Colin McPherson

Photographer and Visual Artist

National Photography Symposium, 2018

On Friday, November 2, I had the pleasure of contributing to one of the events at this year’s National Photography Symposium at MediaCity in Salford, which looked at the future of working in the photography industry. The NPS is a biennial event run by the Redeye photography network. Below is a transcript of my talk:

Can I start by issuing a spoiler alert?

I’m sure you are not alone in thinking you don’t want to hear from another white, middle-aged man on the subject of photography. Well, the good news, is nor do I.

Therefore, I thought I’d do an impersonation.

More accurately, I thought I’d wind the clock back thirty years to 1988, to where it all began for me, and speak to you as if I was that 24-year-old, fresh from securing his first-ever assignment on a local newspaper in Edinburgh, and express my hopes, fears and dreams about my future as – hopefully – a professional photographer.

You see, so much has changed in those three decades since I innocently and carefully loaded a spool of black-and-white film into my non-motorised, non-autofocus, non-electronic Nikon FM2. But, in many ways, so much has stayed the same and so much still needs to change.

I look back at my 24-year-old self and wonder: how and where did he acquire the skills necessary to become a walking, mechanised, computer-literate, one-person media centre, capable of disseminating visual, audio and written content across the globe from the comfort and safety of an iPhone? Who would teach this novice snapper what it would take to be at the frontline of photojournalism, witnessing many great and significant political and social events?

Where would the money come from to finance the constant upgrading, upscaling and uploading?

The answer was: on the job. Looking, listening, learning. A true autodidact, but with influences stretching back to the invention of photography itself.

Mr Deguerre, I salute you and I will buy you a drink when we are together in the big darkroom in the sky. You gifted the world the prize of alchemy, turning one’s imagination into a solid state, with a bit of glass, a sheet of paper and some chemicals.

So it’s 1998. What are those hopes, fears and dreams? What does the future look like and what is my plan to get myself seen and heard. What can I expect of the world of photography? And how can I make sense of it enough to pursue the idea of a career – surviving – making a living.

For starters, I want a fair crack of the whip. While I don’t expect doors to be held open for me, I would like to think if I knocked hard enough, there would be a response. I’m looking for the people who wield the power, who call the shots and make the decisions. Who are they, what do they look like and where can I find them?

The options are limited. This is 1988, after all. There are so few photography courses in this country and the ones that exist are difficult to get into, over-subscribed and therefore able to cream off the best students to fill the places. And there are so few photographers, certainly not many like me, with a passion and a hunger to make it as a professional. To get out on the streets every day, to play with the light, find interesting people and places, tell stories using my camera. Anyone you meet with a camera is either a bird watcher or a train spotter. Or my dad with that funny little camera which only comes out when we go on holiday. To Filey.

Meeting other photographers is really difficult too: I could join a camera club and hang out with all those old men who are hung up on technicals and techniques. Bit I’m a punk rocker and they probably wouldn’t even let me in that posh-looking building where they have their meetings and show pictures of old boats. And sunsets. And children in the playground. Dodgy, most of them, I reckon.

The local art gallery sometimes puts on photography shows, but these are so infrequent that they are almost invisible. And none of the work is relevant to me. To my life. To where I live and what I see every day. I could keep sending my photos to newspapers in the hope that they would like them. I did that a couple of times. I got this really cool picture of a bunch of nuns running for the bus. I developed the film the following day and then made a really nice print in my darkroom (well, it’s actually the spare downstairs toilet. Which is ok to use as long as my brother doesn’t need a pee and open the door and ruin another precious sheet of photo paper.)

So I made this lovely print and found a hard-backed envelope and sent it to our evening newspaper. But they didn’t print it. Maybe I should have used a first-class stamp? More expensive than second class, but worth it. At least it would have got there a day earlier.

But even doing that seems daunting: just finding out whose in charge at the newspaper is nearly impossible. Phone calls go unanswered and I never get a response to the letters I write to them.

So I get a bit frustrated. And I think to myself: Bollocko, I’ll do it myself. I’ll show them. So I put on this little exhibition, in a church hall near where I live and got my mate Barry to design a poster which we photocopied and stuck up all over the town. And guess what? A few people actually came. And they liked it. They even wrote some nice things in the visitor’s book.

Well, not all of them did. Barry’s brother said it was shit and that I should have had more pictures with girls without their tops on, like in the Sun, because that’s what real photography is.

And everyone I come across is, well, so old. And they are all men. And posh. And busy. And important. There don’t seem to be many women in photography. And I certainly haven’t met anyone who isn’t white. But I guess that’s not my problem. All I want is a lucky break, something to go my way, get my career off the ground.

If it is up to me, photography will be different in the future. Imagine what it will be like way in the future, 30 years from now. Because in 2018, I reckon everything will be different.

There will be equal numbers of men and woman photographers. There will be a project called 325 Voices, where 325 women photographers will each make a portrait of each of the 325 women MPs at Westminster.

There will be people from all sorts of ethnic backgrounds, and they will be visible and prominent in the institutions and organisations which represent photography and who represent them. And people of all of abilities in charge.

