Colin McPherson

Photographer and Visual Artist

Posts tagged ‘politics’

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.

Did you like this? Share it:
Leave a comment

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.

Did you like this? Share it:
2 Comments

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.

Did you like this? Share it:
4 Comments

It’s arrived…

160330CMC_Book-01t

 

Copies of my new book with images from various assignments at home and abroad for the Independent and Independent on Sunday newspapers, have arrived! This limited edition compendium is available exclusively through my website for just £7.50 plus p&p and is being brought out to coincide with the papers ceasing publication. Get your here copy whilst stocks last….

160330CMC_Book-02t 160330CMC_Book_org-03t 160330CMC_Book-04t

Did you like this? Share it:
Leave a comment

An Independent Eye

IE_Blog

To commemorate the final publication of the Independent, I have brought out a small compendium of images taken on assignment or published by the newspaper from over 20 years of working for the title and its Sunday sister. Order your copy here.

Did you like this? Share it:
Leave a comment

Tin foil town in the rain

Port Talbot

The rain seeps down the train window in flecked torrents. There are only five disparate passengers in the carriage, but the combined body heat forms a steamy fog on the glass, obscuring the view as we cut through the lush south Wales countryside between Cardiff and Port Talbot.

Awaiting us is a sodden spectacle. An early Saturday morning wash out. Shoppers are so scarce on the semi-covered pedestrian thoroughfare that one could be forgiven for thinking that some nuclear apocalypse had taken the steel town down. The bright lights of the up-and-at-‘em-early charity shops illuminate the watery pavements. Somewhere behind me, steam evaporating into the Tupperware sky, the vast Port Talbot steelworks belches and hums. An ever-present feature of the landscape, now threatened with the same fate which has befallen other steel plants across the United Kingdom.

Protesting against steel job losses, Port Talbot. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016, all rights reserved.

Protestors, Port Talbot. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016, all rights reserved.

Under a sturdy canvas canopy, sandwiched between a giant Tesco and the town’s shopping centre a group of people gather to shows solidarity, gather signatures and mutter darkly under the funereal sky about the fate of the plant. Interspersed between talk of saving the steelworks are more common complaints: “bloody weather. I can’t wait for summer,” intones one woman. “But summer’s just like this,” comes the retort from a man who looks as if he’s spent the morning in the shower, fully clothed. Competing with this throng is a man with a bicycle laden with onions for sale: ‘Last day’ reads a mournful sign attached to the bike.

I decide to grasp the soaking nettle and walk out towards the Tata-owned steelworks, by way of an arterial road which leaves the town behind me like a broody, surly neighbour. There’s not much to see, except the sights and sounds of industry: a faint wheezing noise and steaming plumes swirling towards the watery heavens indicate production continuing. But for how long, in the wake of 700 redundancies, it’s hard to know.

A Port Talbot Town FC supporter. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016, all rights reserved.

A Port Talbot Town FC supporter. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016, all rights reserved.

My next stop is the town’s homely little football club. South Wales football competes bravely against its more illustrious cousin rugby union. Nevertheless, the passion amongst the small, colourfully-hatted supporters of Port Talbot Town FC is tangible as they cheer their team on to a cup win on a pitch which has been lined using baking flour at the referee’s insistence in order that the match may proceed.

I learn that the club was formed by a Scottish family who came south to work in the steel industry. it’s a poignant discovery for me as it forms a link with my photographs from the project The Fall and Rise of Ravenscraig which I opened at Cardiff’s Millennium Centre two days previously. The parallels between Motherwell and Port Talbot are striking. Let’s just hope that their fates are not the same and that Port Talbot can survive the loss of part of its major industry with less damage and despair that engulfed Motherwell when Europe’s largest hot strip mill was closed in 1992.

Disused cinema, Port Talbot. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016, all rights reserved.

Disused cinema, Port Talbot. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016, all rights reserved.

I’m wished well and sent on my way by smiling football fans. Their team has won three-nil. A small slit in the sky reveals a short pause in the rain, however, it proves to be just a hiatus between downpours. By the time I board the train back to Cardiff, Port Talbot is fast disappearing into a gloomy gloam. Here’s hoping the sun is shining in more ways than one tomorrow.

Under the M4 motorway, Port Talbot. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016, all rights reserved.

Under the M4 motorway, Port Talbot. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016, all rights reserved.

Advertising food, Port Talbot. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016, all rights reserved.

Advertising food, Port Talbot. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016, all rights reserved.

Window display, Port Talbot. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016, all rights reserved.

Window display, Port Talbot. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016, all rights reserved.

Woman with umbrella, Port Talbot. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016, all rights reserved.

Woman with umbrella, Port Talbot. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016, all rights reserved.

View across Port Talbot. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016, all rights reserved.

