24 Dec 2009


Wisdom from The Bard:
'Address to the Toothache'

My curse upon your venom'd stang.
That shoots my tortur'd gums alang,
An thro my lug gies monie a twang,
Wi gnawing vengeance,
Tearing my nerves wi bitter pang,
Like racking engines!

A' down my beard the slavers trickle,

I throw the wee stools o'er the mickle.
While round the fire the giglets keckle,
To see me loup.
An raving mad, I wish a heckle
Were i' their doup!

When fevers burn, or ague freezes, 

Rheumatics gnaw, or colic squeezes,
Our neebors sympathise to ease us,
Wi pitying moan;
But thee! - thou hell o a' diseases -
They mock our groan!


Of a' the numerous human dools -
Ill-hairsts, daft bargains, cutty-stools,
Or worthy frien's laid i' the mools, 

Sad sight to see!
The tricks o knaves, or fash o fools -
Thou bear'st the gree!


Whare'er that place be priests ca' Hell,
Whare a' the tones o misery yell,An ranked plagues their numbers tell,In dreadfu raw,
Thou, Toothache, surely bear'st the bell,
Amang them a'!

O thou grim, mischief-making chiel,
That gars the notes o discord squeel,
Till human kind aft dance a reel
In gore, a shoe-thick,Gie a' the faes o Scotland's weal
A towmond's toothache! 

My teeth grieve for these tombstones. Beauty, youth and esteem are cannibalised by the toothless gurn. These cankered pusses can only savour the memory of a steak or apple. Balanced meals are off the menu for those who can't chew. Life sucks.

Q: What's got fifty legs and two teeth? A: The queue for a 'script.'

The punchline (25 people queuing for a methadone pre'script'ion) hits below the belt- it's the sugar that makes the acidic medicine and the gumline go down. 
 Dereliction of dental care is the catalyst for a spectrum of remediable and chronic illnesses. The symptoms of neglect are rooted in poverty, diet and phobia - in parts of Glasgow men are condemned to a life expectancy of just 54 years. Teeth are a crude litmus test; when the paper turns red society is at risk.
 So many of The Big Issue vendors I meet endure the torment of wracked mouths, gum gouging and bodged extractions. Vendors in Glasgow universally complain that access to free care is fraught with pit-falls - there's always a loop-hole ready to ensnare them.


  The counter-point to this rueful passage came when a vendor told me of a clinic providing free dental care buried somewhere in the catacombs of Edinburgh's Cowgate. Working from a surgery at the back of a converted chapel were a pair of Santos Dentistas. Dental surgeons Adam and Ania man the post at the Edinburgh Access Practice two days a week and provide free dental care to anyone unfortunate enough to qualify for their services. Both apportion their days between victims of the poverty trap and patients with blood-born viruses. Ania also works one day at a psychiatric hospital carrying the torch for Mary Seacole. Against implausible odds they are heroically plugging a septic health service. "If you're on benefits then you're entitled to free dental care" they conceded. And there was the rub; to qualify for benefits you need an address - a home!

 Neither break the rules, they'll treat anyone who needs their care out of hours.


You'll find Santa on Christmas Day working at the emergency dental clinic- ask for Ania.

Kamikaze has had another visitation from the "tattoo spirit". A sacred patch of virginal terrain on his ink-etched torso had been consecrated by another of my images. His chromium skirl, framed by the motto 'C'est la Fuckin' Vie', roars out from the encroaching crevice like a chrome Leo the MGM lion.

11 Dec 2009

Bristol Old Vic

The Bristol Old Vic have commissioned me to create images for a play scheduled for next March. 'Juliet and her Romeo' is Tom Morris's first production as new director of Britain's longest running theatre. Tom's adaptation of "Shakespeare's text with some cuts," is performed by octogenarians and set in a care-home. The images should be unapologetic, beautiful and celebrate love's ability to transcend age - not buried in digital-botox.

Sîan Phillips CBE

Tom has cast iconic Welsh actress Sian Phillips CBE as his Juliet. Sian's distinctive features and extraordinary presence command the frame. Her lover is to be played by the wickedly charming Michael Byrne - a surprising role model who made me want to sprint to seventy. Sian and Michael regaled me with stories of them with legends such as Olivier, Jacobi, Richardson and Guinness. With 141 years of experience between them they are hyperlinks to stage and cinema history. One anomaly struck me as out-of-sync; neither had seen Romeo and Juliet performed on stage!

