Return, O Backsliding Children by Sofia Conti

Sofia approached Document Scotland a while ago after completing her MA in Photography from Falmouth University. We caught up with her for a chat about her motivations for making the work and her various projects about Glasgow.

Witnessing gang violence as a child fuelled DC’s aggression.

DS: Hi Sofia – Thanks for sending us your work, tell us a little about the project

SC:Return, O Backsliding Children“, is a multi-media based collaborative project that explores each participants connection to crime and how it has indirectly and or directly affected their way of life. Around eight years ago I settled in the East End of Glasgow with my fiancé́ who was brought up in the area. As a non-native I noticed significant differences in the environment such as a lack of housing, anti-social behaviour issues, limited career prospects, poor health, addiction, and high levels of poverty.

The murder of M’s brother propelled her into addiction and the need to commit criminal acts was the only way to source the illegal substances.
Statement regarding M's brothers murder and how that changed her life.
The area where stuart grew up

From the continued research conducted over the last two years, I discovered that Greater Glasgow had the second highest crime rate of 682 per 10,000 population between 2020-2021 (Scottish Government 2021). It was at this pivotal moment I believed further investigation was required on the subject of crime and other issues closely connected to it, as my collaborative conversation sessions indicated that crime had entered many of their lives in a variety of forms. 

Throughout the process of the project, I built strong relationships with a wider network formed by a combination of fellow residents, charitable organisations and local community groups willing to participate. The trust was established by my complete transparency, privacy and communication skills that allowed the collaborators to openly discuss their stories of crime in strict confidence on a much deeper level. 

The family home of M depicting their strong sense of faith.

DS: Tell us a little about how you got started

SC: Growing up I have always been creative especially when it came to art as I loved drawing and painting. Unfortunately, when I was studying art in high school the photography class conflicted with that, so I never got to use a camera.

Back in 2017 I decided to go back into full-time education as a mature student with the support of my fiancé. Even though I applied for the NC Photography course I was placed in the HNC. I was excited to start my journey into photography but at the same time I was extremely nervous as I had only bought my camera two weeks before the course began.

I was awarded a merit in the Student section of the British Institute of Professional Photographers (Scotland). When I attended the ceremony, I saw the beautiful work produced by the talented students at Edinburgh College and it was made clear to me this is where I had to be. It was this pivotal moment that I believe sparked my passion to continue my academic study to see what the future would hold for me in photography.

DS: How did you choose your subjects and build a rapport with them for this piece of work

SC: Over the course of my BA and MA Photography degrees I began to build strong bonds with local residents, charitable organisations, and businesses in the Greater Glasgow community. As a non-native of Glasgow, I was deeply concerned about how my new community would react to my representation of them. This actually turned out to be something positive, along with being a gay female with a mixed background, helped give an empathetic response when representing the community, that I wanted to empower.

Collaboration is an extremely important part of the work I produce, especially when exploring social inequalities within various communities. My intention is to ethically represent communities that have a distorted view imposed upon them. This was only possible as I was totally transparent, which helped to form trusting collaborative relationships.

DS: Can you talk a little about consent and agency and why and how people agree to or choose to be included in a project like this.

SC: Consent is vital in my social documentary practice. It is not about someone signing a model release form so I can just get photographs. With each body of work, produced I have encountered many people through a variety of channels e.g., community groups. I tend to meet groups initially to introduce myself, show my past work, clearly explaining the intentions for the new project, etc . After these initial group discussions, I tend to leave my contact details for people to consider what they have just heard before agreeing to anything. Once someone makes contact, I usually suggest meeting one on one, as it allows them to ask further questions, get more background information regarding their personal experiences, and friendly conversation. It is all about having patients with the individual(s) to see if this is right for them.

I do use model release forms with all my willing participants, but I take the time to go over what it all means, along with that it clearly indicates what will happen with the finished project e.g., social media. I like to give collaborators something back as a thank you e.g., newspaper of the final body of work.

Having continual conversations in person, text message, email, telephone call on each stage of the process so the collaborators are fully aware of what will occur, to give them an opportunity to voice their opinions so they are fully at ease. I want anyone who collaborates with me to have a positive experience so potentially we may work together in the future or perhaps they recommend me to future parties.

DS: What’s next more Glasgow work or elsewhere ? 

SC: Currently I am in talks with the Scottish Prison Service, and I am hoping to carry on from the ‘Return, O Backsliding Children’ series to get another perspective of crime and issues that are closely connected, that may help explain why certain individuals end up being incarcerated.

You can watch the multimedia piece of this work here on YouTube

Thanks for chatting with us Sofia – you can see more of Sofia’s work at also follow her on instagram at

All images are © Sofia Conti 2023 all rights reserved.

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