The Shetland Project: Young Prospects was made in 2018 during a six-day trip to the Shetland Islands with the MAP6 photography collective. The Shetland Project was MAP6’s fourth project, following on from The Moscow Project, The Lithuania Project and The Milton Keynes Project.
“The route to developing a project with MAP6 is very different from working solo. MAP6 specifically makes work around people and place. Each project is centred on one place, be that a city or country. The criteria for selecting a location is that no one in the collective has visited before. The projects are also restricted to a set time period, which has ranged from 48 hours to 6 days. So it is a different yet interesting way of working. It’s easy for photographers to procrastinate about projects. However, with MAP6, once the date is set, that is it. With The Shetland Project we had about three months to come up with a planned project.
As a portrait photographer, projects require a lot of planning, as sessions need to be scheduled in order to make a body of work in just 6 days. Consulting the god that is Google for inspiration, I developed two project ideas. When lead times are short, I find it’s good to roll with a few project ideas in the planning stage to see which is most viable. The first was about making portraits of women in the oil industry within the landscape, but I could not get enough traction, and I think it was more a romantic idea rather than a realistic prospect. The second was about young people and their relationship with the islands and the landscape. This idea came up in my research as 2018 was the Year of the Young in Scotland. Using this as a hook was a great opener and reason to make connections with youth groups.
In order to complete the project in just six days I worked with the council’s youth services, who put me in contact with a number of young people to photograph and interview. I was particularly interested in their relationship to the landscape, their thoughts on the mainland and plans for the future. I expected many would long for a life on the mainland, but everyone I spoke with was content with their childhood and life on the islands. Many had plans to move to the mainland for a university education; however, they also were quite sure that they would return to the islands. Here are a few of their comments:
“The Shetland Islands are just perfect.”
“Shetland means a lot to me, from the people to the landscape. It’s very unique, secluded, with genuinely nice people that you wouldn’t get in a city. It’s one of the best places to live, and I hope to stay here for the rest of my days.”
“Very chaotic yet peaceful. Lots of noise, but quiet noise like birds, the wind and the sea.”
“Isolated, but in a nice way. You can’t really do much, but at the same time you are free to go anywhere.”
“Quiet – and you know everyone.”
“Everything we need is here, and it’s nice and safe.”
Some may wonder if this is the ideal environment for a child. Yet the younger generation has spirit and loyalty to their land. It’s a place where children can roam freely within the community and be in contact with nature. Some are more isolated than others, with school friends living many miles away, yet there is a sense of contentment and belonging. Or maybe the eyes of a child yet to be clouded by the complications of adult life present a more of a peaceful and romantic portrayal of island life? Living here, where a child can be a child, colours the inhabitants’ lives.”
Heather Shuker is a London-based, award-winning photographer. Her work is about people and place, and relationship between the two. She studied photography at the University of Brighton and Central Saint Martins College of Art. Her work has been exhibited and published both in the UK and internationally.
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!
Salaam is a short form for ‘As-salamu alaykum’ which means may peace be upon you, a universal greeting Muslims greet each other with. Salaam (peace) is the main concept of this body of work.
Islamophobia is a continuous problem in the world. There is a stereotype of how a Muslim should look like. Some examples will be donning the hijab or being brown-skinned. This body of work is to challenge the stereotype showcasing a series of portraiture to show the diversity of Islam in the UK
Beliefs and appearances should not be presumed.
Ili Mansor created this work whilst a student at Edinburgh Napier University in 2019.
DS: Hi Ili, can you tell us a little about how you came to make this work – it was made while you were a student, what made you choose the subject.
IM: My project is about the beauty of Islam in portraits. I really wanted to show the diversity in this religion that often society are not aware of. It started with me feeling really uncomfortable about the term ‘Islamophobia’. Every single time a person look at Islam they always talk about the hijab and a brown-skinned looking person. There is always a certain picture that comes to a person’s mind on how a Muslim should look like. Often, society relates Islam to terrorism. Honestly, as a person who practices and beliefs in Islam, I feel sad and I can’t seem to put my feelings into words.
I’ve experienced first-hand on how people were in shock when they found out that I was a Muslim. Then questions starts rolling in, “is it true, we can’t touch the head of someone wearing the hijab?”, “are you really a Muslim?! you don’t even have the hijab on, you don’t look like one either”, “your name doesn’t sound like one” and so on.
