“O, wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as others see us!”
Those may be two of Robert Burns’ most oft-quoted lines, relecting that while Scotland has never been shy at looking in on itself, we have lacked the ability or awareness to view our nation from the perspective of outsiders. Document Scotland has tried to address this over the last decade, by featuring the work of photographers from outwith who have trained their eyes on us. That process continues.
Recently, we came across the work of award-winning German photographer Toby Binder, a documentarist in the truest sense of the word. His exploring, roving eye has taken his across the world, working oftern in post-war countries where embattled communities struggle to cope with the consequences of conflict. The power of his imagery is raw and shows lives lived in painful and difficulet circumstances. Yet there is a humanity and empathy in what he does and how he portrays people in his pictures.
Of course, it wouldn’t be fair to categorise Scotland as a place recovering from a war. That comparison would minimise the suffering of people in other places. And yet, Binder trains a relentless and consistent eye on his subjects wherever he finds them. The selection of photographs featured here date from three trips to Scotland in 2004-05, made as the final part of his studies in photography in his native Stuttgart. Shot mainly in Edinburgh and Glasgow, they portray vividly a country undergoing physical change: the housing schemes featured have since undergone makeovers and look less like battlegrounds; children and young people are less likely to be kicking a ball in open spaces than riding bikes these days and the bleakness and visible poverty which existed on the streets two decades ago has been driven inside, largely out-of-sight.
It was his love of football which sparked the work in Scotland. Through friends he’s made in a country he has visited since his teenage years, he connected with our version of the beautiful game and how we relate to it. He spent time around the grounds and in the spaces where kids kick about and on successive visits got to know many of the people depicted in his images. This Scottish subset of his wider series Youth of the UK examines Scotland’s relationship with the sport set against the working class places from where football grew. There are other vignettes of life too, which serve to strengthen the body of work: drug deals, disputes and dereliction, by-words even now for many of our stressed communities. So much changes, yet stays the same. Binder is still a regular visitor to Scotland, yet it is only this year for the first time that his photography is being shown here (albeit minimally). We are sure it won’t be the last.
After Scotland, Binder broadened his travels across the UK and beyond, with Northern Ireland becoming one of the main focuses. His ongoing work there led to the publication of his first book, Wee Muckers – Youth of Belfast being published in 2019. The themes explored in his early Scottish work still run through everything he does, creating powerful visual narratives. Hopefully he’ll come back to Scotland again and pick up the threads of this engaging and fascinating work.
Over on our Patreon supporters platform we have an interview with Toby. You can become one of our patrons for as little as £1 per month. Every penny goes towards supporting our work promoting and supporting documentary photography in Scotland.