Michael Byrne

  This was pre-pre-production and to make the exercise more of a challenge this would be the first time the principal actors had met. I had two and a half hours to shoot in a production office donated by Jerwood Studios. The intimate 4x3 metre space, complete with desks and chairs would have to make do. Fortunately there were no assistants, wardrobe or props. I maneuvered between a web of cables and stands, careful not to spark a domino-effect. The session opened with Sîan. She was well accustomed to the lens. Once I'd found a niche in her repertoire of reflexive poses I moved swiftly on. Michael was photo-putty; playful, provocative and consummately versatile.
 Today would have been my fathers birthday - he'd have enjoyed the company.

(selection of outtakes)

 In the days of photo-chemistry I operated within the confines of the characteristics of manufacturer's film and papers. Once the shutter was pressed the process came to an end, save a few arbitrary adjustments made by the printer. The photographic community's appetite for manipulation was whet with the advent of (Ilford) Multi-Grade. They embraced it's ability to allow the manipulation of not only exposure but also contrast. The photographer (or printer) could be further imbued in the image by the shake of a mask or wave of a dodging wand.

A liquid crystal now radiates where a halide crystal once burned and the physical imprint continues through the photographer's stylus. The connection is strengthened and expanded exponentially through the myriad tones, colours and hues at the disposal of today's photographer. The digital palette marks the departure from the one-click traditionalist.

After more than a decade in my Adobe cell I have developed a synergy integral to the creating of my images. Intervention by the most skillful pixel surgeon only derails expression and severs the creative link.

No one else can do this for me - I won't to apportion credit for my vision.

27 Nov 2009

Kirk (Teasdale),Gateshead '07

This is the jaundiced specter of an angel of the north. Kirk forewarned me "look out for Bart(Simpson) in his mam's slippers." He'd travelled by public transport in his mother's baffies - his ankles were too swollen to fit his shoes. It was a bleak winter's day in Gateshead- verging on the Baltic. Nothing was going to stand between Kirk and a good blether, not even a recent liver transplant.
 I first met Kirk 18 years ago when he was the ebullient Geordie art-director of Time Out magazine. He had a reputation for bold commissioning and could bend ears like a clown with a box of balloons. Kirk summoned me into his office after being tickled by a photograph in which I'd coerced John Galliano to strip down to his loafers. Despite our local derby differences Kirk always fought my corner. He loved to book a ring-side seat at my shoots and embroider "the tale."
Kirk now, '09 Baltic Flour Mills, Gateshead

 Kirk has won his battle but keeps warring on; shirked the demons and the yella-fella but he'll never lower his guard. He's unburdening some of his emotional debt by creating a coordinated interface between transplant services, donors and recipients.
 In his time as an art-director Kirk discovered and nurtured many photographers who went on to lead successful careers. One pretender to benefit from his stewardship was fashion photographer John 'Rankin' Wardell who he spotted at a St.Martin's degree show. Kirk couldn't hold back telling me that Rankin had consented to shoot him for his recent 'Rankin Live' project and was rewarded with a commemorative 'Ranked' badge! The funny thing was, we couldn't see the irony - there was none to be found.
 I gave Kirk my hand and he resisted the temptation to be himself, choosing instead to parody a patient he'd observed in rehab. As I said, he can't help telling the tale - long may he keep spinning.

24 Nov 2009

Big Issue- Vendor Awards

Peter (Corstophine)

Scott (Lowrie)

Local dignitaries, politicos and the homeless rubbed shoulders at the Merchant's House, Glasga. The occasion was to mark the first vendors awards - Real Lives, Real Achievements.Joan, John, Scott and Barry were rightly celebrated for their role as ambassadors for the homeless and the Big Issue.

Barrie (Greenan)

Everyone was well turned out; in their best and on their best- well almost. Barrie couldn't resist shouting back answers to the speaker's rhetorical questions - something they hadn't scripted for. Each vendor gave a short acceptance speech recognising the pivotal role the Big Issue played in turning their lives around. It was one of those rare occasion; a ceremony that counted for something, reality without the tv.

The celebratory mood was briefly tempered when John broke news from the podium of his and Lisa's imminent relocation south of the border. As a keepsake of the moment Lisa asked for a 'photie o' evrywan." Martin piped-up "put yer hons oot."

Stephen Robertson, CEO The Big Issue

The big guns were in attendance. CEO Stephen Robertson applauded the achievements of the vendors and spoke of the urgent need for the expansion of the services to be provided by a Big Issue Scottish Foundation.

Big Issue founder John Bird CBE (above) gave an impassioned speech recalling the inception of the Big Issue in Scotland in '69. The organisation had come a long way and was more vital than ever. He distinguished the aims of The Big Issue from that of 'charities' with a salient turn of phrase - "the Big Issue is a hand-up, not a hand-out." 
 With genuine concern John suggested I upgrade my camera (a compact) for something more professional and wondered if I knew that "the Big Issue discovered Rankin?" I presumed he didn't mean on the streets. He probably thought, sincerely, that I could benefit from his years of experience in the publishing industry.  Or, had I been ranked?

