York

As we couldn't afford to go to New York, we went to old York instead.

York is a place that I'd never properly been to before. Passing through on the train doesn't really count as a visit now does it?

The first thing that strikes you is how pretty and well looked after the city is.
I noticed how clean the streets are compared with Glasgow.
There's no litter or mess left lying around. Which is odd as there didn't seem to be many litter bins around. And there were no ominous circling colonies of Gulls waiting to scavenge the scraps of the weekend.

Many of the shops had bowls of water left out for dogs on their doorstep..
Overall it gives the place a friendly and welcoming vibe.
Maybe the good citizens of York just take more pride in their city?

There were a couple of things that we wanted to see on this trip.
Mainly the old buildings and the historical sites. The Viking stuff and the Minster.
On a side quest I also hoped to find out what sort of independent business was on the go in the city.

The last point caused me problems and I found it incredibly difficult to research before going.
I told a lot of people that we were going here and had a lot of them tell me "Oh I love York".
Yet nobody could recommend anything to me when pushed.

Also my searches either gave me craft beer places (Google you know me too well) that weren't open on the days of our visit (what happened to don’t be evil?) or I was getting search results for “New” York.
Really I wanted to drink some nice Yorkshire bitter and eat some local food, visit the places of interest and photograph some small and quirky indie businesses.

I was excited to visit the famous Shambles. That was the first port of call.
This old street is a treat to wander about. The tight edges and wonky buildings are great to look at.
It gives a real connection to the past. In my research I'd seen a few really good series of photographs of the shambles, all of them were taken at night. It's only when you're there that you understand why.
It is an extremely busy street.
Actually everywhere is. At least during the day. The city is full of tourists from all over the world.

That makes it difficult to photograph the place. I can imagine if I was sent on a job here I'd have to shoot a lot of images and then paint everybody out in post. Or do them close to midnight like the one above.

The city streets are also surprisingly dark.
Despite the weather giving us the last breath of summer.

The buildings aren't particularly tall but the streets are tight.
That means there are big areas of shadow cast across the street.
You might not pay too much attention to this walking about but take a photo and you will. It causes some harsh areas of contrast.

Dominating the city is York Minster Cathedral.
It is a colossal building, even by today's standards.
The largest Gothic Cathedral in Europe.

It’s an incredible structure. In so many ways.
There’s a lot of renovation and conservation work going on around the Minster.
Which means a lot of scaffolding. But it also means you can watch them working on the pipe organ in front of you. This building is a mixture of the new and the old. All carefully blended together.

I can imagine what it would have been like visiting this in the middle ages and the statement that it would have made.
God and the church before everything else.

It's good that the general entry tickets are valid for a year and it's worth paying extra to go up to the tower. The view from up there is very impressive. It's the highest point for miles.

You could spend a whole day in this place, there's so much to see.
Even if you just spent the day looking at the details in the stained glass windows.
There are some visible scars from the 1980's fire. The path that leads to entry to the tower goes past the south transept roof that was destroyed that night in 1984.
I like the fact that the building wears those scars and they weren't cleaned or covered up.
In this photo you may be able to make out the scorch marks on the wooden prayer kneeler and the scrapes down the wall besides the crucifix. To the left of the base of the cross there a splash on the wall of melted roofing material.

I do hope the same will be true of the Glasgow School of Art and Notre Dame when they are inevitably restored.
The Minster is both an easy subject to photograph and a hard one. It's overwhelming.
If the point is to make photos showing the scale then it's easy, if the point is to make more subtle images then it's difficult.

As I sat in awe of the spectacular east window a service started. I was glad of this. At least I was after my initial panic of “Oh no, I’m stuck” subsided.
This is a working church after all.
I don't like walking around empty buildings that are divorced from their purpose or story.
I'm not a very good tourist, the whole concept bores me.
But being there at a service in front of one of the finest pieces of medieval architecture just felt satisfying and right.


The Jorvik centre was next on the list to visit.
Again it's good that the tickets last for a year rather than just one day.
This wasn't what I was expecting. I thought it'd be a museum, at least a standard museum but it's not.

It's actually a great piece of interactive and experimental archaeology as the story and museum evolves as they discover new things.
I’m not going to share my photos from here simply because I didn’t see any before I went in and felt that not knowing added to the experience.

I did find some cool independent places but I'll write about that in another post.
That's another story for a different day.

There was one last place that I wanted to take a pilgrimage to before we caught the train and headed up the road.
One thing that I wanted to see.
And it was this…

Mallard!