View across Port Talbot. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016, all rights reserved.

Hen party, Port Talbot. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016, all rights reserved.

Hen party, Port Talbot. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016, all rights reserved.

Back lane, Port Talbot. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016, all rights reserved.

Back lane, Port Talbot. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016, all rights reserved.

The steelworks at Port Talbot. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016, all rights reserved.

The steelworks at Port Talbot. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2016, all rights reserved.

Did you like this? Share it:
Leave a comment

Helping hands

Refugees at the Landesamt für Gesundheit und Soziales (LaGeSo), Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2105 all rights reserved.

Refugees at the Landesamt für Gesundheit und Soziales (LaGeSo), Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

This is a period of political and social change in Germany. Voices from the Right have been loud in denouncing Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open door refugee policy. There have been violent attacks on individual asylum seekers and the places where they are living. Away from cosmopolitan and multiracial cities such as Berlin, local peoples’ fear of immigration polarises opinion and causes concern. On the other side, there is a pride that Germany is leading the world in its response to the refugee crisis and allowing people from war zones such as Syria, Iraq and north Africa a place of safety and the opportunity to rebuild shattered lives.

The volunteer army which assembled spontaneously last summer and has continued its work throughout the long, bleak winter months came together largely through social media. Without a developed charity sector in Germany, it was left to people to collaborate, share ideas, pool resources and skills and set to work organising collections of clothes and other essentials, provide frontline medical care and develop networks of social care which afford refugees the chance to participate in everyday activities, such as trips to the cinema, playing sport or having access to German language courses and other education.

Refugees queue for toiletries, LaGeSo, Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2105 all rights reserved.

Refugees queue for toiletries, LaGeSo, Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

There is still a need for help with the basics, especially during the freezing German winter. Whilst there has been a drop off in numbers volunteering to help, their activities have become more organised and professional, which in turn is taking some of the pressure off. And as the German government announces a toughening and tightening of the rules allowing people into the country, the focus will slowly turn towards integrating those who have arrived over during 2015.

In the meantime, the volunteers continue their work, unheralded. It’s hard to know numbers involved, but one website talks of 36,000 volunteers who have contributed 112,000 working hours across Germany. And that’s likely to be just a snapshot, as a trawl through Facebook reveals individuals, friends, groups and organisations offering all types of help and support. What is in no doubt is that it is people of all ages and backgrounds who are involved, across the length and breadth of Germany.

As Germany comes to terms with the consequences of its government’s policy of welcoming and accommodating almost one million refugees who have found sanctuary in the country over the last year, I met and talked to a number of volunteers whose mission has been to help and assist those fleeing war and persecution and who have found themselves in Berlin.

Each volunteer spoke about their determination to “do the right thing” and how they felt it was a moral obligation for people across the Western world to offer a safe haven and support to men, women and children many of whom have arrived in Germany following traumatic and harrowing journeys from their native lands.

A refugee waiting for his number to be called at LaGeSo, Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2105 all rights reserved.

A refugee waiting for his number to be called at LaGeSo, Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

Here, five young, creative Berliners talk about their experiences of those remarkable months when the face of Germany began to change forever.

Monique Fritzsche, 28, a textile designer from Berlin started volunteering in summer 2015 as the first wave of refugees came to the city. She is currently involved with a group called We Picknick, cooking and handing out food for newly-arrived refugees who have not yet registered with the authorities and therefore have no entitlement to state assistance.

Refugees in Berlin“Getting involved was all my own initiative. In August I was at home ill, lying on the sofa and watching all the television footage of the refugees arriving in Germany. I thought to myself: ‘It’s time to do something.’ You cannot just be a spectator.

I put some clothes into an IKEA bag and went to LaGeSo, the administration facility for health and social welfare here in Berlin, where thousands of refugees were arriving to be registered. The place was full of asylum seekers and volunteers. As it was the holidays, there were students and even school pupils all helping out. I started by sorting out clothes and other items which had been donated. But that felt insufficient. So I began to work more directly helping in a more hands-on way. I was really scared to start with. The fear came from not knowing what to expect. And from the language barrier too. I soon realised that I could communicate using sign language and that the refugees were really thankful.

I remember the first time I saw refugees coming off the buses which brought them to Berlin. What made an impression on me was that here they were arriving without any possessions. No luggage, no suitcases or rucksacks or anything. I saw young kids on their own and thought: ‘where is your mama?’

Later, through Facebook, I got involved with We Picknick, a volunteer group established to feed newly-arrived refugees who have not yet been registered and so don’t qualify for any food or meals. We meet at the weekends in the park opposite LaGeSo and helping there feels like being part of a little family. You are never asked: ‘how often do you do this?’ or: ‘what job do you do?’ It’s all irrelevant because in that moment you are helping so everyone is equal. People are so supportive and tell you how cool it is that you are helping out. Then there’s the atmosphere with the refugees. You should not expect too much. You don’t go there to get some kind of award or official recognition – that’s certainly not what I want. I mean, many refugees are so ashamed to be in this situation, taking handouts of food. But the reward for me is just to hear them say: ‘thank you’ or: ‘that’s great’ to you – that’s the greatest compliment you can get from these people.

