The photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher recorded many industrial structures across the landscape of Northern Europe. They would organise these images into grids of typologies. One of the structure types they chose to record was water towers. While the Bechers did visit Scotland I do not believe they photographed the many water towers in Glasgow, at least I do not know of any published photographs.
These structures have an other-worldly feel to them. Alien spaceships is the obvious comparison. They have an attractiveness that many will not see, common with many of the brutalist structures built at the same time. They consist of bold shapes and strong lines which make them a pleasure to photograph.
I wanted to make my own small homage to the work of the Bechers by creating my own grid of water towers from Glasgow.
Finding all the water towers in Glasgow was a harder task than I expected. A number of them are very visible. By design they are placed at the highest points, above the area they are meant to serve. But still not all of them are obvious and easy to find. After scrapping old Internet forums I constructed a list of all the possible sites where there was a tower. These would commonly lead to dead ends, either mis-information or because the water tower had been demolished. Then when a tower was found, finding a clear view of the large structure, frequently surrounded by housing was the next challenge. Certain sites required multiple visits to get the desired image.
In the end this work is not an authoritative list of water towers in Glasgow, neither was it meant to be. I missed the one in plain sight as you walk through town, connected to the Lighthouse building. – Adam Fowler.
Glasgow has long history of photographers chronicling life on its streets and in the schemes.
Some have been restless natives, others interlopers. Some passed through, others stayed and got to know Scotland’s biggest city and most populous conurbation. Glasgow gives generously to visitors, ready with smiles and stories, yet half-hidden are the truths which underpin a narrative of poverty, inequality and myriad social ills. It has all been photographed before.
It is these themes which offer the exploring eye an opportunity to grasp the Glaswegian reality. It’s no mean city and there’s no half measures, after all. Our memory bank of images is often saturated by Glasgow’s past. From Thomas Annan during the Victorian era, through Joseph McKenzie and Oscar Marzaroli’s (currently on show at Street Level Photoworks) peripatetic perambulations around the city slums, we have become familiar with a style of photography which leans heavily on tropes as metaphor. That’s not to say these photographers’ documentation of the way we lived is inaccurate or cliched. Far from it. It is a vivid truth, naked and unvarnished.
More recently, the images made by French Magnumista Raymond Depardon have come into plain sight. Shot in 1980, we see a city in its most forlorn and decayed state, updated in shocking, vibrant tints. Beauty in brutality. It is almost as if the past has been coloured in for us. A reminder what was and still is. Still more now find Glasgow a canvas on which to re-imagine the present. A roll call which includes Document Scotland’s own and others who gravitate to and navigate through the city.
To these canons of work we can now add Jörg Meier, a German who stumbled across Glasgow almost by accident in 2019 and has since embedded himself in the Dear Green Place and befriended her people. His work immediately sets you at ease. Here is a photographer who is comfortable in his surroundings. It is not difficult to imagine him striking up conversations in bars and cafes, his inquisitive nature satisfied by Glasgow’s warm embrace. His work, set out somewhat haphazardly in a project called ‘Aye’, provokes us into emotions, like all photography of value should do. It is, it seems to me, as if he has been here forever. Was that him refusing to pay Maggie’s Poll Tax? Or out on a pro-Independence demo? Or tumbling out of a gig at the Barrowlands? Or even gliding through the crowd to an Old Firm match. He looks at home here, at least that what his photography tells us.
Jörg was initially attracted to Glasgow on an exploratory trip to Scotland which involved a bike ride to Falkirk, alma mater of his favourite band, Arab Strap. But it was Glasgow he fell for. It reminds him, he tells me, of his native Dortmund, of how and where he grew up four decades ago, of the lamented decline of heavy industry, the decay and depression – and cold. With this history at the forefront of his mind, he started looking around Glasgow and seeing parallels in the shapes and forms of his childhood. Soon, he was making connections through a project near Ibrox which helps and supports people who need a second chance in life. It is at this point that his photography breaks on through to the other side.
Away from the rain-lashed streets, the eternally grey skies and banks of housing etched out in geometric shapes and sizes funnelling back from the meandering, sleepy river Clyde, he befriends locals in a way which is both genuine and heartfelt. It feels like a solid relationship is established. His portraiture leans on an idiosyncrasy which hides and reveals much simultaneously. We feel empathy and sympathy, but we still do not know the whole story. It feels good to be inside, although there is a hint of damp menace in the surroundings. Like being in a room heated only with a two-bar electric fire on a cold day outside. Nevertheless, it is warm an intimate.
He trades on ambiguity, in the way so much contemporary German photography does. It is, however, underpinned by an intellect, the difference being it is not cold nor calculated, rather enquiring, inquisitive in nature. It lets Glasgow flourish.
I ask Jörg if his project is finished. The answer is somewhat noncommittal. Like all of us, he is held in check by Covid’s chains, unable for now to rekindle his love for Glasgow, to take up with its people and restart the relationship. There is so much to do when released from the pandemic purgatory. In the meantime, enjoy what he has shown us this far on his journey. I look forward to seeing him working in Glasgow again soon. We’ll say aye to that.
To hear Colin McPherson’s interview with Jörg Meier, please become one of our valued supporters on our Patreon platform.
Father is a new photographic work by Glasgow-based photographer Eoin Carey.
“These images are part of the first phase of a new body of work photographing fathers in care of their children in Glasgow.
“I wanted to make a project about fathers that focuses on the tender and tired routines of everyday parenting. Society’s attitude towards childcare has changed enormously in a generation, we can see this in streets, play parks and homes as dads share the care of children much more. I still felt that stereotypes of fathers remain as either heroes, incompetent or simply absent. I wanted to make a body of work that documents fathers’ time with their children that gets away from stereotypes and instead shows a routine familiar to many, that is exhausting, mundane and stressful but also very beautiful, intimate and rich.