The fastest steam locomotive and one of the most famous steam engines ever made.
Also the stuff of childhood dreams/disappointments. Delete as applicable depending on if you got that Hornby train set for Christmas as a child or not.
I didn’t.
But it’s a shame that the Mallard is parked in a corner. You can’t take a clear photo of it or walk around it, you can at least touch it.

The National Railway museum is a cool space. It's also free (but give them a donation).

Further Reading & Viewing

York Minster Fire Documentary

Gifts for Freelancers made by Freelancers

Doors Open day

I always forget about doors open day.
Every year it creeps up on me and feels like it could be better promoted.
There are so many places that I'd be interested in having a look around and the opportunity to photograph.

At least over the years I have managed to build a little archive of photographs.
A document to something at least.

This year I was too fatigued to really see much or go very far.
I chose two places close to me that I'd never been to with a proper camera before.
The first was the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Church on Garscube road.

This is Mackintosh's only church. He did do some church interior work, there's one in Bridge of Allan, but this is his only complete one.
It's no longer a working church and is now used for events, concerts and is the HQ of the mackintosh society.
The first thing I noticed slightly freaked me out.
A large image of the Glasgow School of Art fire on display.

It's a very dark building.
The wood used everywhere is almost black and the windows, while large, don't really let much light in.
At least not in the afternoon. they are in the shadow of the tenement block next door

If I'd had more time I'd have stayed longer and explored more of the building and the exhibition spaces at the back and downstairs.
I'd also have swung by D'Jaconelli's cafe next door for some ice cream or something.
Always liked going there. There aren't many old school traditional cafes left in Glasgow these days. We should make use of them while we have them.

Anyway, I digress.
Next port of call was St Charles church in Kelvinside.

I've always really liked this building as from some angles it's almost invisible.
Walk down Walton street and you can easily walk on by without even realising that it's there.
This is one of Gillespie, Kidd & Coia's churches.
The same architects who were behind St Peter's seminary in Cardross and numerous churches.

 I also really like the Modernist style they worked in.
These buildings are very bright and airy. Almost hopeful and optimistic.
Actually I love this building.
Everything about it. The way it looks like some kind of industrial building on the outside to the brightness of the interior.
The ceiling is a thing of wonder too.
Mind you it probably leaks like a sieve.
And don't get me started on the sculpted stations of the cross. Apparently Jack Coia himself is one of the figures, but I've yet to discover him. (but It'd be a massive help if I knew what he looked like)

There were a lot of buildings built in the 1960's and 70's like this in Scotland.
Maybe not all crafted with the same level of care.
The thing is, one day these will be rare.
At least they will be if the rate of knocking down 'concrete monstrosities' continues.
And I find that sad.

So I have a piece of homework for you.
Don't' worry, there's no scoring, you can only go wrong by not taking part.
It's simply this.
I challenge you to photograph the things that you see in your day to day life.
Mundane things.
Ordinary street life.
The buildings you pass every day.
The faces you see all the time.
The cars illegally parked boxing you in.
Ok maybe not that but certainly the cars and the buses and general traffic on the roads.

"Why are you asking me to do this Andrew?" I hear you ask.
Simple.
One day all of these things will be gone.
And all that will remain will be your photograph.

Take this image for example.

I didn't take this for any other reason than to document Glasgow.
This is Queen Street railway station.
It’s not fancy and it’s not going to win awards but you cannot repeat this image.
The concrete office buildings have been flattened and replaced by a something that resembles a greenhouse.

New doesn't always equal better.

I took some photographs of the outside of St Charles for the sake of completion all the while hearing the away supporters chanting from Firhill.

Still the scoreline remained Partick Thistle nil.

Further Reading:

Meades Concrete Poetry: Meades documentray on Brutalism and concrete monstrosities.

Ghosteen: The best thing the Bad Seeds have done in years.

Gratuitous Sax & Senseless Violins Sparks 1994 album reissue with extra tracks and alternative vcrsions.

Remember Remember

Remember Remember the fifth ... no wait that's not it.
It's the 3rd of November and it's Last Night From Glasgow's  all dayer in Òran Mór.
10 Bands on show from 1pm to 11pm.

To recap for the unfamiliar, Last Night from Glasgow is a not for profit record label.
They offer a subscription to members that gets you a certain amount of releases, gig tickets and good karma per year.
I won't repeat their story as it has been told before but it is quite an innovative model and a clever yet simple idea.
I'll link some interviews at the end.

I've been to a few of their nights before, once or twice by accident.
I've also had to miss a few recently for one reason or another.
This was one that I wasn't going to miss.

