In April 1993, I got a call from Ian Wall, Economic Development Edinburgh Council to come take the photograph of an amazing woman. Wangari Maathai, who was in hiding and had escaped the Kenyan government and flown into Edinburgh to be internationally recognized to receive the Edinburgh Medal. It was all hush hush and I sensed a great anticipation. As usual I was carting about the Hasselblad kit and was again faced with the challenge of getting the photograph in low light levels. It was about tea time and I was escorted to a hotel room in the city. Wangari was a renowned social, environmental and political activist and was to receive the medal that evening. I knew that I was getting the one and only chance to photograph her. I was introduced and immediately recognised her great stature, but also her warmth and humanity. I never like taking portraits with flash and judged that the situation was going to be extremely difficult. The hotel suite was large with windows blackened out with long black curtains. Wangari was friendly, shy and not really up for getting her photograph taken but kindly agreed. I slightly pulled back the curtains and a shaft of light shone through and I positioned Wangari. I had to push the film a couple of stops and even then I could only get away with a shutter speed of 1/30th of a second. I really only got the one shot out of the few I took. It has a camera shake but I am quite happy that the image captures the spirit of one of the worlds greatest females at a time in her life when she was running free. The photograph is a scan of a print I made that even then needed quite a lot of darkroom technique to make an image. Sometimes we get lucky and on this occasion I was really pushing my luck. In 2004 Wangari was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace. She became the first African woman, and the first environmentalist, to win the prize. I was extremely proud to have been part of the team that helped give Wangari international recognition. Wangari sadly passed away in 2011. Professor Ian Wall is now Director, Edinburgh International Festival of Science and Technology and Member of the Board of International Centre for Mathematical Sciences. I hope everyone who knew Wangari enjoy the portrait.
It was a Sunday, late in the afternoon on the 14th August in 1994 and I was waiting for the arrival of The David Byrne an artist I had enjoyed for many years. Owning most of his vinyl and inspired by his visuals and videos, but had never met him or seen him perform. He was back home, a local really, to open his photographic exhibition Sacred Objects, Sleepless Nights at The Stills Gallery in Cockburn Street, Edinburgh, Scotland. It was getting late, the sun was going down, he was late. Cockburn Street is a cobbled street in the heart of Edinburgh's Old Town just off the Royal Mile. The tenements are ten storey high and the light was fading fast. I had been in the gallery but by now I was outside ready waiting to pounce as quick as possible and get that portrait. I had the Hasselblad with an 80mm (the moon lens) ready loaded with Ilford XP2 pushing it one stop to 800 ASA and I was anxious, nevermind meeting a psycho killer I knew I was going to be working at the limits of my kit. And then he came cycling down Cockburn St on a black butchers bike, nae hands, nae gears happy happy, on his own to his solo exhibition. I was ready, introduced myself and convinced him that we were going to do a portrait there and then. Over the road and into the doorway of the City Chambers and the rest is just a bit of a daze. I was mesmerised and he played along. I fired off the roll of twelve, the camera is bloody heavy and noisy. A break between each and compose again. Naturally he was cool but so was I haha. He was also very cheeky.
In the gallery. His work was interesting. Very polished. It was difficult not to be in awe so I didn't hang around. This photograph also features a younger Calum Colvin on parent duty far left. Calum is a Scottish photographer who produces exceptional photographs that take photography to another dimension. Again I was lucky enough to work with Calum once upon a time in that very street. A street that gets blown to bits in the block buster Avengers Infinity War. David had left another sacred image unlocked outside.
I was out with my camera the other day and I looked up and there in the sky a sign as clear as day. We have nearly waited long enough and the time is very soon and Nicola must call us together. All who have spent our days working towards an Independent Scotland. It is time.
My journey has been intrinsically linked to the Independence road since I was a wee laddie. Here at Westerhailes in Edinburgh are Craig and Charles Reid in June 1989 riding high on the success of the fantastic album 'Sunshine on Leith' and important activists in our efforts over many years. I was working with my guid pal Crawford Cumming on the promotional materials for the campaign to elect Jay Smith to the European Parliament. It's a pity we lost but we had some great fun. We were lo tech back then, haudin on to the back of a truck with a megaphone. In those days we were working with film and paste up on a drawing table, nae digital and hand cut cut outs haha.
Nicola's determination and passion is without doubt. Let us have the confidence.
Nicola Sturgeon Member of The Scottish Parliament 2002. Have a listen and a think to the Proclaimers whilst you browse my sight. All feedback welcome.