“I believe that becoming a parent is an enormous life transition. I am really interested in this transition for fathers and secondary carers who do not go through a biological process and what it means for them. Motherhood is a concept that I feel is more nuanced and much more developed artistically so I wanted to put fathers in the frame in a more relatable and realistic way.
“One stereotype that does prevail around fathers, and men in general, is silence. In my experience and others I have met, early parenthood can be a very lonely experience for dads. I wanted to use the project to approach this and create pictures that could express the complexity and emotion of parenting for men. Caring for a child is literally that, and the care that must be given as a parent can bring us in touch with a gentle, softer, loving parts of ourselves that men don’t necessarily get opportunities to experience regularly. This part of us is incredibly important and I want to be able to show this back to fathers and society at large to show the importance and validity of what they do.
“Despite the diversity in family situations, fatherhood is a very shared experience and I wanted to create a body of work that would start a conversation about the deeper levels of this experience. These images are from the first phase pre-lockdown and I am always looking for fathers who want to participate and be photographed.
Similarly I am always looking for opportunities to exhibit this work or share it to enable conversations. Please get in touch.”
Frances Scott is a photographer whose work Document Scotland have admired having enjoyed her book Undertow, published by Another Place Press, detailing her walks over the Orkney islands. A recently published ‘zine also by by the same publisher features a previous body of work, the A9 project, documenting Frances’ journeys between the Scottish Borders and the Orkney islands. Sophie met with Frances over zoom recently and took the opportunity to talk to her in more depth about these projects.
Some of our conversation is here, in Frances’ answers below, but to hear more and listen to Frances talk in detail about the work, please head over to our Patreon site where you can watch the video and learn more.
DS: When did you become a photographer – what was your early career and education and how did you get started?
FS: I studied Communication Design at Glasgow School of Art from 2010-14. The first two years of the course were broad (a mixture of illustration, graphic design and photography). In third year, after some difficulty choosing, I specialised in photography, and made the worthwhile discovery that by narrowing your area of study, you can deepen your focus, and get considerably more from it.
After graduating in 2014 I moved back to Orkney and struggled to get a job in the field I’d studied. I ended up working as cabin crew for Loganair, working solo on the lifeline flights which service Scotland’s islands. This meant I got to leave Orkney almost every day, and so I never really suffered from the ‘cabin fever’ you can get living on an island. Meanwhile, in 2016 I grouped together with a number of recent art graduates based in Orkney to form the Móti Collective, and after a bit of a hiatus began making artwork again. Our aim was to unite early career artists and designers who were either based in or returning to the islands, and celebrate Orkney’s importance as a creative hub in the north.
In early 2017 I got a job working as a photography technician at the GSA, and while I’m keen to assert the importance of not having an entirely city-centric creative practice there have been undeniable benefits to my career from being based in the Central Belt. At the same time, I miss Orkney very much, and maintain my links with my home – it has continued as the focus of much of my work, and I’m still a member of the Móti Collective, albeit a long-distance one.
DS: You started making Undertow in 2016, going for walks – it’s something many can relate to at the moment, how did those walks turn into a project?
FS: I began walking the coastline of the Orkney mainland in the spring of 2016, driven by the desire to know Orkney better, and primarily as a walking project rather than a photographic one. I wanted to really understand my home – to see how all the familiar places linked up, and to make my own claim on the island by walking it.
After four years of art school, experiencing life behind a lens, I wanted to be free from the need to document everything. It was important to be free to walk without interruption, to be fully present. The process of walking opened Orkney up to me – it made me see more, look harder, and remember better. Orkney grew, and keeps on growing.
When I started I didn’t have the funds nor the facilities to make analogue photographs, so I left my ‘real’ camera at home. I did however use an iPhone to gather ‘photosketches’ – quick, non-intrusive image gathering. I also recorded the walks using GPS and handwritten notes on maps. Over time, two things catalysed this project into artwork: taking part in a series of exhibitions as part of the Móti Collective from late 2016-18, and a research residency supported by Stills: Centre for Photography in 2018.
Having completed the coastline of the Orkney mainland in summer 2018, the Stills residency led me on to the coastlines of the North Isles: North Ronaldsay, Papay and Rousay. On these new walks around islands where I’ve never lived, I brought my Mamiya 645, loaded with black and white film. Initially, finding a balance between photographing and walking was a struggle. I felt the pressure of an audience for whom I had to create images, the weight of the camera on my hip; I was no longeralone on these walks. But working in this way has been vital in sharing and communicating my experience, and the images are also of value to me, so I am adapting.
Some of these film photographs were exhibited in 2019 at Stills in the group show AMBIT: Photographies from Scotland, and this year work from the series was published as a photobook entitled ‘Undertow’ by the Another Place Press, an independent publisher based in the Scottish Highlands. I’ve become accustomed to the rhythm of these walks as part of my life and my creative work, and I feel the loss of them just now during the pandemic when I can’t travel home.
DS: Writing is clearly a very important part of your practise, does that come first? And the images later – how does this process work for you and why is it important to include both in your projects?
FS: Even as images have taken more of a ‘leading role’ within my coastline project, the writing always happens first. After each walk I record my experiences on an OS Map, long before I process my film and see the photographic results of the walk.
Writing helps preserve the memory of each walk for me, and also to share the experience with others. It patches the gaps that photographs can’t, and thereby relieves some pressure on me – I might witness something too fleeting or dark to capture with a camera, but because I can record it in writing instead, it’s okay that I’ve only seen it with my eyes. Afterwards, writing allows visual or other sensory experiences to bloom naturally in the mind of the reader, and there is a roominess or fluidity in it that is perhaps not shared by the fixed and unbending nature of photographs.
