Series 2 Episode 3: Alasdair Gray’s Glasgow with Sorcha Dallas, The Alasdair Gray Archive

Niall Murphy (00:11):

Hello, everyone. I’m Niall Murphy, and welcome to If Glasgow’s Walls Could Talk. A podcast by Glasgow City Heritage Trust about the stories and relationships between historic buildings and people in Glasgow. I’d like to start today’s podcast with a quote, “What is Glasgow to most of us? A house, a park, a golf course, some pubs and connecting streets? That’s it. No, I’m wrong. There’s also a cinema and the library. And if our imagination needs exercise, we use these to visit London and Paris.” Those words come from the pen and creative genius of Alasdair Grey, the subject of today’s exciting conversation. The great Scottish writer and artist sadly died in December 2019, just a day after his 85th birthday. But he leaves an inspiring legacy for all to share. A lifetime’s work, which continues to invite a reimagining of Glasgow.

(01:09):
Alasdair Grey was born in Riddrie, in Glasgow’s Northeast, in December 1934. His childhood visits to Kelvingrove Museum had fueled fantasies about escaping to imaginary worlds. But he never wanted to leave Glasgow. And as an adult, actively avoided the law of making fame and fortune in London. His seminal work, the much acclaimed novel, Lanark: A Life in Four Books, moves through time and space, but never really leaves the recognisable reality, or perhaps surreality, of Glasgow, and some say, especially when it becomes the damp and dreary dystopia of Unthank. Yet the book also challenged and shaped a different way of seeing Glasgow. In one off quoted passage, the centre of Glasgow is seen through patches of sunlight from a windy hillside, which I think is Garnet Hill. And this is an exchange between Duncan Thaw, the protagonist of the book, and his friend MacAlpine.

(02:07):
“‘Glasgow is a magnificent city,’ said MacAlpine. ‘Why do we hardly ever notice that? Because nobody imagines living here. Think of Florence, Paris, London, New York, nobody visiting them for the first time as a stranger, because he’s already visited them in paintings, novels, history, books and films. But if a city hasn’t been used by an artist, not even the inhabitants live there imaginatively.'” So like the opening quote, that’s from page 243 of Lanark, as today’s guest can tell us without a moment’s hesitation. Welcome to Sorcha Dallas, curator of the Alistair Grey Archive. The archive was almost miraculously moved to the Whisky Bond just three months after Alistair’s death, and secured just a day before lockdown in March 2020.

(02:58):
So Sorcha Dallas first met Alasdair Grey in 2007, at a time when she was establishing a personal reputation as an enterprising and innovative young gallery owner, bringing the work of contemporary artists to a wider world. She already knew a great deal about the older artists. Like so many other Glasgow School of Arts graduates, she’d been inspired by reading Lanark. It’s great to have you on the podcast, Sorcha, and we know you have an extraordinary story to tell about the founding of the archive, and how the work of Alasdair Grey continues to inspire new imaginings now and for the future. So first off, in our first question, perhaps you can start telling us more about your working relationship with Alasdair Grey, how it came about, and developed over the course of, how long was it, 13 years?

Sorcha Dallas (03:45):

Thank you, Niall. Lovely to be here today. Yes, so my working relationship with Alasdair goes back to 2007, and as you said, I was at that time running a commercial gallery. Although my interest with his work, as you also mentioned, began many years before. I remember many fellow art students reading Lanark, and was such a formative experience for me, but also living within the West End of Glasgow and encountering his murals in West End bars and lanes, and occasionally glimpsing his carefully designed books in John Smith’s bookshop too. So I guess I was really aware from the beginning of his very expansive practise, but what I really wanted to do, and because of my background was highlight the visual and put it on the same fitting, really, as the literary work, because Alasdair did go to Glasgow School of Art. He studied mural making and stained-glass, and he would always describe himself as an artist who fell into writing, that’s really where the opportunities happened for him.

(04:44):
But for many people, the only way that they were really able to encounter his visual work was through the publications, through these beautifully designed book jackets or plates that he would dot within the text themselves. So I guess when I came in and started working with him, he was thinking about getting his visual archive in order, because he was in the process of starting to work on A Life In Pictures, which was a kind of seminal book, a visual biography told in his own words and using the images that he created throughout his life to describe his story. So he was getting that together with Canongate. So I came in and helped organise and work on that with him. And really then from that I really wanted to try and reposition his work, his visual work, put it on the same fitting as a literary, but you can’t really separate them, they’re fully intertwined, so it’s very much about promoting his work, getting it bought into major collections.

(05:38):
And then really from that, I started to work with Glasgow museums to coincide with his 80th birthday on the Alasdair Grey season, which was a kind of citywide series of exhibitions with the jewel in the crown being the retrospective from the personal to the universal that was at Kelvingrove. So I guess from the start, I’d seen a large body of work he’d amassed over periods in terms of his visual work, and it was very much about bringing that front and centre. And also showing the connections between the visual and the literary. Because as you said, you quoted a section there from Lanark, and that was a book that took 30 years to create and to resolve. But of course, during that time he’s re-imagining the city in other ways, through murals, through paintings, through prints and drawings, and it’s that intertwining between the visual and the literary that I think makes him so distinct and so unique as a creative.

Niall Murphy (06:39):

Absolutely. I mean, for me it was a complete revelation. I went to Glasgow School of Art too, though I was in the Macintosh School of Architecture section, so I didn’t read it until later on, mainly because so many people had inadvertently put me off by telling me it was this incredibly difficult book to read. And then when I did get to it, which was in my mid-thirties, I didn’t really find it difficult at all. I absolutely lapped up, thought was a fabulous book, but to me, maybe it was better that I left it until later, because knowing Glasgow much better by then, I could totally connect with how he saw the city and the things that were happening in the city in the book, and how Unthank operated as well with this mirror Glasgow, that was fascinating to me, because you could see how that surreal take on Glasgow totally connected with what was happening in Glasgow during that 25 to 30 year period that was writing it. And things like the comprehensive development areas where tenements would just disappear overnight, and that the happens would disappear as well.

(07:42):
You could see how the city’s unwinding, and he captures that so well. And I think that’s the best example I can think of how anyone has captured what Glasgow went through in that period, and Lanark does it absolutely brilliantly. Really interesting as well. Sorry, sorry, I kind of jumped back in there, but you say he was trained in stained glass, and you can see…

Sorcha Dallas (08:04):

Yes. And mural making, yes.

Niall Murphy (08:05):

Yeah. You can see in his use of line and his confidence of line, where all that comes from is fascinating. Really interesting.

Sorcha Dallas (08:11):

I should probably put a disclaimer in that, I don’t know how much stained-glass he actually made. He didn’t make really stained glass, he was definitely more focused within the mural making. But yeah, I guess what’s characteristic of stained glass is this very sharp defined outline, which is also a unique style with, I guess, in terms of book-making and illustration. And if you think about Alasdair’s first encounter with storytelling in the visual and forum that was in childhood books where there is a text and a passage, and then there is a visual representation of that that was often very stylised, and very graphic, and very simple in its execution. And I think you can really see that early influence of graphic art and illustration on his work, which obviously, he, actually, later in his life through a good friend of his, he ended up working with her on a stained glass panel. But yeah, it’s interesting that you pick up on that, because it’s a similar usage of line, isn’t it?

Niall Murphy (09:09):

Exactly. They’re like the cartoons that you see, having seen cartoons as some of the great works of, because Glasgow is obviously a major centre for stained glass, having seen some of those cartoons of people’s work, you can see that same use of lines. He was obviously trained in it at some point, that’s very, very interesting.

Sorcha Dallas (09:27):

But I think the mural making for me really shapes everything about what he’s wanting to do and picks up on the point that you raised earlier in terms of, Alasdair, I mean, there’s many things that he’s doing in his work. One is creatively responding to things that exist already. So if you read Lanark, you can see the list of plagiarisms, it’s in conversation with work that nothing’s made in a vacuum and it’s very much having a very participatory exchange with things that have happened before. But it’s also, exactly as you said before, trying to fix and capture, disappearing things are happening, disappearing people, disappearing places. And that period, if you think about kind of Lanark and what he was working on around the same time, the city recorder series that he did for the People’s Palace through for Glasgow Museums, trying to fix a particular period and the social history of the city too, which he’s mapping and recording, which we’ve got material, because the archive is located in Applecross by the fourth canal.

(10:26):
And we look out the window at the old Applecross building and some of the old mill buildings around there that have been since sort of taken over by Scottish Canal. And we can see them reflected and drawn 40, 50 years earlier by Alasdair. So he’s walking in this area, but he’s also living at the time up near the art school at Garnet Bank. So that whole part of the city was part of the same neighbourhood he described as walking from Garnet Bank. But as you said, the planning, particularly the motorway, what that did to the city in terms of cutting off areas, sectioning off communities and dislocating areas, it’s hard now walking in those footsteps to imagine what that was once like.

Niall Murphy (11:05):

Yeah. You have to know what the city was like beforehand. And that whole conversation with MacAlpine, I think happens, I could be wrong, of course, I think it happens kind of where the Hill Street viewpoint roughly is now, because you see that kind of fabulous panorama of Trinity College and Park Circus, and especially when you see that in the sunset, it’s beautiful.

Sorcha Dallas (11:25):

You wouldn’t be wrong in thinking it was drawn from there, but it’s actually not. It’s drawn from the clay pits, from the viewpoint just did the clay pits…

Niall Murphy (11:33):

Right, which is equally beautiful.

Sorcha Dallas (11:36):

Equally beautiful. And obviously the work that Scottish canals have been doing around that area over the last few years has really brought it back as an area for people to really recreationally enjoy in different ways. So yeah, there’s actually a pathway up to the viewpoint. And we went back recently because we have got the passage that you quoted. We’ve got a drawing that Alasdair made, which is a visual representation of that passage. And we went back to look at it and to try to reposition it. And it is made from that viewpoint, but equally as much as it looks like a naturalistic drawing Alasdair’s taken stylistic licence, and he’s moved buildings around, and he reimagined it even in that sketched form.

(12:15):
But yeah, it’s great. Yeah, we’re hoping to do a bit more about that to really bed the material that we have into that landscape, and show the relationship and the connection to it, not just in the formation of Lanark, but if you know Alasdair’s largest painting, Cowcaddens, in the 1950s that he did in 1964, that is a depiction of Garnet Bank extending up to the area in which we are in. You can see Applecross house in the first and fourth canal within that drawing. So it’s all part of the same language that he’s writing about in Lanark, and he’s drawing in some of these artworks like Cowcaddens too. So it’s kind of fascinating from a social history point of view too, to go back and walk in his footsteps.

Niall Murphy (13:04):

Yeah, because it’s this whole part of the city that’s disappeared. It’s a jigsaw you have to piece together again.

Sorcha Dallas (13:05):

It is. And I guess there’s layers of that, isn’t there? Who and what has been disappeared and why? What has been the motivation politically, socially? And creatively for those things to happen. I think Alasdair is always really determined to do that, to try and fix people, and almost keep them alive, keep those stories often overlooked and marginalised too within the work. So there’s something political and social that he’s doing within that too.

Niall Murphy (13:33):
Fascinating. Moving on to our second question. So Alasdair Gray died in 29th of December 2019, so one day after his 85th birthday. And you’ve said that it felt like the end of things. And yet somehow within three months you’d helped secure a new big beginning for this astonishing archive of artefacts and books at the Whisky Bond. And this is in March 2020 just before the lockdown. How did you manage that?

Sorcha Dallas (14:04):
Yeah, I’m not going to lie, it was an intense period, but I think I really went into protection mode, because I knew Alasdair, he lived his life by his Socialist principles, so he was always struggling to pay the rent, to pay other people, because he really relied heavily in assistance to work alongside him. But he didn’t own his flat, it was owned by his second wife, Morag McAlpine, and sadly she died prior to Alasdair. So I think the way it was set up, he was given a lifetimes lease to live in the flat after she died, but it reverted then back to her family and to her will. So that was kind of the prompt to it, the fact that we didn’t have time. You hear about, every archive’s different, every estate’s different. I think the longer we had, if there was maybe an indefinite period, we might still be there sifting through things.

(14:52):
But it prompted me to really go into protection mode quite quickly and to think about what is achievable that I can list and catalogue, who can I bring in to support me with that, and how can we keep it safe moving forward. So there was a few conversations that happened early on. One was, for example, at the National Library Service to look at the literary materials, the Glasgow School of Art came in and helped in regards to the library. And then the Scottish National Galleries came in, they helped by assisting me with an archivist, Kirstie Meehan, who came in and helped me list the artwork. So we tried to capture as much as we could the areas that we couldn’t capture in full detail, like some of the library elements, because there was just books everywhere.

(15:35):
We photographed it. We also did a 360 degree recording of it. We captured all the information we needed so once it was relocated we could continue to go back through that and archive and accession it, really. But it was going to the government to sort of say, “This needs to be protected, can you help me? Time is of the essence.” And fortunately they did step in to do that. And as you mentioned, we managed to pack everything up, move it out, get it into the Whisky Bond, and then we went into lockdown. And that was such a strange period. I kept thinking, “I wonder what Alasdair would’ve thought about all of this at such a kind of strange time,” because as we were packing up, we could feel this wave of Covid coming towards Britain and about to hit. So we were bracing ourselves for something.

(16:22):
And now to reflect on that is hard, isn’t it? Because we’ve all been through it and we’ve experienced it. But fortunately, we managed to get in and get everything secure. But is worth saying that when I started to work with Alasdair he was in his early seventies. So I was very much aware of thinking about legacy. And during his lifetime we set up a foundation and we captured what he wanted to happen to the work posthumously in terms of creating education, learning opportunities from it, and that is what the archive is based on. So it’s not me or others interpreting what Alasdair would’ve liked, we’ve got his intentions at the heart of everything that we do. And equally, it’s got to be a generative resource. So it’s about making people aware of his work and also the web of influence around him, because he worked alongside others.

(17:14):
But as we’d said earlier, his whole interest creatively was responding to things that happened before. So it’s very important to create that opportunity for others in his name. So for them to come in to respond creatively to what Alasdair’s left, and that can be in a respectful, or in an interrogative way, that’s how it should be. And that keeps it being generative, it keeps it being fresh, it keeps these new perspectives and stories being able to be added into it as well.

(17:43):
But yeah, it was a very strange time, I guess in many ways I felt kind of fortunate that then there was a period of things slowed down once it was safe to be able to go into the Whisky Bond. I quite enjoyed having that slow pace to be able to really reflect on what was there. And also maybe to grieve in a way too, because it was so quick that I went into protecting it, and in many ways I feel that Alasdair’s still so alive for me, because every week I’m discovering new things, I’m always learning. But it helped me come to terms with the loss of him not being there, but what remained was the work, and really to think about how I could protect and fix that, not just for now, but for the future too.

Niall Murphy (18:27):

Fascinating. That brings me onto my next question, which I’m quite interested in, because as mentioned before the start, I lived right next door to Alasdair, so I’m intrigued as to how this works. But the archive invites visitors into Alasdair’s front room. So as part of this, can you take us inside and perhaps describe your own first visit to Alasdair’s flat in Marchmont Terrace?

Sorcha Dallas (18:55):

Yeah. So obviously it’s worth saying that the archive, it’s not set up in Alasdair’s last place of residence. It’s a part recreation of his living space at Marchmont Terrace. And many of the objects that were in his flat travelled with him through the various homes that he lived in within the West End of Glasgow. So that last home in Marchmont Terrace was probably his most comfortable, that’s because Morag was a woman of independent means. She was a librarian, a bookseller. She’d bought that flat, it was quite comfortable. There was a kitchen and bedroom to the back, a toilet area, and then a comfortable front living room, which he quickly commandeered as a working studio space.

Niall Murphy (19:36):

Huge front living rooms.

Sorcha Dallas (19:38):

Yeah, it was. But if you reflect on previous flats to that, it was often bed sits where all life and art were fully intertwined. But what what’s lovely and what we have at the archive is obviously key objects, which have travelled with him through these homes. So the rug, his green chair, which he used to sit on when he was working, editors did secretaries, a lot of models sat on it when he was drawing them, even appears in a mural as a throne within one of his murals too. We’ve got his desk that he found discarded on the street and he lovingly brought into his home, drilled it into his wall, and it travelled with him again from home to home. We’ve got all the shelves that he had up in his room, which were recycled from floorboards that he found out by a midden one afternoon too.