Sometimes you get really lucky and meet amazing people and in that moment in time you make a real connection. On this occasion it was Jane Goodall, a primatologist and anthropologist and the world expert on Chimpanzees. She was in Scotland to receive the Edinburgh Medal at the City Chambers in the summer of 1991. I was at the ready with my lights set and my Hasselblad ready to shoot of a roll of twelve negatives. The rooms in the building are grand and filled with the history of the Edinburgh forefathers and the achievements made 99% male. Jane had just delivered her lecture and retired unaccompanied to a private room to have her official photograph taken. I do not remember all of our conversations but she was cheeky, funny and mischievous just like the portrait portrays. I gained a degree in Biological Science from Heriot Watt University, Edinburgh in 1982 and knew fine damn well who Jane Goodall was and was ready for what was an experience and time that well met my expectations. She joked about wearing a dress and being in such a fine building and how that compared to being in the field where she spent all of her time. Being photographed in her finery flipped her role of chimpanzee photographer. Jane is 57 year old at this time and still relatively an attractive woman, I could not resist to flirt a bit. She was relaxed and happy to be away from the Edinburgh worthies and I was very privileged to enjoy her company for a wee bit time. I was also lucky enough to be given a copy of her booklet The Chimpanzee, The Living Link Between 'Man' and 'Beast'. The Third Edinburgh Medal Address published by Edinburgh University Press ISBN 0 7486 0354 9
Chimpanzees are endangered and the way things are going it is highly likely that they will not be in the wild for ever. If a wild will even exist. Jane spends her life studying how the chimps engage with the world and I am sure she would agree that they are in danger because of us humans. But are we not responsible for the diversity and preservation of all animals? And speciesism in relation to veganism would be morally wrong. Why eat a cow and not your dog? Anyway Jane makes fantastic efforts in her work. She has also launched a vegan clothing range with Leonardo DiCaprio to raise funds.
1992 was just as good fun, this time it was Heinz Wolff, but that's another story
I have been very fortunate to photograph Sean on quite a few occasions. This was the very first press of the shutter on 'Big Tam' the legend of the streets where I grew up in Fountainbridge, Edinburgh in the 60's and 70's where he could be fleeting glimpsed as he visited his mum in the sounds and smells of the pubs and the clubs and the bingo and the brewery and the rubber plant and the coop and the tenements and the gangs and the primary school Tollcross where he was the stuff of spies astronauts and Bond, my name is James Bond haha.
I waited patiently as the excitement built in The City Chambers, Edinburgh. We were waiting for Edinburgh's son Thomas Sean Connery to be bestowed our city's highest honour; The Freedom of The City. There I was poised in the knowledge of where and when he would enter. I was guid pals with all the employees of the Chamber and spent many happy times in their company meeting and greeting the visitors from all over the world. I had one shot, using the Hasselblad, pre focused in the darkness before he arrived to a bank of flashes and camera's. I am very happy with the photograph.
Five Scotsmen in a lift in Aberdeen sometime later, my guid pal Mik assisting with my gear, Alex Salmond, Mike Russell and that Sean Connery accused me of being an anarchist, asif, haha.
More on 'Big Tam' and an Independent Scotland to follow.
I was so lucky to work on a campaign with Edinburgh District Council Public Relations Division in 1995 in association with the magic Disability Discrimination Unit to promote the new legislation giving much needed legal rights to People with disabilities. Me and my colleague Barbara Chalmers, Head of Graphic Design at the time and the team spent so much time on trying to get the wording right. We settled on; People with Disabilities Face Discrimination Every Day of Their Lives All of Their Lives (we were really messing about with the english language and punctuation of the time , a sort of homage to Nirvana , that I have repeated throughout my work). With the final statement; Fight Discrimination Now. We really liked the over use of capitals and decided to keep it pure black and white. It was published full page in all the daily newspapers of the time together with a poster and leaflet campaign.
I nearly got in a wee bit trouble for this photograph. For the obvious reason of taping up a baby's mouth. There was a situation that was current of the time where this tragically happened with dreadful horror. On reflection I do not regret my use of the media at the time. For me the imagery fits the words.
I confess that at the time, I might have said the image was produced digitally, when I was a bit enthused by the new technology and it's possibilities haha. It was an easy excuse to save me from folks that didn't understand the magic haha that I created to get the wee kid to have a bit of tape loosely applied to it's mouth for a split second to create a controversial image to highlight a major legislative achievement. The photograph was taken on the floor of the City Chambers in the City of Edinburgh on a the very plush carpet. A fantastic cosy space surrounded by the portraits of our great citizens of my city. Anyways the kid and his parents came along about 1pm, was needing a feed, had one and fell asleep for about an hour, was not up for no photographs, nor me slapping a piece of tape over it's mouth.
By the way whilst I interject. The parents were right up for the photo, were braw folks and got what I was trying to do. It would be good to find out how the kid is doing?
I was ably assisted by my YTS, the young Stephen White … more of him to follow on this site haha,
The kid woke up.
The lighting and camera was ready.
The tape was prepared.
With one hand behind the kids back with a cable release and the tape in the other.
I placed the tape on the kids mouth for a split second and pressed the shutter on the Hasselblad.
my life my journey my work