20 Nov 2009

Saltmarket Sting

The wind was coursing the Saltmarket like an ice-hockey stick in search of a puck. It had found David who'd torn-up the script "tha's it, nae mare drugs." David was homeless - again. He's used to being on his own, he'd lost his ma and tried to take his life but the branch broke- a hard lesson to swallow. His flat was torched, everything was lost: his music system, dvd's, even the freeview. Stood in all his worldly goods: trackie gear and unblemished trainers, he dug out 75p, all he had to his name - enough for one copy.


David pitched-up at Argos car park as the rain pecked through the polyester. It's tough to start over- again, he begins his day the Baron Sugar way: buys one copy, sells one copy, buys two copies... 

 Jimmy got unstuck at 12 with his first bag of glue. Drug and alcohol fueled abuse followed. Now he's re-born and recovering, seeing the world anew through fervoured eyes.
  "Can you bless me?" he asked sheepishly, "Put yer hon' on ma heed?" He paused and plucked-up courage "Can I return the blessin'? Can I put ma hon' on the camera?"

"Tell them 'am 'Healin Hons' Jimmy."

Jimmy's eyes are a slew-gate, metering the cycle of touching "hons." His life is on probation, sentenced to another night curfewed from society. He dreads going back to the hostel and fears the delinquent nights. It's been his shelter for fourteen years but he'd never call it home. He needs his faith and, he confesses, The Big Issue.

17 Nov 2009


Professional Photographer, November 2009.

I ain't no saint!

13 Nov 2009

Saltmarket from Street Level

The Pyramids are wrapped in sub-zero silk. It's minus 2 in the Saltmarket and the chill factor is set to raw.

  Janice has been off the streets for the past fortnight; unable to cope with the news. Both her parents had been diagnosed with cancer. Her mother is to undergo chemotherapy after surgeons removed a lump from her breast. By the time they discovered her father's pancreatic cancer there was little hope of remission. 

 Janice's is torn by her mother's torment. She is terrified of her daughter being abandoned - again. Janice is adopted.

The Big Issue
gives Janice a sense of purpose and the generosity of her regulars lightens her burden.


  At the Saltmarket HQ I volunteered to guide a family of Roma to their pitches and set off with my vertically overawed travellers in tow. In a door entrance sheltered from the preying wind we prepared to take the first shot. My arm was out and Florita (mother) was in position when we got the order to move on. Our interference with the automatic door was causing a draft. The belligerent security guard wouldn't see reason. We weren't causing an obstruction, I explained that I was a photographer and only needed a matter of seconds. She was emphatic "Do you no' understand? You're letting in the cold." Pointing at my shivering companions I applauded her grasp of meteorology and sense of common courtesy. As the glass doors were closing I ended the cross-examination "just to clarify; it is just the cold that's the problem?" She tightened her fingers inside her wool gloves, shrugged her shoulders nonchalantly and returned to her post. 


Florita and the others shrugged their shoulders in unison. The language-barrier had been crossed without the need for translation. They were accustomed to this open display of hostile hospitality.


On my return to base I retraced my steps, eager to find out what kind of establishment would refuse such a meager request. Could it have been the foyer of some legal or financial institution? I had to lock my knees from buckling under the weight of the irony. Not only was it a public space, it was an arts complex with a 'street-level' photographic gallery!

At The Big Issue there a policy of non-discrimination, everyone and everything gets through the door - especially the cold. 

9 Nov 2009

Saltmarket Syndrome

Sodden sheep pin-down the Pyramids as the tarmac conveyor grinds to a crawl. 


The Saltmarket is exerting it's grip, I've become it's willing hostage; Saltmarket Syndrome? "Billy fae Fife" carries the wind on his back like a sack of coal. He tilted his head skyward and looked me up-and-down like a war-torn terrier. His eye gleamed like an sapphire on a butcher's apron. Billy took my hand as though he was going to lead me on a dance.


Frankie - Big Issue vendor support worker.

It turns out there's a soccer star at The Big Issue depot. You'd never know, Frankie's too modest to let on. It was his 5 goals against Poland that secured Scotland's 2007 World Cup victory in Copenhagen. The final score: Poland 3, Scotland 9.

Frankie was Glasgow born, Gorbals raised and delinquency bound until he signed-up with the Scotland Homeless football squad and the team at the Big Issue.


  A distress-flare bobbed above the counter bleating "been bullied, been bullied". Taunts and threats are a regular occurrence for Neil. His unquestioning trust can leave him vulnerable and exposed. He can't comprehend the retarded comments and jibes, he says "everyone gees me kisses an' cuddles." 

