Chris Leslie is a documentary photographer and film-maker based in Glasgow. We were very pleased to feature his work at our Document Scotland Summer Salon event in August last year.
For 3 years now, Chris has been working on a long term photography and multimedia project, The Glasgow Renaissance, documenting the city of Glasgow as it undergoes a widescale regeneration project.
Currently looking for funding to support his latest piece from the project – a film called Lights Out, Chris took some time to talk to us about his dedication and commitment to the subject.
CL – This is a trailer for Lights Out – it is a film about my favourite brutalist but beautiful high rise flats in Glasgow. Both blocks are now completely empty of residents and completely sealed.
DS – This is a component piece of The Glasgow Renaissance project which you’ve been working on for 3 years now – how did the whole project come about in the first place?
CL – The Glasgow Renaissance is a follow on for my multimedia Masters project at LCC that I completed and got a distinction for in 2010. For this I documented 4 stories on regeneration in Glasgow, from an eviction of Margaret Jaconelli in Dalmarnock to the death of Paddy’s Market, as well as the demolition of the High rise flats in Sighthill. I then got a few commissions around the Red Road Flats, which had an arts and culture project running alongside the first stage of demolition, but for the most part I documented other condemned high rise flats from my own time and expense. It wasn’t a project I had in my mind from start to finish, it just kind of evolved this way and then I started to work around the title and theme of the Glasgow Renaissance.
DS – Why did you title it The Glasgow Renaissance? Was that a term you knew of or something you created?
CL – The title of the project came from a quote from Glasgow City Council, the leader at the time, Stephen Purcell, when the city launched their plan of the mass demolition of a series of high rise flats across the city. He spoke of a ‘change in Glasgow’s Skyline’ and that Glasgow was undergoing ‘a real renaissance’. And importantly that they would not ‘repeat the same mistakes of the past’ when it came to housing. For myself and most Glaswegians we all want a Renaissance, and in particular in the east end of the city there is a desperate need. But its important to me that you question everything that is proposed in regeneration and that for some, regeneration and a renaissance can have a negative impact on their lives.
DS – We featured Red Road Underground in the Document Scotland Summer Salon and it sparked a lot of conversation. Can you tell us a little about how you choose your subjects within the project – do you find them or do they come to you? Tell us more about the process…
CL – Getting access to people for interviews can take a long time and a lot of effort but if you invest this time and angst you will be rewarded. The people I speak to and interview are the key to the short films’ impact, as it is their town, their homes, their lives. No-one else can tell their stories. Sometimes you get leads to people to speak to if you are working with other artists on the same project / same area. Red Road had a large art and culture project with several artists including myself regularly meeting up and sharing contacts. But with the Whitevale flats I was on my own, there was no project, no other artists and very few people left in the flats, so for this it was and still is harder process. But Glasgow is a small town and there is always a way to get access to people and buildings, you just need to persevere and exhaust all avenues.
DS – This newest film, Lights Out, is something you’re seeking funds to complete – how’s that going?
CL – I have been shooting on and off around the flats for over 3 years and its been very much an organic project in terms of the way its grown and developed. Having no commission or client is great for your creativity but crap because there are no deadlines and no money. It becomes very easy to become ‘trapped’ in your own project. So I made the decision to stop shooting and to edit a trailer of the best photos and snippets of stories I had gathered and that way you get to see (and others get to see) how the project will start to shape.
So that’s where I am right now. Rather than working on a final film, for no client and no funding and sticking it on vimeo, I decided to create a trailer of what I had so far and then promote it to possible interested bodies / funders. I haven’t had any concrete offers yet, but it gets your work out there and people taking about it and that’s half the battle.
DS – You’ve been working in Sarajevo recently – any cross overs and parallels you’d like to draw upon here?
CL – I spent much of my early 20’s (from 1996 to 2001) working as a volunteer in Sarajevo teaching kids photography in Sarajevo orphanage. It was a city then that was just starting to rebuild after the war but the destruction was total and was everywhere. So a lot of my documentary work and comparisons with derelict and condemned buildings in Glasgow stems from my time in Bosnia – not a comfortable comparison for myself of other Glaswegians.
One of the students I taught photograph in the orphanage is also now my friend and fellow filmmaker. We returned to shoot his reunion with his long lost family after 27 years, in June 2012 and I directed and filmed a one hour documentary that we are currently negotiating broadcast. So in many ways I am always connected with the Balkans and it’s impossible to escape – its those early days venturing the world that set you up and shape everything you do, consciously and subconsciously, and as depressing as condemned Glasgow High Rise flats can be, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Thank you Chris. If you are interested in any of Chris’ documentary work, including his new Lights Out project, please email him directly at
To see more of Chris’ work on this and other projects take look at his website at www.chrisleslie.com
Also, check out The Glasgow Renaissance website www.glasgow-renaissance.co.uk