I think the way I approach writing helps. It’s just ‘notes’ – notes on a map, or in a sketchbook, or on a scrap of paper. If these notes have anything of value in them, I can use or adapt them later. If I thought of it as proper ‘writing’ which might be published or exhibited from the beginning, I’d probably find myself intimidated and unable to get things down on paper.
DS: What was it like making this project into a book? It’s a beautiful object, how did the design and publishing process come together?
FS: It was daunting turning what had become a huge focus of my life into a book: how could I communicate my whole experience in book form? To alleviate some of the pressure of this, I choose to see the work I make about the project as creative ‘branches’ which grow from the experience, while the walks at their core remain mine, and separate from any artwork made about them.
I chose to only use the black and white film photographs in the book, as the iPhone photos wouldn’t sit well alongside them – they speak a different language. But without this sense of colour, something about the experience was left out – and so the book is accompanied by an insert which contains written notes from the Mainland and Rousay, small note-poems which try to convey the feeling of each walk through words. Also included in the book were maproutes
and handwritten maps of two of the North Isles.
Normally when laying out a photobook the images themselves lead the way, but I also had chronology to contend with: I wanted the reader to encounter each place in the same order I had. This created some complications in repetition and flow but over time these issues were smoothed out, until both Iain Sarjeant and I were happy with the layout. I chose a muted pink for the colour of the insert – this ‘glow’ is something I had associated with the walks in the form of sea-pinks, or the setting sun glancing off waves, or in the fiery clouds above, and I wanted some of this warmth to counter the greyscale images. The cover is simple, just a line that I walked (in this case part of the Deerness peninsula). It brings the project back to its roots – the brink between land and sea.
DS: When did the A9 project come about? It’s a fascinating document of a journey between two very important places in your life – why choose the road – is journey important to you?
FS: During my two years as a photo specialist at GSA, my tutor Andy Stark said ‘Your work is about journeys’. I’m interested in the way we store feelings or memories in the land, and how travelling through a landscape can help you process your thoughts in time with the landscape. I came across a piece of writing by Rosemary Sullivan a number of years ago that said ‘The landscape of childhood provides the foundation layer of our psyche’. I like to look at the way these formative landscapes become part of our fundamental understanding of the world. My childhood was spent split between the north and south – my original home of Orkney, where my dad lived; Caithness, where my mum’s parents lived; and my temporary home of Hawick in the Scottish Borders with my mum. My internal landscape has always contained an awareness of and a yearning for ‘somewhere else’.
I made the A9 series in 2014 at the tail end of my final year of art school. The project comes from my childhood living alone with my mum, and the many times she drove us northwards to see my family. It’s about the safety of the backseat, an only child with a car window for company. It’s also about leaving home, and the journey south to the city. The road links two halves of myself – a north/south, mum/dad, island/city, childhood/adulthood binary.
DS: Does this work include writing in such an important way too – or is it more image focused.
FS: Small paragraphs of writing are interspersed throughout the photozine. I use these to tell the story of the three days spent driving and photographing the road in 2014. I think I would have found it too difficult to pinpoint in writing exactly what the A9 holds for me, so it was better to focus on this one particular journey, which was the very first time I had driven the whole road alone. The writing hovers over the surface of a deeper sense of nostalgia associated with the A9. Because I was a relatively young woman, putting myself outside of the normal rules of travelling, I had a number of strange encounters over the course of the journey – including being stopped by the police and confronted by a gamekeeper, both while walking alone with my camera. Without including it in writing, this perspective would be lost. These written interludes invite the viewer to share this solitary journey with me.
DS: You’re working with Another Place Press again, tell us more about that relationship.
FS: Iain Sarjeant has been a supportive figure in the industry for a number of years now – I was encouraged back in 2015 when he featured some of my degree work on his online platform ‘Another Place Magazine’. At the time, I remember discovering his ‘Out of the Ordinary’ series and being fascinated by his images of Orkney, Caithness, Aberdeen – I was delighted to see the care and attention he gave to these places which had often felt snubbed or overlooked during my time as a student in Glasgow. Since then, Iain has kept an eye on my work on social media, and in late 2018 he approached me to ask if I might like to turn my coastline project into a book with Another Place Press. We’ve met in person a few times, but most of our planning/design correspondence takes place over email, a very democratic and open exchange of PDFs and ideas. Iain grew up in the Highlands, and understands the motivation behind my projects – I don’t have to explain why the places in my work are important to me, as they are often significant to him too.
DS: What’s next for you?
FS: I’ll be continuing my project to walk the coastlines of Orkney, since there’s a lot of coastline left. I’m going to keep making work about it, so perhaps there will be a sequel to Undertow in the coming years. The Covid-19 restrictions have unfortunately disrupted that project (I live in Glasgow and can’t travel to Orkney at the moment), so I’m having to be patient for now. In the meantime, I’ll be showing some work in an exhibition this month with the Móti Collective in Orkney, and I’m currently setting up a studio space in my flat.
DS: Thanks so much Frances, it was great to chat with you and hear more about these projects.
We’re admirers of Margaret Mitchell’s work here at Document Scotland, having worked alongside her and featured past projects of hers on the site from Family, In This Place and The Guisers.
Margaret’s most recent body of work The Youth House, explores what happens when a community decides to empower its young people. Not choosing to lay down rules with detached judgement but offering care and support to help them grow and develop.
These portraits are of children and teens who come from one of the most socially disadvantaged areas in Glasgow. A local charity ‘The Children’s Wood’ reacted after experiencing antisocial behaviour on their outdoor community space. But they decided not to react with anger and judgement but to engage through kindness, offering the young people activities and skills on the land, in the outdoors. They then opened the project up to the wider youth community. These portraits were taken at the start of a new chapter: an indoor base being established, creating a safe space with a support network to access opportunity, to encourage potential.
