Colin McPherson

Photographer and Visual Artist

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Front row seat

Nelson Mandela attending the CHOGM conference, in Edinburgh. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 1997 all rights reserved.

Nelson Mandela attending the CHOGM conference, in Edinburgh.
Photograph © Colin McPherson, 1997 all rights reserved.

The absolute best thing about being a photographer? A front row seat.

Whether it’s the Rolling Stones or Oasis in concert, being in touching distance when Scotland’s centre-forward scores the winning goal, or being able to see the whites of the eyes of politicians or celebrities as they hold court, there’s no better feeling than knowing you are closer to the action than anyone else in the world at that particular moment.

Even since the announcement of the death of Nelson Mandela yesterday evening in South Africa, there’s been acres of writing and pictured printed about the life and legacy of one of the 20th century’s most notable and influential political activists and leaders. There have been poignant tributes and fond recollections from people who knew him well or were fortunate enough to meet him. As a photographer, our relationship with someone in such elevated public gaze is somewhat removed: we share the intimacy of the space, but rarely get to interact with them. Yet our pictures must convey the sense, the mood and the gravitas (or humour!) of what is being said.

My sole encounter with Mr Mandela came at a media conference he gave during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Edinburgh in 1997. I was detailed to be in the meeting, so didn’t photograph the arrival or departure that day as he sped from meeting to event to function. And there was a condition to photographing him in that somewhat dingy conference centre: because of the damage sustained to his eyesight during his years of incarceration, we were forbidden to use flash guns to illuminate the great man. The result on that pre-digital day, was a series of grainy, rather static images. Nevertheless, there was no doubting his power as a speaker and his presence in that room filled more than just the front row where I was sitting.

It was a privilege just to be there.

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A41 reaches Birkenhead

The Mayor of Wirral takes the A41 tour. Photograph © Caroline England, 2013.

The Mayor of Wirral takes the A41 tour. Photograph © Caroline England, 2013.

A little flurry of media activity has coincided with the launch of the latest exhibition of the A41 Project, which is now on show at the Williamson Art Gallery and Museum in Birkenhead, Wirral, until 26th January 2014.

Visitors at the exhibition opening. Photograph © Caroline England, 2013.

Visitors at the exhibition opening. Photograph © Caroline England, 2013.

We held an informal launch last week, with colleagues, friends and family making for a very interesting and enjoyable morning. Just as the coffee and cake levels were depleting, in walked the Mayor of Wirral, Cllr Dave Mitchell, whom I had the pleasure of piloting around the exhibition and explaining a bit about my photography and the work made by the participatory group of photographers whose work is also on display at the gallery.

The participatory group line up in front of their work. Photograph © Caroline England, 2013.

The participatory group line up in front of their work. Photograph © Caroline England, 2013.

The show has been featured in several local and regional publications this week, including The Big Issue, the Liverpool Echo and Wirral News. In addition, I recorded an interview with Sean Styles for his BBC Radio Merseyside morning show; the conversation was then broadcast on 4th November 2013 – listen to it here:

 

The A41 project’s final scheduled exhibition will take place in September 2014 in London – more details to follow.

From the Liverpool Echo, 28th October 2013.

From the Liverpool Echo, 28th October 2013.

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All roads lead to Leeds

I will be participating in a Pecha Kucha-style event run by Miniclick and hosted by the White Cloth Gallery in Leeds, tomorrow night, Wednesday 2nd October. I’ll be talking about my Document Scotland project entitled ‘A Fine Line’ and updating on the progress of the work as it moves on from Gretna and explores the central Borders.

The event coincides with the launch of Tom Stoddart’s exhibition, and Tom will be there to take part in a Q & A session. Full details of the evening’s entertainment available here.

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Hearts surgery

Photograph

The storm clouds have been gathering over Heart of Midlothian FC all summer.

The venerable old lady of Scottish football is frail and in ailing health. Having befriended a rich Lithuanian, she finds all her savings gone and day-to-day life is a struggle. Can she carry on on her own? Might she be forced to move out of her home of more than 100 years? Can her family and friends come to her rescue?

Hearts supporters arriving at the Gorgie Suite for pre-match corporate hospitality prior to the match with Hibs. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2013, all rights reserved.

Hearts supporters arriving for pre-match corporate hospitality prior to the match with Hibs.
Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2013, all rights reserved.

My phone rings. It’s one of the old lady’s friends. Can I help her? She is in desperate need of a make-over to attract new suitors and I am the only photographer in his contact book. I tell him I’ve never been particularly fond of this old lady, often found her to be be grumpy and bad-tempered, but my motto is never kick a man when he’s down, so I suppose I could extend this courtesy to an old woman.

