20 Feb 2011

Fashionably Late

  In 1998 I was commissioned to photograph a group of upcoming British designers. I was assigned a stylist for the job by the name of Isabella Blow. The plumage jetting from her head suggested she was an endangered species with a flair for the extraordinary. We instantly warmed to one another, we made each other giggle. I hadn’t a clue who this creature was, Issy was a legend in the world of fashion - a place foreign to me. I was a neutral, I knew no one from her circles so she felt able to confess and confide in me. We’d meet in low-lit cafes off Piccadilly and she’d tell me of the snubbing she received from the photographers, models and designers she selflessly promoted and mentored. She once called me excitedly to say she’d named me in an an interview as the photographer to watch out for- typical Issy.
 Issy suffered from depression and the treatment she received from her contemporaries and muses compounded the misery. Our clandestine confessionals lasted until I left London for Scotland. I was shocked, but not surprised, to hear in 2007 that she had taken her own life. The method she chose to end it was tragic - weed-killer. Exiting her poisonous world in such a dramatic manner seems prophetic in retrospect.
 Four years after her death and the carrion are descending. Publications, documentaries and a film of her life are appearing from the coffin's woodwork. Photographers and designers who took advantage of her unrequited generosity are now reaping the post mortem benefits of her influence. 

Isabella was like the feathers in her hats- fragile and exotic. The latter-day obitchuaries will, I'm sure, tell their own tales.

9 Feb 2011

Smile for the Camera

Q: When is a smile not a smile?

Photograph©Gavin Evans
 There is one thing that would significantly improve the quality of Barrie’s life. Every time he looks in the mirror he is reminded of the moment his world was condemned to scrutiny. His perma-grin was the result of a random attack and society won't let him forget. At that moment his anonymity was annulled and he became guilty of crimes he never committed. Disfigurement at the hands of a stranger has scarred him inside and out. Whether the attack is random or gang related, the scarred are scarred. All bearers of Glasgow Smiles are victims- society is the victim too. Barrie wishes his scar could be removed to erase the psychological pain and stigma. 
 The ‘Glasgow Smile’ is the slashing from mouth to ear resulting in a crescent shaped scar. It’s a cultural thing, unique to Glasgow, you can’t help noticing them- they’re everywhere. In a world obsessed with cosmetic and aesthetic perfection this act of deliberate disfigurement and defilement flies in the face of cultural norms. The prevalence and persistence of this ‘culture’ perpetuates a state of underlying fear- reinforcing the hard-man stereotype. The consequences for the victim are; imposed vilification and demonisation resulting in simultaneous social imprisonment and exile. The ‘Glasgow Smile’ is synonymous with gang culture but is also an act randomly inflicted on innocent bystanders- like Barrie. This practice has existed for at least 60 years and is sustained by the turning of the cheek.

Dr.Christine Goodall
In an attempt to comprehend why this cultural anomaly persists I arranged to meet Dr.Christine Goodall- consultant oral surgeon and founder of Glasgow based charity Medics Against Violence. Christine is at the sharp end of this practice as she treats victims of knife crime from as young as 13 years old. She candidly tells me that these explosive attacks are expressions of the emotionally inarticulate Glaswegian man. Unsurprisingly alcohol is one factor that often facilitates these outbursts. The ‘Glasgow Effect’ coupled with psychological morbidity is a powerful contributing force- difficult to define yet impossible to deny.
  Dr.Goodall introduced me to a member of Strathclyde’s Violence Reduction Unit who assures me that I can be introduced to many victims and perpetrators if I want to turn this line of inquiry into a photographic project. With Medics Against Violence’s support I am seriously considering exposing this cultural malaise- if I can make a positive contribution to their goals.

A: When it’s a Glasgow Smile.

In Vein

Opposite Arteries is a gallery in a different vein- a shooting gallery hidden from view by hoardings. On a disused plot on Glesga's Bath Street oblivious pedestrians pass within a stone's throw of oblivion.

The place is awash with needles, sterile spoons and pipes. Faeces and tampons litter the ground- with anthrax thrown into the heroin mix, shooting-up these days is riskier than gambling Russian Roulette with five loaded chambers.
 Bath Street is no backwater, it's smack in the city centre.

Even the walls of the Institute of Virology appear contaminated.

2 Feb 2011

Girl X

There's a new round of upcoming productions at the National Theatre of Scotland. Today I'm sniffing around the Glue Factory where the cast and crew of Girl X are assembled. Director Pol Heyvaert is putting 12 members of the Citizens Theatre's choir, gently but assuredly through their paces. The choir are getting to grips with the daunting task of synchronous speaking- speaking as one and memorising 43 pages of script. The play, concept of lead actor and disabled rights activist Robert Softley, is based on the controversial issues surrounding the 'treatment' of Ashley X. Although this play is certain to challenge the audience it is in no way didactic
 The show is premiering at the Traverse Theatre on the 4th March and runs 'till the 13th March.

Pol Heyvaert

Robert Softley

It was a battle to get home; through gale force winds, past dead dumpsters and umbrella mortuaries.