In a society where it seems that some children have all the opportunities whilst others have none, let these young people grow, let them flourish.
Sophie spoke with Margaret earlier this month.
DS:I first saw ‘The Youth House’ on Instagram. Bright colourful rooms with young people front and centre. Your work has always explored family, young people and individuals with such care and dignity and this project is no different.
How did you come to start this project, what drew your attention to the place?
MM: I came to this project because it is something that is happening close to where I live in Glasgow and I felt connected to what the organisation is doing. The Children’s Wood is local to me and I followed and supported them over the years as they campaigned to preserve open land for community space, groups and outdoor education. Once they had done this, they didn’t stop at that success but also initiated a youth-based programme called the G20 Youth Festival. This relates to the G20 postcode where The Children’s Wood is situated, a large locality that has much disparity in terms of health, employment, education, crime and housing.
Following some antisocial behaviour on the community land, the organisation decided to determine why this was. Instead of judging the teens by reporting them to the police, to remove them from the community space, they actively engaged with the young people, asking them what it was they wanted, what they needed. As a local resident, I admired the goals and dedication behind this grass roots venture. I came in to document the young people at a time in 2019 when they had just established an indoor base in addition to meeting outdoors. These portraits were taken at the start of this new chapter of ‘The Youth House’ being established, creating a safe space with a support network to access opportunity, encourage potential and empower young lives.
DS: Why are the young people at this youth club so interesting to you, and how did you connect with them, there’s trust between you and them – how did you build this?
MM: My work has looked at issues of inequality in the past and this work along with other projects I am working on continues that concern. There is great inequality over very short physical distances in Glasgow: the G20 postcode has areas of affluence close to areas that score in the top 5% as the most disadvantaged on the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation. The young people in The Youth House live in such an area where their life choices and chances shrink remarkably through these multiple disadvantages. Obviously, the work I did with my extended family informs and pulls me into working in certain areas. That background drew me into this, not only to create photographic work but to volunteer in the longer term and offer photography-based projects to interested young people. It’s about building and maintaining relationships over time with the young people, offering more than just quick visits but be someone who is reliable in their eyes.
DS: There is a deep sense of connection here. We see a relationship between you and the sitter – what’s the process of engagement for the portraits?
MM: Most of this series was done at the start of building my connection with them at the end of 2019. I also worked with some of them during the day, accompanied by their youth worker, helping them to make their own photographs. This resulted in me knowing some better than others. Nine months on, some of these teens know me well, chat as I pass on the street about what they are doing, shout hello as I walk through the estate. This might sound a small thing, but it is not – gaining trust is super important and I need to handle that with respect and with care.
But like constructing any portrait and working with people, it is about the connection you make, even quickly, with the person you are photographing. I am doing environmental portraits here, within spaces that are important to them, their place. And it is an evolving space, a base that is getting painted and changed and used differently all the time. It develops gradually as more funds are raised and importantly, the decisions the young people make will influence that space and how it is used.
Although I mostly still work on film for personal projects, this work was shot on digital as it was a Leica Loanpool award. This meant I showed the young people the photos right after doing them and we discussed them there and then. I also returned with prints for them so they all had a copy and we also started to work on thoughts to go alongside their photos and discussed if we would make the text anonymous or not.
Lockdown put a pause to meeting the larger groups but that will hopefully change as time goes on. I am already seeing a few of them weekly again in the outdoors, sometimes just catching up and seeing how they all are, sometimes we do photos. Again, prints are taken back to them and the next stage is to sit down together and look at new photos and deciding what the images are saying. Although I am the photographer, the one who presses the shutter, it is a collaborative method of achieving it. This makes it a longer process but one that is more reflective of their lives, more relevant to their experiences.
DS: What are the stories of these young people’s lives – how have they come to attend a place like this – and why is it beneficial to them.
MM: Some of the young people came to the base through engaging with youth workers, either through outreach or following the initial problems in The Children’s Wood. Others are from the general community and came through their friends, so now there is a mix of children, teens and young adults from ages 10 to 25. Some individuals have greater support requirements, so the team concentrate on addressing specific needs within multiple histories of disadvantage. Sometimes this is done in consultation with schools and other agencies but it involves the young people in that decision process at every stage.
The young people’s backgrounds are varied but all live in the G20 postcode, most within areas of high disadvantage. The youth workers offer diversionary activities, ones that will let them flourish in their interests or introduce new interests to them. This has included aspects such the older teens running outdoor play sessions for local children, starting up a ‘Food Pantry’ after a successful community food delivery service during lockdown, establishing an allotment, training in various sports, help with college applications and apprenticeships. It offers potential for them to think of doing something different. It gives them a place to go, with adults who support and encourage them and ask their opinions and develop their interests. Basically, it gives encouragement and support and offers opportunities – hope – where before there was none. Importantly, the G20 Youth Festival needs ongoing funding to do this vital work without which many young people in this area would be left to flounder.
DS: What are you trying to show with this work – why did you feel it had to be made?
MM: My main interest as a photographer is in people, in the human condition. Within that I often photograph childhood into adulthood and the experience of being a young person within a certain set of circumstances. For me, these portraits reflect on an aspect of the individual but there is the larger social question that surrounds them. Seen together as a set of images, another story emerges: the overview of a time and a place and the representation of lives lived in an unequal society. It’s also showing the power of a grassroots community organisation that doesn’t lay down rules with detached judgement but offers care and support to help young people grow and develop.