In 2018, people whose passion is photography but who don’t want to study, or can’t because they cannot afford it, or they are caring for a relative, can have their voices heard, their work seen and their experiences validated.

In 2018 it will not matter whether you have a degree in photography but whether your voice and work are authentic, honest and valuable.

Studying photography will be brilliant though, because there will be literally dozens of courses, all over the country, and you’ll be able to learn about so many different types of photographic practice.

And there will be hundreds of jobs to choose from when you graduate, and you’ll have an equal chance to get employment no matter what your social or ethnic background.

And big companies and powerful media corporations will all respect your rights, your intellectual rights, your copyright because this year, the prime minister Mrs Thatcher actually did the only good thing she ever did and brought in the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988, which enshrines our rights and protects us from voracious and greedy people trying to make money out of our skill and hard work.

In 2018, our world view will be seen from different angles and perspectives, and not just narrated through the press and media by people from narrow backgrounds, with vested interests who retain the power and the processes by which photography is funded and viewed.

Male, pale and stale people will have an equal voice alongside everyone else.

In 2018, we will live in politically enlightened times:

There’s no way the most celebrated and influential photography magazine in the world could illustrate the issue of who owns land with an image of an heroic, white cowboy.

There’s no way one of the world’s most influential newspapers could publish a picture of a starving black child on its front page to elicit sympathy and the notion of the white saviour.

There’s no way the four main prize winners in a national portrait competition will be white people presenting images of black people.

There’s no way an image of a stone-throwing protestor will be elevated to Art and discussed in terms which would embarrass great Dutch and Italian masters of the past.

And there’s no way a long-lens image of bikini-clad women reclining on a beach, won’t be seen as objectification, an example of unconscious everyday sexism, whether or not it’s taken by a middle aged man as art.

Because in 2018 none of those things will happen and if they did it would just show that we still have a long, long way to go to break down the barriers, storm the citadel and make photography truly democratic, representative, honest, enlightened and collaborative.

I believe that in 2018 photography will still exist in its vacuum: somewhere between entertainment, art and journalism. Whatever your practice, whatever your outcomes, it will still be a profession or pursuit where you will rely on your own ability, determination and skill as well as the support, cooperation and encouragement of others for your success.

That will mean that photographers and photography will have to continue to act as chroniclers, witnesses and creators, to make their work. But they will also have to continue to be agitators, campaigners, agents of change in order to create and sustain new, transparent and trustworthy power structures which are open and accessible to all.

So my advice to all 24-year-olds in 2018, starting out on your journey in the wondrous world of photography is to question and challenge everything. Be disruptors. Respect yes. But do not stay silent or kowtow. Don’t accept that things cannot change. Recognise and praise progress. Call out wrongdoing and bad practice when you see it.

Photography was, is and always will be about rebellion, insurrection and revolution, after all.

And as the song goes: the revolution will not be televised.

But it sure as hell will be photographed.

Photograph © Craig Easton, 2018.

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Silver jubilee time

Cardiac surgery on a newborn baby, London, 2013. © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

On the 14th August 1993, I emerged blinking (and slightly worse for wear) into a brave new world. Little did I imagine that 25 years later I’d be celebrating a quarter of a century of being an independent, freelance photographer.

But that day will always be etched in my memory as the start of an incredible journey. I had taken the decision to leave the security of a staff photographer’s job at the Edinburgh Evening News and now it was up to me to make a go of it. With the help of innumerable people (fellow photographers, journalists, picture editors, friends, family and the thousands of people whom I have encountered along the way), I have managed to survive, somehow, in an industry which has changed beyond recognition in the two-and-a-half decades since I loaded a roll of monochrome film into my Nikon FM2 and began my first freelance assignment – to photograph the beginning of the construction of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Alloa, Scotland.

If someone back then had said to me the words social media, smartphone, digital camera, low-cost airline, Holyrood, AppleMac, autofocus, Brexit, Dolly the sheep or English Premier League, I wouldn’t have had a clue what they were talking about. So much has changed, not just in the world around us, but in the way photographers work. But so much has stayed the same, too. The stories, characters and issues which populate our everyday lives are largely cyclical. The way we choose to illustrate them is still very familiar (many would say too much so) to the way it was back then. Men in suits still rule the world and the old enmities and adversaries have been replaced by new ones. That is not to say there haven’t been amazing strides forward and progress too. I have been lucky enough to see changes in science, technology and medicine through the lens. I have witnessed the ebb-and-flow of politics and the achievements of many sporting heroes and cultural icons too. And shared in the pain and pleasure of everyday life.