Former Hearts player Jimmy Snaderson is interviewed at a corporate function at Tyncastle Park before the match with Hibs.. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2013, all rights reserved.

Former Hearts player Jimmy Sanderson is interviewed at Tyncastle Park before the match with Hibs..
Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2013, all rights reserved.

After a few more conversations, I discover that most of the people who help the old lady on a day-to-day basis have been made redundant. Her care is in the hands of a small band of people retained to make sure that the life-support machine stays switched on and have been given the task to see if some medicine can be provided which will allow her to start making a recovery.

Two Hearts supporters watching the first-half action against Hibs. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2013, all rights reserved.

Two Hearts supporters watching the first-half action against Hibs.
Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2013, all rights reserved.

The brief for me was simple. Come down to her house on Sunday and take some photographs of her home and visitors. On this particular day she had a visit scheduled from a rather noisy neighbour from Leith and it was expected that the get-together would offer the chance to see the old lady and her friends partying long into the afternoon.

Hearts and Hibs players square up to each other during the match at Tynecastle. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2013, all rights reserved.

Hearts and Hibs players square up to each other during the match at Tynecastle.
Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2013, all rights reserved.

And so at the appointed hour I knocked on the rather dilapidated front door of the old lady’s house in Gorgie Road. I could see that she had had some renovations done since my last visit many years ago, indeed three-quarters of her house looks pristine and lovely, flags fluttering, seats upturned and everything ready for a great occasion, the first meeting of the season of these old old neighbours.

Hearts players celebrating the only goal of the game against Hibs. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2013, all rights reserved.

Hearts players celebrating the only goal of the game against Hibs.
Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2013, all rights reserved.

And so it was. The old lady extended a welcome of sorts to her neighbour, but then the two of them started their bickering and quarreling about who was top dog in Edinburgh. Back and forward it went with little purpose. I thought of some of the great arguments these two had had down the years, the passion was still there, but the debating skills had deserted them.

Sitting under photographs of former players, Hearts fans watch the closing stages nervously. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2013, all rights reserved.

Sitting under photographs of former players, Hearts fans watch the closing stages nervously.
Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2013, all rights reserved.

In the end it was one skillful riposte from the old lady which settled the argument. Her friends and family jumped and leapt for joy. It was just the tonic the old lady needed. She felt much better. There are challenges ahead, but long-term, with the help of all her friends and family – and a passing photographer – she may make a full recovery and be a fit, strong and healthy member of Scotland’s footballing community for years to come. Good health!

Hearts fans react with delight at the final whistle as they defeat Hibs 1-0. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2013, all rights reserved.

Hearts fans react with delight at the final whistle as they defeat Hibs 1-0.
Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2013, all rights reserved.

 

 

 

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Hardy Annual

Sunset over Mull, from Easdale Island, 2013

‘Sunset over Mull, from Easdale Island, 2013.’ Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

In 2008, I was privileged to be able to travel to the tiny southern African state of Swaziland to explore and photograph the wonderful natural environment and the country’s people. It was an unforgettable experience and one which, by a chance meeting, changed many of my perceptions about Africa.

I encountered Musa, a man then in his late 20s, on a dusty, country road, deep in the Drakensberg mountains. He emerged from the small farm steading he shared with three generations of his family, and we soon struck up a long conversation, during which he told me about his life, the struggle he and his family had with the effects of HIV and Aids and how economic policies of the First World were directly affecting his life and land. I was immediately struck not only by his insightfulness and intelligence, but also his determination to make life better for himself and those around him. He was, and still is, an inspiration to me.

I resolved from that moment to do everything in my limited powers to assist him. Over the following two years, myself, my family and a group of friends helped him attend college part-time to gain qualifications in accountancy. By improving his skills and continuing his education, he would increase his chances of gaining better employment and therefore be able to support his extended family, many of whom were elderly, infirm or ill.

Over the last four years, my principal method of raising money for Musa and his family has been through my participation in the annual Hoylake 10k race, staged in my home town. Through the support of many friends and strangers, I have run and raised over £3000. This money is divided in two: half goes to Musa, to pay for everyday essentials, repairs to his home, or to fund his continuing education. The other half goes to an equally worthwhile cause: the Wednesday Special Needs Club, based at the Hoylake Community Centre (registered charity no. 1015141). They use the money donated to improve facilities for disabled people of all ages who come to use their superb Sensory Garden. I am proud to assist them.