Teenagers from all backgrounds are often unfairly judged but it is even stronger with those from disadvantaged backgrounds, where the individual instead of the system is blamed. I hope that by bringing awareness to the disadvantage right under our noses, these teens can be valued as people whose life choices should have been much better but are not because of structural inequality. The G20 Youth Festival is trying to address that with youth workers, school liaisons, volunteers etc. My ongoing work and connection with them is just another support mechanism feeding into that.
As photographers, our subject matter and the stories contained therein drives our work. The faces looking out at us in these portraits perhaps ask us some questions about how well we as a society are measuring up in offering fair and equal opportunity to all.
DS: How do the young people respond to the portraits, and what are your plans for the future?
MM: This first set of portraits was made over the course of a numerous visits but because of the nature of the club, not all of were there every time I visited. Then the lockdown happened. As mentioned, prints were taken back to the base and I also chatted extensively with some to start the process of adding personal but anonymous text that would be relevant. This text for example might only be displayed in their base for them to see; that will be a decision we take together. That part for me is about making the photos into something that is circular, that comes back to the source, how we make use of this photography in addition to traditional exhibiting.
This work continues. The Youth House project was done at the end of 2019. I continued working with some of the young people in these portraits up until lockdown, helping them doing their own photography and making handmade books. I had this dual approach from the start: one was my work and the other was theirs but within that crossovers happen because my own work comes from what I observe throughout this process and the time of being with them.
My connection with these young people continues, some of them are involved in my ongoing long-term project work outside of The Youth House. Work that will be shown once finalised, reflecting as previous projects did on place, opportunity, inequality and belonging. This becomes long-term work because the lives of those I am working with are complex and in order to produce work that is fair and has depth, time is needed.
Thank you Margaret for taking time to talk to us about The Youth House – we really look forward to seeing how the project progresses.
Govanhill Festival 2020: 21st to 29th August. Photo trail. To be displayed in windows of small businesses within Govanhill, in the southside of Glasgow.
Photographer Simon Murphy aims to give an insight into the diverse and vibrant area of Govanhill with a series of portraits to be displayed in windows as part of a photo trail during the festival.
Simon’s career has enabled him to travel extensively shooting human interest stories in countries such as Bangladesh, The Democratic republic of Congo, Rwanda and Cambodia. His portraiture subjects range from individuals such as the Dalai Lama to musicians and actors including Noel Gallagher, Bobby Gillespie and John Hurt.
Up to now, the images have only been available through a limited edition newspaper that Simon publishes and distributes free around the shops and café’s in the area. “The idea is that to get hold of a newspaper, people have to come in to Govanhill and find one. “I post clues on my Instagram page. While searching for a newspaper the individual might buy a coffee or a record, contributing a little to the local economy, or perhaps change pre conceived ideas that have been formed due to negative publicity”
“The project is about community and diversity. Govanhill is not without it’s problems but it’s also a place where people come together and share culture and experience. It’s an exciting place that I love and where I have many connections”
“My images have always been about celebrating diversity and seeing beauty in our differences. Sometimes it’s important to ask yourself difficult questions and Photography has the power to trigger thoughts in people’s minds that can plant the seeds for change”.
On this below movie Simon talks of his career, and his approach to photographing at street level in Govanhill.
Thanks Simon for sharing your work! Most appreciated, see you out on the streets soon!
Glasgow, by Mike Abrahams
I grew up in Liverpool in the 50s and 60s, a city in which to my eyes colour was absent. I recall soot, smog and dereliction only in black and white. I don’t know if this has influenced my preferred medium as a photographer or whether it is simply that I find colour a distraction from the essence of what interests me; emotion, graphics and of course content. It also has enabled me to feel that I am making a photograph, something that was instilled in me by years in the darkroom resulting in an object that I could hold in my hands that was evocative of the time, place and people I had the privilege to meet.
These photographs from Glasgow, a city that felt familiar, a river at its heart, industry in decline, ill thought out housing policies, a host of social problems and a people of great spirit and life. I made three visits to the city between 1986 and 1999. Three short assignments and a chance to engage with Glasgow.
In 1986 during an assignment for Shelter, the housing charity I was asked to make photographs that questioned the concept of home. I worked across the UK, but my time in Glasgow centred on the Red Road Flats and Possilpark. My second visit in 1990 for the book “Glasgow, 24 Hours in the Life of a City” took me back to Possilpark and Red Road Flats. My third visit to Cranhill.
Red Road was dogged by crime and vandalism, gang fights and violence of all sorts. There were problems with asbestos, lifts too small to carry a coffin and that constantly broke down. After a fire in 1977 in which a young boy died many residents came to the end of their tether and started to move elsewhere. Some of the blocks were then offered as student accommodation, and refugees and asylum seekers started to be placed there.
Possilpark was one of the poorest in the city. It’s decline began when in 1967 the Saracen Foundry, which was the main employer in the area, closed down. During the 1980s Possilpark had become the hub of the city’s heroin trade. High levels of anti social behaviour and burglary made life stressful. People I met refused to leave their flats unoccupied even to go to the shops for fear that in their absence their flats would be emptied.
In 1999 I was asked to report on “Mothers Against Drugs” in Cranhill. The group formed after 13 year old Allan Harper was found dead after an overdose, his shoulder gnawed by the three bull terriers belonging to his mother’s boyfriend. It was thought he may have bought the heroin from one of the ice cream vans that supplied the estate.
The photographs shown here do not necessarily refer to the specifics in any of the stories I shot at the time, but give a context to these photographs. My focus has always been to document the lives of ordinary people in addition to illustrating some specifics that relate to the story. It is these documents of life at another time, that all these years later I hope will be a valuable record.