When I began my freelance career I was solely a newspaper photographer: that kept me busy all the days of the week I needed to make a good living. The intervening years has seen that industry wither and decline. But with that situation, new possibilities have opened up. Photography is a creative practice, but I didn’t realise how many times I would have to adapt my ways of working to survive and thrive. From moving location to working collectively, it has never been a straight road. All the time, however, I have tried to derive as much fun and enjoyment from making a living from what I love doing. There have been ups-and-downs, good years and bad and countless mistakes and missed opportunities. Some of the assignments I have covered I wished had never happened: bad news sells, unfortunately. But over all, it has been a pleasure and a privilege. To work on all five continents of the world, to travel to some of the planet’s most sparsely-populated and beautiful places and to meet people of all different races, religions and backgrounds – and to photograph them. It’s a dream come true. That’s what has kept me going over the last 25 years, and will hopefully do the same over the next!

In no particular oder of preference or relevance, below here are just a tiny – and random – selection of images culled from the hundreds of thousands of clicks of my shutter. Thank you for taking the time to read this and for everyone’s help, encouragement and love down the years. Finally, if you want to purchase a compendium of my work, I still  have a few of commemorative books left, marking my 20 years working for the Independent newspaper.

Salmon netsman, Scotland, 1998. © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

The Queen’s Baton Relay, Lesotho, 2017. © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Politician Jacob Rees-Mogg, Scotland, 1997. © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Dolly the Sheep, Scotland, 1997. © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Paul ‘Gazza’ Gascoigne in rehabilitation, England, 2016. © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Nottingham Forest football fans, England, 2015. © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Sculptor Andy Scott, Scotland, 2014. © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Morning exercise, Beijing, 2012. © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Writer Douglas Coupland, Scotland, 2009. © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Comedian Ken Dodd, England, 2008. © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Foot-and-mouth crisis, England, 2001. © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

The remnants of East Germany, 1992. © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

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An Independent Eye in Glasgow

My exhibition of photographs commemorating two decades of working for the Independent and Independent on Sunday newspapers will go on show in Glasgow on Thursday, March 1, 2018.

The show will be staged at Hillhead Library and is a collaboration between Street Level Photoworks and Oriel Colwyn, the photography gallery based in north Wales which originally curated and premiered the work last year.

The exhibition was inspired by my book entitled An Independent Eye, which was published in March 2016, the month when the newspaper ceased its print publication and became an online-only media outlet.

The show will run until Saturday, April 14 and admission is free. Thank you to Malcolm Dickson (SLP) and Paul Sampson (Oriel) for making this happen.

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Summer 2018 photography courses on Easdale island

“I‘m so happy I attended the weekend photography course on Easdale island. In addition to their wealth of technical experience both Colin and Adam are patient and supportive instructors. They made sure everyone felt comfortable regardless of their experience level.”  AE, Edinburgh

We are delighted to announce the dates for four photography courses to be run on Easdale island in June and July, 2018.

Hosted and led by photographers Colin McPherson and Adam Lee, the courses will follow the same, successful format which proved so popular with participants last time round.

These short courses are aimed at people who love photography and want to take their practice to a new level. The island is our inspiration. Your teachers will help you explore what makes a great photograph and how to take one. Enjoy a restful and relaxing visit to one of Scotland’s hidden treasures – Easdale island.

We look forward to welcoming you to Easdale island, a stunning and unique location on Scotland’s west coast which will inspire you. Our aim is to share our knowledge and experience with you, to spark your creativity and to give you the confidence to explore new ways of seeing and making photographic images.

The course is run over two full days (three nights), and allows you time and space to explore and photograph. You will be given one-on-one support and the opportunity to share and discuss their work with others in the group.

Esdale-pano-01

Easdale is a lively place, with plenty to see and do, both on the island and in the immediate area. Once the centre of the Scottish slate mining industry, the abandoned quarries and tiny white-washed cottages give the place an historic atmosphere. Access to the island is via a three-minute passenger ferry which serves as a lifeline for the 65 permanent inhabitants. There are no cars on this inner-Hebridean island, but it does have a pub, tearoom/restaurant, museum and plenty of people coming and going. Set against dramatic coastal and mountain scenery, it is the perfect place to get inspired and take stunning photographs. It can be reached by train on the dramatic and beautiful railline from to Oban, or is a pleasant two-and-a-half hour drive from Glasgow.

The course is hosted and run by professional photographers Colin McPherson and Adam Lee, both of whom have distinguished careers and a wealth of experience in teaching and running practical photography workshops. Participant numbers will be between five and six per course and you will be accommodated in one of two beautiful cottages (Chattan and An Rubha) which look out over the Firth of Lorne to the neighbouring island of Mull. Each participant will have his/her own separate bedroom.

We welcome anyone on to the course who has an interest in taking photographs, even if your chosen camera is a Smartphone. Although there will not enough time to teach individuals about the basics of cameras, we can offer to guide you in many of the basic rules of image making which will help you  create stunning pictures.

Your arrival will be timed for late-afternoon on the eve of the course. We will use this time to introduce ourselves and each other, eat, relax, chat about photography and fimilarise ourselves with our surroundings. We’ll even have some fun doing light painting, using long exposures and flashlights to create beautiful images at twilight. The following morning, we begin our journey.