(20:27):
So a lot of these objects really, as much as, of course, were not in Alasdair’s home anymore, but because we’ve reinstated a version of it, they have these echoes, and these histories, and these stories too. So they’re very emotive as objects. And also it makes the archive different maybe from what people expect when they walk in. I guess, if you think of an archive, you maybe think of things behind plastic, or in boxes kind of stored away. We have got an element of that, but when you walk in, it is walking into Alasdair’s front room. And for me, I vividly remember the first time I walked over that threshold, and it was a life-changing moment for me.

(21:03):
And I never took for granted every other occasion that I was able to walk and enter into that space, because what you were walking into was the inner workings of Alasdair Gray’s minds. You could look at his bookshelf and see the way he’s curated or put books together. You could see his artworks in various states of completion. You could see cassettes that he was listening to. He didn’t have a CD player, he didn’t have a TV. He would listen to the radio or to cassette players tapes as well. You’d see little objects and material studio ephemera. And I think, Niall, you were saying that you used to walk up and look in, because it was ground floor. Lots of people did, and you would’ve seen at the Bay Window, the plan chest with all the paint brushes.

Niall Murphy (21:46):

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah.

Sorcha Dallas (21:49):

Yeah, I think lots of people do. I’ve had lots of people saying that would kind of mark their root home from work if they could swing past and peer in and see what else Alasdair Gray was getting up to.

Niall Murphy (22:00):

Yeah, I was far too intimidated to ask, but…

Sorcha Dallas (22:05):

I know. And I think a lot of people did, they felt so intrigued. And I wish what it was like on the other side, and I guess we’ve given people an opportunity to see what that’s like. And I think it’s also just fascinating, it’s real insight into a creative imagination and way of working that you’re able to see. And I also think it makes his work accessible in a different way, because he was so hand to mouth in terms of his existence that he’s making these extraordinary worlds, he’s world building on this universal scale, in a way, but he’s using very ordinary stuff that we all have lying around, pens, pencil, a lot of Tipp-Ex, recycled bits of paper. He’s prompted by economics, using and recycling what he’s got around him. And that’s really inspiring, I think, for people to see. He’s not got a massive studio and a workforce of 10 helping him, and he’s spending X amount per month for materials. He’s really not.

Niall Murphy (23:00):

I couldn’t agree more. Yeah, absolutely. Fascinating. I mean, it just sounds like it’s a really enticing invitation to come and visit you at the archive.

Sorcha Dallas (23:11):

Well, it is open to everyone. Obviously, as I described, it’s not a huge space because it’s a part recreation of the front room. But anyone who’s interested can get in touch through social media, through the website, and arrange a visit. And obviously it’s been brilliant over the last year in particular because of restrictions easing, being able to welcome people, groups or one-on-one. And if you’re an Alasdair Grey super fan, you’re welcome. If you don’t know anything about Alasdair Gray, you’re welcome.

Niall Murphy (23:38):

Absolutely. Yeah, it would be a nice escape from the office. And talking about that, question number four, what can you tell us about Alasdair Gray’s own escapes, firstly from Riddrie, and can you tell us about his other passions such as libraries, or his favourite haunts in Glasgow, or things he didn’t like in Glasgow?

Sorcha Dallas (24:00):

Yeah, I mean, I think libraries, he would talk about libraries being his university, in a way. And he was always so passionate about, and so behind libraries, and the importance of them and of education too, really. But libraries gave him access, I guess now we’ve got, if I think about a young Alasdair Gray, eight or nine living in Riddrie and going to the library, and the kind of world that opened up to him, he could take a book down and he could be transported to a real or fantastical place through opening a book a week. I mean, we can do that now in the internet, can’t we? But it’s a transformative power of literature, and the universal right I think that we all have to be able to live imaginatively, and he passionately believed in that. And he also believed in the cornerstone of a civil society as education too, and that we have to value that much better in this country as well.

Niall Murphy (24:57):

Very, very much, yes. I wonder what you’d think about what happened subsequently over lockdown with the libraries and all of those issues that would’ve really touched a nerve with him.

Sorcha Dallas (25:08):

Someone had asked me a while ago, “What were the conditions to make an Alasdair Gray? Could you make another one?” And I guess there’s different catalysts. He was quite a particular product of his time. And I think coming out of the Second World War and this idea that I think there was a real hopefulness of building back a country better that was about collectivity, the NHS, free schools, free education. There was a real hopefulness that drove that, that he never was jaded by, he always believed that that was possible and achievable, but it was about us having to live differently, which he obviously did. He wasn’t driven by material gain, it was about making and a kind of economy around supporting others in an equal way.

(25:56):
And I think there was always, that’s what I found always really inspiring, he was never jaded. There was always that hopefulness that he had in people, and in people being able to reflect and do better and be better. And I think that’s a really inspiring way to be. Your had asked earlier about what did he use to escape, I guess it’s kind of quite well-known that he would escape from this very busy brain by going to the pub. That was a one way that he managed to get out of his very, very busy brain. But another way that he escaped the chatter that happened constantly, I think, in his mind, was through playing chess. And that was a really good way for him to dull his busy brain. And also often when he was having a problem, if he was stuck at a bit of writing, or a mural, he would play chess to help unlock and solve some of those creative issues that he’s having.

Niall Murphy (26:46):

Fascinating. My dad is a really serious chess player, so I can understand. That didn’t rub off on me, unfortunately.

Sorcha Dallas (26:54):

Well, there’s a chess board at the Archive, if you fancy it.

Niall Murphy (26:58):

I think I probably still know some moves. Talking about Alasdair’s mural then and his own physical mark on Glasgow with the murals he produced around the city, what do they say about both him as an artist and the city? Maybe we could start by looking at his work in Òran Mór, and that reimagining of Glasgow, and the mapping of the city, and how it describes the ordinary lives of people and disappearing places.

Sorcha Dallas (27:26):

Yeah, I think that’s what all his work does, really, and the murals in a very particular way, because they’re civically cited. So it’s that idea of them being physically placed within an environment where everyone can access him, and that is really important. You don’t need to walk over the threshold of a gallery, or they’re out there in the world for everyone to enjoy. And I think there’s something really powerful that he does in Òran Mór, and he does in the SPT Hillhead mural, and he does in the Ubiquitous Chip mural too, where he’s using ordinary people and what that does to someone seeing themself reflected back. He did it also in the city recorder series from 1977. He was commissioned at that time by Elsmith King, who was then curator at the People’s Palace to go out and record the people and places of Glasgow, which is now fascinating to go back and look at what’s there, what remains and what’s been disappeared.

(28:25):
But again, thinking of equity of experience, he went out and he drew Councillors, and Politicians, and heads of different Faiths alongside artists, and writers, and secretaries, unemployed people, factory workers, everyone was given equal status. And I think the murals that we’re talking about within the West End do a similar thing. Òran Mór I love in particular the mirrors you’ve got from the management staff to the builders, to the bar staff, to the cleaners. Everyone is given their place and everyone is seen as an important and equally contributing to that community.

(29:03):
And I guess that goes back again to sort of socialist principles that underpin everything, and how powerful that is. And I think that’s such a powerful thing, we’re doing a little bit of work within schools, and of course it’s secondary schools. A lot of the young people are able to read per things, or they’re able to read Lanark. Primary schools obviously not so much, but it’s that idea of what’s he doing. He’s taking stories that people don’t maybe see as valuable, and he’s shining a light on them and saying the ordinary in the everyday is valuable and important and extraordinary. And I think it’s something really powerful, and can really give people confidence to think about how they occupy their own lives and the landscape around them when that happens, or something really empowering that happens, when they see themselves, or a version of themselves, reflected back, because it’s saying you’re valuable, and your life is important.

Niall Murphy (29:58):

Yes. Because everyone’s part of that, the big facets that make up the network that makes up Glasgow. So that’s incredibly important. Okay. Well, we, obviously, as a trust, Glasgow City heritage just focuses on Glasgow, but the archive and what you want do with the archive, it’s also one of the aims, is to influence Scotland’s development, which is incredibly ambitious. And of course, there’s another great Alasdair Grey quote, which is carved into the Canongate wall of the Scottish Parliament through Edinburgh, which is, “Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation,” which is actually adapted from the Canadian poet Dennis Lee’s Civil Elegies. But it’s such a fantastic quote, really love that quote. And I have a photograph of that. It’s one of these fantastic quotes that carved in Morales is building. So can you tell us a bit more about that aim and the ambition of it?

Sorcha Dallas (30:57):

Yeah, I mean, I think Glasgow’s an interesting place at the moment, isn’t it? In terms of if you think about what has sort of defined Glasgow creatively, or aesthetically, over the last sort of couple of decades, it’s probably been Macintosh, and obviously what’s happened with the Art school, with the kind of two fires that happened there, kind of key sort of asset has been lost. I know we’re talking about rebuilding it. But still, I think there’s an opportunity to reimagine Glasgow. And I don’t see anyone better than reimagine it through than the lens of Alasdair Gray, because it’s also getting away from this idea of a lone genius, because he’s not, he’s part of a community. And that’s part of something that we’re really passionate about doing at the archive, is telling the stories of many other lives that we’re intertwined with as some are well-known in their own right too.

(31:48):
So of course you can talk about Alasdair creatively and from a literary perspective, and think about Liz Lochhead, and Bernard MacLaverty, and Tom Leonard, and James Kelman, and this peer group and Agnes Owen who are influencing each other. But the ordinary is in the everyday within that too, for example, Morag, creating that safety and that comfort for him to be able to create within is really important and needs to be acknowledged as well. So I think there’s an opportunity to reimagine what it is to be, and I think that makes it way more accessible to people too, because it’s not talking about someone working in isolation, they’re a product of their environment, and from a web of influence, and people are a network around them. But I also think that also goes back to education and how we think about ourselves creatively, and how we want to be as a nation moving forward too.

(32:39):
I think there definitely needs to be more done in terms of, if you look at, particularly sort of primary and secondary school, what’s taught and highlighted within our creative history, it’s Mackintosh and it’s Burns. And I don’t think that’s good enough. I think we need to do better.

Niall Murphy (32:54):

Completely agree. Completely agree.

Sorcha Dallas (32:55):

And I also think with Alasdair, in a way with Burns, Burns is a complex character. And the more research goes on, we realise that this chocolate book, or shortbread tin version of him is way more complex than layered. And I think what is so important because of who Alasdair was, he lived his life and he made work by his principles. And one of those was being honest and telling the truth. And we have to be honest about his life too, and the best and the worst within that. And I think that’s the only way that we can really then think about who we want to be collectively and nationally moving forward. So I think there’s huge opportunities within the city and beyond to embed not just Alasdair, but this kind of web of network around him. But also if I look at Ireland and Southern Ireland, how they’ve done it, particularly if you look at the Museum of Irish Literature in Dublin and how they’ve used James Joyce as a starting point, Joyce’s relationship with the city, but also the web of influence that’s happened since then.

Niall Murphy (34:00):

It’s this intriguing parallel.

Sorcha Dallas (34:02):

Yeah. But also how that’s a catalyst for others, but there’s new ways of looking at the city. So I’m not saying we’re fixated on Alasdair, he’s a starting point, but it continues, and he’s part of a continuum. His work was made in a continuum with things that had happened prior to him, and it’s only right to continue that from him onwards as well.

Niall Murphy (34:23):

Yes, I completely get where you come from. I get very frustrated with Mackintosh. I mean, I love Mackintosh’s work, he’s incredibly interesting. But you can’t just tease him out as this lone genius. And I used to get frustrated when I first arrived in Glasgow, Mackintosh would be described as this lone flower blooming in this industrial wasteland, which is like, no, you’ve completely misunderstood what Glasgow is about. And you can’t divorce somebody from the context. You just can’t do it. And it’s like, what about Margaret McDonald? And what about his circle of friends? And there are all of these networks you have to appreciate.

Sorcha Dallas (35:02):

Absolutely. And I think that’s something to be said about what gets disappeared and what doesn’t, right? That’s what we were talking about earlier. And I can see that living through a legacy in real time, how those things can easily get buffered and removed, and the narrative can go off. But because of who Alasdair was and what he made, and also because he built that into his work, that honesty and that exposing of himself that we can’t not acknowledge that that’s written into and drawn into everything he’s done. So yeah, I think it makes it way more accessible, because it’s not say we’re all flawed human beings trying our best, but that’s way more interesting to put that front and centre and to own that than to try and buffer it and create a narrative from it, that just becomes so far removed from the reality and many people’s experience of that too.

Niall Murphy (35:55):

Very much. Okay. Well, taking that as a starting point then, obviously Alasdair, he inspired so many Scottish writers and artists, you’ve kind of touched on that whole network. But in particular, I wanted to focus in on the remarkable talent of Agnes Owens, who I think is a really fascinating figure. And can you tell us more about that relationship and how all that came about?

Sorcha Dallas (36:20):

Yeah, so I’ve been really honoured to work with Agnes’s son John Crosby over the last year. And what we’re going to be doing this year is setting up an Agnes Owens archive with Alasdair’s. And I’m really keen, obviously, to extend that for other people moving forward. So Alasdair’s Archive would almost be an umbrella with these other collections and archives sitting within it. So that’s a good way of talking about the web of influence in a very physical way, being able to see that. But Agnes was a woman who had a real lived experience throughout her life. She’d had sort of two marriages, seven children, she’d had a lot of trauma. One of her sons was murdered when he was 19, she never really recovered from that. She was someone who, I guess, creativity in that pathway into writing hadn’t really been open to her.

(37:12):
She didn’t go to university. She worked secretarial, cleaning, sort of menial jobs. And in her fifties, she’d gone to an evening class that Liz Lochhead was running, and I think Liz had read a text she’d written, and just thought it was a really distinct and unique voice. And so she met Alasdair, and Liz, I guess, brought her into the fold of other writers who she was working alongside, like James Kelman and Tom Leonard, and Alasdair, and Alasdair in particular. Well, what I can see from the material that we have on both sides is this very particular and supportive friendship that they had. He really encouraged her. He drew the covers for all her books. He really helped her get an agent and get published. He also paid for her draughts to be type written up to be sent to publishers as well.

(38:01):
And he’s not got a lot of money, but he’s seeing how important and also how she is, from her economic position, marginalised, and how can he use his position for good and for support. But what is fascinating within all of this, it’s not a one-sided thing. He’s sending her versions of his book, she’s editing, commenting on them. It’s a reciprocal relationship where he has got the utmost respect for who she is as a writer, and is trying as much as he can to help support and encourage that. But hat’s been reciprocated on her side too. But she is overlooked, because as we’re talking about, who are those voices get that chosen to be fixed and who doesn’t. Also, these things are complicated by estates, by wills, by dependents. So I’m really glad that, obviously John and I are working together on that to try and redress that, because she passed away over 10 years ago, almost 10 years ago.

(39:03):
And I think there’s a real opportunity to make that connection between her and Alasdair, but also for her work to be more widely known. I know more recently Douglas Stewart, who wrote Shuggie Bain and Young Mungo, has sort of cited her as an influence. Other writers who know her work are recognising that. But like anything, if you don’t know it, if her work’s not in print and accessible, how do you find that and access it? So I’m really excited about that work. And also because within the deposit John has dropped in, there’s some unpublished material too. So I think there’s going to be really exciting potential to come from that as well. But an inspiring woman, I never met her, but again, I feel like I’m forming this relationship with someone through learning about them through others, and it’s a real privilege.

Niall Murphy (39:49):

It sounds like a fantastic education resource.

Sorcha Dallas (39:52):

Yes. Obviously, at the moment we’ve had people, we’ve been tentatively telling people on our social media that we’ve got this initial Agnes deposit and material. And even in that short period of time we’ve had quite a few researchers and creatives who’ve been really interested, because they’re like, “Oh, Agnes Owens, a friend of a friend told me about her. I’ve only read a couple of things,” or, “I’ve heard about her.” But again, like we’re saying earlier, it’s about access, isn’t it, for this material. And not just physically, but digitally being able to share that and build it up too. So hopefully over the course of this year that will become more public facing, and people will be able to see what we have, and how we’re starting to grow that collection of Agnes. And obviously, there’s plans that we’d like to do. It’s her centenary in 2026, so there’s plans around how to celebrate and bring her work to a wider audience that we’re working on at the moment, too.