Document Scotland photographer Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert caught up with Doro via email, kindly she’s allowing us to share some of her photography from The Gorbals, an area of Glasgow which has been much frequented by photographers over the years, including Bert Hardy, Bill Brandt, John Claridge, Hugh Hood, Oscar Marzaroli, and more recently Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert himself, Sarah Amy Fishlock and more.
Document Scotland – How did you get into photography, what do you do, tell us a little about yourself?
I studied Political Sciences and Psychology in Vienna. To gain some working experience I spent a year in Bangkok and worked with UNHCR (the refugee agency of the UN). Around that time I started to photograph my surroundings and the people I met, trying to avoid stereotypes. A group of (conflict-)photographers, who I was friends with, encouraged me to continue taking photos. Back in Vienna, I had made my decision to become a photographer, finished my studies and applied at Ostkreuzschule für Fotografie in Berlin, where I learned to deepen my documentary practice and started to work on long term projects, exploring Identity, marginalization and belonging and the question of how to depict these.
How did you come to be in Glasgow shooting in the Gorbals, as you come from Berlin?
I was invited by Street Level Photoworks due to a residency exchange called Photographic Parallels between Glasgow and Berlin. Robert Henderson, a Glaswegian photographer went to Berlin for a month and I came to Glasgow for roughly the same amount of time.
I only had a vague concept of Glasgow before I arrived, but I had read a lot about the different districts to prepare for my stay. In my research on photography in the more destitute areas of Glasgow I discovered Kirsty MacKay and Margaret Mitchell, who’s work I found deeply interesting, engaging and eyeopening. Steven Berkoff’s photos from the 60s, shot in the Gorbals, were on show at SLP and I was shocked how desolate the area looked back then—I decided to walk around Glasgow and ended up in the Gorbals. The area’s mixed housing, the streets and shops and the people I saw sparked my interest instantly. I wanted to know more about the people living there and how they conceived the the changes that had occurred in their surroundings.
“Save it for a Rainy Day“ is a personal encounter with the people living in the Gorbals, a chance to tell their stories, depicting the new and old and ever-changing Gorbals.
This was the first time in my photographic career that I planned on meeting people on the street. It took quite a few days until i summoned up the courage to just ask people if they wanted to be part of my project. In the end I walked into the Catholic church and started chatting with the very nice lady at the counter, Maureen, who then ended up to be the first person I photographed in the Gorbals. This gave me the confidence to approach other people and she also introduced me to Bridigin’ the Gap, a community organisation working in the Gorbals. They gave me some contacts and invited me to their community meals, where I met more people and from then on it was quite easy.
I mostly meet them upfront to get to know them a little bit and to see if they have a genuine interest in having their portrait taken.
I also spent as much time as they allow me to spend with them.
I spent basically everyday for 3 weeks in July/August in the Gorbals—walking around, exploring the area and connecting to people.
After realizing back home that some some elements of the series were still missing, I came back in October—this time with a different approach.
During my first stay I was looking around, trying to connect and had a very open approach to what would be happening. The second time I made appointments beforehand and knew exactly where to go.
I shot digital for this project to be able to process the photos straight away and to get an oversight over what I was photographing since 4 weeks isn’t a long time to realise a project. Digital also gives me the opportunity to shoot at night or in darker environments without needing to use flash.
It was great to work in Glasgow, particularly in the Gorbals. People were very openminded and welcoming. I drank tons of breakfast tea with milk and ate a lot of scones. Every day I discovered new facets of the district.
On the other hand I was staggered to see, how matters of religion and politics were dividing people. In Germany it is no issue at all if someone is Protestant or Catholic. Before I came to Scotland I didn’t know that this conflict existed outside Ireland. Some of the couples I photographed were inter-religious and experienced a lot of opposition by family and society when they married. Most of the people I photographed also went to segregated schools and some were really fond of their religion, taking part in the Orange March for example.
Also the state of the social system came as quite a shock—how little people were supported by the state and how the social played a more obstructing than supporting role. On the other hand it was great to see that organisations like Bridging the Gap and the Men Shed are keeping the community together and make a great difference.
Most of the people I photographed have seen the exhibition and their feedback was throughout positive. Four of the women were even at the opening, which was great!
The project is finished for now, but I would like to return and continue at some point, because I think there are a lot of characters from the Gorbals I haven’t met and a lot of things I didn’t get the chance to know yet. There’s also some issues I would have liked to focus on more, but lacked the time.
– The work is on show at SLP until September 8th, but are there plans to publish it, or exhibition it elsewhere? If it is published already is there a link to where people can buy the publication online?
Me and Jan Motyka have made a publication, a picture newspaper that is more extensive than the exhibition and grants a deeper view – it is available at SLP or online at http://www.streetlevelphotoworks.org/product/doro-book
The plan is that the exhibition will travel to Berlin, but the dates and venue are not set yet.
– What are you working on now?
I am currently on maternity leave in Italy, but thinking up projects to work on, once I am back in Berlin in October. In the meantime I am taking portraits of the people I meet along the way.
– Many thanks Doro for sharing your work and thoughts with us. It’s much appreciated.
‘Masc’ – by Craig Waddell is a series of queer portraits that challenge the outdated idea of conventional masculinity. Document Scotland first saw Craig’s work at The Edinburgh College of Art degree show in 2017, we wanted to know more and so Sophie chatted with Craig recently about his motivation behind making the work and what the portraits mean to him. We’re grateful to Craig for taking the time to discus the project with us which is exhibited at the RSA New Contemporaries 2018, opening this week.
DS: Hi Craig, thanks for taking the time to do this interview – what is Masc about, can you introduce the project?
