PHO­TOG­RA­PHY

Su­san Mans­field on two fas­ci­nat­ing new ex­hi­bi­tions in the cap­i­tal this month

The Scotsman - - Contents - BY SU­SAN MANS­FIELD

Who knows how many pho­to­graphs will be taken in Ed­in­burgh this sum­mer? As the fes­ti­vals roll into town, it’s as if the city turns into the shut­ter-snap­ping cap­i­tal of the world. In spite of this, how­ever, the art of pho­tog­ra­phy has never been well rep­re­sented in the var­i­ous fes­ti­val pro­grammes.

There is good news this year, though, as a sum­mer of pho­tog­ra­phy is on its way. The big block­buster at the Na­tional Gallery of Scot­land is a ret­ro­spec­tive of the work of David Bai­ley (see cover fea­ture), while at the Na­tional Mu­seum of Scot­land, Pho­tog­ra­phy: A Vic­to­rian Sen­sa­tion cel­e­brates the city’s links with the begin­nings of pho­tog­ra­phy, show­ing that an ob­ses­sion with cap­tur­ing and shar­ing im­ages is noth­ing like as re­cent as we might think.

Along­side these, two very dif­fer­ent fes­ti­vals of pho­tog­ra­phy celebrate the achieve­ments of those work­ing in the medium. Retina show­cases the work of Scot­tish pho­tog­ra­phers along­side in­ter­na­tional tal­ent. Head­lin­ers this year (both to be seen at Gay­field Cre­ative Spa­ces) in­clude Tim Flach, known for his ar­rest­ing por­traits of an­i­mals, and Hamish Brown, whose strik­ing celebrity por­traits of rock stars and ac­tors, from Iggy Pop to Gary Old­man, grace the pages of mag­a­zines and news­pa­pers. “we aim to bring pho­tog­ra­phers from out­side the UK to Scot­land and mix that with the pho­tog­ra­phers who prac­tice here and as­pir­ing pro­fes­sion­als from the col­leges,” says Retina chair­man Roddy Mcrae. “‘Ed­u­cate, in­form, in­spire’ sounds like a cor­po­rate state­ment, but that’s pretty much my per­cep­tion of what Retina does.”

Nor­we­gian (but Ed­in­burgh-based) Ken­neth Sort­land Myk­le­bust will not only ex­hibit work from his nude se­ries, 1000 Bod­ies, but will also con­tinue to add to it dur­ing the fes­ti­val, pho­tograph­ing lo­cals and visi­tors in a stu­dio next to his ex­hi­bi­tion at Gay­field Cre­ative Spa­ces, while in­ter­na­tional in­vi­tees in­clude Luigi Gian­neti from Italy and Bartek Fu­ral from Poland (both at Out of the Blue Drill Hall).

Mcrae says: “Ken­neth is some­one I’ve known about for a long time, his work is very dif­fer­ent and unique, and was at the top of the list of things we wanted to do. I was asked if I would pose, and I said I would like to, but I sus­pect my teenage chil­dren would dis­own me.”

Retina made its de­but last year, af­ter dis­cus­sions be­tween Mcrae (who has worked for photo agen­cies, in­clud­ing Im­age Bank and Getty Im­ages) and pho­tog­ra­pher Chris Close, best known for his in­no­va­tive pic­tures of au­thors at the Ed­in­burgh In­ter­na­tional Book Fes­ti­val. Mcrae says: “Go­ing round the gal­leries in Scot­land, I wasn’t see­ing a lot of the great ma­te­rial I came across when I was selling com­mer­cial pho­tog­ra­phy. I would see fine art pho­tog­ra­phy from abroad, but where was all the Scot­tish ma­te­rial? It’s well known that there’s a lack of gallery space in Ed­in­burgh to show pho­tog­ra­phy. A dis­cus­sion about why there’s no pho­tog­ra­phy fes­ti­val turned into a spur for ac­tion.”

The broad range of ma­te­rial on dis­play as part of Retina also in­cludes work by press pho­tog­ra­pher Doug Cor­rance, whose book Scot­land: Five Decades of Pho­to­graphs, cel­e­brates a ca­reer be­hind the lens, and a se­lec­tion of work by Gor­don Jack, who died sud­denly in April af­ter suf­fer­ing a heart at­tack out­side Dun­blane Cathe­dral, where he was cov­er­ing Andy Mur­ray’s wed­ding re­hearsal.

Mean­while, an ex­hi­bi­tion at the Scot­tish Par­lia­ment will show­case po­lit­i­cal por­traits from the 1960s and 1970s, in­clud­ing Man­dela, Churchill and Khrushchev, by Hun­gar­i­an­born Michael Peto, whose archive is kept at Dundee Univer­sity.

The team be­hind Retina is also

keen to take pho­tog­ra­phy out of the gallery to a wider au­di­ence. “I’d like to make an ex­hi­bi­tion hap­pen on rail­ings in the city cen­tre,” says Mcrae. “I’m be­com­ing quite an anorak about rail­ings. We want to do more out­door ex­hi­bi­tions, use out­door spa­ces, stim­u­late more in­ter­est and dis­cus­sion.”