I believe Germany can cope with this influx of refugees. They will integrate into society. Yes, it will take time and it will be difficult but it will happen. So it’s important that we carry on volunteering.”

Monique Fritzsche volunteering at We Picknick, Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2105 all rights reserved.

Monique Fritzsche volunteering at We Picknick, Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

Finn Pelke, 33, an assistant film director from Berlin works up to three days per week as a volunteer sorting boxes of clothes and other items donated to Kreuzberg Hilft, established in the summer of 2015 by a group of citizens to help alleviate the refugee crisis in the city.

Refugees in Berlin“I think Germans, given our history, like to see ourselves as open to the world. After the 2006 World Cup here there was a lot of talk about how welcome the world felt coming here and how well it all went. Even seeing the German flag being waved in a friendly manner was a good thing.

Kreuzberg is a particularly mixed area of Berlin. There’s more openness to outsiders and refugees here. If you live in more rural places or somewhere which has a population of a couple of thousand then I totally get it if people are worried about the impact of 500 refugees suddenly coming into that community. The impact is going to be far greater than 50,000 coming to Berlin with its population of 3.5 million. But there are examples of small villages where refugees are now contributing by, for example, opening new businesses. Germany’s population is getting older and older and many people are saying it’s a good thing that new people are coming in. There’s always two sides to it and of course there’s fears that it could all be too much to cope with.

If you want to see problems then there are problems, but if you want to see the possibilities and chances then they are also there. And I prefer to stick to the positive side.”

Volunteer Finn Pelke sorting boxes at Kreuzberg Hilft, Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2105 all rights reserved.

Volunteer Finn Pelke sorting boxes at Kreuzberg Hilft, Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

Tobias Muhlbacher, 35, a volunteer doctor working with newly arrived refugees at LaGeSo, the Berlin administration facility for health and social welfare. A trained children’s doctor, he has been working as a volunteer two to three days per week since October 2015.

Refugees in Berlin

“I am here because I believe that these refugees, many of whom have undertaken such difficult and dangerous journeys have a right to good care, especially good medical care.

Many people have had to wait for weeks, months even to complete their registration and are therefore only entitled to the emergency treatment we give here at LaGeSo. As a paediatrician I am particularly concerned that the children are looked after, although if there are no children to examine at a particular time, I’ll see anyone who needs a diagnoses.

One problem we have at the moment is that refugees have to re-register again after three months in order that we can continue to provide care for them. This often means sick or injured people queueing up overnight in freezing conditions in order to be first to register the following morning. That’s not a nice picture.

The atmosphere amongst the medical team is good. There is now a mix of volunteers and permanent staff from a local hospital but we all cooperate as we are all here because we want to be. There’s no sense of competition.

I will continue working with the refugees alongside my regular hospital job and will make myself available when the need arises for as long as necessary.”

Tobias Muehlbacher, 35, examining an injured refugee at LaGeSo, Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

Tobias Muehlbacher, 35, examining an injured refugee at LaGeSo, Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

Berlin-based professional storyteller Britta Wilmsmeier, 37, helped establish the Phoenix-Gruppe of volunteers with fellow artists, teachers and other people in the creative industries to utilise art, therapy and cultural connections to reach out to refugees.

Refugees in Berlin“I heard about all these refugees and thought that no-one would ever choose as a family to do such a journey without a good reason. I was thinking about these women, these mothers, sitting in there with hundreds of other people, with no privacy. I thought one way of keeping them sane and keeping them entertained – which is also important – is by telling them stories.

A colleague and I developed a story which we tell to audiences in German but have objects and use gestures and sounds to communicate. It’s not only about them learning German. We want to learn their language too. It’s a dialogue we want, so that they feel we are interested in them too. Storytelling is a very good way to give people stability because the story always comes back to something good in the end.

People are happy to have a concrete reason to help. We are safe and secure here and have enough generally, so we are happy to share what we have. Through my storytelling, I can help them in my own way. I can give them some sort of release. It’s what these people need: some hope, a spark of hope.”

 

Britta Wilmsmeier giving a performance to children in a bookshop in Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2105 all rights reserved.

Britta Wilmsmeier giving a performance to children in a bookshop in Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

Born in Mexico, Hector Marroquin, 32, is a music composer and volunteers at Kreuzberg Hilft, where he acts as the group’s press officer. In addition, he helps out at a home for asylum seekers and accompanies groups of young Syrians on trips and outings such as to concerts and rock climbing.

