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I'm an arts journalist & PR consultant living and working in Scotland. I've been a journalist for more than 25 years. I write a regular column for Scottish quality newspaper, The Herald. I deliver a PR service with an arty bent and work on a consultancy basis with arts organisations, including Scotland's leading creative industries festival, XpoNorth & broadcast support body, ScreenHI. I am currently co-writing a book about the celebrated Scots artist, George Wyllie, with his daughter Louise. Instrumental in making a celebration of his life's work happen in 2012. For more information, see www.georgewyllie.com When I'm not being a mum/working, I talk to my dog. He laps it up. Contact me on janpatience@me.com (All work © Jan Patience)

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Through a Lens Darkly: Guest Blog by John Linton

PRESS photographers have many names ... many of them unrepeatable in a family blog. I remember being too scared to ask what a 'monkey' was when I first worked at the Evening Times in Glasgow as a young and callow freelance news reporter. Since I was being asked to get in a car with one, I soon found out...

Like many journalists I know, underneath the bluster, back chat and bravado, there is a sensitive artistic soul bursting to get out of most press photographers. 

They are often thrust into difficult situations and have to use verbal wiles and charm to escape with a good set of pictures. 

I remember being told by then Sunday Mail picture editor, Davie McNeil, that a good picture would always be worth more than my set of words because a good picture told - and sold - the story. 

Recently, former Scotsman snapper (see, I can't help myself!) Donald McLeod (now freelance at www.donald-macleod.com) contacted me to tell me about an exhibition of work by press photographers at the Hidden Lane Gallery, 1081 Argyle Street Glasgow. It opens this Friday, September 2 and lasts throughout September. (www.hiddenlanegallery.com)

The exhibition is the first one planned by the newly reformed Scottish Press Photographers Association (www.thesppa.org) and if you love photography, then go and take a look. All human life is there, as my guest blogger, John Linton (/www.lintonpix.com) writes below:

AS PHOTOGRAPHERS working for the press we frequently dip in and out of peoples' lives. The fast turnaround of the daily news cycle means that pictures are taken one day, to be forgotten the next. During the week that the media spent at the Red Road Flats, after three people fell to their death from a 15th floor balcony, I was there working for newspapers. Most of the time the press is tolerated as part of any major event breaking in the country. Covering this tragedy felt different. Invited into peoples homes and offered food, it was as if those who had previously been invisible, suddenly found that the world was paying attention. 
At around the same time I was thinking more and more about the amount and quality of photography sitting on working photographers' computers that was going unseen. The internet (along with camera phones) had ushered in an era unprecedented in the number of images being distributed around the world. Previously a printing press had been needed if you were serious about showing your work to the world. Now all that was needed was an internet connection and a Flickr account. The world is awash with photographs, but the rules of life with respect to garnering skills remain equal no matter what era we live in - the more often you do something the better you get at it. The particular skill of the Press Photographer is to condense as much of a story as possible into the one picture. Different newspapers handle the style of their photographs differently, but the aim is always the same. 
Glancing at random images on a computer screen is very different from taking them in, printed and displayed in an ordered manner. The difference between looking at the unorganised final selection for this exhibition, as compared with when it was grouped and ordered, was in itself amazing. There is no substitute for a story well told, and the story of this area is worth the effort. 
Everything about the Red Road flats is iconic. Conceived 50 years ago full of hope and promise they are now a failed experiment, with one block currently being dismantled, stripped from the inside out and the rest earmarked for demolition. During construction, throughout the second half of the 1960's, futuristic cranes slotted girders into place. Labourers balanced on the ribs of this giant steel skeleton, like workmen on the Empire State Building. By the end they had created the highest housing structures in Europe, along with hopes of a brave new world for the residents of overcrowded Glasgow tenements.
My first hand experience of these buildings has only come about now, during their decline. Tales of how families in the late 60’s had moved to these modern flats for a better future have been well documented. The scale of the project may be unique, but the story of hope followed by disenchantment and social dystopia is sadly all too common in the history of hi-rise living, particularly in the UK. Housing 4,700 people and starting a community from nothing, without the history and fabric binds together an area that comes with an area is almost impossible. Many issues work against this type of project. Lack of amenities, poor security in communal areas, unsuitable building materials have all been blamed for the bad reputation the Red Road flats achieved after a couple of decades.
Like many poor urban areas of Scotland, drugs and crime became a defining feature. The imposing Red Road buildings provided an easy image to associate with the poverty, violence and neglect of the 70's and 80's. To single out the area is to ignore the reality that there are the same problems in council estates and tenements throughout the country. The vastness of the scheme, the very thing that had made it so appealing to it’s well meaning architects and planners, was beginning to turn against itself. 
The area is currently experiencing what is likely to be its last phase. The buildings have become a ghetto for asylum seekers. Working as a press photographer brings you close to as much (if not more) tragedy as it does to triumph. The sad truth about despair is that it is commonplace and often overlooked. When the Russian family fell to their deaths the most memorable thing for me was that, although few knew the family directly, the atmosphere of discord was heavier than any I have experienced before or since. According to press reports, 670 families of asylum seekers lived in Red Road at the time. That atmosphere was a mixture of all the individual reasons for people having been uprooted from their homes and countries. The feeling of tension was fuelled by each individual’s anxieties over uncertainty for their future. The people the media encountered that week, are the same who are met by asylum charities every day. Volunteer workers in the field tell that suicide is all too often a consideration.
So the story with which I became intrigued was that of the flats themselves. What was their history, how did they fit into the city of Glasgow as a whole? Why did the flats become the subject of an internationally acclaimed film? And why has it ended its life as little more than a weigh station of humanity; many more questions indeed than answers. This exhibition is seen through the eyes of those professional photographers who witnessed the area throughout its life. We hope it will allow you to draw your own conclusions.

John Linton
Freelance Press Photographer

Chris McNulty – View from the West 2011

Donald McLeod – Flats in the Snow - Shot for the Scotsman 1987

Drew Farrell - Ashely Jensen

Garry McHarg – End Detention Now

Iain McLean – George Square fireworks

John Linton – Misty Glasgow

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