I have friends who have experienced harassment because they put on the hijab. There was that incident when there was a letter given to some organisations in the UK titled ‘Punish a Muslim day’ on April 3rd, 2018. A friend of mine was so scared she took her hijab off and went to class. She felt so ashamed but for her safety, she had to, she told me. I felt sad because to me hijab is part of an individual.
Hence, I was motivated to address this subject because it is so personal to me and I really want to play my part to talk about it visually.
DS: The portraits are captivating in their simplicity, why did you choose this style of photography to communicate this subject.
IM: Honestly, I got the inspiration from Thomas Ruff’s portrait series. If only I get to see it in person. I am amazed at the installation photographs online. When my lecturer, Alexander Supartono discussed about Thomas Ruff’s portraits in class, I can’t help but remembered what he mentioned, “officials trust your passport photo more than you in person”.
Many asked, why I made my subjects wear white against a white cloth as backdrop. Muslims have a common greeting when we meet each other, ‘Salaam’. That’s also the reason why I chose this title. The title ‘Salaam’ means peace and white is the colour of peace.
White eliminates everything else and get the audience to focus on the facial features of my subject. The gaze of each portraits is very important and lastly I really want my audience to know that in Islam, rich and poor should all be treated equally, They are all the same, there isn’t a bigger person. Hence, wearing white helps my audience bring their focus to the faces of the portraits. It’s really beautiful and that’s a part of the teachings in Islam that I would like to share through my portraits in the series, ‘Salaam’.
During the exhibition I presented my photos on a matte paper and printed them in A1. I enjoy looking at big photographs, it feels like I am communicating with the artwork. It grabs attention and gets the message across too. Simplicity is key, helps all age groups to understand easily.
DS: Who are these people – ages, backgrounds etc, how did you find them, how did you get people involved, why did they want to take part in the project?
IM: I photographed a total of 42 Muslims in Edinburgh from young to old, all came from different backgrounds and were residing in United Kingdom at that moment. I used social media as a platform to share (e.g. Instagram and Facebook), approached societies from different Universities in Edinburgh to join their meetings so I am able to introduce my project, and lastly talked to organisations such as Saheliya and The Welcoming to ask if anyone were interested.
I was touched because the people who I photographed supported the same views and wants to play their part in showing the world the diversity of Islam. I took about 30mins to an hour to photograph each portrait. During that time, I hear the individual stories and it is a mix of both beautiful and sad. All the people I photographed really wants the society to know that beliefs and appearance should not be presumed.
They supported my idea because just like me, they experience it first-hand too and have a story to share.
DS: What are you working on now?
IM: I just got a job as a Visual Journalist in Singapore with a local online news platform. It was a dream of mine to be able to work as a Photojournalist – why visual? Cause the work focus on doing photos and videos. This helps me practice on my skillset and really understand what it is like working in a newsroom. A really fast-paced job and you’ve got to be prepared for any types of situations… also, I always have to dress comfortably because there’s a lot of walking, exploring and sweating. As a visual journalist (for only a few months now), I always remind myself that it is important to adapt in any condition!
At the same time, I look forward to work on my project ‘Salaam’ again and this time, I aim to photograph more people. My goal is for my audience to see the message behind my portraits, “society should see colours in Islam and not just looking at a group or community that looks similar.”
Thanks Ili, your work raises important questions about identity, diversity and prejudice, both in Scotland and the wider world, thank you for sharing it with us, SG.
Keep up to date with Ili’s work on Instagram at @ilinadhirah and see her website at www.ilinmansor.com
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.
We’re very pleased to be able to bring you the work of Glasgow-Based photographer Wattie Cheung, who has recently been working on a series of portraits of Scottish D-Day veterans. Wattie, who was Scottish Press Photographer of the Year 2018 (amongst other awards), shares with us some of the work and the story behind the project. – Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert
DS- Where did the idea for the project come from? WC- I’ve been covering many Remembrance Sundays and other jobs in relation to war veterans over the years in my capacity as a press photographer. WW2 has always been a fascinating subject since I was a child and over the last few years after meeting war veterans it had always been at the back of my mind to do something involving these men and women before it was too late. It wasn’t until I got the Graflex 5×4 camera and started doing portraits on it that the idea really got going. Also Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert has been badgering me for the last few years to do some kind of personal project.
