Here, there and everywhere

Photographer David Williams has been let loose on the Scottish Photography Archive to find material to hang beside his own in his forthcoming show. He talks to Justin McKenzie Smith about images old, new and under threat.

Strange parallels are appearing in Scottish life. Visit Celtic Park or Edinburgh College of Art on consecutive nights in January, and you come across crowds of fans chanting, ‘Sack the Board!’. On both occasions, the authorities in question are being accused of playing fast and loose with democracy. And at each event, a hard-pressed manager is sent in to try and calm the indignant mob.

Returning to the College of Art two days after the Save the Portrait Gallery debate, it is reassuring to find that life has returned to hectic normality. However, for David Williams, Head of the Photography Department, the protest meeting did not provide any release for the concern he feels about the Trustees’ plans to reorganise the national collections.

While preparing the exhibition, One Little Room, An Every Where Williams has been troubled by mixed emotions. On the one hand, he was thrilled by the experience of making a personal selection from the Scottish Photography Archive. On the other, he is alarmed that the Trustees’ pr0posals would disperse the Archive throughout the various Galleries. if that

David William’s ‘Boyal Wedding’ (1981) happens, Williams believes, ‘they would decimate a magnificent and priceless collection.’ As a result this exhibition. ‘One Little Room, An Everywhere’. has assumed an unintentional significance. While it was always meant to be a celebration of the Scottish Photography Archive, it also makes a case for its preservation.

Selecting an exhibition from more than 18,000 images was a daunting task, but it was one Williams approached ‘with love’. The title a line from a John Donne love poem conveys this feeling and also the exhibition’s transcendent qualities. For although it occupies a limited space as photography does generally in the National Galleries to Williams, the pictures in the exhibition can be his whole world.

A self-taught photographer, Williams has chosen works which helped him to comprehend the language of photography. This includes work by exceptional

photographers of the l9th century such as Hill and Adamson and James Craig Annan. ‘I had to be converted to the work of the early photographers,‘ Williams confesses, ‘now i am hooked on it. Early on, they realised that photography was not simply a means of documentation. They were constantly experimenting, using different techniques with stunning results.‘

There are also little—known treasures of the Archive such as loan Eardley’s Gorbals photographs and examples of the remarkable developments in recent Scottish photography, represented by Calum Colvin, Owen Logan and others.

Williams’ own work has been an integral part of this renaissance. Pictures from No Man Is Land, his record of a six-month residency at St Margaret’s School, Edinburgh, was acclaimed for its portrayal of adolescence. More recently, he has explored the non- figurative and abstract potential of the medium with startling effect. However, the inspirational qualities Williams admired in his selection from the Archive encouraged him to make a very personal choice of his own work. ‘These pictures span the length of my photographic career from images captured on my first few rolls of film to my most recent work. All of them have been milestones in my evolution, stepping stones to something else.’

By hanging the exhibition thematically, rather than chronologically, Williams has enjoyed creating dialogues between old and new. ‘Constructed photography is very much the way things are going at the. moment. But people like Julia Margaret Cameron were making constructed photographs over 100 years ago. To use photography well today, you have to understand that unique history.’

The Scottish Photography Archive has built up a collection of work from all over the world that illustrates that history. it provides a context within which the unparalleled contribution of Scottish photographers can be understood and valued. David Williams ends the exhibition with his most recent work Sunflower Blues, a photo-animation video on which he plays his own haunting music. One hopes this is not a poetic lament for the Scottish Photography Archive.

One Little Room, An Every Where is at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery from 5 February until 15 May.

m heady kind oi tension. small discs of colour. like the night Walking up the stairs of the Institute, sky, stars and constellations are ' the paintings of Jean-Charles Blais picked out and hang suspended. Other wriggle on the walls. Against glorious pieces include tiny carnels, palm trees tangerine the black torsos of men and and polar bears, brown paper and flat a'n arched animals are as confident as sugar alniond colour to suggest prehistoric wall paintings. Outlines dreamed destinations. curve against red-wine tissue and Helene lielprat’s work is at tirst ‘Leanlng over uy packet ot plynent,’ thick white paper, as intimate and Olen“ "'0 I'M Infllflcflfl- M! says French artist llelene Ilelprat, ‘lny sprung as clenched list. colours depict tragnient ot memory in hand target the original choice of Gerard sunset. works on large expressionist-style brushstrokes. ochre. Why I think, do I tlnd nyselt stretches of unbleached canvas. Bright colour is used decorativer using blue but thinking ochre? There’s Inside decorated borders, angels fly around borders and in wheels shapes. a te-ptation to plunge your whole upside down, their bodies dripping and BM 08'9"” outlays ll" *0"! W" My Into inlet. a sort of Initiation rite sntudged. Like huge dizzy, spldery cryptic lettering. Words like oiiAcioll: tor yonrselt.’ trescos, Gaouste’s paintings are prayer for the solitary soul and In the exhibition, ‘lhatre: Four beautqu yet vaguely unnerving. FASTER IOSTEli: Our Father are Artist Fro- France’, palntings in rich, (in the opposite wall, Philippe spelled out to llnply a niore spiritual III-Ith- colour has hallo canvases e Favler’s paintings deal with aspiration and tempered level to not work. W“ '0'- ma III mythology and new Bum ‘28 5 87 WA’ and hope. In one series, ‘Slt, You will (Beatrice colin) the French Botantic tradition. native; vibrant colour and monotone, tind niy Gardener on a llew Plate’, Guam: Four Artist Froin France is at WM III! Intellect; classical and the work pulls and pushes to evoke a l glass painted black is plnprlcked with the French Institute until 11 Feb.

82 The List 28 January—10 February 1994