I am almost at the end of my current three week residency with Team Effort! in Glasgow's southside. A residency is an exciting thing. It is business as usual really, but with a hard focus, and a hard deadline. Two things I sorely crave when I can focus on personal work. I have taken these 3 weeks to break from my commercial diary to focus on, and actually begin from scratch, a project I have wanted to try for a long time. I don't say "try" lightly. The project itself ticks all boxes of Team Effort's "ethos of exploration, risk-taking and collaboration" and I cannot put enough stress on the risk-taking.
Since this project is in two parts I wanted to explain a bit more about it and its background. I have split it into two parts, I am just finishing the R&D phase. The notion of a breezy holiday tripping through Glasgow's galleries have been quickly dismissed! Instead, my research here has been hard currency. It has been pavement pounding, door knocking, emails and phone calls. The life of a producer, and not much a photographer (bit of a running joke here.) But for what I want to achieve, it is the approach.
The working name of my project is PARADISE and its aim is to explore notions of identity, of veracity and, most urgently of all, of Glasgow. Its practical aims though are to visit everyday scenes of city life and dress everyone within in a Hawaiian shirt. Anyone familiar with my other personal work won't even bat an eye. Part of my learnings these last few weeks have been deeply personal, and it would appear that the only projects worth my salt are those that are only as preposterous as they are ambitious.
For this work, I am drawing on the early colour photography and practice of John Hinde. Photographer/ ringmaster/ visual embellisher extraordinaire, Hinde is widely known for his saccharine and idealistic scenic representations of Ireland and the UK. He was commissioned by Butlins Holiday Camps during the1960's to impart his signature saturation to a series of postcards depicting the ceaseless delight of the resorts. He worked as a director, with a team that would pose holidaymakers and add lighting and props where necessary to crystallise his great modernised Arcadia. Injecting maximum colour into the frame, Hinde's team would saturate a scene however they could, including carrying a bag of bright shirts to dress anyone too pastel. In its excess and artifice, colour forms an inadvertent caricature of the setting of the images.
Fast forward to Glasgow. Here is a city that seems a living caricature. A historical and modern city, it wears itself openly. It visually balances its past with its future in an immediate, hacksaw affect; splicing old merchant sectors with motorways and modern housing. A city infinitely grey, commercial, derelict and rain-soaked, but electric with personality, character, creativity, myth and legend. That humour in Glasgow even is antipodean, renowned as dark and deadpan, wit becomes an intrinsic part of its ambiguous character. These romantic contradictions were my first impressions of Glasgow when I started to visit for work years ago. And it is these naive and flawed assumptions that I wish to nourish for this project.
Drawing on, and frankly inverting, Hinde's approach have begun creating caricature scenes of Glasgow's sub-urban life. I want to inject disproportionate colour into packed, mundane scenes in pubs, bus stops, pool halls, care centres, chippies, the park, tea rooms, art classes and the streets of the city, by dint of a wardrobe of colourful shirts. Faithful to Hinde, I am shooting everything on large format colour film. I wanted to draw individuals, communities and organisations in to an art project that presents a humorous, relevant image of the city. Where Hinde set out to use colour to create a hyper-reality, I am creating a sur-reality.
The good news is, the hardest part is almost done. After an electric three weeks, I have bounded forward. Over the next few weeks when everything returns to chaos, I will have results to show that take me to the next chapter. This is a collaborative project, and in the not too distant future, I will be calling for helpers, assistants, collaborators and conspirators who like the feel of a Hawaiian shirt and know where to find Glasgow's intangible colour.