Niall Murphy (40:45):

Fantastic. Okay. Well, moving on from that, and obviously Glasgow can be quite a dreich place, but you’ve got your Gray Day, which is this annual festival of Alasdair’s work. So in the first one took place in 25th of February to mark the 40th anniversary of the publication of Lanark in 1981. And unfortunately, our podcast isn’t going to air until after your third annual Grey Day, but can you tell us more about how you go about celebrating this and turning that into an event?

Sorcha Dallas (41:18):

Yeah, of course. So the first Gray Day, as you said, was the reason we chose the 25th of February, because it coincided with the publication of Lanark, and that 2021 marked the 40th anniversary. So this was a day, an annual day, where we can get together and celebrate Alasdair, but really focus on the work, because he was always, as much as he was a fascinating character, and many people have got lots of interesting stories about him, he always wanted the focus to be on the works. So it’s a way of coming together a bit like Bloom’s Day with James Joyce, and to celebrate Alasdair in a widest sense. So the first one was obviously online, it was a virtual celebration, because we were in the midst of lockdown, but this is a project that started with Canongate, his Scottish publishers. And also we had Neu Reekie, who are an events based organisation who helped us deliver a Gray Day broadcast, which is available online.

(42:11):
You can look at it through the archives YouTube channel if you’re interested. Last year we were able to physically come together and to celebrate it, and of course we had to celebrate it at Òran Mór, there’s nowhere better to do an Alasdair Gray themed event than at Òran Mór under his master work of the auditorium. And again, we focused last year’s on Dante, on his last body of work that he made, the Dante trilogy that was produced just before he died. So we had Liz Lochhead, and Hollie McNish, and Val McDermid, and we had sort of musical elements too. And we’re following a similar format for this year. We’re having a few more readers, music, some film, but we’re focusing it on Poor Things, because Poor Things is being turned and will be screened in May, it’s a major motion picture that the director Yorgos Lanthimos has been working on.

(43:07):
So it’s going to be premiered at Cannes in May. And you’d talked about, Niall, at the start that you read Lanark, I would never say to people, if they don’t know, to start on Lanark, because once you’ve got what he’s doing, it’s complex. So I would always say start on Poor Things, it’s manageable, you can see a lot of what he’s doing on a more expanded and more nuanced way in Lanark. But it’s a good manageable starting point. For those who don’t know, it’s a reworking of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, but set in Victorian Glasgow. So it’ll be fascinating to celebrate that on Grey Day. We’re also working on a digital project that really roots that book into the city, because I haven’t seen Lanthimos’s script. And it wasn’t filmed in Glasgow, it was filmed in Croatia, so I’m not sure how many of the Scottish or Glaswegian references come in. So it’s important to root it back into the city and to the people and places that help shape it, really.

Niall Murphy (44:06):

Sure, yeah, how you could divorce Alasdair Gray from that, that’s going to be very interesting to see.

Sorcha Dallas (44:12):

It will be. It will be.

Niall Murphy (44:14):

Okay. Well, what’s next for the Archive? And you’ve said that the Archive is kind of built for the future. So what new commissions and collaborations are being inspired by Alasdair’s work?

Sorcha Dallas (44:25):

Oh, great question. Well, there’s a few things. One of the big things in terms of the organisational development, in terms of building it for the futures, we’ve just appointed our board, and we’ve got charitable status, and that’s really now laying a strong foundation for the future. So we went through a process of doing a call-out for trustees. And we’ve got fabulous five new board members that we’ve been over the course of this week sharing on social media who they are. So I’m really hopeful for, they’ve all got great expertise in archives, collections, fundraising, governance, but also rooting that back into reflecting Alasdair’s values and his vision, really, which last year I did quite a lot of work creating the organisational strategy, which really sets up the organisation in the short and longer term as well.

(45:10):
But as you say, creatively responding to Alasdair’s work has been the heart of what we’ve done from the beginning. And we’ve been largely working on commissions with Strathclyde Creative Writing department. So in 2021, we worked with poet Juana Adcock, who responded to Lanark. Last year we worked with Michael Pedersen, who’s a fantastic writer and poet who wrote a love letter to Alasdair’s green chair. And then this year she’s just been almost on residency. She’s just about to share actually on Grey Day some of her outcomes. We had the fantastic writer and journalist, Chitra Ramaswamy, who came in and wrote a series of micro essays about the archive and various narratives who she picked up in an narrative of Morag, and of Agnes Owens, and of the location around the archive at the Canal too. Really inspiring to work alongside Chitra, her book Homelands, I don’t know if you’ve read it, but…

Niall Murphy (46:06):

Not yet, it’s on my list to read, so it’s kind of highly recommended.

Sorcha Dallas (46:09):

Yeah, I would highly recommend it. It’s, again, a lot about what we’re talking about, what narratives, who do we choose to remember, and who has disappeared, and it’s a fascinating book and really worth a read. So that’s been really inspiring to work with her. We’ve got other series of commissions in the pipeline, because next year is 2024, and Alasdair, would’ve been his 90th birthday. So we’re really trying to root the Archive fix into the city, and also make connections, because a lot of people, I think when they come to the Archive, they say, “Oh, of course I’ve been into Òran Mór,” or, “I’ve read Lanark, I didn’t connect, it was the same person.” So I think there’s a lot more that we can do, and the city can do in terms of fixing and making the connection between what exists in the city already. So that’s in the short term, some of the work that we’re looking at too.

Niall Murphy (47:03):

Fascinating. Okay. Well, that brings us onto our final question, which quite often is the most difficult question. And that is, what is your favourite building in Glasgow, or Unthank? And what would it tell you if its walls could talk?

Sorcha Dallas (47:19):

Such a hard question. And obviously, I thought about this in terms of my own personal perspective, but I feel I’m here representing Alasdair and the Archive. And I think what I wanted to think about was what is a building that in many ways I didn’t know much about, and has been revealed to me over the last few years, particularly through looking through Alasdair’s material and organising it, and rooting it into the landscape around it. And that would be the little house at Applecross by the Firth and Forth canal. I have looked for many, many years at Cowcaddens, the painting that Alasdair made. I never noticed the top right corner in that little building and that area. And now I see it every day. I look out there and I look in the ledger and the sketches and studies, and I see versions of that house drawn from different perspectives and angles, and distorted in that way that when the Alasdair Gray can kind of do, and it sits right outside my window.

(48:15):
And I feel like I’ve learned so much about that building. And I also would love to, I mean, of course, I’m sort of coveting it for a public facing version of the Alasdair Gray Archive, but I also am thinking, wow, if those walls could talk, it would’ve seen a much younger Alasdair Gray walking over the bridge, because that’s the bridge, the quote that you mentioned at the start of the programme, Niall, that’s the bridge that you walk over at Applecross, saw MacAlpine walk over. And the little bit that goes up by Applecross house is the route that they go up to the viewpoint, so I feel…

Niall Murphy (48:48):

Right. Okay, I’ve got my bearings now. Yep.

Sorcha Dallas (48:52):

So as you walk around that house, you’re walking in the footsteps of Alasdair Gray, but of Duncan Thaw, of all these versions of Glasgow too. And I would love if that building could talk and it could remember looking out and seeing him wondering around that area with his pen, and pencil, and easel and drawing. It’s one of these things, because we’ve got photographs from that, the time that Alasdair was drawing that building in the sixties and seventies too. And the bridge is the same, the houses, the Whisky Bond is still there obviously too. But if you look right and left, the landscape of the city is completely altered. And these are almost like these portals back to a period of time, but are still fixed now and for the future. So that would be the building that I felt seemed really appropriate to think about.

Niall Murphy (49:41):

It’s a really nice choice, they have some lovely houses. Scottish canals have some kind of good, I think they’re using it as a wedding venue. I think that’s the idea at the moment.

Sorcha Dallas (49:52):

But it’d be much better as the Alasdair Gray Archive.

Niall Murphy (49:55):

You’re bringing your pitch.

Sorcha Dallas (49:58):

Yes.

Niall Murphy (49:59):

I think I have a feeling Thomas Telford might have lived in that house. Because it was part of, I think when he was planning the canal, I think that was where he was based. It was the Harbour Master’s house as well, because there was a whole basement that sat in front of it, which is now been unfilled. So it actually does sum up Glasgow really well, because you’ve got this artefact that has stayed there for centuries, but the whole landscape around it is completely altered, and it’s virtually unrecognisable.

Sorcha Dallas (50:26):

I know. It’s like a portal back into time, isn’t it?

Niall Murphy (50:29):

Very much. Yes. Yes. No, it’s good choice on the buildings at risk register for years as well.

Sorcha Dallas (50:34):

Oh, has it? Okay.

Niall Murphy (50:36):

Yeah, yeah. But I’m now rescued, so it’s been given a new purpose.

Sorcha Dallas (50:40):

Yeah, there’s been definitely quite a lot of work done over the last few years around that area. So yeah, I think it’s fascinating. Again, it’s what I love about buildings, and I guess what Alasdair was doing, what we’re talking about, these often unremarkable places that I’ve walked up and down that area all the time, but it’s through now really looking, which I think people did over lockdown, right? We couldn’t travel, we had to really look, and we noticed things that were just on our doorstep all the time that we were zooming past and too busy to really reflect and see the value of. And I think that’s what I love about. I know there was the pub across the other side of the bridge that used to be there. You kind of almost reimagine a portal to the past and what life would’ve been like there.

Niall Murphy (51:27):

Very, very much. That whole area has really fundamentally changed. There was a cinema that sat in front of it, which was like a web-shaped cinema, and a really nice design as well. And then behind that, just next door to the whiskey barn, there was a great kind of, it was a slightly gothic school as well.

Sorcha Dallas (51:43):

That’s right. Rockvilla, yeah.

Niall Murphy (51:44):

Yeah, Rockvilla School, which again, has been completely obliterated. And you’re like, “Who would demolish something that was so grand like that?”

Sorcha Dallas (51:51):

I know.

Niall Murphy (51:51):

We did. Yeah. The whole area fundamentally changed. So it does make you think as, I suppose there’s a bit of an element of Unthank about it too, because this whole section of the city that just disappeared and everything, once you get beyond the house and up the rise, that whole area has just been completely flattened. And it’s bizarre to walk around and think there used to be all of these people here, and it’s completely gone.

Sorcha Dallas (52:13):

I know. And that’s what we are seeing in this photo. So I’ll start a series of black and white photos, which it’s a bit like a mural, the way he’s collaged into his ledger, because it’s almost like you’re in the centre and the image expands all the way around, so it’s like a 360 degree view of that area. So you can see the bridge in the house and the Whisky Bond with the old school in front of it. And then all the tenements that were around. You can see Pinkston in the distance, and where the Woodsides development is, an old sort of gothic building there too. It’s sort of mind-bending in a way, because, like you say, these axis that fix it and are familiar, and are still familiar, whereas everything else is completely altered. Yeah, it’s really important, isn’t it, to notice. And again, think about what has been deliberately erased from that and what has remained, really.

Niall Murphy (53:07):

Yeah. It’s one of the things I kind of, in a weird way, really like about Glasgow. Because unlike Edinburgh, which is very carefully conserved, and is almost kind of, Edinburgh people hate me for saying this, fossilised, Glasgow, because it’s been through all this kind of different layers of city that get built on top of each other, I just find it fascinating. And that comes across in Alasdair Gray’s work.

Sorcha Dallas (53:32):

It does. And I’d love to have more… I had Norry up from Lost Glasgow who gave me some great tips about, but I’d love to start to build up more of a kind of bank of images around that landscape and the change from where a Alasdair was recording it up till now. Or if you know, or if anyone out there knows and is interested, please get in touch.

Niall Murphy (53:53):

Virtual Mitchell.

Sorcha Dallas (53:55):

Yeah.

Niall Murphy (53:56):
Virtual Mitchell is just…

Sorcha Dallas (53:57):

Virtual Mitchell.

Niall Murphy (53:57):

You could get lost in it. So love the Virtual Mitchell.

Sorcha Dallas (54:00):

I’ll do that now. That’ll be this afternoon. Awesome, Virtual Mitchell.

Niall Murphy (54:06):

Well, Sorcha, it’s been a real pleasure talking to you. Thank you. Thank you so much. And thank you for taking us through what the aims of Alasdair Gray Archive are. And yeah, best of luck.

Sorcha Dallas (54:17):

Thank you.

Niall Murphy (54:17):

Wish you every success. And if I could pop up and visit at some point, it’d be very welcome.

Sorcha Dallas (54:22):

Absolutely. I’d love that. And thanks for your support and interest. It’s a real privilege to be continuing to share Alasdair’s life and work with others. And of course, as I said, it’s a free space that’s open for everyone. So please, if you’re interested and you’d like to find out more from the serious Gray heads to people who know nothing about Alasdair, please get in touch. I’d love to welcome you.

Niall Murphy (54:45):

Oh, it would be an absolute pleasure.

Katharine Neil (54:47):

Glasgow City Heritage Trust is an independent charity and grant funder that promotes the understanding, appreciation, and conservation of Glasgow’s historic built environment. Do you want to know more? Have a look at our website at glasgowheritage.org.uk, and follow us on social media at Glasgow Heritage. This podcast was produced by Inner Ear for Glasgow City Heritage Trust. The podcast is kindly sponsored by the National Trust for Scotland and supported by Tunnocks.

Series 2 Episode 2: A Snapshot of Glasgow with Chris Leslie

Niall Murphy

Hello everyone, I’m Nialll Murphy. Welcome to If Glasgow’s Walls Could Talk, a podcast by Glasgow City Heritage Trust about the stories and relationships between historic buildings and people in Glasgow. Every building and every street has a story to tell, and the purpose of this podcast series is to explore stories in all kinds of places, to find out what they say about the lives of people in and around them.

If the walls could talk, what would they say? But what if there are no walls? What if the buildings have disappeared? In this episode we ask, who tells the stories when homes are demolished and communities are torn apart? When whole neighbourhoods become piles of rubble, where do people’s memories go? Today we are delighted to be meeting the BAFTA Scotland Young Talent award-winning photographer and filmmaker, Chris Leslie.

His remarkable work over the last 25 years provides thought-provoking answers to such questions. From war torn Sarajevo to the heart and soul of Glasgow, he has painstakingly documented what it is like to live on the frontline between demolition and regeneration. His images are powerful, often hauntingly bleak, but also often startlingly beautiful. Yet, as he explains, he’s not had to take pretty pictures. His work he says is perhaps 20% photography, 80% research, walking, talking, listening, and looking.

Indeed, he often starts without the camera at all, and this story is not about him. Always he is determined that the story should be told by the voices of the people whose real lives were lived in these demolished buildings. So, it’s Glasgow voices and he explains why he believes they must be heard. Okay, Chris, so how did it all begin? Can you tell us what you were doing in Sarajevo in 1996, and why you were there? And had you even held a camera before?

Chris Leslie 

So, going back to 1996, I was a psychology with politics graduate from Glasgow Caledonian University. So, I wasn’t doing photography or studying photography.

Niall Murphy

Right, okay.

Chris Leslie

And then I think that most people, they kind of watched the wars in former Yugoslavia from a kind of distance on TV, nightly news reports and stuff. And it was fairly brutal but I couldn’t understand any of it, and I kind of tuned in and scratched my head, and then tuned out because these wars happening in former Yugoslavia were a distant universe for a guy, from Airdre. So…

Niall Murphy

Sure.

Chris Leslie

But yeah, I ended up writing my… Well, I did do a thesis as part of my degree, and I kind of chose to look at former Yugoslavia from a psychological political perspective about the nationalism and ethnic cleansing. And yeah, basically, that just started this obsession with the Balkans, sometimes an unhealthy obsession.

Niall Murphy

Uh-huh.

Chris Leslie

Obviously, I was really keen to get there. So, really keen to get there, but didn’t want to go and kind of… Didn’t want to go during the war, couldn’t go during the war, and wanted to go after the war after I had graduated. At the same time, the wars were over and it was a lot of kind of peace building projects. So, I tried to, okay? I volunteer, I wanted to volunteer in the region.