Mean­while, in var­i­ous art spa­ces across the city in July, the Ac­tinic Fes­ti­val cel­e­brates pho­tog­ra­phy in a very dif­fer­ent way. In a world where dig­i­tal pho­tog­ra­phy has be­come ubiq­ui­tous, and mil­lions of pic­tures are up­loaded daily on so­cial media, many artists work­ing with pho­tog­ra­phy are turn­ing back to tra­di­tional hands-on chem­i­cal pro­cesses. “peo­ple are em­brac­ing for­got­ten and lost pro­cesses,” says Ac­tinic di­rec­tor Brit­tonie Fletcher. “There’s a bit of a fas­ci­na­tion for ghost tech­nol­ogy, dead media. It’s very pop­u­lar to have re­vivals, and look back and rein­vent things. I think that’s how we’re go­ing to rein­vent the new gen­res and canons of 21st-cen­tury pho­tog­ra­phy.”

Ac­tinic – the name refers to chem­i­cal re­ac­tions stim­u­lated by light – cel­e­brates pho­tog­ra­phy con­tain­ing an ana­logue el­e­ment. Build­ing on the suc­cess of the Al­ter­na­tive Pho­tog­ra­phy Fes­ti­val in 2013, Fletcher has shifted the em­pha­sis to in­clude not only artists who use tra­di­tional pro­cesses, but those who com­bine them with the latest dig­i­tal tech­niques. “I’m a huge fan of ana­logue pho­tog­ra­phy, but also in­ter­ested in the in­ter­sec­tion of that with other arts,” says Fletcher. “Pho­tog­ra­phy is a medium, it should be mixed with any­thing an artist wants to mix it with.”

An in­ter­na­tional call for sub­mis­sions led to an “amaz­ing” re­sponse. The fes­ti­val will show the work of 50 artists from five con­ti­nents, at venues in­clud­ing Ed­in­burgh Print­mak­ers, Sum­mer­hall and the Tra­verse. Ja­pan’s Takashi Arai, one of the top artists work­ing with the da­guer­rotype, will show at Stills Gallery, and talk about his work. Other high­lights in­clude the work of US artist S Gayle Stevens at the Botanic Gar­dens, us­ing the wet-plate col­lo­dion process to make a se­ries of works about the de­cline of the honey bee, and the at­mo­spheric land­scapes of Aberdeen­shire-based Anne Camp­bell.

The fes­ti­val brings to­gether artists work­ing with tech­niques rang­ing from Po­laroids to pin­hole cam­eras – in­clud­ing one made us­ing an ostrich egg – and mar­ry­ing an­ti­quated print pro­cesses with the latest dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies. There is also a chance to see rare tin­types, from the col­lec­tion of pho­tog­ra­phy his­to­rian Sheila Mas­son, at the English­s­peak­ing Union Scot­land Gallery.

Fletcher says that the ex­plo­sion in dig­i­tal pho­tog­ra­phy has stim­u­lated many art pho­tog­ra­phers to re­con­nect with hands-on tech­niques. “There is a very quickly grow­ing in­ter­est in non-straight pho­tog­ra­phy. The strength and di­ver­sity of the peo­ple who’ve wanted to par­tic­i­pate in Ac­tinic are just great. You could com­pare it to al­ter­na­tive mu­sic, which used to be a genre which in­cor­po­rated grunge and lots of dif­fer­ent things, then be­came a very main­stream um­brella. I think that’s the way al­ter­na­tive pho­tog­ra­phy is go­ing.”

Tra­di­tional pro­cesses re­mind us pho­tog­ra­phy is not al­ways in­stant, but is also a lit­tle mag­i­cal. Take, for ex­am­ple, the cover of the Ac­tinic pro­gramme, printed us­ing pho­tochro­matic ink: when ex­posed to bright day­light, the white pa­per re­veals an im­age of but­ter­fly wings. “Isn’t it cool,” says Fletcher. “This is what I feel ev­ery time I’m in the dark­room. I’ve been a pho­tog­ra­pher for 15 years, but I al­ways get ex­cited by an im­age de­vel­op­ing. There’s child­like won­der about it. There is more to pho­tog­ra­phy than the im­age on the bus stop, or Face­book. I’m hop­ing Ac­tinic will en­cour­age peo­ple to experiment more with pho­tog­ra­phy.”

Retina – Scot­tish In­ter­na­tional Fes­ti­val of Pho­tog­ra­phy 2015 is at var­i­ous venues, Ed­in­burgh, 10-30 July, www.reti­nafes­ti­val.com; the Ac­tinic Fes­ti­val is at var­i­ous venues, Ed­in­burgh, un­til 26 July, see www. al­ter­na­tivepho­tog­ra­physcot­land.org

Left, from the Ac­tinic Fes­ti­val, one of Sheila Mas­son’s tin­types. Top tier, im­ages from the Retina show, from left: panda por­trait by Tim Flach; swans on Ed­in­burgh’s St Mar­garet’s Loch by Doug Cor­rance; Gary Old­man by Hamish Brown

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