Unfortunately I wasn't able to make it along in time to see Slime City.
That's a shame as I love that band. And their previous band We Are the Physics.
Both very crazy bands.
I also missed Lemon Drink and Plastic Youth though I'm sure I'll catch up with them another time.

First band that I saw were Fightmilk from London.
They mixed some clever and witty lyrics with punk pop.
Lots of punchy guitar chords and thrashing around.
There was something almost Britpop about them. In a way reminding me of the band Sleeper if not quite sounding like them.
But that's a good thing as I loved Sleeper.
And I loved Fightmilk.

Next up was Domiciles from Fife.
This five piece play quite psychedelic intricate and almost verging into prog rock territory.
But there's also a big analogue synth basis to their sounds.
If this band had been around a few years ago they almost certainly have been a totally instrumental band, as that just seemed the thing that everyone was doing back then.
And I've always felt that was a flaw.
Not here. they have songs, with lyrics and more than one voice singing them.
It works really well. Quite an impressive band well worth checking out.
There were a couple of songs that had such a low frequency dirty bass sound, imagine the kind that you could stop a riot with, that I had to move in the room to use people or the pillars and walls as a physical shield against them.

L-Space are the band that were my introduction to Last night From Glasgow.
The first night I went to they were the main support band and I've kept an eye on them from a distance ever since.
They are on the verge of releasing a new album but were using us as test subjects to discover which song should be released as a single, or not.
They're still making synthy electro pop music and it's nice to watch them grow and evlove.

In August I walked through Edinburgh at the tail end of the festival.
I remember seeing a guy standing at the Grassmarket with a guitar strapped to him shouting "Show is starting Show is Starting" in a vain attempt to gain some attention. Nobody stopped for him.
Contrast that to Annie Booth taking to the stage here.
The house lights were up and everyone was talking.
Then the lights went low and she just started to play and sing, quietly.
Within 5 seconds she had the whole audience silent and transfixed.

She's a really good performer with some very strong songs. Most of which are not yet released.

Martha Ffion is another singer/band/artist that I've known the name of for years but never managed to see.
And despite not hailing from Glasgow originally her music fits perfectly into the canon of Scottish jangle pop bands. From the BMX Bandits to Camera Obscura and everything in between.
Also I noticed that all the stage lights got a little brighter for her.
Is that because she used to work at the venue? Or am I just noticing something unconnected?

Broken Chanter if truth be told were the band that I'd come to see.
I've seen David play a solo acoustic version of Broken Chanter but hadn't seen him with the full band. I missed the recent album launch gig.
I'm not sure which I preferred, solo or accompanied. Either way I've not been disappointed.
the full version is just that. Full. The mix of backing vocals against David's voice adds a lot. And then there's the fiddle...
I love how it all sounds very Scottish and very contemporary but without trying to be any of those things.
Bonus Kid Canaveral song too.

Last but by no means least were the Gracious Losers.
Who put in a set that made them winners in my book.
Again a new band to me but again playing mostly new songs that they'd never performed before.
They had 3 backing singers which is something that you don't often come across.
They are a little bit Americana, little bit Gospel, a pinch of Trad and a lot of fun to watch.

These nights are great because you get a little taster of everything on offer. And I suppose for the bands and the label they get to try out what people responde to or not.
There’s a stupid amount of talent about at the moment and it’d be great to see them all go on to solid success.

More:
http://popoptica.com/2019/10/21/last-night-from-glasgow/
http://www.lastnightfromglasgow.com/

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Bonfire Night:
Of course there’s the other Remember Remember thing in November.
Bonfire night.
I gave myself a challenge this year. To go and make a photo that showed some atmosphere from the night.
Glasgow Green isn’t the most photogenic location. The view that you have is either of the fun fair & the big screens or trees. The ideal would be the People’s Palace but access to that part of the park isn’t that available.
Now of course I could photograph them both and composite them but a: that’s cheating and b: I don’t need to give myself more work.
I have seen some really nice photographs showing the river and the bridges and the fireworks going off in the distance but I don’t want to do that. It’s a very distant view and it makes a lonely photograph. I wanted to see people and I wanted to see life to misquote someone.
I have other photographs of the McLellan arch in different seasons and at the Commonwealth Games at similar. So I chose that. the doorway to the Green.
I planned my route and what I was going to photograph, then how I was going to process them. In the end I did have to composite a little, to hide any recognisable people.
In the end it’s a fun little image, don’t you think?




This is the End

"When are you going to do something with those photographs of the town centre opening?"
My cousin Liz asked me.