So the idea was to, “How do I do that?” And yeah, I actually… This is the days just before the internet, but I had to fax a CV to some German NGO organisation, and they matched you up with these small voluntary projects throughout the world and you could specify what reason. But anyway, so the long story was that I had to do a CV, and it’s your first CV. And anyone who’s done a CV, their first CV realises it’s a very traumatic thing you do, because you’re getting nothing to say.

Niall Murphy

Oh, tell me about it.

Chris Leslie 

Particularly the skills of interest. It was like… It was half a page, it was blank, and I put it in photography and said, “Yeah, I quite like the idea of the photography, and it’s quite cool.” And then, yeah, so faxed the CV off, and then a few months later they come back and said, “We have this project in a small town called Pakrac in Croatia.” A small kind of rural town, and a volunteer project where they like to come and work there and live there for three or four months.

And yeah, one of the… It was a social reconstruction project doing a lot of different projects. But one of the projects was, “Can you teach children photography? We have a small school here and we work with Serb kids and Croat kids, and it’s a kind of integration project.” And I said, “Yeah, of course, that’s easy.” And I then had three months sitting in a dark room to try to hold up a camera, all of these things. So, totally I winged myself out. Winged it.

Niall Murphy

Yeah.

Chris Leslie

And totally kind of yanked myself into photography. So yeah, it was a big fat lie on the CV basically.

Niall Murphy

So, you hadn’t even been in a dark room before?

Chris Leslie

No. Well, I’d learned at Airdrie, and I joined the amateur photography group.

Niall Murphy

Right.

Chris Leslie

Where a lot of men who were taking pictures of these Swans and developing them, and you kind of waited outside the cupboard for a long time to get to.

Niall Murphy

Yeah, yeah. Yep.

Chris Leslie

To develop your work, but it was perfect because I had no idea. Once I’d learned that and I bought lots of books from Oxfam and was a photographer, I then spent four months living in a small kind of destroyed town.

Niall Murphy

Mm-hmm.

Chris Leslie

Working on social reconstruction projects, and unfortunately the photography project never took off really, because there was no supplies. And in the end the project was kind of falling apart anyway, but I kind of then decided to go back to Sarajevo, and I then kind of set up my own Sarajevo camera kids project. And that’s what I’ve done for the next three years, every summer.

Niall Murphy

Right, fantastic.

Chris Leslie

All of this pretty much, also in avoidance of getting a real job I guess, and social sciences degrees are great for that. I’m grateful for that if you want to, to be honest. Yeah, but just for me it was just that time, it was just that time to absorb things. It was really special for me, the Balkans, because I wasn’t a photographer and there was no pressure to capture anything, and that’s kind of key as well.

Niall Murphy

Yeah. Yes. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Chris Leslie

Yeah.

Niall Murphy

Yep. Were you then taking photographs at that time? Were you recording what you were seeing out there, in the aftermath of the war?

Chris Leslie

I took a few, yeah, I took a few photos. I mean, everything was heavily destroyed. It was a very surreal experience.

Niall Murphy

I can imagine.

Chris Leslie 

Pakrac It’s a small town, because Lebanon was 80, 90% destroyed. So…

Niall Murphy

Right.

Chris Leslie

The war was over and there was no conflict for our stuff, but everything was heavily destroyed, and the time was divided, and there was a lot of stress. And obviously peace time brings its own kind of issues, and then going into, Sarajevo was, Sarajevo was a city like Glasgow heavily, heavily destroyed.

Niall Murphy

Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

Chris Leslie 

Bombarded encircled for almost four years.

Niall Murphy

Yeah.

Chris Leslie 

And completely kind of… Right, so it was very surreal, but I had the camera but I took a few photographs, but they weren’t very good and I just kind of left them. And it wasn’t about photography, it was about the experience for me.

Niall Murphy

Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

Chris Leslie

And my reason for being there was to teach these kids. And so, I really wasn’t interested at all, and I took a few photographs but none of them were that good I think. Or I didn’t have the pressure of capturing images, it’s been such an important time for me I guess, because as soon as you start working professionally you’re always taking pictures. It’s impossible not to.

Niall Murphy

Yeah. Yeah, yeah, but it’s kind of a key formational stage in your career.

Chris Leslie

Yes.

Niall Murphy

And you as a person as well, that must have been a massive influence on you.

Chris Leslie 

Yep. Yeah, definitely, definitely when it comes around to moving into Glasgow and living in the East End.

Niall Murphy

Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

Chris Leslie

And then starting to see a lot of frontline areas almost. And this is the connection between the Balkans, kind of started to slowly kind of steep into my own work and when I was going to work there.

Niall Murphy

Yeah, I can imagine. I mean, obviously it’s… That was from warfare, whereas what was happening in Glasgow was planned.

Chris Leslie

Yeah, yeah.

Niall Murphy

In a sense, but it was the same kind of psychological impact on a population, the destruction of that meaning that a place gives you and is wiped out and obliterated. How do you as a population recover from that?

Chris Leslie 

Yeah. I mean, listen, there’s an obvious… Right from there, you see there’s obvious differences between what happened in the Balkans and what happened in Glasgow. Or let’s say Sarajevo as an example in terms of a city. In terms of a city, sorry.

Niall Murphy

Mm-hmm.

Chris Leslie

The human suffering can’t be underestimated in terms of what happened in Bosnia. This was a deliberate kind of warfare campaign.

Niall Murphy

Yeah.

Chris Leslie

Ethnic cleansing and genocide. So, I have to always… Have to call it out, but as an artist and as a photographer and living in the East end… And I started this kind of documentation at Glasgow around the time when we awarded the Commonwealth Games back in 2007, and how that was going to transform the city.

Niall Murphy

Right.

Chris Leslie

And there was usually… There was obvious similarities in terms of the physical landscape, in terms of the destroyed or neglected, particularly Dalmarnock. I lived around the corner from Dalmarnock, and it was just frontline Sarajevo. There was a block around Kenard and Lee Street, Victorian red sandstone buildings that had been left to rot for 10 years. And all the windows were smashed, half the buildings had gone because they’d been set on fire. It was just absolutely mental. And these, they then realised there’s lots of areas around the city like that.

Niall Murphy

Yes. Yep.

Chris Leslie

And then you started to see these partially demolished high-rise flats as well that were slowly being brought down by long reach cranes with these huge steel teeth on the end of it, slowly and inevitably, or they would be blown up overnight. It was just really kind of intense, an intense assault I would say. And that’s what kind of started to kind of make this connection with my time in the Balkans and what’s happening in Glasgow.

Niall Murphy

That kind of brings us onto question two, which is… We’re kind of just moving forward a little in time to where you are kind of at that point. And this is kind of from where you were in Sarajevo to kind of coming up to things like Red Road and Glasgow, and by 2010 you’d graduated with a master’s in distinction in documentary photography. And for your final project you’d chosen to focus on what was happening with Glasgow’s high-rise flats. And it’s that same kind of… What we were discussing, that kind of link between the two in terms of the impact of what happens to a city and the meaning of a sense of place.

Chris Leslie 

I think the first place that caught my eye around 2008 when I started my master’s was the Oatlands, was the old Oatlands, which kind of was across from where I was living in Bridgeton. And that was the first kick, because that was an area that had been emptied about 10 years ago, and it has been partially slowly destroyed to make way for the M74 extension at that time. So yeah, and that resembled… That took me back to Pakrac, that small town in Pakrac.

Niall Murphy

Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

Chris Leslie

There was roads leading into it, they’d all been ethnically cleansed and all the families had been… So, quite horrific ways of leaving your home, but people left lots of belongings behind because it was a real hurry, there was a real rush, there was a real uncertainty. And that was the thing with Oatlands.

Niall Murphy

Mm-hmm.

Chris Leslie

Here was loads of stuff lying around and I was coming back with bin bags, full of stuff, and starting this kind of. Trying to track down residents from things that had been left behind and stuff. So that kind of caught my eye, and I guess in terms of my imagination, it was like…

Niall Murphy

Right.

Chris Leslie

The buildings, and in the particular the high-rise buildings, are either on route to be demolished or partially demolished. The joint photograph that already came out, dystopian, great, big, massive structures. But what was important, what I didn’t kind of grasp is the action scale of it.

Niall Murphy

Mm-hmm.

Chris Leslie 

Because Glasgow was knocking down these high-rise flats at such a ferocious pace. Between 2007 to 2016 the city lost about 35% of its high-rise housing stock

Niall Murphy

Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

Chris Leslie

That’s massive, kind of a small part. People reminisce about slum clearances and stuff, but this was happening in a short, short period of time.

Niall Murphy

Mm-hmm. I totally understand where you’re coming from there. One of the things, this is my hidden past, I was one of the architects for Elphinstone Place in Glasgow, which is going to be this 39th story tower block that was going to be on the site, which is now Scottish Power next to the M8 on St. Vincent Street, which is going to be Scotland’s tallest building. And so, as part of that, we had to do kind of a whole impact assessment of what the impact of this was going to be on Glasgow’s skyline.

And so, we had to go and do kind of distance shots across the city that could show how the building would be dropped into that context. And you could see the whole skyline of the city, and you could see the roller tower block, and this was at that time, this was 2004 or 2005. And that was a really interesting experience because you got to realise just how it wasn’t like… I mean, Glasgow, when you’re in the city centre and you’re moving around the city centre, you’re very conscious of it being a grid city and having this very American feel to it.

But then when you go back out to the outskirts and you’re looking back in at that time, you’re really conscious. There was no kind of classic pattern of a traditional central business district kind of thing with the tall buildings being clustered there. It wasn’t like that at all in Glasgow, it was these kind of random outcrops of tall to very tall buildings scattered around the city with no kind of clear pattern to what was going on.

And when you look at that now as the clearance of it, it’s pretty phenomenal. It has gone through a massive change, and at one point Glasgow in Europe was slightly… It was right up there with Moscow in terms of the numbers of 20 plus story blocks of flats around the city. But I think if you reevaluated that now, it would be completely different because so many of them have gone.

Chris Leslie 

Yeah, yeah, and there was so many that I didn’t even get a chance to document. It became a full-time job to keep up.

Niall Murphy

Yep. Yeah, I can imagine.

Chris Leslie 

And I wasn’t there. So, I started this as my master’s project and I finished my master’s in 2010, but I just continued documenting it. But I had no client, I had no commission, I got some funding from Creative Scotland towards the publication and to kind of collaborate some of the work.

Niall Murphy

Mm-hmm.

Chris Leslie 

But it was pretty much me, myself, and I just continually doing this because I couldn’t believe the scale of it. It was buildings that I photographed, the Gorbals that I didn’t even document properly. I acknowledge that I documented them because I think any stories from residents and stuff, I just didn’t have the time because Red Road was a massive sighthill was massive.

Niall Murphy

Sure.

Chris Leslie

But yeah, it was a massive change in… And they say it, but what got me is that nobody really cared about that, because this is all progress and this is all good for the city of course. So, and I just was like, “Where are the other voices here? Where are the residents?” With the headlines of Evening Times and all that kind of stuff.

Niall Murphy

Mm-hmm.

Chris Leslie

And that’s what kind of inspired me.

Niall Murphy

Yeah, that to me has been what’s really been very interesting about your work, is being able to capture that. And it’s the kind of thing that really came to the foreign public discussion in advance of the Commonwealth Games and the proposal to demolish Red Road on the Commonwealth Games as part of the opening ceremony. Which was just astonishing because it was in such bad taste, because those were people’s homes and they’re people’s memories.

And there’s this great quote from here of a voice from Red Road, that it’s not the actual building itself, but it’s all your memories. “That was where I was brought up and that’s where I was made.” And that’s true, and doing something that’s an act of violence that would perform, be shown to the world, the Glasgow thing of active violence against itself. I just thought that was completely bizarre and I’m so glad they dropped it, it was totally inappropriate.

Chris Leslie

Yeah. I think, I’ll tell you, I had a few kind of fall-outs. Not fall-outs, or heated discussions in pubs, because I wanted them to do that. I wanted them to blow up right in in front of this audience of about a billion people.

Niall Murphy

Really?

Chris Leslie

Because you know what? From that audience of a billion people, let me think, Glasgow, it would have generated a discussion about it. Because the point was there was not even a discussion, there was some MSPs coming out and saying, “Oh, these flats should be used for refugees. Isn’t it terrible?” The 180 block which I documented was full of refugees.

Niall Murphy

Yeah.

Chris Leslie

And the other ones were stripped back to their skeletal state years ago. So there was no way back for them, and all of a sudden they had this period in the limelight. Which then kind of faded away when that demolition didn’t happen. But yeah, I just thought, “Let’s have a dialogue about it, let’s go. Is blowing up failed social housing a good thing?” Because it just felt… Going to Glasgow, there was no alternative. What was the alternative at that point? These flats had been stripped back and emptied of residents for years.

Niall Murphy

Yeah.

Chris Leslie

They were never just a blot in the landscape. All they knew were the wee pockets of housing that were built across the road from it, they were continually looking at a skeleton of a building for years.

Niall Murphy

Yeah.

Chris Leslie

So that’s the thing, what can you do about it?

Niall Murphy

Yes. Yeah, yeah. Yep, definitely.

Chris Leslie

I mean, yeah. As we both know, in the end that didn’t happen.

Niall Murphy

I get all of that, but I don’t know, because I don’t come from Glasgow. I was brought up in the far East, and to me, something like that, it was like the message that was being sent was that we’re so affluent and careless that there are millions of people throughout the commonwealth who are living below the breadline and in poverty. And here we are in the affluent West, we could just kind of… Well, yeah, it was a failed housing experiment.

Chris Leslie

Yeah. Yeah, of course. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Niall Murphy

Just blew it up for a bit of entertainment. And…

Chris Leslie 

But it was seen as progress. So that’s the idea, it’s how deeply entrenched the hatred of high-rise buildings were, and the idea that because… It was a rebirth, that was what the city council and the city fathers, the Commonwealth Games organisers,

Niall Murphy

Yeah.

Chris Leslie

The rebirth of a city, because we could talk all day, but that’s the idea of you bring down the building. And you take away all the social problems that are connected with that building in that area, because that’s causing all these problems.

Niall Murphy

Yes.

Chris Leslie

And so, they resist this kind of mindset that’s always existed in Glasgow. It’s just, “Let’s just clear the buildings.” And you clear all the social problems and you rebirth it, which is bollocks.

Niall Murphy

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it’s like you don’t learn any lessons. I mean, went through all of this with the city improvement trust, and 1866 onwards with the clearances all around where I am at the moment in the heart of the merchant city and right next door to Trongate. All this area is completely flattened, and then it was only kind of the noble poor who were allowed back into these more prestigious tenements, because it was all protecting this image of Glasgow.

And everybody else was like, “Oh, I’m sorry, you can’t get back in, you toddle off to Gorbals.” And hence all the overcrowding in the Gorbals, because all it did was shift the problem from one place to another and it’s not actually solving the problem.

Chris Leslie

Yeah.

Niall Murphy

And it’s not actually… Some people got better housing conditions out of that, a lot of people ended up in worse housing conditions as a consequence. And that’s, it’s kind of Glasgow’s… That’s a problem that’s been with us all the way because you just can’t keep up with the extent of the problem.

Chris Leslie

Yeah, definitely.

Niall Murphy

So, going back to Red Road, this obviously… It was a really proud symbol for Glasgow that we had the tallest council flats in Western Europe. What was it like documenting their dying years?

Chris Leslie 

Yeah, it was a long project I think, documenting it. I was invited in to do some documentation, it was a group of artists invited in to document Red Road, because the city council and the GHA, Glasgow House Association, realised I guess the scale of what was happening in the city. So, Red Road flats would be the poster girl if you like. Yeah? For a better word, lack of a better word.

Niall Murphy

Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

Chris Leslie

To kind of facilitate all these changes, and have stories and lots of projects for the young people that are left in the flats or predominantly younger asylum seeker children, some kind of documentation and stuff. So it was a very good project to get invited into, but it was very controlled if you like, in terms of what stories you could tell. No mention of asbestos, no mention of… I mean, at that time as well, there was the tragic incident of the asylum seekers who jumped off one of the buildings.

Niall Murphy

Mm-hmm, mm-hmm. Yeah, it was horrible.

