Colin McPherson

Photographer and Visual Artist

Posts tagged ‘East Germany’

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 Men in suits still rule the world and the old enmities and adversaries have been replaced by new ones.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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Where the Berlin Wall once stood

'Warschauer Strasse, 2015.' Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

‘Warschauer Strasse, 2015.’ Photograph © Colin McPherson, all rights reserved.

Last week saw the 26th anniversary of the historic events of November 1989 when a popular uprising by citizens of the German Democratic Republic led to the opening of the Berlin Wall, which had stood and divided friends, families, a city, Germany and Europe since it was constructed in 1961.

I started photographing the Wall in 1985 during a visit to the city and have returned at regular intervals over those 30 years to look at the changing natural and built environment along the course of the Wall. No-one could have dreamed 30 years ago that the Berlin Wall would fall in such dramatic and sudden circumstances. But rather than looking at those momentous events, my photographs show how the Wall occupied the physical space between two halves of the city and now, years after it fell, where the traces and scars can still be seen on the landscape.

Berlin Now and Then is an ongoing project and has been exhibited and published down the years. I am currently in Berlin and once again have set out to capture the the continuing changes which make much of the Berlin Wall nothing more than a distant and barely visible memory.



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Germany divided again?

AfD supporters listening to speeches in Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

AfD supporters listening to speeches in Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

One of the immediate consequences of the gathering refugee crisis engulfing Europe is the effect it is having on the reunified Berlin.

Echos of 1989 permeate the city. For those, like myself, with an intimate knowledge of the modern topography of the city, the slowly-healing scars of division are still visible. After the fall of Berlin Wall, the city came together. But that sense of reunification didn’t immediately translate to a mass movement of the population from East to West, or vice versa. Indeed, as they say here, there are many people who still haven’t visited the other side since those fateful days of November 1989.

Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

AfD supporters on the march. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

Into this comes the question of the refugees. Arriving in their hundreds every day, they are dispersed to around 90 locations city-wide which accommodate them in varying degrees of comfort and security. The whole question of how Germany integrates some one million additional people is starting to be raised. There are answers, but not enough to satisfy some.

And into this mix comes politics. And on Saturday, November 7, a march by 5000 supporters of the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) took place through the Berlin streets. Whilst not massive in number, it was another symbol of the concerns some have about the process, and a chance to wrestle German patriotism from the political centre. Opposing this odd assortment of activists was a coalition of anti-fascist campaigners determined to expose the rhetoric of the right as dangerous and xenophobic.

An AfD supporter gestures to protesters. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

An AfD supporter gestures to protesters. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

A protester gestures towards AfD supporters. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

A protester gestures towards AfD supporters. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

Trading on the notion that Germany is being re-divided for the first time since the Wall came down, these flag waving nationalists had one target in their sights: Chancellor Angela Merkel. Speeches and chants all laid the blame on Germany’s response to the current situation at her door. And whilst they talked of one, united Germany, like so many – both left and right – the rhetoric was of chaos and division.

An AfD supporter listening to speeches. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

An AfD supporter listening to speeches. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

Twenty-four hours later a stroll through central Berlin reveals no trace of the marchers and their slogans. On a bright and cheerful winter’s afternoon, Berliners of all races, creeds and faiths go about the city with no outward signs of division. Some even may have made it across the line of the former Berlin Wall!

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Ich bin ein Berliner

Brandenburg Gate, West Berlin, 1985. © Colin McPherson.

Brandenburg Gate, West Berlin, 1985. © Colin McPherson.

There will be much written and discussed about the Berlin Wall this weekend, as Germany and Europe commemorate the momentous events of November 9, 1989, when the barrier which had divided the city since 1961 was sensationally breached by its citizens.

The anniversary also coincides rather neatly with me marking 25 years as a professional photographer. The irony for me is that had I not secured paid employment as a photographer in Edinburgh at the beginning of November 1989, I would surely have been in Berlin on that dramatic and fateful night. But it wasn’t to be.

It’s September 1989. I am packing my bags and returning to Scotland after a couple of months in Berlin. I’d been to visit friends on the eastern side of the Wall, making trips to East Berlin and Leipzig, where all the talk was of GDR citizens trying to find ways of either getting out of their country or laying low before any crackdown by the authorities occurred. I left Berlin with plans for a quick return. The place had become my second home and as well as my fascination for Berlin and its history, my friend, uncle and mentor, the photographer Henning Langenheim was my other reason to find inspiration in the city. He was a constant source of information and knowledge, not only about photography, but on the current state-of-affairs in the fulcrum of Europe. I listened and learned from him, but the the only thing he – like everyone else – failed to predict, was that within two months of me leaving West Berlin, the Wall would fall.

It’s October 1989. I am back in Edinburgh and an advert in the local paper advertises the position of photographer at the Edinburgh Herald & Post, a weekly advertiser owned by the Scotsman newspaper. I was encouraged to apply, and for some reason or other, I beat off 94 other applicants to land the job. Full-time, starting immediately. So I put down my travelling bag and picked up my kit bag. And the rest, as they say, is history.

I remember watching in awe the spectacle of East Germans climbing on the Wall on that remarkable night and the scenes the following day of Trabants streaming through the checkpoints. I understood the territory, but like everyone else, couldn’t understand the bigger picture. In the days, weeks and months that followed, Henning Langenheim photographed the Die Wende. Eventually, when holidays permitted, I returned to Berlin and trained my camera on the city again.

My career has taken a long, varied and interesting path, it’s trajectory ever upwards from those days of local news around Edinburgh and West Lothian. I wouldn’t change it for anything. But there’s a tiny part of me which wonders to this day, what would have happened if I hadn’t returned to Scotland, instead staying on in Berlin until November 9, 1989. I have photographed Berlin, on and off, for over three decades (click here to see a gallery). But even now, 25 years after it fell, the Wall still fascinates and captivates me.


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Up Against the Berlin Wall

My first sighting of the Berlin Wall was from the East German Reichsbahn train as it crept towards the city through the former German Democratic Republic. It was 1982 and I was 17-years-old.

I was in transit through the GDR from Holland and as we stopped at the border crossing, I thumbed my passport nervously. Getting from West Germany to East Germany required passes, visas and stamps, followed by questions and examination of luggage and personal belongings. From the time the Wall was built in 1961 until it was torn down by the citizens of both sides of the divided city, getting into West Berlin was not easy.

Over the following three decades I became fascinated by the structure which came to symbolise the Cold War division of post-World War II Europe. I made successive trips to the city, often crossing over from the western sector to the east. When the Wall finally came down, I became equally fascinated by its legacy: the destruction of the barrier and what sprang up in its place. In some locations, development was almost instantaneous. In other, outlying areas of the city, it took years before almost every trace of the course of the Wall was eradicated. Today, the Wall is represented by the Mauerweg, a tarmacked trail which brings the visitor into collision with the city’s turbulent past.

These photographs represent some of the images I made along the Berlin Wall during a decade from 1985. I wasn’t present in the city during the dramatic and well-documented events of November 1989. But my interest in the city and the Wall has continued long after the chisels and bulldozers fell silent and the city was re-united.

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On the Road

“The great difference between voyages rests not with the ships, but with the people you meet on them.” – Amelia E. Barr.

These images represent a collection of my favourite places, people and memories from over 25 years on the road with my camera.

Each photograph documents a time and a place, and holds a particular significance for me. Some were taken on assignment, others whilst travelling or on holiday. Continue reading…

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