“I just wanted to say again how much I enjoyed the course, a truly inspiring experience… I’ve been doing lots of reflecting about what we covered and trying to put it into practice!”
SM, Argyll

On Day 1 we will look at simple, practical techniques to improve your photography skills… including best ways of composing photographs (the rues and how to break them!), understanding the light and photographing people. The day will be a mixture of easy-to-follow teaching and practical exercises which can benefit your existing skills. You will have time and space to explore the island and take as many photographs as you want. The day will be broken into three, with refreshments and advice available throughout.

On Day 2 we will put what you have learned into practice… we would like you to set yourself a little project for the day: whether it be a human-interest story, a set of themed landscapes (or seascapes?) or indeed anything which has sparked your interest. We can advise you on how to tell stories through multiple images, portraiture and how to create your own distinctive, personal style of photography.

Each participant will have plenty of time each day to put what they have learned into practice and you will be encouraged to make and share their work with the other participants at the end of each day. Adam and Colin always on hand to offer advice, guidance and cups of tea. There will also be plenty of down time – an opportunity to socialise and share stories and experiences – and to ask lots of questions. We’ll talk about what inspires us to take photographs, how we can turn ideas into stories and how to undertake and complete projects. You will have the chance to have your portfolio reviewed by both Adam and Colin, so please bring some examples of your work with you if you wish.
Meet the tutors…
Colin McPherson – www.colinmcpherson.com
Born in Edinburgh, Colin McPherson has been photographing at home and abroad for a quarter of a century. He undertakes long-term projects alongside commissions and assignments for a number of newspapers and magazines and is represented by the Getty agency. He was a major contributor to the The Independent for over two decades, covering news, features, sport and entertainment for the paper. In 2012, he was a founder member of the Document Scotland photography collective. His work is published internationally and held in archives and collections such as the Scottish national photographic archive. His photography has been featured in more than 30 solo and group exhibitions and his project entitled When Saturday Comes was shown as part of Document Scotland’s The Ties That Bind exhibition at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh from September 2015 until April 2016. He is currently on a year-long assignment that is taking him to all five continents of the world, including working in more than 35 countries, which will be completed in April, 2018.

Kinnaber, 2000. © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Mull, 2009. © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Eigg, 2004. © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Holm Show, 2013. © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Adam is a freelance photographer and photography facilitator based in Liverpool. His work has been published in a number of national newspapers including the Observer, the Independent on Sunday as well as commissions for other magazines such as Aeon and Earthlines and clients such as Granta. Aside from commissioned work, Adam also undertakes personal projects, which have been exhibited across the North West of England. As a facilitator Adam works with a wide range of groups including adult and young people. His clients include Blackpool Museum, Liverpool City Council, Preston City Council, The Library of Birmingham, Redeye the Photography Network, Halton Borough Council and Halton CGG amongst others. Much of this work involve teaching photography skills to groups so that they can tell their own stories and advocate for the issues that affect them. Adam has received Art Council England funding for a number of these projects. Recently, Adam has started undertaking long distance walks, which included walking 600 miles along the Pamir Highway in Central Asia. He is currently working to train a donkey to walk the length of Britain in 2018. Adam has written extensively about his adventures.

You will stay on the island for three nights and departure will be on the morning after day two of the course.
What is included:
  • All teaching, guidance and encouragement to take great photographs. We have a large communal lounge with big screen for looking at and reviewing work. Theory and practice will take place both inside and outside, so come prepared to be on the move.
  • Your accommodation. We have six bedrooms for participants, in two separate cottages, Chattan and An Rubha. (Adam and Colin will stay in separate accommodation on the island). Each cottage has its own well-equipped kitchen, generously-sized bathroom and communal area for socialising. Both cottages have gardens, with Chattan also having a patio to the rear.
  • Meals. The following will be offered as part of the course fee: continental breakfasts on the three mornings of your stay, including day of departure. A light lunch, consisting of soup, sandwiches and salad on each of two full days of the course. Two simple evening meals, which will be eaten communally. Tea, coffee and soft drinks will be provided.  On the third evening, we recommend the short trip to the island’s award-winning Puffer restaurant to sample some of the finest local seafood and other produce from Argyll. We encourage all the participants to join us for the meal (this is not included in the course fee).
  • We can arrange free travel to-and-from Oban, the nearest major town to Easdale island (15 miles by road). Oban has railway and bus stations and is a two-and-a-half hours drive from Glasgow airport.
What is not included:
  • Travel to and from Easdale island. You will be asked to make your own way to either Oban or down to the island and to time your arrival for the late afternoon before the day the course commences.
  • Cameras and other equipment for your use. We recommend you bring your own camera, with a small selection of lenses if appropriate, a tripod or stabiliser, flashlight and suitable clothing for all weathers, including robust footwear. Either a laptop or external hard-drive to store images is essential.
  • Your personal insurance. Easdale Experiences, who are facilitating the courses, have all the necessary insurance policies in place for your protection, however, we recommend you have your own travel and personal insurance in the event that you are unable to attend the course after booking, are delayed in your arrival/departure or that your equipment becomes faulty or damaged.
We are offering courses on the following two dates:
Saturday 23rd until Tuesday 26th June, 2018
Wednesday 27th until Saturday 30th June, 2018
Saturday 30th June until Tuesday 3rd July, 2018
Wednesday 4th until Saturday 7th July, 2018 – all are three night stays on the island.
We are delighted to offer places on either course for a fee of £375.
Payment can be made by bank transfer, credit/debit card or PayPal and once accepted on to one of the courses, participants would be asked to pay 50% immediately to secure your place, with the balance due by two months before the course. Cancellations and refunds will be possible, however, deductions would apply.
We look forward to hearing from you. If you have any questions, wish to know more about the island, the course or the teachers, please get in touch using the form below.
“Thank you for organising such an enjoyable and stimulating trip, and for all the patient teaching and encouragement that you and Adam offered.”  MD, Manchester
“This was a fantastically engaging course which I couldn’t recommend enough for a person of any level of experience to do. Colin and Adam were excellent hosts and teachers.”  EC, East Lothian

