Colin McPherson

Photographer and Visual Artist

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Berlin: After the Wall launch

Trabant car, Oranienburg by Berlin, 1992. Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

The approaching milestone of the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall will be greeted with commemoration and commentaries from many voices across Germany and further afield. Nearer to home, I will be launching an exhibition in Liverpool and book under the title Berlin: After the Wall to coincide with this momentous anniversary.

The dramatic events which came to symbolise the end of the decades-long Cold War and the reshaping of Europe were documented extensively by photographers from across the world. We are familiar with the scenes of streams of happy people rushing through the breached Wall, as the East German authorities surrendered their 28-year long control of its people and opened the border to the West.

But after the euphoria came a realisation that Germany, and in particular Berlin, had been scarred by division and that the people of the two republics had grown apart under the twin systems which ruled the country in the wake of the collapse and defeat of Nazi Germany.

Berlin in particular bore the physical marks of this separation, with walls, watchtowers, barbed wire, requisitioned buildings and a wide strip of no-man’s land disfiguring the city, from its historic centre in locations such as Potsdamer Platz, the Brandenburg Gate and areas around the ruined Reichstag building, all the way out to the border with rural Brandenburg. Berlin, a city redrawn and quartered between the four Allied powers after 1945, would bear the scars for years.

My own association with the city dates back to 1982 when, as a 17-year-old, I paid my first visit to  my uncle, the photographer Henning Langenheim, and his young family in West Berlin. Already captivated by my family history (my mother was born during the last days of the Weimar Republic in Berlin), it was an opportunity to explore one of the most strange and unique cityscapes. The Wall, an ugly concrete edifice, ran through peoples’ daily lives. By 1982, it was an established and accepted part of the architecture and life in went on in the western sectors of the city, with its radical politics and Bohemian lifestyle set against the ‘other’, a grey reality, unseen on the eastern side of the barrier. Even by then, the Wall was something of a tourist novelty, a place where you could experience the reality of division, stand on viewing platforms and gaze down streets with Trabant cars and few shops but where the people had no interest in, or opportunity to, reciprocate your curiosity.

Over the years, I made trips in to East Berlin, to meet friends and contacts and to experience a sliver of the Socialist dream. Taking the S-Bahn train from Kreuzberg and surrendering yourself to the laborious and bureaucratic process which was required to figuratively cross the street, you emerged into a world so alien, yet strangely familiar. He was another Germany, a different Berlin. When the bell tolled at midnight, you re-entered the so-called Palace of Tears (Palast der Tränen) border crossing building and slipped back into West Berlin before your day visa expired. This was the living reality of the Wall, a structure which defined not just an era, but a political and social philosophy.

By a twist of fate I was not in Berlin when the Wall fell. I had spent much of the summer of 1989 in the city and remember speaking to people in East Germany about the unfolding events in neighbouring Communist countries, where the clamour for change and freedom was gathering pace. East Berliners were leaving in their droves. One evening, a friend pointed to the enormous Soviet-style apartment block opposite where he lived and drew my attention to the fact that there were so few lights on. Proof, he said, that the residents had gone, either to Poland, Hungary or to camp out in the West German embassy in Prague, desperate to see another life and all the promises the West made about freedom and the benefits of Capitalism. 

No-one at that point could foresee what would happen as summer gave way to autumn and East German clamour for change grew. Under the weight of people power, the Wall gave way and on the night of 9 November, Erich Honecker’s regime opened the border to all. It was the beginning of the end for East Germany and would lead to the redrawing of international frontiers and boundaries across the continent.

I didn’t return to Berlin until the early months of 1992, mainly due to the early stages of my career as a photographer confining me to more mundane local stories in Scotland. When I finally linked up with my uncle Henning again, the process of transforming the urban landscape was just beginning. Vast swathes of the city centre stood empty, awaiting development and rebuilding. Grand plans to revive and resuscitate tranches of land which had lain empty for three decade were by then shovel-ready. The process of change would accelerate over the coming decade and the viewing platforms which had once allowed visitors to peer over the great divide now gave locals an overview of meteoric transformation. Within 15 years, Potsdamer Platz became a business hub, the Brandenburg Gate an iconic tourist location, and Berlin was the capital city of a reunified Berlin, symbolised by the magnificent restoration of the Reichstag, the parliament building which had been witness to so much political turmoil over the past century and more.