What was your thinking behind your approach and style of shooting? A lot these veterans are in their mid 90s so getting them to do star jumps or anything like that was out of the question , so I decided to make it as simple as possible and have poses that could translate to each subject no matter what their physical condition was. I like to think it makes them look dignified befitting of their service to the country.
You used an old camera, tell us about that and why? How much did you shoot? I wanted get away from my everyday digital camera and thought that the Graflex 5×4 was an interesting subject that would interest the sitter and make it special for them . It’s also a connection to the era with the camera being made in the 1940’s. A lot more work is involved as its a very slow way of working from getting the dark slides ready, setting up, taking the picture, processing etc. It’s unlike my day to day work flow when I can turn a job around in ten minutes.
How easy was it to track down the men? How did that happen, did you have a charity or client helping you? I’ve used my contacts to help get other contacts to do a couple of the portraits and also Poppy Scotland came to the rescue with Fraser Bedwell really getting behind my idea and helping me with the subjects. It ended up with them commissioning me to do a series of portraits to publicise the charity which was helping men to go over to France for the 75th anniversary of D-Day.
How was it photographing the men? The men were really pleased to be photographed and when I showed them examples they couldn’t have been more helpful. Their families were important as they would help organise the time and place to do the pictures. It seemed a very collaborative thing between myself and them. I also made sure that I didn’t just sweep in and take a pic then sweep out . I made time to sit and chat to them and hear their stories, look at the pictures from when they were younger and basically just bond with them.
They must have incredible stories, what were the highlights? One veteran, Bill Glen, landed on D-Day +2 , made his way inland dodging fire where after a few days he was with some men and blown up by a German mortar. He says that he was lucky because he was invalided out, never having seen the enemy or firing his rifle. Many of his friends were not so lucky. A couple of them didn’t really want to talk about what they saw but rather talked about their role was in the landings. I think for many the memories are still too painful and after the war everyone just wanted to get on with their lives and that includes the families, so they just didn’t speak about it.
Why decide now to photograph them? Why do you feel it important to do so? I had been covering the Remembrance Sunday and memorial days and saw that the WW1 veterans had disappeared before my eyes, men I had seen coming back year after year were no long in the line-ups. So with the anniversaries coming up it seemed important to start document the WW2 veterans before they disappear too and with the my getting the Graflex, the timing seemed perfect.
How will the project go forward from here? Any plans to do more portraits or to exhibit them? I want to keep going and meet and photograph as many veterans as I can before next years VE and VJ anniversaries. I have a couple more portraits lined up including one lady who was in the WRENS. Finding them is the difficult thing, then getting them and working round my day job as a press photographer. I hope to try and get at least 30 portraits before the end of the year. What I will do with them is the next thing. Maybe an exhibition, definitely try use them in the media for next years anniversaries. I also plan to start videoing them for little 10-15 shorts, if I can figure how to do it. If anyone has anybody they feel would suitable and willing to have their portrait taken, then please get in touch.
From young to old, seasoned campaigners to those learning to take action, the streets of Glasgow, Edinburgh and further afield in Britain, have been occupied recently by those exasperated with council and government policy on climate change inaction. As the placards read, “The oceans are rising and so are we”, and “If you’re not rebelling, you’re not paying attention.”
Having seen first hand the problems we face, and are causing, I’m interested to see the actions taking place in the streets, to meet the youths striking from school and further education to protest outside the Scottish Parliament and to hear their views, and to photograph the actions of Extinction Rebellion protesters having their daily picnic outside the Glasgow City Chambers, or blocking North Bridge in Edinburgh. I honestly do fear for the world that the youth of today will grow up to inherit, the environmental problems that will have to be dealt with. Hopefully some of the youths I’ve met will continue to protest, and more importantly, ultimately find solutions to the problems the climate and the world faces.
‘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.
For the first time in a UK political vote, individuals who turn 16 on or before 18th September 2014 are eligible to vote in the forthcoming Scottish independence referendum.