CW:Masc is about contemporary masculinity in the queer community, and the different ways we can see it interpreted and realised in the individual. Personally, I’ve always been interested in the dynamics of masculinity – from my experiences in the gay community especially, I often felt there was a rejection of more feminine identities in favour of the masculine. Gender non-conforming behaviour and presentation is often celebrated as an act of performance or as an entertaining gimmick, but for many of us, it’s our lived reality and something that should be respected and acknowledged.
DS: It’s an interesting view point, in your opinion why do you think masculinity is an important subject to be talking about currently?
CW: In recent history we’ve really seen these issues come to the forefront of societal conscious, and I felt it was a very exciting and important time to document some of the incredible individuals that make up our community.
DS:You’ve mentioned your personal experiences and how they have motivated you and this project, is it an autobiographical body of work?
CW:Masc as a whole was borne out of my personal experience reconciling my non normative identity, so I would say there is a definite autobiographical quality. So much of my personal discovery was fuelled by my interactions with my contemporaries, so I sought to explore and record that.
DS: There’s a sensitivity to the portraits, each is naturally lit, fairly formal, in calm personal surroundings with some very giving expressions…. tell us a little about the subjects, who are they and who are they to you?
CW: I wanted to create a series of photographs that really celebrated diversity, and put the dignity and character of my sitters first. I chose to use the formal portrait as my medium to form a disruption of gender norms and societal expectation, which classical formal portraiture often reinforces.
The end result is inexplicably bound to the process of medium format analogue photography, that carried the drama, depth and subtlety I felt the subject mattered deserved and needed.
The only qualifying criteria for my sitters was that they identified with my concept, which resulted in a wide range of identities presented, definitely not limited to the outdated notion of the biological male. They range from close friends within the community in Edinburgh, to those I was connected with through social media and then photographed. Although the style of shooting is deliberately formal, the sessions were always inter-dispersed with incredible conversation. That was one of the best parts of undertaking this project – I really got the opportunity to learn about who they are and what they are about, as well as connecting further with close friends, which then informed the end result, and I feel gave that personal connection that comes across in the portraits.
DS:It’s interesting you say that, I personally feel that’s one of the greatest privileges about making portraits, that time and space to connect and share stories – people can share the most extraordinary things… Are there any stories you’d care to share with us – from those conversations?
CW:In terms of particular photo sessions, I’d have to say one of the most special ones was with Cameron Downing, who was 17 at the time and studying makeup artistry at college. Having never met in person – we were connected via a Facebook callout I did for sitters for the project – I shot the portrait in his bedroom at his parents house, and we spoke about what it was like to be that age and not really have access to a major support network for young queer people, which is the club scene.
Another great moment in the project was being able to photograph James Faulkner, who I think is such an important member of the community. I see James as one of the founding members of the queer community in Edinburgh as it stands today – as one of the original drag performers in the city, he’s nurtured and supported a wide variety of performers and other queer people, and is a member of the Dive performance collective. My portrait was by no means the first (and I assume definitely not the last) time he’s served as a subject and muse for artists, and we were surrounded by various prints of different works he’s been a part of, as well as his incredible collection of antiques and curiosities, many bequeathed to him from his grandmother. It was just really lovely to get to know James better, and hear about his rich, and sometimes difficult life story, and we spoke about how the queer community was evolving in Edinburgh. It was one of the first portraits that I took for the series, and it was a real defining moment for how the project would continue.
I’ve always tried to keep a diversity of viewpoints in the project, so being able to include Katharine, a dear friend of mine and a queer woman, and Zachary, a trans man and one of the loveliest people on the Edinburgh queer scene, was incredibly important to me. They also turned out as some of my favourite new photos of the series.
DS:Are the portraits all made in Edinburgh? How have your experiences affected your opinion on the LGBTQ community in this city?
CW:Most of the portraits are shot in Edinburgh, with a few featuring people based in Glasgow. I think the LGBTQ community in Edinburgh definitely has it’s shining moments, and some of the people in the series reflect that, from inspiring creatives and performers to some of the new generation of queer people in Scotland. In general though, I do think Edinburgh is a smaller scene than other cities such as Glasgow and Manchester, and maybe sometimes we have less opportunity and resources. However, I have a lot to thank Edinburgh for – it has had a really profoundly positive effect on my personal development, and enabled me to be ever more confident and comfortable in my identity, no doubt due to the welcoming and accessible nature of the community here.
DS:It’s mature work for an undergraduate final project. How have you found making the transition from BA to professional photographer?
CW:The project was originally created for my final year degree show submission, and has formed the main basis of my practice post degree. It marked a real turning point in my practice – although I think I’d created some really wonderful portraits prior to this project, this was the first that felt fully cohesive and realised as a body of work, and very important to me as it interrogated a lot of issues very close to my heart.
I still definitely feel that I’m still finding my feet in the professional world of photography, and I’m very excited and optimistic about what is coming next in my practice.
DS: Is this a continuing project?
CW:After continuing the project until recently, I’m thinking of taking a break from it and exploring some new avenues. However, I feel it has become a real centre-point of my photographic practice, and something I’ll always be returning to and working on.
I’m currently doing a bit of thinking and research about future projects – something I’m particularly interested in currently is the increasing phenomenon of younger people embracing their queerness, and being able to define themselves far younger than I was ever confident enough to. I imagine this is linked to more progressive attitudes in society, and something I think is incredibly exciting and something I’d love to explore.
Later this year, I’m going to be working on a new series of portraits of performers during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, exploring the concept of the persona of the performer, which I’m also very excited about. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet some incredible people in the performance community in previous years of the Festival, and I’ve made it a priority this year to produce a series of portraits that attempts to capture that vibrancy.
DS: Thank you so much for talking to us Craig – we wish you all the best with your future plans and the continued success of your work.