I don't know was my reply, and I don't know is still my reply as I write this.

Those photographs were part of a long term project of mine but it's one that I'm struggling to complete.
To give you some context.


Denny is my hometown.
Long ago it had a lovely old town centre full of quaint little buildings.
There were a couple of cinemas, one of them a wooden building called 'the bug hut'.
Several pubs, some cafes and little shops. Some housing and 3 churches.
The east side of the town centre dominated by the cooperative buildings, the grocers, the butchers, clothes shops etc.
Around the edges of the town were the foundries and paper mills.
In the 1970's Denny and Dunipace Town Council was amalgamated into Falkirk District Council and in their infinite wisdom (stupidity) and in the name of progress, half the town centre was demolished and replaced with six new buildings and a car park.

I don't remember the original town centre, only the modern one and I remember it as being a bit square and very grey. That was the case until the late 1980's or early 1990's when the flats were renovated and given a red and yellow coating. Which made them look like rhubarb and custard boiled sweets.

That would have been fine had they been cared for but they weren't.
Over time they deteriorated, water seeped in and the rough casting fell off. Where it was patched it was patched in the wrong colour.
Gradually shops started closing and one by one the units became empty.
Some of that was just unfortunate, where the parent companies went bust like in the case of Crawford's the baker or the Clydesdale Electrical shop.
Some of that was changing consumer behaviours in the case of the video rental shops.
And others were government cutbacks in the case of the Job Centre and the civil service offices.

The town suffered and still does suffer from larger out of town shopping on all sides.

Fast forward a decade of the same decline and add a dash of Falkirk Council dumping lots of problem tenants into the town centre and we reach the beginning of my project.
The town centre had become very gloomy and quite oppressive.
It had been nominated for the (not so) prestigious Carbuncle award for most dismal town.
It didn't win, John O'Groats won but refused the prize.
Campaigners in Denny asked to accept it hoping to use it as a catalyst for action.

It is the summer of 2010.
I was in the middle of doing college work and study to set up my business.
That summer there was a huge protest held in the town centre. A walk around the block, led by Denny and Dunipace pipe band and many different groups from the town.
Our Members of Parliament, Members of the Scottish Parliament and local councillors were there.
There were speeches, there was a petition, there was a Facebook campaign.
And there was me photographing it.
The goal was to have the old flats knocked down and replaced with something. What that something should be wasn’t yet clear.

The protest worked.

A year later I joined some of the other protesters and we formed a little group to put more pressure on the local council to spend some money and redevelop the town.
They had agreed to knock down the buildings but there was no timescale and no further plan.
Our group helped shape the direction of travel that this process would take.
It took another petition and lots of lobbying (bugging) the council to get them to listen. Eventually they did.

The old town centre buildings were demolished in 2011-2012 and it took until May 2018 for the flag to be unfurled on the replacement.
I didn't set out to document this, it was simply in my face every day.
I just photographed things that were happening and then after a while I realised that I had a series developing.
So I just went with it.
If I had planned it as a project then I'd probably not have moved town half way through it.
Nor would I have shot half of it on film.

Also, bonus tip. Don't start a business and then move town.

Speaking of film, I'm in Adam and Ann's little Carbuncle town documentary film about all of this.
There's a part in this film where I'm basically the presenter.
It was on the day when they started knocking the first part of the town centre down. The 22nd of November 2011. It caught us by surprise.
We were so close to missing it entirely so what we did was very improvised.

When the film was finished Adam called me up and said "You might have a new career out of this".

Looking back on that time kind of depresses me so I've never actually seen the film but I'll link it below if you're interested.
 
I have almost 10 years worth of photographs.
Starting with the paper mill being demolished and other events that linked in to the redevelopment. Things like the opening of the new Dale bridge.

I tracked the progress of the demolition

And the progress of the new building taking shape.

Until the day the ribbon was cut.

I went back specially to photograph this day. I realised that my project needed an end point and thought that unfurling the flag and cutting the ribbon was probably as good a note to end as any.
But what’s weird is the weather. It was very hot and sunny.
For so many of my photographs the weather was horrible. The walk around the block day was miserable.
The weather is almost like a protagonist in my photographs as much as anything.
It’s gloomy and brooding when we’re up against it and protesting.
When progress is made the skies are blue.
Then when it all reaches a conclusion, a happy ending if you will, it’s all beautiful and sunny.
That’s odd, don’t you think?

So returning to Liz's original question, I don't know what to do with the photographs from this project.
It would be good to print them and put them on show, maybe in the new buildings.
How I fund that, I don't know.