Shot in homes, bedrooms, public places and parks, Scottish Sweet Sixteen introduces us to a number of young people of voting age in Scotland and the spaces they spend time in. These adolescents share their views on being 16 in Scotland today and what, if anything, having this vote means to them. Some describe the referendum as motivating them to become interested in politics for the first time in their lives. Others are unsure and nervous of how to vote, uncertain of what to think or of whether they will vote at all.
Stacey, (above) aged 16, Kirknewton
“Stacey, 16. “I’ve had a chat about independence and the referendum and I understand what it is, it’s about Scotland being its own country. But it’s complicated. I do want to vote, I do want to learn about it, because it could make Scotland a different place. I don’t go to school anymore, I left. I’ve been in 3 different foster homes, this one for the longest. At 16 I feel I’m just starting to come into the world, and be old enough, I’m a young adult now.”
Millie, 16, Portobello: “I think it is really important for sixteen year olds to have the opportunity to vote in the referendum. It affects our future – in many ways more than our parents generation. However, usually when you vote in an election, the results last for 4 years and there is potential for change. It’s a daunting idea that my first vote could have permanent consequences.”
Charlotte, 16, Firrhill: ““I think it’s a privilege to have this vote now that I’m 16. Especially for something so close to me, it’s really important that I have my say. I had no idea about politics before the independence referendum, I wasn’t interested, then my dad became more involved, my friends started to have conversations about it. I decided to inform myself and I found it was something I felt really strongly about. I’m passionate about independence, I’m voting yes and I want people to know that. I feel it’s vital for our country, it’s an opportunity to really make a change, to take a stance. It’s so important for my life, for the people around me and for my future and that’s why it’s important to me.”
Eddie, 16, Musselburgh. “The referendum is a really important thing for me, it got me into politics, I’ve joined a political party now, it’s had a real effect on my life. When you’re 16 you can work, you can get married, you pay taxes, you contribute to society. I think a person who pays their taxes should be allowed to vote, they’re doing their bit for the country. I would like to get a job as a politician. People say politicians are out of touch with society, I feel I’m more in touch, I’d like to be a voice for the people.”
Maarja, 16. “I’ll be applying to university before I’m 17, I’ll be going to university before I’m 18. i am looking forward to voting. I haven’t made a decision on how I want to vote yet. My dad is quite strongly on one side but the rest of my family are on the other side. I’m glad they extended the vote to 16 year olds but it does worry me too. I think people need to research it properly before they go ahead. Not just listening to their parents. I think whatever happens it will be such a big effect on the affect of Scotland for the rest of our lives so we should vote.”
Rachel, Carys & Lindsay, aged 15 & 16, Bonnyrigg. “At this age we’re inbetween being adults and being kids. We’re not always treated the age we actually are. We’re given freedom but not too many responsibilities, that’s the best thing about being 16. We talk about voting, and what to decide, I think 16 yr olds are just as able to make an informed decision on the referendum as quite a lot of adults, I think the teenagers who vote will be the ones who have done their research and know what they want, otherwise I don’t think they’ll bother to vote at all.
Neil, 16, Linlithgow: “I’m really excited about voting, there’s nothing that’s been so important for our generation. My generation are the ones that will live with independence, it it happens, for the longest time. We’re the ones that will deal with whatever’s decided. I think that’s a really exciting thing. Some young people might be influenced by their parents but I’d say I’ve definitely got different views from mine. I’ve not been influenced by them. I want to show my family that I’m capable of making a decision. I hear the argument that at 16 we’re too immature and we wont be able to make the right decisions but I think you can find that at any age. There are so many younger people that I’d trust with political decisions than older people.”
Sean, 16, Saughton. “What’s the referendum? Oh, ok, I’m going to vote for us not to be independent. I don’t know why, that’s just what I think.
William, aged 16, Saughton. “I startied thinking about it properly in about April this year. I’ll vote because it’s my opportunity to show my view of what I want the Scottish future to be. I’ll be voting no to independence.
I’m voting to keep the union because I think the country is fine being run the way it is now and I dont feel a need for change.”
With this body of work, shot in the summer of 2014, my aim was to meet as many young people of first time voting age as I could and collect and record their opinions on the referendum. I didn’t ask them which way they planned on voting, my interest lay more in how they felt about having the vote, not necessarily in what they planned on doing with it.