Refugees in Berlin“I contacted Kreuzberg Hilft and said I just want to be part of the team. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, but I just wanted to help.

It got really big, really quickly. Within one month from September 2015 we had around 40 refugee houses and homes where we would drive to every day to deliver things like clothes and other essential items.

I could see I was really helping but at the same time it wasn’t enough for me. When we were helping the refugees I was only spending something like 10 minutes with these people and then not seeing them again until the next time we turned up. I wanted to know who they were as they just seemed like normal, cool people to me. Of course they needed our things, our money, but most of all they just needed time with people like me, rather than with the authorities, or officials or the police. So I started to work at a refugee house and now I divide my time one-third composing, one-third at Kreuzberg Hilft and one-third at the refugee home.

In the home there are 54 boys, all here without parents, or family or friends. So they are here alone, just waiting for their government interviews which will decide if they can stay in Germany. This might take anything up to six months. In the meantime, by taking them to concerts or sporting events – normal free-time activities for young people – it will help them integrate into German life if they are allowed to stay here.

People have come here because they want to start a new life. They want to be part of Germany. They want to integrate.”

 

Hector Marroquin helping a group of young Syrian refugees taking part in a rock climbing session, Berlin. Photograph ©Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

Hector Marroquin helping a group of young Syrian refugees taking part in a rock climbing session, Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

 

 

A litter bin decorated with names of volunteers working LaGeSo), Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2105 all rights reserved.

A litter bin decorated with names of volunteers working LaGeSo, Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

Refugees queueing at LaGeSo, Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

Refugees queueing at LaGeSo, Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

Refugees showing footage of their accommodation at Tempelhof airport, Berlin. Hector Marroquin helping a group of young Syrian refugees taking part in a rock climbing session, Berlin. Photograph ©Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

Refugees showing footage of their accommodation at Tempelhof airport, Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

A sign taped to a lamppost at LaGeSo, Berlin. Hector Marroquin helping a group of young Syrian refugees taking part in a rock climbing session, Berlin. Photograph ©Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

A sign taped to a lamppost at LaGeSo, Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

Refugees choosing clothes donated by the public, Berlin. Photograph ©Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

Refugees choosing clothes donated by the public, Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

An official struggles to cope with the demand for services, Berlin Photograph ©Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

An official struggles to cope with the demand for services, Berlin. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

Did you like this? Share it:
Leave a comment

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.

 

 

Did you like this? Share it:
2 Comments

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!

Did you like this? Share it:
Leave a comment

Destination Berlin

Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved

The disused Tempelhof airport, destination for hundreds of refugees fleeing to Germany. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved

The young Iranian refugees excitedly show me footage on their mobile phones of the accommodation they have got used to since arriving in Germany.

With barely a word of English, let alone German, between them they show me a large hall, bedecked with tents, mats and blankets. People shuffle possessions about, men and women share the mixed facility and it’s hard not to escape the impression that these are typical young people on an exciting camping trip. But this is no holiday adventure. This is Berlin, at the chilly beginning of November. The winter may be drawing in, but still they come: from Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and north Africa. A seemingly ceasless tide of humanity, washed up by conflict at Europe’s door.

Now their homes are in the cavernous expanses of former hangars at the now-defunct Tempelhof Airport in the heart of the German capital. The famous airfield, constructed in 1923, then expanded and renovated by the Nazis and subsequently used for a million-strong rally, came to prominence after World War II as the site of the American airlift during the Soviet siege of Berlin.

Now partially occupied by a private university and a venue for various cultural events, the city’s administration has begun converting the empty hangars into tented shelter for almost 1000 new arrivals. And it won’t stop there: plans are already afoot to expand capacity at the airfield.

The accommodation is off-limits to the prying eyes of the media. I was given my marching orders by several hefty security guards, but I will return, permission slip in hand and look at the role played by a legion of German volunteers who are keeping the whole refugee situation under control at present.

In the meantime, I spent the day roaming the outskirts of Tempelhof, looking for the signs that the refugee crisis is still very much with us here in Berlin.

Refugees wandering around outside their shelter. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved

Refugees at Tempelhof airport. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved

The exterior of one of the hangars. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved

The exterior of one of the hangars. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved

Young Iranian refugees showing footage. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved

Young Iranian refugees showing footage. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved

Graffiti outside the disused airfield. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved

Graffiti outside the disused airfield. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved

A Berlin residents chats to a Syrian refugee. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved

A Berlin resident chats to a Syrian refugee. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved

A head scarf dropped by a refugee woman. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved

A head scarf dropped by a refugee woman. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved

Today's Tagesspiegel shows the hangars. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved

Today’s Tagesspiegel shows the hangars. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2015 all rights reserved

 

Did you like this? Share it:
2 Comments