Gallery quality prints are expensive and I don't see me selling too many prints of unloved buildings getting knocked down to offset that cost.
It's not what you'd hang on your wall.

What I do know about this project is that this is the type of story that I'd like to tell using this newsletter format.
Without having to title it “We won the Carbuncle award and you’ll never guess what happened next”


Further Reading:

Carbuncle Town Trailer.

Carbuncle Town Full film.

Denny & Dunipace History Society.

2010 Carbuncle Awards. I forgot that I’m quoted in this article. I don’t remember the occasion. But looking back at all the comments/suggestions I got pretty much exactly what I asked for. It’s almost as if I had some hand in the plans.




Build your own thing

I reckon most folk who start a business in photography bought a camera, enjoy taking photographs for a while, build up their skills to a level and then test them out on family and friends.
Eventually those family and friends get married, have children and the basis of a wedding/portrait business has been formed.

I didn't follow that path.
Not out of choice.
I simply didn't have that in my life. Still don't in fact.
The people in my social circles formed bands rather than getting married. 
And that's still the case today.
As that was what I had access to so that was what I photographed.

The challenge is how to make things like that pay your bills.
I have earned money from this but not the type of consistent income that you'd need to, you know, pay your rent with or pay a mortgage.
And before you say it, photography is not and never has been my hobby. I have always approached it as work, as a career, as a craft.

I think of all of the other photographers over the years that I've met shooting music and I don't think there's a single one who's makes a living out of photographing music and only music.
At least none of my generation or younger.
Maybe some of the older ones did.

There aren't enough paying outlets remaining for photography anymore.
There probably aren’t enough paying outlets for writers either.
It must have been great to have been around in an earlier age when you could have worked for Sounds, Melody Maker or NME. Though to be honest I never liked NME. Probably because of the hatchet job they did on the Scottish band Bis.
This band grew up in a town that looked like mine, went to a school that looked like mine, sang songs about things I recognised.
We're almost an identical age and yet they were dismissed as irrelevant and wrong by the NME editorial of the time.  As if saying 'how dare they find success without our backing'.

And that felt like they were dismissing me as much as giving a bad review to someone they didn't fancy.
Which is possibly what made me so much more interested in Scottish artists.

If I had been able to start my business from the position of having a day job I would have done things differently.
I would have started my own website/publication paid for by subscription or sponsorship.
Or both.
Then I'd have photographed, interviewed, filmed and recorded artists. Maybe even putting on little gigs in order to do that.
And then with the revenue coming in from that I'd do something radical.
I'd pay folk for their creative work.
Writers, photographers, etc.

That idea has been in my head for 10 years. Maybe this is finally the platform to make it happen.
On a smaller scale at least.

In that time I've photographed so many different artists.
Not quite to the point of having photos of a generation but close.
I do have an image library that nobody else has and I want to build one that no one else can ever have.

Despite what you may think I don't really want to be shooting concert photographs.
Sure they're fun to do and they are a challenge. You do get a buzz from it, I do at least.
But sometimes you also get treated really badly.

It's hard to create something unique in concert photography. Especially if there's a handful of other photographers and you're all working under the same lights and are restricted to the same areas.
Or if the lights are out and you struggle to actually see who's in front of you.
The photo I've used for this post is of Mónica de Nut who was singing with fellow Galician singer Mercedes Peón's band. Which I photographed in January.

Surprisingly this is the first proper gig I photographed at the famous Glasgow Barrowlands. (I've photographed other events there that weren't gigs)
Between 2007 and 2013 I didn't set foot in the Barras. I had planned to but those gigs either got cancelled or downgraded to a smaller venue.
I still have ticekts and passes for things that say “Barrowlands” that actually all took place in the O2 ABC.

This photograph is part of a series. I photographed that festival as much as was physically possible. 13 nights in a row.
I made some really great work that I'm proud of.
Ultimately I’d like to be able to print them all out and put on a show.

How, when or where I do that I don't know yet. But you've got to keep doing things that challenge you and things that keep you visible, right?

And for the title of this post?
That’s the answer isn’t it?
The solution to the creatives problem.
Make a thing, do cool stuff, build an audience and ask them for support.
It doesn’t matter your what business you’re in, the same rules should apply?

I reject the idea that if you are passionate about something that you cannot make a living from it.

So I am just going to keep doing this until it works.

This substack newsletter thing is an experiment. It is not a photography blog, I’d lke my posts to be about something.
I don’t know if it will work or if I will gain any kind of traction. It is at least a worthwhile creative excerise.

Andrew
@mckenna_andrew

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