Chris Leslie 

And so, it’s just lots of things going on, so I just felt to me it wasn’t getting the real story, but it got accessed. It was a long project and it was myself and a few other artists involved in it, and it took a long time. It took a long time for that building to be deemed unfit for habitation until it was actually demolished. It was like 2007, finally being… Or maybe, probably even earlier, I just started working there in 2007, so there was a kind of real connection with it.

For me, it was this idea of this kind of… What was the role of the photographer here and what I was doing, because I realised I’ll tick the boxes for the Red Road project it was called, but I knew I had other stuff I wanted to document. And I guess it was that tension between doing some kind of fine art photography of interiors, of partially demolished buildings and views at the window. Or was it something bigger? Was this a social history project and it wasn’t about my photography?

So there was that, that kind of started to develop through that time period of Red Road as well. And because that became more important than my style of photography or the images I was taking, and without the residents’ voices, the pictures to me were nothing really. I think it was good because I had the time to do it, because it was such a long period of documentation as well, going back and forth, and we just thought they would last forever. They would always be there even in a skeletal state.

Niall Murphy

Yes.

Chris Leslie

So, there was no… Yeah, I admit that for that work.

Niall Murphy

Sure. When you’re capturing those images, obviously you are using camera equipment, et cetera, to kind of record both those images and the voices. Can you tell us more about the technical aspects of it? Because I’m sure some of our listeners will be interested in that thing. What are your favourite lenses? Do you have any unusual kit or techniques as part of your work? Do you still have that old Canon camera?

Chris Leslie 

Yeah, I mean, I think I started because I was doing my master’s, I saw a lot of work around the site. How we are here with the 6×6 film camera, and I’d done a few portraits and kind of shots, but it was quite a slow process that idea. And it wasn’t allowing me to capture as much as I wanted, so I then jumped to digital SLR shooting, and the SLR’s changed at that time, but digital SLRs that you could then shoot HD video with the same.

Niall Murphy

Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

Chris Leslie

So that was a transformation thing.

Niall Murphy

Yep.

Chris Leslie 

Because you could then shoot HD video, as well as… Rather than this 6×6 medium format film. So, I kind of just… I ran with that, and there was no particular lens, there was no particular… It was a kind of standard Zoom lens that I used. I then got an audio recorder to help record, to record audio interviews with the residents.

Occasionally video, but mainly audio, and I wanted to capture the audios in high quality as I could. It wasn’t never about a specific lens or look, because I needed kind of flexibility to capture everything, and time was tight because the buildings were disappearing around me. It was almost like a supermarket sweep, I was getting and capturing as much as I could. And digital was great, it’s great for that, and I’ve still got a half life full of…

Niall Murphy

Sure. Yeah, yeah.

Chris Leslie

Thousands of photographs. So yeah, it was… And again, that’s why when you look, the book that came out, Disappear in Glasgow was a very wide-ranging style of photography with different lenses.

Niall Murphy

Mm-hmm.

Chris Leslie 

And it was because it was just… And it was over eight years as well, so it was like things changed, technology changed and stuff, but it was a bit. Capturing it as fast as I could.

Niall Murphy

Sure.

Chris Leslie 

It was never about the aesthetics of the camera then or the lens.

Niall Murphy

Sure, absolutely, and with regards to capturing stuff and the audio aspect of it, just wanted to say that your stories, those recordings that you made as part of Disappear in Glasgow, highly recommend our listeners do actually listen to these and that we’ll have links that we can give at the end of this conversation. And just having heard them that these are really moving stories and the stories of people’s loss, loss of people’s homes and memories of place.

And so, and this is all part of… When we begin to look at this as a society, we realised that the actual impact… And this is something I’m very interested in, because it’s stuff that Harry Burns talks about with the kind of open health aspect of Glasgow, and how much things like the urban clearances in Glasgow damaged the psyche of the city. And people’s kind of…

Because of their loss of sense of place within the city, so I’m very interested about stuff like that, but I wanted to know about how the impact of the demolition was for you personally, and how did you feel recording that final destruction of Red Road?

Chris Leslie 

Yeah, I think I remember that the last day we spoke earlier about the idea of the flats maybe blown up as part of the Commonwealth Games up in the city that didn’t happen. So October 2015, this was the day the rest of the flats would be demolished, and yeah, I’d photographed a few. You remember Red Road came down in stages as well, so this was the third stage.

And you get 200 people out in their pyjamas for the north of the city, taking pictures with their phone, and the building comes down and everybody goes. But that, to blow up the remaining six or seven buildings was a big event. So there was lots of people in the street, and I remember just waiting all day in the press area waiting because I was filming it for the documentary I was doing, as well as shooting it.

Niall Murphy

Right.

Chris Leslie

But yeah, it was just… I don’t know, maybe they had… I always joked that they had a sale by date on all the explosives they had and then they had to blow up everything in a year. But yeah, it was a relief when it came down, because it was almost like the end of a chapter for me at the end of this kind of project.

Niall Murphy

Yeah.

Chris Leslie 

Because this is where they started to kind of wind down, and the Sighthill was… There’s still stuff going on the Sighthill, but Red Road was a big project, so it felt like a kind of full stop, maybe a comma, I don’t know, I don’t know what’s the best way to explain it. But then obviously when the dust settles and there’s two buildings, half buildings left, that was just brilliant.

Niall Murphy

Yeah. Yes, to go forward.

Chris Leslie

Because it was just us, they were going to hang around for a wee bit more.

Niall Murphy

It’s very photogenic.

Chris Leslie

Yeah, I know, for a wee bit more just kind of watch the demolition, but not disappearing that easy. And then the next day I was up again, that morning I was up shooting those, shooting the buildings. That there was no… There was very little security, there was… I think they were all in a meeting, trying to work it out.

Niall Murphy

Mm-hmm.

Chris Leslie

How to demolish all your buildings, and I remember myself and a few other photographers, because all the press had left the day before buildings were down. But the next morning it was like they’re still there, and it was… The most amazing photographs were just walking around, and people from the area walking around, and right up close to the buildings. The buildings are like the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and yes, it was almost as if I couldn’t let go of Red Road. Red Road was still kind of hanging around for a wee bit longer.

Niall Murphy

Sure.

Chris Leslie 

So, that was quite interesting.

Niall Murphy

Yes.

Chris Leslie

Yep.

Niall Murphy

Yes, yeah, absolutely. Okay, your book Disappearing in Glasgow, which documents this multimedia project over the course of the eight years that you’re working on. It was published in 2017, then it too disappears and there’s a whole kind of story about that, but can you explain what happened and talk more generally about the impact or influence of photographs on the open landscape?

Chris Leslie 

Yeah, I guess it was just for the book. So, Disappearing in Glasgow as a project always existed online in terms of the short film. So, the short films were done way before the book, and it’d never been about doing a book. It was never… I started this project and said, “I’m going to do a book.” Because it would have been a very different approach we would have had.

So it was just the idea of when we had discussions, we published this around 2016, and they said, “Yeah, we’d like to do something.” And that was like, “Wow, we’re getting published.” And I brought in some really good architects and academics to write short essays on the different areas and areas that they have the knowledge of, but also tell all the resident stories. So it was more than a photo book. It was more than just…

Niall Murphy

Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

Chris Leslie

It was quite a substantial kind of document, telling what’s happened in those times. But yeah, so it was published, they sold two editions and it was great in downloads, and tours, and the done Edinburgh book festival and Aye Write and all that.

Niall Murphy

Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

Chris Leslie

And then obviously, they send you a royalty statement saying this is how much you’re getting. You’re like, “Oh, that’s quite exciting.” You know, you could get money, and then it went into liquidation and there was no money. And the book disappeared because it didn’t always sold, and then became a quite… To me, quite a toxic project. Not because, “Oh, I didn’t get the money.” But just because it felt like eight years of my work that I handed to someone else and they botched it.

Niall Murphy

Yeah, yep.

Chris Leslie

And they kind of didn’t look after it, and it was like giving your child to someone to look after. So anyway, the book’s gone, and the book’s… The positive thing about it is the book’s very rare now. People contact me daily, talking about, “Have you got books, anybody?” And they’ve gone, and there’s a few copies out there going at quite a crazy price. So, but again, it was never about that. The project was to be accessible and it was to be accessible from people who I had spoken to and interviewed in the residents.

But citywide, it wasn’t about having the book. So everything’s on disappearing-glasgow.com as a website, and that was always the key aspect to it. And that’s still there, that’ll be there for a wee while longer so people can access the short films there. But I guess to me, in terms of photographing the Urba landscape and stuff like that.

As I’ve said, the book, I’ve showed it to some photographers and they kind of scratch their head because there’s so many different styles and variety and approaches. But most photo books, we get a book and it’s the one consistent style all the way through it, and that kind of fine art approach to it and stuff. But as I explained earlier, to me it was about social history, it was more important.

Niall Murphy

Yeah.

Chris Leslie

So, that’s why it’s… Maybe in some ways it’s not a photography book for all the purists out there, because it’s such a range of styles. And maybe not great images, but the images relate to the text and what’s been kind of said in the stories by the residents and stuff.

Niall Murphy

Sure, absolutely. I suppose it kind of falls into that kind of Glasgow tradition where you’ve got Thomas Annan. And, I mean, obviously he doesn’t interview all the people that he’s seeing, but you know that fantastic set of photographs.

Chris Leslie

Yeah.

Niall Murphy

Recording this kind of unwinding of a great mediaeval city and its replacement with something completely different. It’s very similar to what you were doing, just the best part of a century and half later.

Chris Leslie

Yeah, and I guess you just use the technology that you’ve got to do that, that’s available to you at the time.

Niall Murphy

Yeah, yes.

Chris Leslie

I’m fairly… All these are always very heavy, those images to Thomas Annan. How did you answer that. Absolutely outstanding, and at the same time you’re shooting multimedia, shooting HD video, shooting with drone, shooting me. So, I’m sure he might have been quite envious of what we can capture these days.

Niall Murphy

I bet, I bet, I bet you always. The thing that fascinates me about Thomas Annan is that when you actually really think about what a city is like, it’s not just the pretty images, you actually have to think about all the other stuff associated with the city. So the smells, the noise, all of that.

So, when he was actually going into some of these wynds and back lanes, they must have stunk to high heaven and he would have to spend ages setting up all his kit to take those photographs and kind of put up with all these people going, “What you doing big man?” Kind of thing at the time.

Chris Leslie

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Niall Murphy

And it would have been… Must have been really, really interesting and fascinating, and very similar to what you’d been up to. Kind of recording this snapshot in time before it all disappears.

Chris Leslie

Yeah, yeah. I mean, there was… That, I think the idea as well, running around any city with a camera is… You’re always asking for trouble, you’re certainly asking for questions. “What are you doing? What are you filming for?

Niall Murphy

Yes. Yep, yep, yep, get on board.

Chris Leslie

Yeah, and with discipline, with that whole project, Disappearing in Glasgow, I didn’t really… There was nothing that I encountered that was kind of similar to that. I think there was a thing about gaining people’s trust as well. People had began to know who I was in these kind of communities because I’d spent so much time documenting. But also, what was key in many ways is for a lot of the places I went to put it around Dalmarnock, I didn’t take the camera initially. I just arrived and had a chat with people. It just felt rude, it just felt like, “Need to take a picture.” And then…

Niall Murphy

Yeah, yeah, absolutely.

Chris Leslie

And that was… It was the case where one of the ladies documented Margaret, Jaconelli, who was living in Dalmarnock at the time of the Commonwealth Games.

Niall Murphy

Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

Chris Leslie

And that was quite an emotional kind of hard story to document. Eventually she was forcibly evicted from her house and stuff. And I remember meeting her photographing these same Victorian red sandstone tenements I was talking about, which I thought were empty back in 2008. And I didn’t even notice there net curtains and wee ornaments that weren’t in the windows. And she was shouting out the window to me, and she started speaking to me, and then we sat and spoke for hours. And she talked to me, having a bit of her story, and if I immediately got the camera out it would have broken that conversation.

Niall Murphy

Absolutely. Yeah, definitely. No, there were two points I was going to sort of come back to you there on. Which was… This is in a previous life that’s back to 2006, 2007. This is with a firm of architects who I was working for at the time, Austin-Smith:Lord. We did a whole kind of survey of that area as part of trying to get Bridgeton Cross turned into a conservation area, and trying to show how you could regenerate the area, and it was kind of a master plan for the area.

So we were out scouting the whole area and it was then you realised the respect you had to treat people with, particularly some of the traveller settlements that you had to be really careful with. If anyone saw you with a camera you were an automatic threat. And so, you had to make sure that you asked for permission and you treated people with respect.

Chris Leslie

Yeah.

Niall Murphy

First of all, before embarking on anything like that.

Chris Leslie

Yeah.

Niall Murphy

And so, it was acutely kind of conscious of all of that. And the second thing, this is more personal stuff. My partner, my other half was brought up in a tenement on the corner of… It’s just up from the Kinning Park complex. There’s a tenement right next door just to the south of the Kinning Park complex. Do you know where I am?

Chris Leslie

Vaguely, vaguely.

Niall Murphy

Kind of? This is in Kinning Park, right next to the subway station. He was in the opposite tenement from that, which is now under the M8. And so, he kind of was brought up, a whole kind of… Is it McClellan Street that was the longest street in Glasgow? And it’s just this ruthless line of tenements that just keeps going and is completely astonishing. Of course none of that exists anymore because it completely disappeared, and the way he talks about all of that was actually… This was a really fantastic area, and how they were… They could all kind of play in the streets, and people were safe, and they had a fantastic park right next door. And then all of this kind of just disappears, and he’s got photographs of what the area was like after everyone had moved out of it and how haunting it was.

And it would have been exactly the same as you were experiencing pre Commonwealth Games, and you’re thinking, “Didn’t we learn anything from what happened in the 1970s and the devastation that inflicted on communities then?” And it’s quite depressing that we still haven’t learned those lessons and quite, quite, quite frustrating that. Anyway, back to where you are on your journey. So, you then went on and produced another book, which was also kind of about… This was an even longer term relationship with a place which was a Balkan journey.

So, and all about your experiences out in that part of the world, and how that’s kind of a culmination of 24 years worth of work. And you’re now doing this again with the invasion of Ukraine, and of course it now looks as though that poll… Obviously, that’s a massive issue, and there was an article on The Guardian earlier this year and you wrote about a striking image of hope you captured on your last visit, and I was just wondering if you could tell us about that.

Chris Leslie 
Yeah, I think The Guardian… I do some photo essays for The Guardian and stuff. And there was…

Niall Murphy

Yes.

Chris Leslie
A series.

Niall Murphy

It’s very good.

Chris Leslie

My favourite image I think was in these, and that’s very hard to choose. But yeah, just to clarify, it was in… This is all Bosnia and I haven’t entered in Ukraine yet. But yeah, I went to document Sarajevo 20 years after the peace agreement had been signed in that city that brought an end to the four years of war and siege. And going back to my first time then, when I had this camera and shooting black n white film, and not very… It wasn’t very interesting, the photographs weren’t very good. Now the city’s been rebuilt completely. Now, so that’s been… The black and white pictures I took 20 years ago.

Niall Murphy

Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

Chris Leslie

Suddenly they were quite interesting. So, I was going back 20 years in a document.

Niall Murphy

Yeah, very much.

Chris Leslie

Or whatever, how the people were marking this event and what was happening in the city. And not much was happening because life kind of moves on. The city’s been rebuilt, people move on, people have things to do with their lives. Bosnia in particular don’t want to dwell on a lot of anniversaries, because certainly with the younger people, they want to kind of look forward as well.

Niall Murphy

Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

Chris Leslie

There’s certain events around the genocide Srebrenica and stuff that require to be marked and understood and remembered. But there’s also a lot of young people who just want to kind of move forward, they can’t have the war dragging them there, setting their country back. So, there was just a photograph I was taking, in a landscape picture of Sarajevo, and it’s from an area called Tabia, which is an old fort and there’s a viewpoint over the city where you get to see the whole city.

Niall Murphy

Mm-hmm.

