DEVELOPING NIGELY REPORTING BADLY?
Exercising his right of reply, Rob Powell, director of Edinburgh’s Stills Gallery, picks up on points made by Alice Bain in The List’s recent survey of Scottish photography.
It was indeed a pleasure for anyone involved in the medium to see The List devoting several pages ofits recent issue to Scottish photography. The recent. televised. and highly painful BBC Scotland photography competition, which ‘united' absolutely no one and embarrassed almost everyone. including the winners, bravely attempted to set the public‘s perception of the medium back ten years.
It showed once again. depending on your viewpoint. the failure of creative photography‘s promoters and practitioners to penetrate the consciousness of the country‘s mass mediators. or the breath-taking inability of those mediators to register what's been going on around them. What‘s going on around them is. nevertheless. varied. impressive. and highly important. and it was gratifying to see this recognised by a magazine with its finger much more attuned to the real pulse of Scottish culture.
lfphotography in Scotland is currently vibrant. however. it seems
that the medium must continue to be let down by Scottish critics and scribes. as well as by Scottish broadcasters. Both gross inaccuracies and unstatcd issues were afloat in Alice Bain‘s ‘survey‘ ofScottish photography. I would like to correct the former while raising some ofthe latter.
Alice is ofcourse entitled to her opinions. But she and the facts parted company in a description of Stills. Scotland‘s major photography gaHery.
Stills Gallery is too significant in the development of a wider understanding ofphotography in Scotland for its role to be so lightly glossed over. Criticism is one thing. and we welcome it: complete misrepresentation is another.
Let us look at the record. In addition to presenting a wide range of the best shows available from other photography galleries in the UK — a role no other Scottish venue plays — Stills has originated no less than four exhibitions in a twelve month period. These range from
the work of four Scottish
The Male Nude in Photography". This. the largest and arguably the most important photography exhibition to be made in Scotland in recent years. was seen by 50.000 people at its London showing alone. and is still touring: the accompanying catalogue had to be reprinted within months of its publication.
Stills' 1988 Edinburgh Festival exhibition. ‘WORK‘ by Brian Griffin. is currently enjoying a three | month showing at the National Portrait Gallery in London — a remarkable achievement for a gallery of Stills‘ modest size and resources. ‘Power Plays‘. an exhibition ofcontemporary Canadian photography launched by Stills in January. will have toured to eight venues by the end of this year. halfofthem in Scotland.
The future programme is just as exciting and substantial. with major exhibitions by Scottish photographers Andy Wiener and Patricia MacDonald. and an ambitious two-part exhibition about the representation of Scottish women in the medium of photography since World War Two. which combines historical images with new work commissioned from
a series ofsmall scale exhibitions for touring in Scotland.
In the past three years Stills has established a wide-ranging Education Programme. staffing has grown from two to five. public revenue funding has increased from £38,000 to 9.66.000. and annual turnover from £60,000 to £125,000.
Stills is a gallery which Scotland and Edinburgh can be proud of. and
forefront of Scottish photography. and indeed British photography. Fortunately it no longer has to struggle alone in its historic role of trying to do everything for everyone. and it gladly shares the forefront with other groups and organisations.
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As for finances. no arts organisation (or Arts Council. or local authority. or educational institution) in Britain has escaped the tremendous pressures resulting from the policies ofcentral government - policies at the heart of current political and social debate in Scotland. Where several other important photography centres in the country have perished. however. Stills Gallery has survived. and. like everyone else involved in the arts. continues to perform the daily magic on which British culture so sadly depends — ofdoing a lot on very little.
Finally. in Alice’s unfortunate and I‘m sure unintentional juxtaposition ofphrases. lies an implication that I may have resigned from Stills for negative reasons. I have simply made the positive choice to return to my native Canada after three challenging and rewarding years as Director. and I leave Stills. as I leave Scottish photography. on the verge of further development and expansion.
Scottish photography will grow when personalised and sectarian attitudes are replaced by a healthy regard for difference. It will grow when independent photographers, artists. and galleries stop undermining each other and work around their common interests. It will grow when they professionalise their activity. understanding that this activity. like the medium itself. is necessarily multifaceted and catholic. It will grow when the Scottish Arts Council and other funding bodies finally catch up with the medium and present considered public policies and strategies. It will grow when broad. intelligent. and critical alternative models ofwhat photography means. promoted by organisations like Stills. Portfolio Gallery. Third Eye Centre. and others. achieve a recognition that will make it impossible for utterly misconceived and ill-advised programmes like the recent BBC series to be made in Scotland.
(Rob Powell. Director. Stills Gallery)
4’l'he List 5— 18 May 1989