 Despite the danger and his fears, he keeps returning to his pitch. Neil loves his regulars, Neil loves everyone - unrequited. He takes the punches but could never deal them.
  Neil needs care in the community. Meanwhile the Big Issue Scotland Foundation will continue to provide Neil with the support that society ruefully neglects to provide him with. 


  Stephen started vending a couple of weeks ago, it gives him "a sense of direction," but he's still nervous. "It's the youths you've gotta watch oot fer" he warned, pointing to a slit in his shewn crop. Stephen had intervened when a group of students were set upon by the Sooside (pronounced 'suicide') Cumbie. One of the Cumbies (Gorbals) gang drew out a "steakie" and stabbed him "in the heed." He recalled his amazement when the surgeons used super-glue instead of stitching him up.  

"Be careful" he advised, "that no-one thinks yer a pro-active". I showed him my id.

31 Oct 2009

Grand Ole Opry

This gallery of in-and-outlaws was shot in '87.

I'd rustled together 20 rounds of 664 (Polaroid) and a beaten-up Mamiya Universal. At the time I thought nothing of the shots and laid them to rest. Like a case of Jack they've matured. These photographs weren't taken in a bar in Tennessee or an outpost of the Wild Frontier. They were captured in the Grand Ole Opry - the wild West -

West of Scotland!

  At the time the talk going around in the salons of Edinburgh was of gunslinging Weegies high on Heavy, ready to lynch the first Sassenach who dared put a foot over the boundary line. It sounded too good to be true. "Govan Gavin?!" was the baffled response to my invitation, apparently to a suicide ball. No one would come for the ride so I went on my lonesome.

I was welcomed with open-arms and over the winter of '87 I kept returning for a reality check-up.
Laredo gunslinger

  A stratified cloud of gun-powder and cigarette smoke hung over-head. Gunslingers danced as they slapped the burning embers on their thighs (in the race to beat their opponent they would often prematurely shoot-off before withdrawing from the holster). These urban cowboys were dedicated to detail - the get-up was got right. Who was going to argue with how they chose to escape? They had conviction, and six-shooters.

The Wanted posters had questions that needed answers. Where were the old-timers? What became of 'Jo Horner', 'Country Joe', 'Curly Bill', 'Bounty Hunter' and 'Cimarron'? Would I find ghosts where once stood a funeral parlour or would the image of bonhomie still play on in the former Picture House?

Kid Kamikaze and Cowboy Alec.

I deputised Kid Kamikaze who rode shotgun. The Kid was gonna cover me, armed with his pink compact and sharp eye. The fist-full of Polaroids was my passport to a magnanimous home coming.

Times have inevitably changed; there are too few cowboys and too many plucking hen parties. There's still a live band, bingo, line-dancing and gun-slinging (all for a fiver). Gone is the nicotine soused velvet curtain that hung like human fly-paper. The vista has been transformed by a prairie-panorama courtesy of STV's lawman - Taggart. Pretzels and cans of Red 'Sitting' Bull are a sobering change from the days of heavy and hard liquor. The memory of the old days still lingers in the air - the gunslinger's sulphur and salt peter making a last stand against the tobacco ban on the senses.

Outlaw (left) and Big Hoss (deceased).

Everyone gasped as I turned the shots. 'Deceased' was the word most used to describe the subjects.

John 'Kid Curry' McGhee (deceased).

John 'Cheyenne' Johnson (deceased) had attained legendary status before taking his life and with him the glory days.

Gambler (above) was run out of town after running-up bad debts.

John 'BJ' Duff (left) and John 'Doc Holliday' McCafferty (deceased). Blind DJ BJ has moved over, the new kid-on-the-decks is mos deaf DJ Rowdy Yates below.

DJ Rowdy Yates

Ian and Michelle (above) were on a roll. Michelle hit the bingo jackpot- a hundred pounds. Her and fiancé Ian (left) couldn't contain their joy- or their love for one another. Now they didn't have to worry about the taxi bill home - priceless moments.

The last of the die-hards was Archie 'Joe Horner' Buxton (above). It was unanimously agreed that Archie confounded convention, proving that looks could improve with age and tooth-loss! 

There are no pretensions here, just an honest celebration of culture and kinship. The spirit the of the Grand Ole Opry lives on...

 Thanks to all the kind folk of Glasgow's Grand Ole Opry, especially: JK, Big Bad John, Joe Horner, Cowboy Alec, Line Dancer, Bounty Hunter, Characo, Rowdy Yates, Peggy Sue, Nick Wray, Durango, Davey, Tony, Fiona, Night Rider, Donnegal Kid, Big D, Jake, Michelle and Ian, Duane, Bella and Cathie.