Colin McPherson, Berwickshire Coastal Path from ‘A Fine Line – Exploring Scotland’s Border with England’, 2014
“Welcome to Scotland”
“Please close the gate”
The juxtaposition of these two signs in Colin McPherson’s photograph draws attention to the looming tone in anticipation of what was decided in Scotland on the 18th of September. McPherson’s body of work A Fine Line, forming part of the exhibition Beyond the Border: New Contemporary Photography from Scotland, at Impressions Gallery, Bradford, somehow suspends the air of division or reticence towards the then uncertain territory of Scotland.
The four photographers Sophie Gerrard, Stephen McLaren, Colin McPherson and Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert are collectively “Document Scotland”. In their exhibition Beyond the Border, we are witness to changes in the landscape; shifts in focus and understanding relating to gender equality, identity as a global currency and the effects of globalisation. The exhibition espouses the art of looking, extending a rich, long-standing experimental tradition within photography in Scotland. David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson’s Fishermen and Women of the Firth of Forth dating from the early 1840s is considered to be the first ever social documentary series, while Thomas Annan’s The Old Closes and Streets of Glasgow from the late nineteenth century is perhaps one of the earliest examples of a ‘creative interpretation of reality’ within photography. In light of a separatist dream it is interesting to note the sister collective “A Fine Beginning” in Wales. Might they too present work on the cusp of change, documenting a people riding on a wave of political fervour, in favour of independence from the United Kingdom?
Sophie Gerrard, Black Faced Ewes, Lauder, from the series ‘Drawn to the Land’, 2014
Gerrard’s Drawn to the Land surrenders to a commonality – labour – with both feet firmly placed on the ground. Hers is a feminist offering presenting contemplative female farmers in Scotland, self-assured with a certain weather worn dignity, suggesting consideration for an urgent aspect of political enquiry – global environmental issues. Scotland is rich in renewable energy and Gerrard’s photographs present a narrative that hints at survival and the role of women as pioneers of the land.
‘When I’m standing high up on the hill, looking down over it, I feel very insignificant, with an awareness that I’m part of something much bigger, that I’m only here for a very short time.’- Lorraine Luescher, farmer.
Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert’s Edge of Empire rumbles ominously. The re-enactors of the Antonine Guard, 6th Legion, whose portraits are taken while a storm broods overhead, emit a radiant wisdom. The works explore the physical notion of “what it means to be…” through industry and leisure. Like Gerrard’s photograph of a flock of sheep traversing a brutal landscape flanked by majestic wind-turbines, Sutton-Hibbert’s image of Grangemouth Oil Refinery seen from the top of an artificial ski slope, asks current and fundamental questions, such as: What does the future hold for government policy towards renewable energy? And what is the role, if any, that big businesses can play in developing alternatives to energy currently provided by fossil fuels?
Stephen McLaren’s American Always Scottish Forever, glossy and complex, examines Scottish identity through Disney-tinted spectacles. Outsize plastic cows litter the portraits, presenting the Scottish romantic landscape as some kind of brand. Clean, smiling faces taken at the Highland Games in California look out at us as we question various notions of authenticity.
Identity as a commodity should not be taken so brazenly, perhaps. Beyond the Border glances towards an instability aroused by the threat of division. McPherson’s photographs suggest that to be caught in a divisionary barb is a kind of no-mans-land, a place of no return, instead setting his sights towards the open highway, free to come and go, to share, and to listen to one another, depicted by his photograph of a road sign which simply reads, “Union Road”.
– Jade Montserrat
Beyond the Border is an Impressions Gallery touring exhibition curated by the gallery’s Scottish born director Anne McNeill. A catalogue accompanies the exhibition, which includes two notable photo essays: Should Scotland be an independent country? and Scottish Sweet Sixteen, reflecting on the autonomy given to young adults during this period in the history of democratic politics in the United Kingdom.
Sophie Gerrard is represented by Print Sales at The Photographers’ Gallery.