Join the converstation on our Easdale Island Photography Courses Facebook page.

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Choice. Change. Contradiction

Travel, they say, broadens the mind. It also focuses it.

My current leg on foreign assignment is taking me through nine countries. Each, naturally, is diverse and unique. So far from what is familiar to me, I look for what I recognise. Traces and places of something I know. The common strand through this section of what was once termed the New World, is that of migration. Of journeying, whether by choice, coercion or necessity. Of finding pastures new, or a refuge, or a place to build a future. Everywhere, people on the move, historically, contemporary, singularly or as part of a mass movement which redefines the host and the guest.

Individuals who represent great cultures swept through here. Columbus is everywhere. Gesturing, pointing, settling and unsettling. As quickly as one representative of a distant Spanish monarch appears, a whole community of Mayans disappears, their oral evidence diluted and forgotten.

I take my identity with me on this journey, but bit-by-bit, I shed it. The colonisation of countries, which has led to the ethnic mash up on small Caribbean islands. Vast swathes of Canada redefined by white European settlers, many of them who were driven from their land in Scotland. First Nation becoming one nation, but only slowly as the yoke of history is loosened and an understanding gained of the past. I find it hard to identify with where I am beyond a commonality with people, bonds of new friendships. But in these small steps, I also lose my old skin.

In the church in Bermuda. On the wall of a bar in Jamaica. In the street name in Vancouver. In the business in Belize. Familiar and yet foreign, a tiny drip of memory, like liquid, squeezed from the past, drying and dying, yet nurturing new life. Facing forward. Yet mindful of the past.

Traders, exploiters, immigrants, slaves, soldiers, tourists. They have all been here. Now it’s my turn. When my footprints have faded and the photographs forgotten, the timeless energy of humanity will continue. Change. Contradiction. Challenge. It’s always faced us and always will.

A final splash in warm water. A chance to forget the past. For the communities around me it’s a constant process of new dawn, fresh beginnings. For me, I’ll just go on my way.

Hamilton, Bermuda. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2017 all rights reserved.

Hamilton, Bermuda. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2017 all rights reserved.

Victoria BC, Canada. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2017 all rights reserved.

Victoria BC, Canada. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2017 all rights reserved.

Vancouver, Canada. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2017 all rights reserved.

Vancouver, Canada. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2017 all rights reserved.

Approaching Belize. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2017 all rights reserved.

Belize. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2017 all rights reserved.

Menonites, Belize. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2017 all rights reserved.

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For a few dollars less

I have seen my fair share of shack strewn shady side streets on this assignment. Some places you expect it: reputations precede most destinations. Other locations it takes you by surprise. But then again, maybe it shouldn’t. Lie back and close your eyes and picture the Bahamas. The endless blue ocean intersecting with gleaming, pristine sands. Palm trees rustle in the breeze. Tourists meander indolently. Danger only lurks in the form of a stray, ripe coconut being pulled by gravity towards your unguarded head. Then open your eyes and find yourself Over the Hill. In Nassau’s back alleys. Amongst the shadow of the wealth which permeates society, but which never reaches the far shore. Drink in the Tip Top bar, where a man darts in, jerks his head back and in an instant a one dollar shot cascades down his throat. Then he’s gone. A small injection of fuel, mainlined to help him through the next part of the day. In the barber’s there a hum of conversation. Local creole patter. The air: Hot. Still. Sweaty. A cloud of talc and a spray of something sweet send me on my way. Past the cycling Rastafarian, handlebars laden with bags of unseen detritus. Cars crashed. Rows of wooden houses. Some windowless, others are churches. Pray for them, my friends. Because they have been forgotten by the God of money. But they have spirit. In the mouths which flash toothless smiles, I see their pride. In the woman who recognises my companion and thanks him for his help and guidance. They are here. Over the Hill. But not beyond it.