Chris Leslie

And then this couple kind of came and walked in my shot and I was raging. And then they just sat and did a grasp, they grasped each other and they looked over at the side, and it was like, “Bang, there you go.” They ruined my picture, but maybe it’s all right. But I think the image was represented, Sarajevo gets dark. A name that evokes a lot of things about war and about destruction, and about division, and ethnic cleansing, and just everything that was wrong in that war. And this was one moment looking on when the city’s being rebuilt, and this idea that cities will kind of come back to life.

They slowly rebuild themself back kind of from anything, from destruction from I guess, looking at Glasgow. And what will we keep doing wrong in Glasgow? Things will hopefully get better in Glasgow. The idea of maybe there’s lots of new building working on and lots of homes being built across the city. Glasgow is rebuilding, it also requires, as you’re pointing on those, we need 200,000 people to move back within the city boundaries.

Niall Murphy

Yeah, yes. Yeah, absolutely.

Chris Leslie

To make this a functioning city, to get the taxes to pay for all these things, and all this in infrastructure. People come in and out Glasgow then kind of leave and that’s a real problem. Glasgow’s attempting to address that, but within new housing and all these kind of things. That was, to make a connection with that image of hope, to have an image of hope for Glasgow.

Niall Murphy

Yeah, yes.

Chris Leslie

We need to ensure that we’re building proper housing, sustainability, affordable housing, and for families, for all Glasgow regions to actually stay within the city. Because we can’t be in this position as well where we get to this level of hope and everything’s great in the city, and then forty years later down the line we’re knocking down the same buildings that we’ve just kind of replaced.

Niall Murphy

Yeah, I know.

Chris Leslie

It has to change in some ways. Yeah, so that was the slight connection. I’m trying to connect that image of looking over at Sarajevo. And what’s this image of hope across Glasgow?

Niall Murphy

Sure.

Chris Leslie

I don’t really have an image, I’ve got an idea in my head that a lot of people have.

Niall Murphy

Yeah, absolutely. Because I mean, to me that’s absolutely critical. With Glasgow, Glasgow’s challenged, they’re challenged by our generation and future generations. Is, “How did you put Humpty together again?”

Chris Leslie

Yeah.

Niall Murphy

Because it’s been through these kind of… You got the mediaeval city gets wiped out by the Victorians. Well, the Georgians and then the Victorians and then the Edwardians, and you kind of got into war growth. And there’s kind of… There is kind of a bit… It’s all quite cohesive then, though our area is kind of getting redeveloped so it’s a bit more organic, then suddenly you got this huge rupture after the second World War, even though Glasgow comes through the second World War with the exception of Clyde Bank pretty intact. And then you’ve got this huge rupture where about there was a guy looking at this and reckoned it was about 25 to about 30% of the city, the original kind of Victorian Edwardian city was demolished.

And starting again, to me it’s the impact of that on people, and it’s also… You just can’t keep affording it, it’s so wasteful to just bulldoze everything and start again without adapting it. And, I mean, I’m interested when you look at places like Amsterdam where they don’t have that kind of choice because land is so precious there that they can’t afford to let whole chunks of their city just be bulldozed and start again. They have to work with what they’ve got, and we’ve kind of got to learn how to do that.

And part of what we have to do as a generation is figure out how to heal the city and to create spaces that can be as cherished as what some of these old spaces were. And that’s going to be a massive challenge for the city, but hopefully something can arise from the destruction that happened. Talking about destruction and loss, there is a lot of beauty in yours too. And you’ve been talking about wanting people to stop and look, and does beauty pay a part in any of that?

Chris Leslie

Yeah, I mean, some of the images of the high-rise buildings that I took, they were never taken to put on a wall or whatever. But when the buildings are stripped and the light’s spilling in from every angle and you’re looking out, you’ve got some kind of nice aesthetic images. I remember looking at Sebastian Salgado’s work when I was doing my master’s, and images of farming and poverty and stuff were often criticised for being too beautiful and therefore insensitive to the subjects.

Niall Murphy

Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

Chris Leslie

He always argued, I think a lot of talks are. You need to view it in your photographs to capture attention I feel like.

Niall Murphy

Yes.

Chris Leslie

And particularly now, online photographs now have even less of an appeal because we’ve all been programmed to view them online like a slot machine, you just swipe, swipe, swipe.

Niall Murphy

Yeah, yes.

Chris Leslie

They’re looked at for less than a second and then they’re gone. So, my aim is to create images that could stop people in their tracks.

Niall Murphy

Yes.

Chris Leslie

Even just for a few seconds. So, what is that? Where is that? To question why and who.

Niall Murphy

Yup

Chris Leslie

And that was kind of half the battle for me, if feel like. It was just to create these images. Images that took of underground bingo holes at Red Road flats and stuff, trying. My aim was to get in as deep into the building and from every angle possible to get different pictures, because from the ground level there’s only so many ways you can shoot a high-rise flat as well.

So, I was really trying to get in the inside to get underground, to tell that whole story and create these images about what you photograph, completely Red Road underground. Why is there a bingo hall under Red Road? And then from the story from there up to Red Road itself, what happened to every body? Red Road, that was a small town of 4,070 people.

Niall Murphy

Yeah, absolutely. That fascinates me, and this is kind of personal. Again, personal stuff for me. I was brought up in Hong Kong, and so for me that kind of connection… Because it’s something I’ve never really understood about how Glasgow handled high-rises, that because the administration in Hong Kong were able to learn a lot from the things that went wrong here. So they were able to learn the lessons of that. In Hong Kong when I was growing up, and we were probably by that point onto third generation of high-rise, big.

And Hong Kong had… With Singapore, they were the biggest social landlords in the world. So, we always get this kind of… It really bugs me when you hear people from the Tory party talking about Hong Kong and Singapore becoming these visions of capitalism that they want to emulate. And you’re like, “Well, hold on a minute. Actually…” They’ve got these massive social housing programmes which are the biggest in the world, and if you actually wanted to do some of that, maybe you should be holding some council housing here.

But the point I kind of wanted to make about that was what the people and the planners in Hong Kong completely got, was you can’t just build tower blocks in isolation. You have to tie them into the surrounding fabric and you also have to provide all those amenities. And they’re obviously trying to do that with Red Road, and the only thing I can suspect was maybe Red Road was too far out of town. But that was absolutely critical to how Hong Kong operated, because they were conscious they had to provide homes over the longer term that people really wanted to live in. And that meant you had to have all of these amenities as part of it. Marketplaces, swimming pools, tennis courts, your pubs.

Chris Leslie

Yeah.

Niall Murphy

Clubs, shops, all of those kind of things had to be part of the package, it couldn’t be separate. So I remember coming here on a school visit in the kind of… This was to the garden centre, we stopped on route in the Gorbals, and kind of no foot court, Sterling Court. Sterling Court, all of that, and being completely horrified that there were no amenities, there was nothing. And it was like…

Chris Leslie

Yeah.

Niall Murphy

“What got missed as part of this programme?” That you can’t not have those things, the city doesn’t function without it. I thought that was bizarre.

Chris Leslie

There’s been a lot of new housing schemes and stuff in the north of the city, but very few facilities, very few amenities. You drive to your home, it’s still very much… Springburn seems to be the place. Yeah, and you go by bus if you don’t have a car. Really, there’s nothing else there, and I think this was one of the arguments in a lot of the residents who I’ve spoke to and people around. That there’s the population of small towns living in these blocks, and once you… If you don’t provide facilities for that, then that’s… It’s going to fundamentally fail.

Niall Murphy

Yeah, yep.

Chris Leslie

So it’s about what’s in place now.

Niall Murphy

Billy Connolly’s phrase, desserts with windows

Chris Leslie

Yeah, yeah. I think I’ve got the chance to see the new kind of Sighthill area, and there’s lots going on in the Sighthill to potentially address some of that. There’s a better community facilities being built, and obviously infrastructure and connection by the city centre and stuff. Hopefully things are starting to.

Niall Murphy

Yeah, yeah, be neutral. I see that too.

Chris Leslie

Yeah, but then… And it’s good, but it’s almost like it’s simple answers. It’s not difficult, it’s not rocket science to provide these things. I think it’s just all down to the budget and what budgets are available. And who’s going to…

Niall Murphy

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, it very much is, and I think in Hong Kong they were lucky because there was a rising tide of the economy. And because the… Again, this is where Hong Kong’s very different from the UK. The government earned all the land, and so the government taxes were low because how the government funded itself was it drip fed chunks of land onto the market. And so, developers were always prepared to bid high for the land, and that was what paid for the running of the city. And the great irony about all of this is kind of Glasgow and kind of…

Not quite now because the high-rise is coming back, but in places like Manchester where ironically it’s mainly pitched at Chinese investors. And the great irony is like, Hong Kong learns the lesson from everything that goes wrong in the UK. And then what the irony is, is that China sees Hong Kong as a symbol of modernity, and suddenly you get all these Chinese cities that want to emulate Hong Kong.

Chris Leslie

Mm-hmm.

Niall Murphy

And they get covered in tower blocks. It’s this kind of weird cycle that… Yeah, stuff that we’ve turned our back on, they decided is a good thing. And yet, I don’t know, it’s how that gels and you’re thinking there was a reason for them in Hong Kong because we really lacked space. But in China you don’t, so did you have to do it? I don’t know, it’s quite weird.

Chris Leslie

Yeah, I think… I mean, I guess with Glasgow as well, there’s nothing fundamentally wrong. We’re living in high-rise buildings as well, but during that period of time…

Niall Murphy

Yep, yep, tell me child of the high-rise.

Chris Leslie

During that period when they demolished everything, all these estates, it was just that fear of if asylum seekers moved into your block then it’s no longer fit for habitation. If students moved in, it’s no longer, and that’s exactly what happened in Red Road. It’s not fit for habitation, but we’ll move the students in.

Niall Murphy

Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

Chris Leslie

And we’ll move asylum seekers in and it’ll be demolished, and it was that kind of pattern. So, if you were living in… Or…

Niall Murphy

Yes.

Chris Leslie

A high-rise block at that time, there was this kind of fear of, “Are we next?”

Niall Murphy

Yeah, yeah. Such a shame because when you do tend to talk to people who have lived in high-rise, actually, people do love them. And it’s the views, it’s the curious kind of detachment from the city, that you’re living above the city but you can get access to the city really quickly as well. Things like that, people love all those aspects of it and you get real kind of tight-knit relationships between people within them as neighbours. And yet, we as a society were not very good as maintaining them in the longer term, having invested so much in the first place.

Chris Leslie

Mm-hmm, but I think they’ll actually… With Glasgow is that the flats passed the point of being saved, because the kind of social fabric in the building from the inside was just a riot.

Niall Murphy

Yeah.

Chris Leslie

And there was drug dealing going on, because a lot of these buildings had no concierge here just to start with.

Niall Murphy

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Chris Leslie

The early 80s in the Glasgow, very, very, very bleak place. Started the industrialisation, all these high-rise buildings built the communist model. You build your workers near the workplace, when these workplaces go and then high unemployment, drugs take over by default when someone starts dealing in a flat. Once you get a series of dealers in flats, once people and families start to move out and you’re moving in single parent households, all these things just kind of spiral down into.

Niall Murphy

Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

Chris Leslie

There was one block I documented down on Plain Street in Scotstoun, and the residents there actually petitioned the GHA to blow up because they called it the towers of hell because it was so bad in terms of drugs, in terms of antisocial behaviour, and people were just desperate to get out. All around, those areas were completely… Were the same flats, the same exact same architects, the exact same planning, the exact same buildings. And they managed to be all right, but these individual blocks themselves, some were so bad.

And it was just real, because they mentioned that part of the demolition is about these buildings only have a lifespan of 40, 50 years. There’s structural problems and things like that, and these buildings only had a certain lifespan, and that’s just not true. That’s just… This was… It’s all tied in, the economy and demolition brings a lot of money. And you say you don’t pay VAT demolition as well, so it’s favourable. That’s a big thing across the UK, a big thing.

Niall Murphy

Oh yeah, I know, it’s incredible and frustrating. Yeah, some we absolutely have to change in the future.

Chris Leslie

Yep, definitely, definitely, and there’s a few people seeing it though. Yeah.

Niall Murphy

Yep, and the carbon generated from that.

Chris Leslie

Yep.

Niall Murphy

Yeah, yeah, I’ve got to get… So, it’s something I feel quite strongly about, that that’s… When we look at things going forward, you have to look at not just the cost of demolition compared to retention, but it’s also things like the carbon that would be generated as part of that should be factored into any new construction.

Chris Leslie

Yep.

Niall Murphy

So you’re not necessarily at net-zero because you’re already starting with a huge deficit, so you have to think about things like that. Anyway, what’s next for you then? And is there hope in your work, and can we talk a little bit more about those things?

Chris Leslie

Yeah, I think for me, I mean, the latest project I’ve done, just come back to your last point about sustainability and, demolition and stuff. A few months ago I was contacted from residents from the Wynford Flats in Mary Hill and they contacted me specifically saying, “Yeah, you’re the guy who documents buildings being demolished.”

Niall Murphy

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah, really important to stay.

Chris Leslie 

And I’m like, “I’ve retired from that.” And they’re like, “Okay, you want to come down and speak to us?” And I went down and this was months after COP26, and all these promises of that everything made about demolition is wrong.

Niall Murphy

Yeah.

Chris Leslie 

The carbon footprint of demolition should be, and they were going to demolish all these flats down at at Mary Hill.

Niall Murphy

Yeah.

Chris Leslie

On the front line of the West end kind of thing. So, a property developer must be just gleaming with the idea.

Niall Murphy

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I don’t see why they aren’t looking at retrofit for that estate, because it’s great wee enclave and it could work really well for that. It could be really… It could be a great place.

Chris Leslie

Yep.

Niall Murphy

It is a really interesting place. It could be, you could have great homes there as a consequence of that, and easy to heat.

Chris Leslie

Yeah, yeah.

Niall Murphy

Which is a real issue now, and is a massive… Fuel poverty is a massive problem in Glasgow.

Chris Leslie

Yeah.

Niall Murphy

So you could be addressing those kind of things, exactly what kind of Collective Architecture had been doing with the three tower blocks. Where is it, Woodside?

Chris Leslie

Yeah, yeah. Yep, yep.

Niall Murphy

The tower blocks that are being completely over clad and have these sunrooms, and you can do that. And that’s what I had hoped the future of the tower block would be in Glasgow.

Chris Leslie

Mm-hmm.

Niall Murphy

That we would try and save these, because if you’ve made that initial investment you should be able to turn it around. It should be possible and you should be able to integrate it into the building fabric. I mean, all these things have been looked at since the 1970s. You’ve got to know how to do it. And…

Chris Leslie

Yeah.

Niall Murphy

I kind of wish they’d get on with it.

Chris Leslie 

And there was also… A lot of this, residents didn’t want to move, I documented it. And so, it just felt just like…

Niall Murphy

Yeah. Yeah, absolutely.

Chris Leslie
Have we learned anything here? Are we just kind of going back to the same model? Because it’s right.

Niall Murphy

Yeah.

Chris Leslie

It’s chosen by market forces at play, and that’s just always, always going to win.

Niall Murphy

Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

Chris Leslie 

And it must have been known during that COP 26 because there was national discussions and announcements made in January. All these things must have, and you just think that there’s a better way of managing this. I don’t know, so in terms of hope, I was very kind of gutted by that. And just, I said, “Are we ever going to learn?” But other projects, I’m still pushing this Balkan journey book. I still got a few more talks and events planned, so.

Niall Murphy

Right.

Chris Leslie

I’m giving a talk at Doors Open Day this year as well around Glasgow and Sarajevo, windy landscapes it’s called. It’s very kind of similar to what we discussed today, so that would be an illustrated talk.

Niall Murphy

Right, okay.

Chris Leslie

But yeah, I mean, it’s still… I’m also looking at a project in Cumbernauld with two of my friends and colleagues. We’ve called it Recollect.

Niall Murphy

Mm-hmm.

Chris Leslie 

So there’s three of us, myself, Mitch Miller an illustrator, and Alison Evan who’s a writer. And we want to look at Cumbernauld because Cumbernauld town centres is obviously very topical just now because they’re potentially…

Niall Murphy

Absolutely, I was just about to say, you can beat the town centre, and what’s going to happen with it?

Chris Leslie

It’s a political hot potato, but it’s a hot potato that we want to juggle. We want it.