For me, the endless cycle of change gave an opportunity to document an epoch of time which will never be repeated. My trips to the city, by now home to other family members, became more frequent, as the ease and cost of travelling there became attractive. Without a sense of knowing where this work was going, I just kept clicking in a ritualistic and inquisitive way.

In 2004, my mentor and inspiration Henning Langenheim passed away. Taken suddenly from us, the void left behind was painful and difficult to fill. He had been my guide and teacher not just in photography, but with life in general. We had travelled and photographed together far beyond Berlin, to Scotland, eastern Europe and the Middle East. He showed me how to fill the gaps between the mechanical skills of taking photographs and the ideas and research you need to carry out and realise great projects or bodies of work. Without knowing it, in the years beyond his passing, I carried a baton of continuing to chronicle life in the city he loved and treasured so much.

In 2019, with the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Wall approaching, I decided to revisit some of my favourite work from all the photography I have made in Berlin. Armed with a work book containing 28 prints of images taken between 1992-94, I set off to try to locate again and re-take pictures from the precise positions the originals were made. After a fortnight of painstaking research, endless questions, the viewing of hundreds of archive images and countless hours of film footage, I was only able to definitively find 12 of these places and take updated photographs. My original notes, incomplete and inaccurate, provided little guidance. Despite days spent walking and cycling and looking for clues, Berlin’s present had done its best to obscure the past. The transformation is complete. Where once the Wall seared through the city, now parklands and cycle ways invite you to enjoy Berlin. Even if the tourist industry does try to cash in on the Wall and a sense of ‘Ostalgia’, it is possible to escape the past and find yourself in green and tranquil places, oblivious to history and its grim memories.

And so, as with any project, the question of outcomes comes to the fore. I had the feeling returning from Berlin this summer that the project was finished. The cycle felt complete and closed. The opportunity to exhibit some of the work as part of the SixBySix initiative, a group of photographers from Merseyside who have come together to explore the meaning of documentary photography and to share and disseminate their ideas, came at a perfect time with the 30th anniversary coming up. Simultaneously, Cafe Royal Book agreed to publish one of their editions featuring the photographs I made in the early 1990s and which has formed the basis for an exhibition of my work which opens in Liverpool this week.

My relationship with Berlin will continue, but will be redrawn, like the map has been since 1989. It feels less imperative to continue the process of documenting the Wall, as the changes from now on will be more cosmetic and less noticeable. In the city’s ever-evolving relationship with its past, the era defined by the Wall will become another chapter, rather than the story. It will be time to find another narrative, another reason for me to return there and work.

Berlin: After the Wall 1992-2019 will be on display from 24 October until 1 December, 2019 at the Lightbox Gallery, Ropes & Twines, 70 Bold Street, Liverpool L1 1HR. Opening times vary, admission is free.

The book Berlin: After the Wall 1992-94 is published this week by Cafe Royal Books, copies can be purchased from them or directly from me.

Potsdamer Platz, 1992. Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.
Wilhelm Strasse, 2019. Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.
Lenin Allee (today Landsberger Allee), 1992. Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.
Warschauer Bruecke , 2019. Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Unknown location, Berlin, 1992. Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.
Palast der Traenen (Palace of Tears), 2019. Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.
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Guest blog by Louise Tickle

In November, I will be hosting a short, residential writing course with award-winning journalist Louise Tickle, someone who I have worked with on various assignments over the last decade. Here, Louise talks about her appearance this week on a popular BBC Radio 4 programme.

Easdale island, Argyll on Scotland’s west coast. © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved

“How do you even begin ‘writing to challenge and change your world’? 
This is the title of a three-day intensive course I’m running on Easdale island in November, so I thought I’d jot down some thoughts as to how I try to approach the question in my own work, by describing a process I’ve just undergone over a concentrated 24 hour period.

On the morning of Tuesday 2nd July, I was invited to appear as a “witness” on Radio 4’s The Moral Maze. It would go out, live, the very next evening. The programme would deal with the issue of anonymity in our legal system, which pertains directly to the issue of how to protect people’s privacy in family courts. I am a strong proponent of greater scrutiny, accountability and openness in family court hearings, which in this country are almost always held in private. Requiring our family court system to be more open in order to hold the state to account inevitably however increases the risk to the anonymity of vulnerable children and their parents. It’s a genuine dilemma. 

