The Scotsman


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


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.retinafest­; the Actinic Festival is at various venues, Edinburgh, until 26 July, see www. alternativ­ephotograp­

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 ??  ?? 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
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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