Polo Mint City by Robbie Murrie

Margaret Mitchell interviews Robbie Murrie

Margaret recently caught up with Robbie Murrie to chat about his ongoing work Polo Mint City as well as his reflections on his route into photography and the creative process during long term projects.

©Robbie Murrie / Polo Mint City

MM: It’s always interesting to find out what draws photographers into projects and the topics they pursue. Polo Mint City is an intriguing title and refers to the layout of East Kilbride– can you explain a little behind this and the background to the project? 

RM: Polo Mint City was a term Glaswegians used for East Kilbride due to its high number of roundabouts and it’s a name that popped up a few times when I was reading up on Scottish ‘New Towns’ and I thought it was a great fit for my project. If you know what it is, then you instantly think of East Kilbride which places you in one of the five locations I am making work in. If you don’t, that’s okay – I’m always keen to explain. 

The project itself was born out of a couple of college briefs. Briefs that we were given full freedom to create work on any subject we wanted. I had an idea that I wanted to make work in Scottish towns but needed to give it some parameters and after some great advice from one of my lecturers, I landed on the five Scottish new towns. First brief, I made a zine with images from the closest towns to me – Cumbernauld and East Kilbride. I then revisited the project for our end of year graded unit, returning to the two towns and adding a trip to Irvine. I remember once hearing a photographer say “you should never leave education with a completed body of work” and that really stuck with me so towards the end of my time at college, I realised this would be my first body of work, the project that would really begin beyond college briefs.

From its inception to now, my idea of what I want from the project has changed. It was initially documenting people and place to put it simply, but as I meet people within the communities I’m photographing, it’s much more about connection and representation. Documenting the humanity within these towns, as well as exploring the landscape.

MM: Thanks Robbie, that’s really interesting to hear the background to the project during your studies. You came into photography later in life. What was your route into it, and did you find it had different challenges or benefits because of that?

RM: I didn’t have much direction in life if I’m honest. I wasn’t academic, and I was railroaded by a life altering diagnosis at 20 when I found out I have Crohn’s Disease. I worked low level retail jobs because I wasn’t qualified for much else and just kind of existed with no real plan. 

In 2020, after some health problems followed by the pandemic I found myself searching for a hobby and after a conversation with a photographer friend of mine, he suggested I pick up a camera. Since I couldn’t afford a dslr and laptop, I bought a cheap 35mm point and shoot in January 2021 and from loading my first roll of film to receiving my first ever scans, I was all in. The love for it was clear to see and my wife suggested after a few months I study photography – take a chance on something I actually care about. I applied and was accepted on to the HND photography course at City of Glasgow College where I studied for 2 years, finishing in June 2023. 

One of the biggest benefits about coming to photography later in life for me, was my determination to take full advantage of every opportunity that came my way. I felt like I had spent enough time without a plan so I was really going to become a sponge and take it all in. I feel that’s what I’ve done to this point as a photographer. I was always taking time to ask questions in class or after, even having conversations with lecturers who didn’t teach me. I also reached out to photographers whose work I admired on Instagram, forming connections that have been invaluable and I’m confident that these are not things I would’ve done in my late teens or early 20’s.

©Robbie Murrie / Polo Mint City

MM: You mentioned that the project idea is evolving and that’s something I have always felt important in my own practice too, that work responds to what we find. Is there any one location or person so far you photographed that was memorable for making you think differently?

RM: I definitely feel that people I’ve photographed have been more memorable than the places, despite how much I enjoy going to the new towns and wandering around. There’s an image I made early on of a mother and her baby. When I got the scans back, I really felt like there was something there. I felt like I turned a corner in my practice and it was no longer simply fulfilling a single brief. This felt like it could be part of something bigger. I really felt her strength in the image and it changed my thinking of what a portrait can be – I’ve taken that forward with me. 

MM: I like that idea of how you are building the work up, starting in one of the new towns, making a zine, then expanding onto the next. This feels like you are working in chapters in a sense. What are you finding are the main issues that New Towns have in the present day compared to how they were envisioned originally? Are you seeing any correlations from the different places you have visited that bind them together? 

RM: I’ve spent most of the project to date in East Kilbride and Cumbernauld, and they feel very similar. Both towns were very modern and had amazing facilities for the growing communities but it feels like time has caught up with them. There’s still a substantial amount of architecture from the time of new town inception that now seems outdated. The communities share hopes that redevelopment plans which have been proposed in recent years will finally come to fruition. As the project evolves, I’m looking forward to spending time in Glenrothes and Livingston to see how they compare and if they too face the same issues.

©Robbie Murrie / Polo Mint City

MM: The photograph of the man sitting in front of the lockers comes across as a gentle image of a private moment. The portrait of the teenager on his bike is also very gentle but more direct with a somewhat questioning look on his face. Can you give some background to these images and the process of photographing them?

RM: I think these two images show the ways in which I like to make portraits. The first image of the man in front of the lockers was taken at Cumbernauld bowling club. I enjoy going to a location where community comes together; where I can move around the space, making images as they occur naturally in front of me. The one of the boy on his bike, like many of my portraits is pre-arranged. I like to use new town community groups online to introduce myself, discuss my project and find people to photograph or who even want to share their experiences of living in the towns. 

You used the word gentle about both of those images and I feel that’s achieved through the time I spend with people before I make an image. I enjoy making time for people to ask questions about my intentions for the project and get to know me. I also carry 4×5 prints of my work with me so anyone can look through and physically see what I’m making and I feel that time before I even set up my camera goes a long way in creating the gentle quality in my portraits. That and the fact I care deeply about this project and the responsibility of representing communities to the best of my abilities.

©Robbie Murrie / Polo Mint City

MM: Thank you Robbie for chatting and sharing your work. To finish up, I noticed that you’ve been on a photographer’s retreat recently – do you find it important to find ways such as this to help your practice and creativity? 

RM: That’s right, I attended The Creative Body Process, a workshop run by Sian Davey and Abbie Trayler-Smith. The workshop has been a massive turning point in my creative practice – it’s given me confidence and self belief that I was lacking. I had spent two years in college where I was responding to briefs and working in a structured environment so when that was over I found myself second guessing my decisions and thinking how to move forward as a creative. I won’t go into the details of the workshop itself but it’s had a profound effect on me and the experience is one I will carry with me throughout my life and practice. I’ve noticed that since the workshop, I have been working on this project with clarity and purpose and one of the biggest benefits is that I have a new friend group I can share ideas and experiences with. 


You can see more of Robbie’s work at his website and Instagram 

©Robbie Murrie / Polo Mint City

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Categories: Interviews

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