Nassau, 2017. Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Nassau, 2017. Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Nassau, 2017. Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Nassau, 2017. Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Nassau, 2017. Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Nassau, 2017. Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Nassau, 2017. Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Nassau, 2017. Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

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Sun, sea and salt

I have just finished three exhilarating and fascinating days working in the Turks and Caicos islands. Behind the pristine beaches and holiday hotels peppering the shoreline, there is another world, as is so often the case in tourist destinations. TCI, as the locals call their home, is a disperate and friendly collection of islands, some in the flux of development, others clinging to survival, none more so than Salt Cay, a windswept, ragged landscape of desolate and redundant salt ponds which gave the island past prosperity. Around 70 people still live on Salt Cay, in tumbledown, bleached, ramshackle properties. The sun relentlessly scorches the salinated earth. Trees and bushes are twisted and gnarled. Long rows of dry stone walls indicate the previous presence of British colonialists. But the welcome is warm and the island has an enchantment which made me want to stay beyond my short adventure. TCI people are proud of their country, and indeed for small parchments of land peppered across the Caribbean Sea, it has much to offer. I hope to be back again one day…

Salt Cay, 2017. Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

South Caicos, 2017. Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Salt Cay, 2017. Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Salt Cay, 2017. Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Salt Cay, 2017. Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Salt Cay, 2017. Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Salt Cay, 2017. Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Salt Cay, 2017. Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Grand Turk, 2017. Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Salt Cay, 2017. Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Grand Turk, 2017. Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

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Looking inside out in Africa

A photograph is an object which depicts a scene. Whether it is a landscape, a piece of documentary evidence or indeed a portrait, the act of the photographer pointing the camera creates the space into which the visual architecture is designed. The result can be simplified to an equation which equates to the viewer looking at objects created by the practitioner/artist. One-way traffic. So far, so simple.

In his totemic piece of work entitled RFK Funeral Train, American photographer Paul Fusco turned the equation back-to-front. The images depict people standing transfixed at the sight of the train carrying the coffin of recently-murdered politician Robert F. Kennedy as it snaked its way up the American east coast from New York City to the Arlington Cemetery in Washington D.C. in the summer of 1968. It captures a nation gripped by grief and disbelief, that we know. The often blurred images freeze forever a sense of shock and bewilderment. Taken from on board the moving train, Fusco’s vantage point allows him to be in the ascendancy, often looking down to individuals and groups of people as they form a human daisy chain to pay their respects and mourn the sudden loss of hope in a country in the grip of racial and economic tension.

What has always fascinated me about this body of work is this: many of the images are blurred and imprecise, vignettes of reactions, stares and expressions caught on the move. This gives the sense of movement, but it also does something to alter the perception of who is in control of the process. For me, it becomes clearer with each viewing of the images that there is an ambiguity which I cannot resolve. Fusco has the camera, and constructs the scene. But somewhere in there another dynamic takes over. It is almost as if, by freeze-framing these people, the subject of the photograph is re-imagined: it is now Fusco and his deceased travelling companion which are the primary focus, not the people lining the route.

I have always held these images to be ‘other’. A set which created uncertainty in my mind, asking for a deeper exploration of the relationship between the sitter and the artist, the subject and that which objectifies it. I have always had the intention of trying to experiment with this concept and recently on an assignment I found myself in a place and position which allowed me to reignite this interest. For nearly six weeks, I spent many hours travelling as part of police motorcades, often at high-speed, through eight different countries in southern Africa, with time on my hands and space to contemplate the vast and varied rural landscape and the chaotic and diverse urban environment. What became apparent to me, as the sirens wailed and traffic swerved, were the expressions of people, caught unawares, unsuspecting, slightly bewildered by the sudden encroachment into their lives as a convoy of important-looking cars headed by police outriders and other vehicles whizzed by.

As we sped through Malawi, Zambia, Namibia, Botswana, Mozambique, Swaziland, Lesotho and finally South Africa, scores, if not hundreds, of people were captured, frozen in time, their expressions betraying personal emotions, unaware of the content or context of what they were witnessing. Photographed without particular fastidiousness, the images presented in Africa Drive-By represent the moment when, like a reflection in a mirror, we see our own consternation, surprise, joy, shock, ambivalence or insouciance captured and turned back on us. They are us. And we are them.

Africa Drive-By is presented as a small-scale, 28-page ‘zine publication, with a limited edition first print run of just 150 copies, available exclusively through this website.

To flick through a copy of Africa Drive-By, click here…

Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2017 all rights reserved.

Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2017 all rights reserved.

Photograph © Colin McPherson 2017, all rights reserved.

 

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News and reviews

Newly graduated students, St. Andrews. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016 all rights reserved

It’s been a breathless year, with many changes and new challenges. I’ve made a gallery of some of my favourite images from 2016 and while we’re at it, here’s a quick round-up of what’s happening right here, right now:

Catching the light in the darkroom…

The University of St. Andrews is the home to one of the world’s most important photography archives. I was delighted when the august institution approached me about acquiring a set of images from Catching the Tide, my long-term project documenting Scotland’s last salmon net fishermen. This allowed me to go back into my darkroom after many years and hand print the photographs, which I have called the St. Andrew’s Day Edition, as they were made on 30th November, 2016. I can now offer additional prints of the iconic image Hailstones, Kinnaber, 2000 for sale. Please get in touch if you are interested in buying one of the prints, which I explain about in more detail in this short film I have just released: https://vimeo.com/196027845

The taste of Nutmeg…

December 2016 blog

Exhibiting photographs in public can be nerve-wracking, not knowing what the audience reaction is likely to be. After many years staging solo and group shows, I have become used to taking criticism and praise when it comes. The new edition of the Scottish football periodical Nutmeg takes my output in a new direction with the publication of my first-ever short story. This work of fiction centres around the nefarious goings-on at an amateur football club in central Scotland. Grab a copy before it sells out!