In addition to the money raised through running, my family makes a personal contribution to assist Musa, thereby guaranteeing that the support reaches around £1000 annually. I know from my communications with Musa, that he and his family are deeply grateful for all the help they receive.

So how does my Hoylake 10k fundraising work? Simple: if you wish to support me, you make a guess (or guesses!) as to what my race finishing time will be in minutes and seconds (ie 48:23). The guess which is the nearest inside my official finishing time receives a 20″ x 16″ signed and mounted one-off print of the image displayed at the top of this page. Each year I select one of my photographs to give away as a prize. This year’s image is of two lone figures surrounded by a sunset on Scotland’s west coast. It speaks of the scale and power of nature and how tiny we are as humans in comparison. And yet, we are can make as powerful a contribution to the world as nature itself.

To win the photograph you can guess as many times as you want – each guess costs £5. You can make payments and guesses through Paypal at: amazon@colinmcpherson.co.uk or email me your guesses to: colinmcpherson@mac.com – and I’ll send you my details for payment via cheque or bank transfer. It’s that easy! Remember you can guess as many times as you like for £5 per go.

After the finish of the 2012 Hoylake 10k race.

After the finish of the 2012 Hoylake 10k race.

To give you a clue about this year’s finishing time – I am looking at running the race somewhere between 45-55 minutes. The race takes place on Sunday, 15th September, at 11am.

For the last five years I have made this annual appeal. And each year, I am overwhelmed by the response. I hope that you will be able to support me in 2013 and help me raise money and awareness for these two very deserving and worthwhile causes. Many thanks!

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Stoking the recession

 

A street with derelict and occupied houses in central Stoke-on-Trent. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2013, all rights reserved.

A street with derelict and occupied houses in central Stoke-on-Trent.
Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2013, all rights reserved.

I suppose due to my location in the north of England, I get to travel to all points of the compass covering assignments. Yesterday it was back to that collection of towns which are collectively known as Stoke-on-Trent, famed for Wedgwood and Royal Doulton, homemade oatcakes and of course Slash from Guns N’ Roses. I know it well.

Now the city, like many in England’s industrial heartland, lies suspended in transition. Gone are the factories and manufacturing, relics of the Industrial Revolution long since still and silent. In common with many other towns and cities, the service sector was supposed to lead to a bright, clean and vibrant future. But now, in the midst of a seemingly never-ending recession, Stoke is stagnating and suffering. Large areas of the city are partially developed, with houses ripped down awaiting rebuilding. Much of the city centre is dedicated to pound shops and payday credit but meanwhile the food bank does brisk business at the Hanley Baptist Church. On the far edge of town I meet Jacky, disabled but determined, coping with the cuts as best she can. Still there’s a quiet and determined spirit about everyone I meet. No self-pity, just smiles and wry, dry humour. It’s the only way.

Volunteers handing over provisions bags at the Stoke Food Bank at the Hanley Baptist Church in Stoke-on-Trent. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2013, all rights reserved.

Volunteers handing over provisions bags at the Stoke Food Bank at the Hanley Baptist Church.
Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2013, all rights reserved.

I walk around and photograph, passing the site (now cleared) of Stoke’s last traditional oatcake maker – a story I covered for the Independent a while back. No-one bothers me. A couple of drunks ask me questions and I stop for a while and tell them I am working for Le Monde. “The French Resistance is here at last!” says one. We laugh and I carry on working.

Volunteers handing over provisions bags at the Stoke Food Bank at the Hanley Baptist Church in Stoke-on-Trent, England. The abandoned Ceramica tourist attraction in Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2013, all rights reserved.

The abandoned Ceramica tourist attraction in Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent.
Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2013, all rights reserved.

The following day the photographs appear online. Its a snapshot timed to coincide with the day the Chancellor of the Exchequer dishes out more cuts and warns of further austerity to come. I think of Stoke: stoic, honest, enduring. And I am sure it will bounce back. Maybe.

 

 

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Looking back at Dublin

It was with great sadness that I heard of the passing of the Irish journalist Anne Simpson, who died last week in her adopted home of Glasgow.

I was privileged and fortunate enough to know Anne both professionally and personally. Although it is many years since we last saw each other, one particular project we worked on together turned out to be one of the most formative and important in my early career as a photographer.

