What have the Eiffel Tower and a pillar of Ajax cartons got in common? Ron O‘Donnell. A Stirling lad. Ron‘s dad took him to Paris at the age of 13. where he saw the tower. great steel sculpture that it is. and photographed it from all sorts offunny angles. He‘d always had an interest in art but. he says. ‘lt was the first time I‘d considered taking pictures through this little frame you put your eye to. It was quite a turning point.‘ lle‘s fond of those Paris snaps yet and still has the complete set.
Nowadays. Ron photographs towers and other sights of his own making. Enter Ajax. [joined him recently on location in a derelict building in Causewayside where he had set a scene. ‘Are you needing any Ajax‘?‘ Ron asks by the way. half seriously. 'I was covered in it for days while I was doing this piece. It all had to be emptied out of those cartons and I still have a big bag ofthe stuff.‘ An occupational hazard. Those cartons now stand piled in vertical file. defiantly red and blue and framed by two cardboard cut-out Corinthean columns. Behind. the walls crumble through Forties-style wallpaper. Flat. stagey curtains made ofstiff red mock-linen paper donated by a neighbourly printer. complete the picture.
Ron goes to collect his large camera from the same printer — tlp the back. turn right past the rubble. through the brambles and the man-size weeds. Security is always a problem. This particular building is open to the elements. not to mention passing. adventure—seeking kids who might take a fancy to Ron's installation. The camera arrives. I ask to take a look. Head down under the black cloth. It‘s like being a magician as the upside-down image comes into focus on the glass. Lights. action. The set-up Ajax stage takes on the kind of reality offered by theatre when the curtain goes up. Later Ron says that he still enjoys pop art. From Coke to Ajax.
Attention moves from the stage to the equipment. ‘The camera‘s made
; up of lots of bits. Friends put it
together for me.‘ Ron explains from the other side of the Cloth. The
t cherished lens ‘a beautiful lens‘. is an
old Wolensak. which would. I was
assured. now cost £1000 but was
captured at a snip ofthat price.
List 19 Sept — 2 ()ct
called it. A white-coated attendant.
Two young Scottish photographers recently scored success in London with their original comic streak and fascinating developments of the fusion of art and photography. Ron O‘Donnell and Calum Colvin spoke to Alice Bain.
rules.‘ he says smiling. At Napier
College in the Seventies. he had a
love/hate relationship with the
photography course. ‘They wanted you to take photos of blocks of
later to learn more about colour.
l have manipulated the subjects ofhis photographs the way he does now. He went into the streets with a 35mm
' camera and took what he describes
bargain-hunter in Ron O‘Donnell. ‘I like the idea that my stuff is not too flash.‘ he goes on. ‘You can bash it around then. I carry my lights in a cardboard box and my film in an old hold~a|l.‘ No silver boxes. No trappings. ‘People latch on to you if you say you‘re a photographer. Have you seen the new Olympus l l74Z. they ask. I‘m the last person to ask l things like that. I know nothing about it.‘
As the only chair in Ron‘s present ‘studio‘ has no seat and the rocky floor is an inhospitable alternative, we return the camera to safety and move to his darkroom at King‘s Buildings. the science complex of Edinburgh University. In between decking out old rooms with the finery ofhis imagination. O‘Donnell puts in a full-time job there as a photographer. It seems ideal and there are fringe benefits for a compulsive collector like him. ‘I get lotsofthings from the university. This is going to be a Japanese samurai robot. A sort ofsecurity l guard for computers.’ He picks up an old black set ofthree meter dials which sure enough has the grimace ofa samurai. Old labs about to be refitted or demolished come in handy too. He used one. fittineg a dissecting lab. in a rather gruesome photograph of a pig‘s head served on a platter. ‘Down On Manor Farm‘ he
? whites. He even picked up a ‘wee
; Leica‘ like the one used by the master. But the absurd, the unusual became the major attraction. O‘Donnell discovered the bizarre alive in Edinburgh. Places out of
‘ There was the old dressmaker‘s who somewhere along the line has ‘ Shep in Gilmour Place ‘The door lost his head. proffers the dish. “'i15()Pen 30 I in“ '00de in. It was a Bright thirsty blood is splashed beautiful placci huge gold French across the whole scene. The message miner ahd Chaise lehgue and
to many will be strong- swathes ofcurtains for changing anti-vivisection. anti-meat-eating, behind. The guys Wife had TUSI died pro-human and animal rights. Ron and he “'35 Selling UP. The
says only, ‘1 got qullc attached to photographer accidentally got there that pig, when 1 look it back [0 the in the nick oftime. O‘Donnell does butcher‘s. I asked ifhe still had the i seem to have the knack of being in restofit."l‘hat‘stakingthe collecting i the right P'aee 3” the righmme- The bug too far, : launderette in South Clerk Street
By sclfﬂdmlsslom O‘Donnell is a was a classic too. Would have been bit of a rebel, ‘1 like to bend the great for that Levis ad. Sixties chairs right up the middle so you could watch the washing go round.‘ And how about the overflowing pet shop, a familiar sight for years, at the top of Fleshmarket Close. or the elegant hatter‘s salon in the south side. The list goes on.
These pictures, fascinating through they are. became too static for O‘Donnell. He wanted to say more. Why not move things around. ‘I thought. what the hell! I got in touch with the joke shop in town to start
with and they gave me quite a few bits and pieces. Gorillas’ hands and things.‘ His interiors were never quite the same again and by the , sound ofthings, neither was his 3 house, now filled with all those hands and robots and stuffed fish. l ‘My three kids don‘t give it a second I thought. but they might look back and think the house was a bit strange‘, he says ofthe ever-changing decor.
One of his first set-ups was the stuffed trout still in its Victorian-style glass case. beside a real stream. ‘It was like putting it 3 back into its own environment. but I didn‘t really do it for that reason. I quite liked the look ofit stuffed.’ . Devil’s advocate again? He laughs, i ‘As people seem to react to the i l pictures, the more bizarre you can become. lt‘s visual. Between the l conﬁnes ofthat 10 x 8 rectangle, I l ‘ can put just about anything I want.‘
Mr Forrest‘s fur shop in Forrest Road was given an alien visitor under the new regime — a giant lizard in furs. ‘Mr. Forrest was upstairs ' working‘, Ron remembers. ‘and as I was photographing the creature. customers would come in. What was amazing was that nobody said. what’s the score here. Everyone‘s so polite in Edinburgh. Maybe they
wood!‘ but adds that he did return
In his early days. Ron would never
as ‘C‘artier Bressonish‘ black and