Football on the BBC…

Clyde versus Edinburgh City. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016 all rights reserved

Clyde versus Edinburgh City. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016 all rights reserved

I am continuing to document Edinburgh City FC’s inaugural season as members of the Scottish League, with the BBC Sport website showcasing a gallery of images from selected matches throughout the season. Whilst City started life as a League 2 club with a string of defeats, a first win at Montrose in November heralded a run which has propelled them towards safely avoiding relegation, although there is a long, long way to go. The most recent match I covered was my first-ever trip to Broadwood to see ‘the Citizens’ secure another point in a 0-0 draw against Clyde.

The fifth Beatle…

Document Scotland are delighted to be able to announce Glasgow-based photographer Sarah Amy Fishlock is to join our collective with immediate effect. We have long been admirers of Sarah’s work and have already collaborated with her on a couple of projects. My colleague Sophie Gerrard interviewed Sarah about her work and we look forward to Sarah being an integral part of the Document Scotland team.

Document Scotland are currently working on exciting new initiatives and plans for 2017 and beyond and you can keep in touch with us – or purchase our work – through the website.

Licence to roam…

Anti-AfD demonstrators, Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved

Anti-AfD demonstrators, Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved

Finally, after a long and sometimes painful hiatus, I have resolved all the contract issues with Getty Images regarding their buy-out of Corbis, who represented me for the best part of two decades. I am delighted to say that my collection of over 11,000 photographs is now available to licence worldwide through Getty Images and I look forward to adding to the archive in the coming years.

Beyond the Border…

In the run up to the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, Document Scotland staged an exhibition entitled Beyond the Border at Impressions Gallery, Bradford, our first high-profile national show. Curated by the gallery’s director Anne McNeill, the exhibition was an overwhelming success with record audience numbers. Now it travels a bit further north and will be staged by Berwick Visual Arts from 11th February until 14th May, 2017.

Final score…

City of Liverpool FC. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016 all rights reserved

City of Liverpool FC. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016 all rights reserved

As always, my photography appears in print and online regularly in the monthly football magazine When Saturday Comes. Even if you are not a football fan, I hope you can still enjoy the cultural commentary which I try to communicate through these images, taken at grounds and stadiums across Scotland and beyond.

All that remains…

Finally, thank you to everyone who continues to support me and my work. I love taking photographs for my own and other peoples’ enjoyment. Keep in touch, have a great festive season and all the best to everyone for 2017.

 

 

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Invitation to Italy

Piedmont. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016 all rights reserved

A vinyard growing young grapes, Piedmont. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016 all rights reserved

Exploring Piedmont Through Photography 13-20 October 2016

We invite photographers of any ability to join us on an inclusive five-day course which will help you to develop your photography skills in the beautiful province of Piedmont in northern Italy.

You will be led and taught by acclaimed Scottish documentary photographer Colin McPherson, who will pass on his knowledge of shooting stories and features for most of the world’s top newspapers and magazines. You will learn how to visually narrate stories about the people, places and pastimes of the Langhe region and Monferrato hills. Local expert Andy Groom will be on hand each day to guide us through this corner of Piedmont, and our programme of events will introduce you to many of the aspects of life which make this one of the most fascinating parts of Italy to photograph.

We will document a variety of subjects, all set against the stunning landscapes and historic towns which make this region famous for such things as truffles, wine and hazelnuts. Harvests and festivals play a central role in the culture and economy of the Langhe region and Monferrato hills and we will discover such things as how truffles are hunted and sold, how grapes are grown and wine is made, how artisan cheese is made is produced and how the hazelnuts are harvested.

Many of the age-old practices have remained unchanged for generations and as well as photographing life and work, there will be plenty of opportunities to stop and sample the best of local produce as we go along. The famous Slow Food movement was started in Piedmont three decades ago and the region still benefits from a gentle pace of life with an emphasis of good quality in a beautiful environment. Piedmont is home to many famous types of wine, such as Barolo and is the province which gives the world the famous Ferrero Roche chocolates.

Getting to- and from Piedmont is straightforward with good transport links via four international airports within two hours travel. Accommodation on the course will be provided in a superbly-appointed, traditional 200-year-old hill-top cascina, or farmhouse, surrounded by vineyards and with views to the Alps to the west and the Langhe and Monferrato hills.