Young people outside Bewley's Grafton Street. Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Young people outside Bewley’s, Grafton Street.
Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

In 1991, Anne was finishing a book entitled ‘Blooming Dublin – Choice, Change, Contradictions’. It was a timely publication: Ireland was on the cusp of great social and economic change. A country beset with problems was finding its feet in a new European context and with money starting to flow, was developing and growing at an electric pace. Many of the old shibboleths still existed, of course, but the focus of the book was the tipping point which the country – and its magnificent capital city – had reached.

Horse and boy. Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Horse and boy.
Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Photographs were required and I was flattered and a little nervous to be handed the task of illustrating the book. I worked with Anne to flesh out a brief which would reflect closely the themes and ideas behind the stories. My forte and preference was for black-and-white and I was delighted to be able to use that medium to illustrate the text.

The photography was done – in true newspaper style – in an incredibly short space of time. I think we were only in Dublin (it was my first visit) for just under a week. In the end, we covered so much ground I remember feeling happy with what I had achieved in such a short space of time. The most nerve-wracking moment was still to come, however: laying out around 50 monochrome 12 x 10 prints on the floor of the flat in Glasgow which Anne shared with her partner, Glasgow Herald editor Arnold Kemp. I remember them walking into the room and the smile breaking out on Anne’s face when she saw the collection of images. Anne was prone to smiling, but her reaction to my work was so immensely gratifying and unforgettable.

President of Ireland, Mary Robinson.  Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

President of Ireland, Mary Robinson.
Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

In the end, 28 images were used, including one which was selected for the cover. The book was, as I recall, well received, but more memorable was the launch party in Dublin, featuring more Dublin Bay oysters and Guinness than was good for me.

In many ways this chapter in my life provided the impetus for me to progress my career. I continued to see and socialise with Anne and her friends and family for a couple of years before I drifted off in another direction. Ironically, some years later, I would be back at the Glasgow Herald, working as a freelance, covering news, features and sport and occasionally illustrating articles by one of the paper’s star writers, the wonderfully gifted, generous and entertaining Anne Simpson.

From left: John Rocha and family; Custom House from Tara St. Station; O'Connell St. woman and Boys in Sean MacDermott St. Photographs © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

From left: John Rocha and family; Custom House from Tara St. Station; O’Connell St. woman and Boys in Sean MacDermott St. Photographs © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

 

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Moving Beijing #1

 

 

 

 

 

To go with my latest Gallery feature on this site about my observations of a typical intersection in Beijing, I thought it would be interesting to share a slice of iPhone footage I made at the time I captured the images.

Closer inspection of both film and photos reveal some of the cast of characters appearing in both media.

Hope you enjoy this moving, swirling, swerving tribute to the ubiquitous Chinese junction.

View it here: Moving Beijing

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Looking at Der Spiegel

Spiegel_p1

 

 

 

 

 

In all the excitement of the launch of LOOK/13 and my trip to China (I am writing this from Beijing), I almost forgot about the commissioned portrait I made for the German news magazine Der Spiegel just before my departure.

It was the first assignment for them for quite some time (the last one entailed chasing the Loch Ness Monster), so this particular gig, to photograph Everton football club goalkeeper Tim Howard was potentially a lot less daunting – and dangerous.

Howard suffers from the condition Tourette’s syndrome, hence the interview. The timing was to coincide with Howard’s international appearance for the USA in goals against Germany this weekend. The result? Don’t know the score of the match, but I like the way the magazine used the image.

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Too bloody busy to blog!

 

Windswept house, Gretna, 2013.

Windswept house, Gretna, 2013.

 

 

 

 

 

Airport departure lounges, don’t you just love ’em?

No, I admit, not a popular sentiment. A swirling mass of chaos, a crisscross of intentions and directions, a miasma of people, destinations unknown. Or an oasis?

Well, maybe that’s a bit strong, but sitting here in Manchester Airport, waiting to board for Amsterdam, before transferring to my Beijing-bound flight, it feels like this is the first time in weeks I’ve had the opportunity to take stock and record what has been going on since I relaunched my website a couple of months ago.

There’s so much to recall, so much still to look forward to. In a few short hours I’ll be back in China, a 10-day stint, dodging cars and people, hopefully the pollution too (somehow). Then on my return it’s straight to Fife for the opening of our Document Scotland exhibition at Fotospace.

That’s all in the future. As for the immediate past, we’ve just launched the second international photography festival in Liverpool – LOOK/13 – to great acclaim. And the A41 Project’s first exhibition is over, the show at The Public having attracted an audience of over 13,000 over its two-month run. Next stop Milton Keynes. All this amid some amazing assignments for The Independent and When Saturday Comes.

It’s all about holding tight, keeping breathing and enjoying it all. And sharing it all with you.

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