Anyway, I said yes to the researcher’s invitation, and then realised I was trembling. This lasted a couple of hours. I know from previous broadcast experience that it can be hard to articulate nuanced arguments under pressure of time, live in a studio, with very smart people challenging you. 
In that 24 hour period however, I undertook a version of the preparation I might well do in order to write a comment piece. This involved:

  • emailing for help from people who know more than me on the subject at hand, and vitally, also have differing perspectives and starting points than my own.
  • reading two academic articles on the subject which gave a thorough historical perspective on the campaign for greater transparency and the arguments against.
  • reading through several of my own blogs and articles on the subject, to see how I’d constructed my arguments.
  • reading through the submissions made in my recent challenge in the court of appeal  so that I had a firm grasp of the legal basis on which freedom of expression in family cases had been justified in past cases.
  • writing out, and then reading out, the points I thought were most compelling in the case for more transparency, and writing out, and then reading out – by this time I was in a Paul cafe near Broadcasting House an hour before broadcast – my responses to the opposing view. I wasn’t very succinct, in fact it was all a bit rambly, but at least I felt clear in my own mind. 

Once ushered into the studio, the seven minutes in front of my interrogators flew by, as I was told they would. And it was lots of fun. More importantly, I am told that I got my arguments across. 

So, what does this experience show?
Writing – and communicating – to challenge and change your world is about so much more than being able to string an impassioned sentence together. I’d actually argue it is rarely, if ever, going to be about using florid rhetoric, or declaring how you feel, and far more about deep engagement with and research into the subject you care about, evaluation of the evidence, and very importantly, engaging in good faith and in detail with the facts that are strongest in support of the position opposite to your own. 
From Lucy Reed, a friend, a family barrister and chair of the charity The Transparency Project – Lucy has represented me in court – I have begun to learn the power of understatement when putting forward a point of view: from my (rightly) demanding editors at the Guardian over the many years I have been writing for them, I have learned the importance of basing my work on facts that can be evidenced. This is vital to all good journalism, but it is particularly so in comment writing that seeks to persuade: it is crucial in this situation to base your opinion on facts, particularly if you are going to say something that will outrage certain interest groups. See this article  I wrote about how the state kidnaps children: it was highly controversial and some people really didn’t like it, but my logic could not be picked apart because it was tightly based on verifiable facts.

Probably most importantly, look hard at the facts that don’t help you. How do you persuade the people who base their view on those facts? How do you find ways to change their minds or alter how they act? This is about being imaginative, empathic and willing to think creatively around a problem. Is there something you can offer that works for them, or that addresses their concerns (which may well be perfectly well-founded). I’ve found that while I can do the empathy, and am very willing to try to think around difficulties, I’m not actually all that great at coming up with creative solutions. However… I am really good at asking other people for their ideas and persuading them to help me, and then going hell for leather to make the good solutions they come up with happen. (Always, always give the people who help you the public acknowledgement and credit they deserve).
Finally, think big and go high. I’m not bad at this, for which I need to thank the RSPB for giving me my first job: a major national charity aims to influence at the highest levels, and being in this environment at the age of 24 set my expectations of what is achievable if only you dare to stretch.

So… in conclusion, effectively challenging and changing your world is never going to be only about the writing: it is also about preparation, a willingness to learn, and having the gumption to dare to ask for a lot, rather than a little.

But we will, absolutely and definitely, be doing lots of writing on Easdale as well as talking about attitude, ambition and persistence – and for anyone who fancies wild swimming in quarry in November, bring your cossie! 
More information on the course and bookings details here:

Hope to see you there!

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The end of the road

One year ago today, the eyes of the world were on Gold Coast, Australia, as the opening ceremony for Commonwealth Games began. The centrepiece for this celebration was the arrival of the Queen’s Baton Relay, which had travelled across all 70 nations and territories of the Commonwealth to bring a message from Elizabeth II to mark the start of the 21st Games.

The Queen’s message had been placed into the Baton at a special event at Buckingham Palace in March 2017 and over the course of the following 13 months, the Relay made its way across the world. Myself and friend and colleague Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert were privileged to document in photographs and videos the Relay’s progress as it made its long and winding way to Gold Coast. The year-long adventure allowed me to work in all five continents and visit places and meet people in many and varied locations from the Amazon Basin and the Falkland Islands in South America, to the Namibian Bush and the Indian Ocean in Africa, the Taj Mahal and Singapore in Asia, the Channel Islands and Malta in Europe and culminating in a three month road trip all around Australia.