Niall Murphy

Yes. Yeah, quite, absolutely. Good. Well, good luck with that. I mean, it is the most fascinating building.

Chris Leslie

Yeah.

Niall Murphy

Really, I’ve been around it a couple of times now, and really interesting. And it does kind of… It reminds me a lot of my childhood.

Chris Leslie

Yeah.

Niall Murphy

So, because every real similarity is going to mega structures out in Hong Kong and stuff here, and I find it in a town in Scotland fascinating.

Chris Leslie

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Niall Murphy

It’s quite something.

Chris Leslie

I mean, with all three of us, I don’t know Cumbernauld really that well. Since I’m new, we’re approaching it with idea that we don’t know much about it, because I know there’s some people who hold Cumbernauld dear to their heart, and that’s part of the argument just now, obviously. But I think as well, the other side of the argument is it’s a town centre that’s dead on its ass for lack of a better word. It just doesn’t function as a town centre.

Niall Murphy

Yeah. No, I know.

Chris Leslie

No town centre functions.

Niall Murphy

It stopped functioning? Yeah.

Chris Leslie

So, we can see both sides of the arguments, of people who want to preserve it, but at the same time it’s for people who live there as well.

Niall Murphy

Yeah, yes.

Chris Leslie

We want to try and document that.

Niall Murphy

Yes, absolutely.

Chris Leslie 

So, but yeah, very, very political. But again, in terms of the buildings, even through my own work it was never about the buildings and Disappearing Glasgow. It was always about the stories, it was always with the people. Easy to photograph buildings in a majority photograph, but what’s harder is getting the stories, and that’s what’s kind of interesting is myself, and Mitch and Alison as well. So we just have to see, I’ve got an application in for funding for that project, and we’ll see kind of how that goes.

Niall Murphy

Great. Well, I wish you luck with that, that would be a really fascinating project to kind of hear more about.

Chris Leslie 

Yeah.

Niall Murphy

And see what happens with that legacy. Okay, final question then, and we ask everybody who comes on the podcast. And it’s totally loaded, but it’ll be interesting to see where you show of your bands. What is your favourite building in Glasgow? So still around or gone, and what would it tell you if its walls could talk?

Chris Leslie

It has to be one that’s gone. Obviously, I would be shooting myself in the foot foot if I chose something that’s still here. I think to me, living in Dennistoun and always being in the East end, the white veil blue veil flats for me the Gallowgate are demolishing in 2015 were just spectacular for many reasons. Even though the kind of brittlest concrete towers that… Architects and photographers and artists just loved.

Niall Murphy

Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

Chris Leslie

And every day it was absolutely hated, including the City Council.

Niall Murphy

It was quite something on the skyline.

Chris Leslie

Yeah, get them…

Niall Murphy

Yeah.

Chris Leslie

Get them to… Every day wanted them gone, and I could see them from the windows. You could see them from anywhere on the East end. Very dark, imposing, kind of clean and monolithic structures.

Niall Murphy

Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

Chris Leslie

That just screamed to be brought down for anyone passing through Glasgow.

Niall Murphy

Yeah.

Chris Leslie 

And after Red Road and doing the documentation, that was the big project in Glasgow museums, involved and funded by the GHA Glasgow life. I thought, “Well, there’ll be a project there obviously, because these are unique kind of buildings.” And these were the tallest buildings in terms of thirty story, seemed bigger than Red Road. And yeah, and I thought, “How did you get involved in this project of documentation, of remembrance, of collective memory?” And there isn’t one, we just wanna and demolish them. So, I kind of took that aboard myself and done my own project around it, and photographed the inside and outside.

Niall Murphy
Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

Chris Leslie

The first residents that… The last residents. So, it kind of felt personal to me because it didn’t feel it was after this much documentation.

Niall Murphy
Yeah.

Chris Leslie

And in terms of what that building would say, I don’t know because I only captured the fraction of its stories before they came down. And I guess that’s the real kind of tragedy of it, because they probably could have so much more to say. But yeah, that would definitely be the building. I would choose the white veil, blue veil flats. And it’s interesting, my studio next door , I’ve got the original lettering.

You have the 10 lettering outside the blocks 51, white veil. I borrowed that from… I did ask for it, I didn’t steal it for an exhibition of an exhibition that never happened, but I’ve got them on my wall. So very, very kind of, yeah, strong memories, and just always seeing them from the window as well. But I can understand as well simply why they were hated as well.

Niall Murphy

Well, that was fantastic, Chris, thank you very much. Thank you so very much for sharing that with us, and I’m sure that our listeners will really appreciate hearing your thoughts on Sarajevo, those kind of connections with Glasgow, and where we go from here in terms of how we look after our cities and our high-rise buildings and what that means to the communities who live in them. Thank you very much. Now, let’s give the last words to some of the people whose voices Chris recorded before their homes were demolished.

Speaker 3 
And all I’ve seen was ruins, just to see a lifetime destroyed sort of thing. And all those people, where have they all gone? It’s probably like Eleanor Rigby in the Beatles, it is. It is, it’s a sort of story. All the people, all the lonely people, where did they go? Where did everybody go?

Speaker 4
So, it’s not the actual physical building, it’s all your memories in it, because that’s what was kind of brought up mainly. That’s what made me a man. And so, it’s like any man’s made the memories in it, so if your physical manifestation, your memories goes in, it’s quite a fetch I think. But I’ll be very, very sad to see it go. You just always thought it’ll always be here, they’ll always be and last forever. But when you see it, no, you realise it’s not going to last forever.

Craft and Traditional Skills Careers

Photo of someone chiseling a piece of stone, wearing orange and yellow gloves, with traditional stone caring tools in the background.

As Scotland’s historic buildings and places are a unique resource, taking care of them requires expert skills and knowledge. But these skills are often in short supply. Training to work in a craft or traditional skills role could offer you ample opportunities and a chance to work in a sector that is wide, vibrant and exciting.

Series 2 Episode 1: Glasgow on Film with Dr Emily Munro of the National Library of Scotland’s Moving Image Archive

Niall Murphy

So, hello, everyone. I am Niall Murphy, and welcome to If Glasgow’s Walls Could Talk, a podcast by Glasgow City Heritage Trust about the stories and relationships between historic buildings and people in Glasgow. The stories of our buildings and streets can be told in words and pictures, but perhaps nothing can bring those stories to life more powerfully than a moving image. There is something magical about people and places from the past appearing on our screens today. We can walk again through doors of buildings destroyed by fires or bulldozers, ride on buses and trams on streets that no longer exist, rediscover daily events and life-changing dramas from 50 or 100 years ago.

Films connecting yesterday, today, and maybe tomorrow too. This is the stuff of the great collection of material in the National Library of Scotland’s Moving Image Archive. It’s an extraordinary treasure trove offering fascinating insights into the social, cultural, economic, and political history of Scotland. Home movies, documentaries, public information films, short clips, full length feature films. There are 3,000 films available to view online, so it’s hard to know where to start. And in a world increasingly dominated by small screen images, might me wonder when seeing is believing. Who funded these films, for instance? And what is their message? How can we tell the public record from propaganda?

Fortunately, help is at hand. To answer or at least explore some of these questions, we are delighted to welcome Dr. Emily Munro, a curator of films at the National Library of Scotland’s Moving Image Archive. Emily’s job requires an inquiring mind as she finds ways of bringing Scotland’s rich screen heritage to audiences in the here and now. Emily is also a talented writer and filmmaker in her own right. Her film, Living Proof: A Climate Story, released before COP26 in 2021 used footage from the library’s collection, which she selected with a keen and critical eye.

The film exploring roots of the climate crisis in Scotland’s industrial and economic history was widely seen and highly acclaimed. The Times called it an evocative documentary that asked difficult questions. For today’s podcast, Emily has chosen a intriguing selection of films from the Archive, and we’re looking forward to some stimulating questions and answers. But, let’s start with a fairly simple one. So, firstly, Emily, what is the Moving Image Archive? Can you give us a brief background to the history of the National Library’s Moving Image Archive? Where is it, how did it come about, what does it contain, and who is it for?

Emily Munro

I certainly can, Niall, thank you for that wonderful introduction. Well, the Moving Image Archive is Scotland’s national collection of moving images. And the Archive itself began relatively late for a moving image archive, in the 1970s, when Janet McBain was employed through a job creation scheme to identify a collection of films that were held at the Scottish Film Council offices. And under Janet’s Stewardship, alongside the technical expertise of Alan Russell, the Archive has grown over the years to a collection of around 20,000 films and videos about Scotland and its people. And as you’ve already said, these include professional films, amateur films, promotional films, propaganda, home videos, television, artistic films, experimental films, almost anything you can imagine.

So, Janet was the curator for the Archive from 1976 to 2011. And within, I know, she did win a BAFTA for her service. And within that time, the Archive moved from the Film Council over to the National Library of Scotland. So, in 2007, we became part of that heritage context, national heritage collection. And the Archive itself, it is for absolutely anyone. We’ve got an expansive online catalogue, which enables you to watch footage wherever you are in the world, and we are always collecting. So, it’s not a static collection, it’s something that’s ever-growing, which comes with its challenges, as you can imagine.

Niall Murphy

I can.

Emily Munro

Yes, but, it’s a really exciting place to work and to learn.

Niall Murphy

Great. So, tell me more about your role as the curator. It’s a fantastic resource, the archive, but how do you personally use it? What responsibilities does a curator carry? How do you reach out to engage new audiences say?

Emily Munro

I feel like it’s an immense privilege to work within an institution like the National Library of Scotland, but specifically in the Moving Image Archive, because I have my own personal time machine that will take me to places that I would never have gone without it. As a curator, I’m interested in stories and what the Archive tells us about ourselves. On the one hand, moving image is quite a specialist area of history, but I think most curators who work in film archives would see themselves as generalists. You need to have a wide range of interests and knowledge, historical knowledge about society and about culture. And there’s certainly certain, there’s areas that I gravitate towards. There’s some things that are my own pet projects, things that I have a specialist interest in. But, there is so much material that honestly every day is a school day here and I’m never bored, because there’s always something new for me to look at or explore.

And my role is partly about research. It’s about understanding the material, the context in which it was made, but it’s also about how I communicate that to the public, and also involve the public in interpreting the material as well. It’s not really just for us as curators to interpret the material. There’s so much in there. We couldn’t possibly be experts in everything that’s here. So, we really need the help of the public and from other researchers, historians, experts, to tell us the stories that are within the films. And I really like the idea of the Archive being something that people go on a journey with, and it’s quite a personal journey. It’s a bespoke journey, because everyone’s experience is different. So, I think what’s exciting about a moving image archive, particularly if it’s so focused on a nation as this one is, is that you can look for your own story within it and you can find things that speak to your experience and the experience of your ancestors.

And that can be extremely powerful, because I think we need continuity in our lives. We need to feel like there is some kind of thread, particularly at times when society can seem chaotic. So, the Moving Image Archive, I think provides a little bit of that comfort. But, at the same time, as a curator, I’m always looking at things with a critical eye. So, I am also quite interested in pulling apart films and really questioning the motivations behind their production.

Niall Murphy

Indeed, that is fascinating. When you look at the selection that you have put together for today, and I’m very interested in how you put that selection together. There’s things within that that are quite fascinating, and you do wonder how much of this is propaganda in places? What is it they’re trying to pitch? And then, on the other hand, you’re acutely conscious, there’s a whole film in there about the development of council housing in Glasgow and how Glasgow is very pioneering about it. And you look at that back through a lens where we’re going through a housing crisis at the moment, and it’s so optimistic. And you’re thinking, if only you had some of that optimism now and foresight now.

Emily Munro

That’s absolutely true. And I would say that within the Archive, although we do continue to collect, most of our material is from the middle of the 20th century, and that was an incredibly optimistic period. So, the films definitely reflect that.

Niall Murphy

True, absolutely. Does it then give you a sense of loss about what has disappeared in that selection? It is fascinating, particularly when you look at Glasgow now, there was one with Bill Forsyth running through Glasgow Streets, and I’m looking in the background as he goes along going, oh, there’s a John Burnet Sr building, which probably says something about me. But, it’s fascinating to walk along those old Glasgow streets. And, from that point of view, it’s a really invaluable source of social history and condense all of these really revealing details such as the footage you supplied on the Great Glasgow Fires and the blaze at the old Kelvin Hall, or the film of the Glasgow School of Art, which was fascinating because that was 1950s, but yet when I was at the Glasgow School of Art in the 1990s, it really hadn’t changed.

Emily Munro

Absolutely. And I think one of the interesting things about an archive is that you get to see those moments of continuity through time, and buildings provide that, don’t they? Well, sometimes there’s a rupture that changes things. If we think about the fire, Glasgow’s no stranger to fires, unfortunately.

Niall Murphy

Sadly.

Emily Munro

But, footage of fires is relatively unusual actually. And the film that I shared with you from 1925 was an example of a fire where actually something better came out of it, I think.

Niall Murphy

Indeed, yes, absolutely. It’s a much better building now.

Emily Munro

Absolutely. The phoenix rose from the ashes and then some… But, it’s a really interesting social document as well, because it was a film that was made by Green’s Film Service. Now, Greens were a family of show people.

Niall Murphy

Hugely important.

Emily Munro

Absolutely. A family of show people who began exhibiting films, and then saw a commercial opportunity to sell films to other exhibitors and created their own production company. And this wasn’t unusual at that time, cinema exhibitors would produce films, local films, and quite often they were out there looking for news. And on this day, in July 1925, the big news was this fire at Kelvin Hall. And you can see its big news, because there are literally hundreds of people gathered-

Niall Murphy

Absolutely. It’s quite something.

Emily Munro

… to watch that fire.

Niall Murphy

You’re seeing that smoke blow across, what is it, Dumbarton Road by that point, towards the Kelvingrove. And there are hundreds of people there, and you’re thinking, you’re possibly a wee bit too close to that fire. You might want to get away.

Emily Munro

Not only that, Niall, because you can see they’re set on the other side of the road, and they’re all in the embankments up leading up to Kelvingrove. But, not only that, but you can see hordes of school boys running towards the area, desperate to see it. And you have civilians who are helping the firefighters. So, you actually have ordinary people, including boys, straightening out the hoses for the firefighters. It’s quite extraordinary.

Niall Murphy

It is. When you look at their equipment, you’re thinking, there’s no way they’re going to cope with this fire.

Emily Munro

No, and they didn’t.

Niall Murphy

It’s pretty primitive. It’s fascinating though.

Emily Munro

But, it is really interesting, because it’s not all that long ago, a 100 years ago. And now I’m actually sitting in the new Kelvin Hall today.

Niall Murphy

Indeed, you are.

Emily Munro

So, I’m speaking to you from Kelvin Hall.

Niall Murphy

Which is a fantastic building.

Emily Munro

It is, indeed. And, if I could go back to what you were saying about Glasgow School of Art, because we have quite a lot of footage of the Mackintosh Building, and it’s so poignant now that, that footage still exists. I think it provides something different from a photograph to see people actually using the building. And that film from the ’50s, which was made by Eddie McConnell, who was a great Scottish filmmaker, documentary maker, very expressive, and made when he was a student at the School of Art, and he ran a film club there. And I think what’s really lovely about it is, you do get a sense of the Mac as a working building, and you get an idea of what the student experience was like. But, there’s also some really beautiful details. There’s footage of a cleaner washing the steps.

Niall Murphy

That’s a lovely touch, but that was what I meant, but nothing had changed. Ironically, I headed up the film club at the Mac for a year in my dim and distant past. There you go.

Emily Munro

That is fantastic. You know what, what’s interesting, we’re talking about these resonances through time. And another famous filmmaker, Norman McLaren, also attended the Glasgow School of Art and made a documentary called Seven Till Five in 1934. And that was similar to Eddie McConnell’s film. It was about the student experience. But, Eddie McConnell claims he never saw that film, or certainly hadn’t seen that film at that time. But, I think students feel such a sense of affinity with the building while they’re there, and almost like the building becomes its own personality, it’s a friend. And there’s a certain sense in which people have felt a need to document not just the place, but also what it might have felt like to have been inhabiting that place. And McConnell later shot Murray Grigor’s film about Macintosh, alongside Oscar Marzaroli, the great Glasgow documentarian.