Over the duration of the course, we will endeavour to develop and enhance your ability to comprehend what turns a set of images into a story. We will look at how to select subjects to photograph, how to choose locations and use ambient light and landscape to complement your pictures and how to edit a series of photographs to create a stunning and personalised narrative of a subject. The emphasis will be on creative ways of enhancing your existing knowledge of photography and looking at practical ways which can bring your images to a new level.

Colin McPherson has been a photojournalist and documentary photographer for over a quarter of a century, and has travelled much of the globe covering major news, features and sports stories for the world’s most influential publications. He is widely exhibited and his work is held in important archives and collections. He is a founder member of the Document Scotland collective and works on long-term project in colour and monochrome and in analogue and digital mediums.

The course is designed to accommodate people of all levels and skills of photography. As long as you are confident handling your camera and happy to participate in a group activity, we would love to work with you. Andy Groom’s connection with the Langhe region and Monferrato hills goes back over a decade and he is well connected with local life having lived and worked in the region since 2005. He will be our eyes and ears and has designed an itinerary which is both visually stimulating and chosen to show off the best of this corner of northern Italy. The accommodation comprises of double bedrooms or single occupancy twin bedrooms, either with en suite or with shared bathroom facilities. There are generous public spaces and plenty of room inside and outside the cascina to relax in the warm autumn sunshine.

Our programme involves daily trips to activities and local landmarks, where we will learn about the Langhe and Monferrato hills and put together photo stories. The course is not strenuous, but requires dedication and patience to get the best from what the area has to offer. The weather in autumn is pleasant, dry and warm and we will ensure you have adequate time to enjoy your surroundings whilst making your images.

All tuition, accommodation, transport within Piedmont and meals are provided. Breakfast will be continental style, lunch will be a picnic as we’ll be out-and-about most days, whilst the evening meal will be at one of the numerous local trattoria, all serving delicious and wholesome Italian food. These items will be provided as part of the course fee, but all other spending, such as on alcohol and any personal items, will be at your own discretion.

To book on the course, please get in touch. Places are limited to four participants to ensure everyone is catered for on an individual basis. All you have to do is get yourself and your camera to Italy and we’ll do the rest.

We look forward to welcoming you!

Sample programme for seven-day course starting on 13 October:

Day 1 Arrive at an airport of your choosing in either Milan or Turin.

Transfer to Moasca, introductions and briefing and evening meal.

Day two AM Introduction to visual storytelling and narrative: how can we make our camera express the things we want to say? A practical guide to enhancing your photography skills with practical tips and looking at some of the best examples of storytelling using images. We will look at how you research and plan in advance and what to expect when you arrive on location to photograph.

PM Visit to Santa Stefano Belbo vinyard. This visit will allow us to meet the people who make wine at a typical local winery and get ideas and take some pictures. We’ll also get to sample some of the wonderful wine produced by Marco and his team.

Day three All day Return to Santa Stefano Belbo vineyard and spend the day exploring and photographing. We’ll see all the different aspects of wine making and production during this pivotal harvesting time. There will be landscapes, people and produce to focus on – and a story to tell.

Day four AM Feedback, evaluation and editing. We’ll look at the images from the previous day at Santa Stefano Belbo and talk through some practical editing and selection ideas to bring your images together into a beautiful set of photographs which tell your story.

PM Visit to a typical local festival. We’ll spend the afternoon amongst the crowds where we will soak up the sights and sounds and photograph a different side of the Langhe region: people at play.

Day five AM Truffle hunting. We’ll go for a gentle guided walk around the gentle Monferrato hills looking for one of the iconic delicacies of the Langhe region. This will allow us to enjoy the beautiful rural aspect locally, whilst adding an interesting component to the story of the region.

PM We’ll look at our work from the festival and truffle hunting and fit it in with the previous work we have made on the trip so far. We’ll also plan out final excursion, a trip to the stunning medieval town of Monrovia, where we’ll set ourselves the challenge of producing images which could be put together a small travel feature.

Day six All day A visit to Mondovi. Founded on a hilltop in 1198 by survivors of the destroyed village of Bredolo, Mondovi is located on the Monte Regale hill and is divided into several rioni (ancient quarters). The Funicolare di Mondovì, a recently reopened funicular railway in the town, links Breo with Piazza. We will return to Moasca late in the afternoon for a final look at our images and round-up of what we have learned over the five days.

The cost for this experience is £1600 per person. Please get in touch if you would like to book on or have any other questions. Thank you!

Piedmont. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016 all rights reserved

Evening in the vinyards, Piedmont. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016 all rights reserved

A man at work, Piedmont. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016 all rights reserved

A man at work, Piedmont. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016 all rights reserved

The Alps, as viewed from Piedmont. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016 all rights reserved

The Alps, as viewed from Piedmont. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016 all rights reserved

Mondovi, Piedmont. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016 all rights reserved

Mondovi, Piedmont. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016 all rights reserved

The farmhouse at Moasca, Piedmont. Photograph © Andy Groom, 2016 all rights reserved

The farmhouse at Moasca, Piedmont. Photograph © Andy Groom, 2016 all rights reserved

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