending time with people who have real soul.
DS– And the Scottish Landscapes work, how did that come about? Is there a particular part of Scotland which drew you in, or draws you back?
JC– I’ve been shooting Scottish landscapes for a number of years. I adore Scotland. I think the Highlands are one of the most beautiful places in the world. For me the Highlands have so much beauty, history, mystery and tragedy. It’s always amused me with all this magic, that some advertising campaigns depict it with happy families, loads a sun, and ice cream!
H. V. Morton puts it into perspective when he wrote: “The heathery moors slope down to a distant valley. The sun is setting. The sky above the Lammermuirs is red and troubled. The wind drops. Faint white serpents of mist twist above the greenwood, outlining the course of stream and river. It is a study in blue. In the foreground, like a promise of the Highlands, and as notable as a ship at sea”.
DS– You’ve had a huge career, seen the world, and been awarded many times, what draws you to printing your work in small, limited edition ‘zines nowadays? What is the attraction for you?
JC– I think CRBs books have an honesty and rawness, which sadly is lacking in many publications today. Also they seem to be acquiring cult status. And, of course, a real pleasure to work with.
DS– What are you working on at present and what can we look forward to next?
JC– I’ve just finished a series of b&w portraits of ex-boxers and am now working on some older work about Britain’s industrial past.
DS– Thank you John, and Cafe Royal Books, for allowing us to show your work and taking the time to answer a few questions. Best wishes to you.
Right, we’re off to buy John’s books…