Nil Desperandum – the motto of Bellahouston Harriers running club, a club based in Glasgow’s Southside and formed in 1892. Boasting a long and prestigious history, including Olympians, the club has won many District and National level trophies.
The club this week held a 125th anniversary run, commemorating the first recorded Bellahouston Harriers run on the 5th November 1892, a 5-mile paper chase handicap run which was written about in the Glasgow Herald two days later. As reported by the Herald about that historic run, “the pace throughout was very hot, the leaders passing and repassing each other time and again.”
Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert, who took this portfolio of images, says “I become interested in running about 9 years ago now. Before that other colleagues had invited me out running and I was never interested, but then to combat stress of work in 2009 at the time of the collapse of the world economy I began running. First in the gym, then tentatively venturing outside to run.
Now, I run 3 or 4 times a week, and my interest in taking part in running, and of the sport, has grown enormously. I joined Bellahouston Harriers a year or so ago, to try to improve as a runner, to get faster, to run better. What motivated me to start photographing within the club was seeing and meeting the diverse mix of runners, from young fast guys, to those runners who won’t win the medals, but train and compete anyway for the love of it. But the important thing is there is room within the club for everyone. It’s the same on a Saturday morning Parkrun event, it gives me great joy to see runners of all walks of life, of all sizes, shapes and levels of fitness. To see a heavy-built lady or guy, at the back of the pack, huffing and puffing, finding it hard – those people to me are heroes. I admire greatly those people who endeavour to get fit, endeavour to look after themselves and their health.
The sense of history in the Bellahouston Harriers club is written large, to know there have been Olympians in the club, to know that the club suffered during the Great War when 19 of the club’s fine runners didn’t come home, and again in Word War 2 when 13 runners didn’t come home.
To wear the Bella vest is to pull on a little bit of Scottish running history. To run in Glasgow wearing the iconic light blue St Andrew’s cross vest, and hear shouts of “C’mon the Bella!” from the crowds is a moving experience. I wanted, in this larger photo essay from which these images come, to capture a little of what it means to be a Bella Harriers runner.”
“I joined the club because I was running but not getting any faster, and wanted a more structured training with a network of runners who could support me. To be honest, I’m not actually sure why I run… there’s probably a multitude of benefits there that I can’t quite put my finger on, because it would span multiple paragraphs. Maybe better asking why you wouldn’t run?” – Becky, pictured above.
“I suppose I run because I still can! It keeps me reasonably fit and healthy despite problems with my knees and hips. I feel a sense of achievement in completing races or time trials even though I’m getting slower but I like to keep a positive attitude with a “hi I’m still running”. It’s great to be a member of Bellahouston Harriers and to be with like-minded individuals. It has a great social side where all are made welcome – I’m pleased to have so many friends in the club. The thing I like best about the club is the support you get in competitions irrespective of your standard (you could be last but you still get a cheer from club mates!)” – John, pictured above.
“Running to me is as much for my mental health as well as my physical. I started running to challenge myself and help me create healthy habits outside my own constraints. After completing a few races and wanted to improve my times, so looked at joining a running club. It absolutely terrified me and took me well over a year to gain the courage to attend a session, however it has shown me how strong I actually am. The club has given me some of the best friends, the best memories and the self-confidence that I didn’t realise I had.” – Steph, pictured above.
“I am a runner, not a jogger. I train hard and am motivated to improve. I run as it gives me a focus. I set myself targets and the thrill is in working towards them, whether that’s nailing a tough session, ticking off another long run or just getting out for some solo miles when the legs don’t fancy it – I always feel better for forcing myself out the door. I joined Bellahouston Harriers in early 2012 just seeking improvement and structure with my running and haven’t looked back. A great club with great people.” – Stuart, pictured below.
“Note to self: never get photo taken post race! To be honest I joined the club on a recommendation from my 97 year old neighbour who ran for Bella Harriers when he came back from the war. I think I’ve been running for Bella for about 7/8 years now.” – Mel, pictured above.
Ahren’s condition is atypical – an intelligent and articulate child, he wasn’t officially diagnosed with high-functioning autism until January 2012, at the age of eight. In the previous three years he was moved between three different schools, as staff found themselves unable to handle his disruptive behaviour. The family’s struggle to find a suitable school for Ahren is ongoing. This uncertainty means that Ahren struggles to make social and academic progress: as he matures, he is becoming increasingly aware of how his condition is holding him back. He often comes home feeling frustrated, and directs his aggression towards his mother, Amye.
One of autism’s main features is a lack of social intelligence: the usual rules that adults use to define appropriate behaviour are confusing to autistic children. Unable to fully process the meaning behind a stern face or angry words, much of the ‘bad’ behaviour of children like Ahren is an attempt to test the limits of a social code that they experience as impenetrable. The organisation of the home, and of family life, is forced to change in order to manage this.
Similarly, my initial ideas for documenting the family’s home life similarly had to evolve to accommodate Ahren’s unpredictability: he can swing from contentment to rage to hyperactivity within a few minutes. Each day is determined by Ahren’s whims – cake-making, den-building, hide-and-seeking, as well as more unstructured activities. The project evolved into a portrait of this chaotic, unconventional home life, and Ahren’s attempts to deal with the isolation of his autism. The resulting images convey the life that Ahren lives inside his own head: a little boy who knows that he is different, but is just trying to grow up like everyone else, in a world that is often experienced as indecipherable.
Highs, lows, an historical and unforgettable week for Scotland.
Here are some of the images shot by Colin McPherson, Sophie Gerrard, Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert and Stephen McLaren in the lead up to and over the 18th September 2014. The world was watching, and so were we…
This is only a small selection of the work shot by Document Scotland’s 4 photographers on the days surrounding the 18th September 2014. You can see more on each of on our websites and by following these links …