What do you want to be when you grow up? A photographer? 150 years have passed since the invention of photography gave birth to such a profession and for a medium which is often measured against its limitations. it supports a surprising variety ofcareers and interests.
Industrial photography. wedding photography. medical photography. i journalism and advertising — no other art form is so readily available to those not consciously making art. both amateur and professional. But the success of photography. its lack ofexclusivity is also its achilles heel. The debate of photography as art continues.
While that question lingers. the photographic community and photography education in Scotland continue to expand. In Glasgow. Thomas Joshua Cooper. a practising photgrapher with an international reputation. heads the five year-old Fine Art Photography Department at Glasgow School of Art. In Edinburgh. Napier College has been upgrading and widening the scope of its photography course for the past five years and degree status is now imminent.
As education is improved. so the number ofexhibiting photographers and the opportunities to exhibit have increased. Young graduates like Lorna Bates. Brian Jenkins and Matthew Dalziell are coming out of college with mature and ambitious work. Dave Williams. the photographer featured in this issue ofthe List and winner ofthe BBC Scottish Photography Awards. enthuses: ‘We‘re light years ahead of what was going on 1() years ago.‘
In a pioneering position. Stills Gallery was set up in 1976 under the direction of the late Richard Hough. an American who introduced Scotland to some of the greats of photography. many ofthem from his home country. Photographers like Paul Strand. Walker Evans and Robert Frank provided a yardstick ofquality. In recent years Stills has been dogged by financial and directional crises. damaging its previously influential position. Staff turnover has been high and the gallery has just advertised for a new director in the wake of Rob Powell‘s resignation.
Problems at Stills. however. have led to positive developments elsewhere. With the fragmentation of the photographic community. the time was ripe for new ideas. Gloria Chalmers and Jane Brettle. both ex-Stills employees and themselves photographers. re-sited their talents under their own banner. opening the Portfolio Gallery/Photography Workshop during last year‘s Edinburgh Festival.
As well as hosting workshops and classes. this tardis-like space shows exhibitions of Scottish photography from students and school-children through to top talents. ‘People who already have a reputation are asking for shows. We thought we would have to seek them out.‘ says Gloria Chalmers. ‘And then there is Portfolio Magazine. Photographers
are really keen to have their work published.‘ The third issue of the
As David Williams snaps first place in the BBC’s Scottish Photography Awards. Alice Bain surveys the
Scottish photography scene.
and (over page) we publish Williams‘s new work for the first time in Scotland.
magazine comes out this month.
In Glasgow. a group of photographers are on the brink of opening a photography gallery in the High Street styled on similar project lines to Portfolio. Hopes are high that they will open in May.
While the specialist galleries get their act together. other venues are quickly developing a taste for photography as art. Third Eye Centre and the Collins Gallery in Glasgow and the Fruitmarket and Graeme Murray Gallery in Edinburgh show high quality Scottish and foreign work on a regular basis. There is something to be said when two of the most intriguing and tempting exhibitions during Glasgow‘s Mayfest are those showing work by photographers Ruth Stirling and Owen Logan (both winners ofthe Scottish Arts Council‘s annual Richard Hough Award) at the Collins and Third Eye Centre respectively.
Against the background of these events and developments. the BBC last year announced a new competition for photographers resulting in the series which came to
Ihoma: Joshua Cooper
a climax last week. Three judges. artist John Byrne. curator Colin Ford and photographer Harry Benson. were filmed making choice comments on the entries. alongside edited interviews with Scottish photographers. None of the three finalists were shown in interview and some of Scotland‘s most successful photographers were cast aside with often glib disregard. presenting an eccentric and lop-sided view but, some might argue. entertaining television.
Opinion among photographers appears to be strong. ‘The programme has united the photographic community and raised consciousness that things are going on. But this format is no way of looking at photography and next year it looks likely there will be a boycott by serious photographers,‘ says Gloria Chalmers of Portfolio. Dave Williams. winner ofthe award, joins the critisism amiably. ‘It strikes me that there was too much weight on the judging process itself. It was the meat ofevery programme. They filmed the judges over a couple of days. responding to images as they came out of the box on camera. You can‘t necessarily respond to any art
medium like that. They even advertised it as. who is going to be disembowelled tonight!’
Williams saw the problems coming. ‘I know what TV does— it dilutes everything.‘ Respected photographers working with stunningly subtle techniques like Thomas Joshua Cooper ‘didn’t stand a chance in this televised mass audience context.‘ Artfully raising his own odds. Williams by-passed his most recent finely abstract work (see feature) and sent six portraits of the girls of St Margaret‘s School taken nearly five years ago. The judges fell for them. ‘But I'm not mad enough to think the competition makes me the best photographer in Scotland. With other judges there would be ‘ different winners. I think it has probably made me the Englebert Humperdink of photography!‘
As the BBC plan next year‘s competition. which will include film and will hopefully improve on the ﬁrst time round, the Scottish Arts Council are preparing a report on the best way forward for photography in Scotland. A working party, which includes photographers, Ruth Stirling. Ron O’Donnell. John Charity and Robin Gillanders. administrators. Jane Brettle and Gloria Chalmers and curator. Sarah Stevenson from the Scottish Photography Archive based at the Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh. has been set up to advise. Lindsay Gordon ofSAC is looking to the report for the future funding structure of photography in Scotland. Will the money go to galleries or will it be better placed in the hands ofphotographers?
Production and photography sales will also be investigated. Right now
there are few places where original prints can be purchased. with Scottish Photography Works (a private promotional and exhibiting project run by the tireless Murray Johnstone) and Portfolio Gallery being the main outlets. As public interest in photography grows. there may be opportunities to create a more buoyant photography market.
There has always been a tradition ofphotography in Scotland. But perhaps not since the 19th century. when photographers like Hill and Adamson. Thomas Annan (see art listings for exhibition of his work at the Portrait Gallery). Thomas Keith and John Muir Wood were working. has photgraphy had such a diverse and thriving focus in this country. Underlying the 150th anniversary of photography with its special
celebrations (Third Eye Centre are showing New Photography in June. the Royal Scottish Museum are showing a large exhibition on the development of photography later this year) there is a growing. permanent community.
Lindsay Gordon feels that is one of Scotland‘s strengths. ‘In England there is an antagonistic line-up of social documentary. propaganda photographers at one end and fine art photographers at the other. They hardly speak to each other. We hope that the report will show that Scotland has escaped that polarisation of attitude.‘
The List 7 — 20 April Nb") 9