Logistically, the Queen’s Baton Relay was an enormous undertaking for everyone who worked on the project. These few selected photos show what we saw: they cannot give the full picture of what it took to get them. Hot days, long flights, endless roads. But worth every twist, turn and bump. It was unforgettable in so many ways: part adventure, part exploration, part public relations. I met many people who have become friends and brought back so many stories and memories which will endure.

The Commonwealth consists of a collection of countries, many of which face ongoing social, economic and environmental challenges. It’s difficult to be blind to the fact that life is dangerous and hard for many of the citizens of the Commonwealth. But for a short time, as the Baton passed through thousands of hands, there was only laughter and smiles. And for that alone, it was worth it.

For a wider selection of images from my work on the Queen’s Baton Relay click on the following links:

QBR International legs

QBR in Australia 

Llongwe, Malawi, April 2017

Windhoek, Namibia, April 2017

Belize City, Belize, August 2017

Annai, Guyana, August 2017

Wagah, Pakistan, October 2017

Haridwar, India, October 2017

Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei, October 2017

Tarawa, Kiribati, November 2917

Echuca, Australia, February 2018

Bellingen, Australia, February 2018

Cooktown, Australia, March 2018

Prairie, Australia, March 2018

Cairns, Australia, March 2018

Innisfail, Australia, March 2018

Brisbane, Australia, April 2018

The Baton arrives in Gold Coast, 4 April, 2018






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Creative Courses on Easdale Island in 2019

The new year brings with it a new series of creative courses which I will be offering on the magical Hebridean island of Easdale on Scotland’s beautiful west coast.

Myself and fellow professional Adam Lee will be collaborating together to present our popular short, residential photography courses where participants will creatively re-set whilst learning about how to transform your images into a mini-series or visual short story. Accommodation on Easdale is provided as are all your meals: all you have to do is turn up, learn and enjoy. It’s very sociable and participants can immerse themselves in the wonderful landscape and lose themselves in the history of Easdale, which at one time was the centre of Scotland’s slate-quarrying industry. All levels of photographer are catered for, and we recommend you sign up soon, as places are limited to just six per course, of which there will be four spread over June/July and September, 2019.

Following on from the highly successful week in 2018 when internationally-acclaimed screendance artist Katrina McPherson hosted a week-long exploration of the practical practices involved in this genre, we have added two week-long courses in 2019. Katrina will lead the activity, which is aimed at people who wish to enhance their skills in filmmaking, using professional dancers, and Easdale island as their backdrop. Demand is expected to be high for this specialist course.

Finally, I am delighted to be able to announce that award-winning writer Louise Tickle will be hosting a course in campaigning journalism later in the year. Louise brings with her a wealth of experience working for many top newspapers and magazines as well as being an advocate for various good causes. This course promises to be both illuminating and inspirational.

Please contact me for more details about any of the courses, or keep in touch via social media on Instagram @germanocean or @easdale_experiences, on Twitter @germanocean or @EasdaleE or on the photography courses Facebook page or you can find all the details here:

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A Contested Land launched

My collective, Document Scotland, has launched our new exhibition entitled A Contested Land at the prestigious Martin Parr Foundation in Bristol. The show, curated by Martin Parr, will be on until 16th March, before going on to Perth Art Gallery and Museum, the Burgh Halls in Dunoon and FLOW Photofest in Inverness in the autumn. My contribution to the show is Treasured Island, a very personal, insider’s look at Easdale island in Argyll, a place which I have visited, worked at and even lived over the last 30 years.

Here are some photos from the launch on 15th January, and some behind-the-scenes moments at the Martin Parr Foundation, a wonderful, fascinating and stimulating venue for contemporary photography. It was gratifying to see so many luminaries from the world of photography in attendance as well as friends, some of whom had travelled a great distance to be there. A big thank you to my Document Scotland colleagues for all their help and support and also to all the staff at the Foundation for bringing the exhibition from an idea into reality. And to Martin Parr for his generosity in hosting such an enjoyable event.

If you want to see and hear more about the exhibition, we are holding one of our salon events at Stills Gallery in Edinburgh on Thursday 7th February, 2019, where we will be showing some of the work and discussing the themes and ideas behind A Contested Land.

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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.


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 –
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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