And, there’s all sorts of interesting artistic collaborations within the Archive, but I think McConnell and Marzaroli, they’re ones that, it’s always worth looking at material where they collaborate. One of the films that I absolutely love, which is quite a weird, it’s a surrealist experimental drama called Faces, made just a couple of years after that Glasgow School of Art film in 1959. And it was made by Eddie McConnell, but Marzaroli worked on the production. And it has characters wearing masks that were designed by Alasdair Grey. And it’s a really special and unusual film.

So, I love all these, the little cliques, I guess, they’re kind of cliques, film making cliques, but it’s really interesting to see how people dot about productions. And you mentioned Bill Forsyth. Bill Forsyth was in there as well. So, anyway, I digress. But, I think there’s definitely a link between a lot of the filmmakers that we have work in the Archive that represent their careers and appreciation for art and architecture and the City of Glasgow in particular. And also, a sense, particularly in that mid 20th century period, of just trying to get to grips with the rapid change that’s going on, and holding on to some things and trying to learn how to let go of other things.

Niall Murphy

There’s a one really fascinating film that you included, which tells a story of Glasgow Corporation. This is just directly post Second War War, tells a story of Glasgow’s Corporation and what they did, and all the various facets to Glasgow Corporation. There’s some really good hidden gems within that. It shows the Keppochhill Tram Depot, which is now Tramway. Pinkston Power Station, which is amazing.

Emily Munro

Can I say something about that film? Because, honestly, that footage was really startling for me when I saw it. It’s actually quite a, it’s the kind of film that people wouldn’t necessarily look for in the Archive because it’s an educational film. And you might have noticed quite a few of the films that I’ve suggested that we talk about are educational films, because I absolutely love them. But, this one was made by the corporation as part of a series of civic films. So, it was made in 1949. And I think there was quite a progressive viewpoint in terms of the importance of civic values and citizenship coming out of the war.

Niall Murphy

Very much. There really was. It really comes across in that film.

Emily Munro

And using film as the main teaching material is a really modern thing to be doing.

Niall Murphy

Very much.

Emily Munro

And so, you’ll notice the film is silent.

Niall Murphy

But, involves the wee boy in it, kind of [inaudible 00:18:46]

Emily Munro

There’s characters.

Niall Murphy

The character comes across.

Emily Munro

Exactly. So, the wee boy or wee boys appear in a number of these civic series films. There was a school textbook that went along with it as well, an illustrated textbook. And the idea is that the film would be shown in the classroom and the teacher would narrate it in some way. So, there would be teaching materials that would go along with it. So, with this film, it’s about transport in Glasgow, it’s called Our Transport Services. And so, you see various forms of public transport, and you see the coal-fired power station that was generating power for the trams and the underground, and before the big cooling tower was built. And what’s so lovely about it is that, the building was camouflaged during the war. So, it was painted in camouflage paint. And it’s really camp.

Niall Murphy

It is. It’s quite something. It’s a shame it’s in black and white., because I’d love to have seen the colours of that and what they actually did. Because, it’s quite, you look at that and you think, wow, there’s pop art for you. And it’s like, all the things that come after, Pink Floyd using Battersea Power Station and all that. You can see where that comes from and the whole language or the visual language of The Beatles, and the various albums. It all comes from that. You can see what that is.

Emily Munro

Absolutely. It’s so fascinating. I love that film. And like you say, the footage from the tramway, seeing the trams being built, or repaired and cleaned.

Niall Murphy

They’re incredibly modern, the trams.

Emily Munro

Absolutely.

Niall Murphy

It’s really interesting to see them. They were pretty slick.

Emily Munro

Absolutely. And I suppose there’s a sense in which, I don’t know, I watch it and I do feel a sense of loss. Obviously, this wasn’t a period that I lived through, but you do get a strong feeling of the civic pride and of that effort in society to move towards what progress looked like at that time. And, I just think it’s a really special little film.

Niall Murphy

It was fascinating. For me, I was lucky because I was brought up in Hong Kong, and ironically Hong Kong I think got some of Glasgow’s trams, because Hong Kong still has trams. And so, it’s just on the island. There’s a big long line of trams, and it’s kind of has a loop either end that allows you to go backwards and forwards. And then, it loops around Happy Valley as well. But, the trams were, they were really fantastic. And so, when I see images of Glasgow in the 1950s with all these trams, I actually think it’s pretty progressive. At what point did you get rid of them? They worked so well in a compact small city. It’s a great way of getting people who wouldn’t be able to afford a car about.

Emily Munro

Absolutely. And I think 1949, we’re just at the cusp of that time where the motorcars, it’s about to have its moment, big style, but at that point, 1949, public transport was still the way to get people around. And so, you get a sense of investment in that.

Niall Murphy

And it is ironic, particularly this kind of where the next question’s going to go when we’re talking about demolition and dislocation. It’s ironic when you see other films like the Battle of the Styles film, which kind of made me laugh, this architectural film on the development of styles and architecture, which is a great wee film. And then, at one point it goes, and here we are at St. Enoch’s Station. It’s got this kind of terribly 1950s voiceover. Here we are at St. Enoch’s Station. This is the finest of Scotland stations. And then, you’re thinking, oh, oh, a decade later it’s toast. It’s people toast. And you’re like, what are you thinking? And there’s a separate film on St. Enoch’s and you’re thinking, what a fantastic facility. Why would you want to get rid of it? Completely bizarre. And yet it’s part of that white heat of technology and we need to move on from all of this kind of thing. It’s such a shame.

Emily Munro

Absolutely. And that period, we’re getting into that period now of that redevelopment. And you think about how devastating in a lot of ways that was, and the dislocation that created. You mentioned the film with Bill Forsyth, and it’s a film, it’s a drama about a young artist who goes into the city of Glasgow as it’s being demolished, and is really trying to get to grips with what is this place?

Niall Murphy

Absolutely.

Emily Munro

It’s a dystopian film.

Niall Murphy

Very much. It may made me think of Lanark, Alasdair Gray’s Lanark, it’s like this is Lanark on film.

Emily Munro

And I’m sure there’s definite connections there-

Niall Murphy

There must have been.

Emily Munro

… with Alasdair Gray’s work. And I think, you see this artist in his studio and he’s painting these classical motifs, Corinthian columns and things. And then, he wanders out into the city where all of that kind of classical architecture is being destroyed, and is just surrounded by plumes of smoke, pollution or dust. And those young artists at that time, you do get a feeling, gosh, not everyone was like, great. We’re moving forward. This is progress. There was some real devastation going on. And people must felt quite powerless actually at that point, really just to have to accept what was happening. And a lot of the films that we have about that time period, which are films made by the corporation, they’re really about justifying the decisions that were happening.

Niall Murphy

Very much. The one St Mungo’s medals talking about the various awards that the corporation was getting for social housing work. And some of the buildings are very good to get produced out of that. But, looking back at it now with jaded Generation X eyes, and you’re thinking, particularly when they’re getting to the outskirts of the city and these garden cities that they’re developing there. And we know all of the floors of that now, the kind of great Billy Connolly phrased, deserts wi’ windaes. And you’re looking at it and you’re thinking, the incredible irony that they thought they were doing absolutely the right thing, getting people out into the air and the greenery. And yet it wasn’t enough. It didn’t work.

Emily Munro

And I think Glasgow really has suffered from a slightly myopic viewpoint where the housing is seen as the cause of social ills rather than the symptom of what’s going on in society. So, rather than thinking about inequality and lack of opportunity, looking at houses and saying, oh, this house is falling down, so need to provide people with somewhere nice to live, and then everything will be fine. And, of course, we know that that’s not the case. Of course, everyone deserves to live in a nice environment, but it doesn’t take away the social problems. And, it is interesting. We’ve got so many films that show the demolition of Glasgow, some extraordinary things. One of the demolition of the Grand Hotel in Charing Cross, I think-

Niall Murphy

Which is something else.

Emily Munro

… you can see men standing on the half ruined building at the very top, just kind of chipping away.

Niall Murphy

It is extraordinary. Lack of health and safety.

Emily Munro

It’s like something from another, it is from another century, but another century before that. And you also get these quite painterly images, almost like a grand civilization and decline, which I think are really poignant. But, with the corporation films, they’re obviously going to take a particular viewpoint, and for a critical view we need to look elsewhere. So, we need to look at things like the KH-4 film with Bill Forsyth, or there’s a film called The Planners Approach from 1968, which was made within Jordan Hill College of Education. And in that film, I think a student probably was interviewing the chair of the new Glasgow Society at that time, who was Mr. Jarvis, an architect.

Niall Murphy

Geoffrey Jarvis. I knew Geoffrey. So, he was on the Glasgow Open Design Panel, or as it was called before it became the Urban Design Panel, the amenity panel and the council. And he was a really interesting guy. He looked like Abraham Lincoln. He was a fascinating guy. And when you hear about the launch of the new Glasgow Society, and they put an advert in the paper, he was like, anyone’s interested in going walk for a walk around the city centre and discussing some of the things happening at Glasgow, and I think 500 people turned up. There’s such demand for it.

Emily Munro

That’s amazing. And really, so it’s quite a, you get this idea of a divided city, because you do have people at that time who were really starting to advocate strongly for the retention of some important buildings, Victorian architecture. And on the other hand, there’s this kind of understanding that there needs to be change and there needs to be, things need to shift somehow. And when Mr. Jarvis is interviewed, he has really quite well-formed ideas about the riverfront. So, the riverfront of the Clyde that it should be picture postcard. I think he says it should be the equivalent of what Edinburgh Castle is for Edinburgh, the riverfront should be for Glasgow. So, that’s the vision.

Niall Murphy

Which is a very unusual view for the time when you consider how industrialised the river had been.

Emily Munro

Well, absolutely. And it came later, of course, that focus on river fronts came 20 years or even more later. But, he also had plans to redevelop the St. Enoch’s Station site, which included a concert hall, a international hotel, and perhaps, and this is the one that always makes me laugh, the new Strathclyde Region headquarters could be there with the whole area pedestrianised.

Niall Murphy

Fascinating.

Emily Munro

It is fascinating. And, I guess, we did get some kind of pedestrianisation in the form of the shopping centre.

Niall Murphy

Which unfortunately turns its back on that kind of, it’s the thing that blocks the city centre actually getting to the river, ironically. And in some ways, St. Enoch’s Station actually handled all of those things better than the current shopping centre does, which is one of these ironies. What he was reacting to was there was this plan to basically deck over the river at that point and put a bus station on top of it. And which seems completely mad, and yet this did happen. That was a very American vision, and happened in places like Providence and Rhode Island, and they’ve later undone that. But, it did happen in various places. And they’re like, thank God avoided that in Glasgow.

But, it’s funny, because we’re still dealing with all of those issues now. And one of his great proposals, which sadly did not go anywhere, was to get the Royal Britannia back to Glasgow, and tuck it into the Graving Docks in Govan, and use that as a huge visitor attraction, and basically retain the Glasgow Garden Festival as Tivoli Gardens for Glasgow, which would’ve been such a fantastic, would’ve given an amazing regenerative boost to that part of the city. And yet it was in this Thatcherite era, because that was reliant on the public purse to make it work. It was rejected in favour of a private scheme to put it in Leith. And you’re like, but it came from Glasgow originally. It should be back in Glasgow. And a real lost opportunity.

Emily Munro

That would’ve been incredible. What a lost opportunity. And you were still talking about, there’s still buildings that we’ve lost recently along the riverfront, which it’s a real shame, and we’re still making the same arguments, about retaining some of the architectural heritage that we have.

Niall Murphy

Yes, we very much are. It’s an interest, that whole film, The Battle of the Styles is very enjoyable.

Emily Munro

I was going to mention actually, about that film, because the film shows this tension between the gothic styles and the classical revival in Scotland. And I don’t know if it’s the best, it’s not the best film that we have on architecture in Scotland. I think maybe Murray Grigor’s film for the Scottish Civic Trust, Raised From Stone, is a really special one. But, I like the Battle of the Styles, again, because it’s an educational film, so it’s interesting to imagine school pupils being taught about architecture. And the education advisor for the film was someone called Louise Annand, who also made films and worked for Glasgow Museums for many years, and was really interested in architecture and heritage within the city. She made a lovely film about the history of lighting, and one very atmospheric film about Monkland Canal in the 1960s, which was filled in, was concreted over.

So, I wanted to bring that in because I think sometimes there’s an inclination to look at the big films, the big commercial films, or the promotional films, because they’re professionally produced and they look very beautiful. But, actually someone like Louise Annand contributed a lot in terms of documenting parts of the city, and its art and its architecture, and communicating that to a different audience, which was an audience of young people. So, I think there’s a lot to be said for those educational films and how they speak to younger people about what’s happened in the past, and the changes that were happening at that time.

Niall Murphy

Well, I thought it was a really interesting film because she captures Kirkland’s Warehouse on Miller Street, which is one of Glasgow’s great lost buildings. And it’s a fantastic story that David Walker tells about this, and how he tried to persuade the planning committee not to let the building’s owners demolish it. And he won his case, and he managed to get the Scottish office. It was the first time the Scottish office had put money into a Victorian building., because this is one of the reasons why Edinburg’s better preserved them Glasgow, is because they would only put money into something that predated Victoria’s reign. And so, it was the first time they were going to put money into something post the start of Victoria’s reign. And the owner of the building was so incensed by this and the fact that one had been pulled over on him, that he blocked up every sink in the building and turned on the taps and flooded it so badly that the damage done outweighed the value of the grant that they were going to get from the Scottish office.

And so, the planning committee reversed their decision, decided on demolition. But, when you see that film, and it talks about what a fabulous building this is and the sculpture on the building, and how this is just for a warehouse, but look at the beauty of the sculpture on it, and that this is actually taken from Sansovino’s Library in Venice, and you’re looking at it with its courtyard in front, which this guy hated because he said that the vans and the drivers using the vans, it was too posh for them. And they kept on bumping into the corners and smashing their vans off the corners, and he hated it for that reason. And you think, what a snob. And so, Glasgow lost something that was really amazing, and we’ve ended up with, I think it’s the back of C&A, it ended up being, and it’s just this most awful. It’s directly opposite where the Tobacco Merchants has his, and you’re thinking, what a lost opportunity. It would make the most fantastic little courtyard space. Really stunning building.

Emily Munro

That is so sad. And we’ve lost a lot of those spaces, or it’s the privatisation of those spaces as well that is problematic. And in a way, the Battle of the Styles is kind of, it’s almost like a battle of values. It’s aestheticism versus functionalism or something like that. I don’t know. But, we seem to be having the same battles-

Niall Murphy

Very much.

Emily Munro

… over and over again.

Niall Murphy

The other film I enjoyed too, which I’ve seen before, is the Larry the Lamplighter one, which is 1956. So, and astonishing to think that somebody was still doing that in 1956, but it makes you realise just how much in need of modernization Glasgow was by that point, because the infrastructure just hadn’t been invested in. But, it’s so evocative at the same time of what the city was once like.

Emily Munro

Absolutely. It’s a Robert Louis Stevenson poem that’s been adapted. So, it’s already nostalgic for that reason. But, I think not long after, we have a film that shows the scrapping of the gas lamps, the removal, and the scrapping of the gas lamps. And so, they were disappearing at the same time. And maybe that was why the film was made, was to evoke those childhood memories, I suppose, for the person who made it.

Niall Murphy

The irony is, it’s actually incredibly contemporary, because there is a battle going on in Kensington in London at the moment to save its gas lamps. Because, I think its council wants to replace them with LED lighting instead. And people are really offended by this, because it’s still the original, there’s only a handful of them and it’s like, come on. And you could save them because they are still evocative of that period. But, it’s weird to think that’s survived into the 2020s.

Emily Munro

It is really weird, but it’s a lovely thing that they have. When you see that film about the scrapping of the gas lamps, you see some beautiful iron work being just chucked out. And I grew up in Edinburgh in the 1980s, and I remember the concrete street lights were being removed and being replaced with, they were evocative of Georgian but more kind of Victorian looking lamps, things that seem to be more in keeping with the conservation areas. And it’s just incredible that we’re still having discussions about scrapping things like that. It’s lovely that we still have some lamps in Glasgow, the provost lamps and things like that, that we can still look back on those. And actually, I don’t mind that they don’t work.

Niall Murphy

They’re just beautiful objects.

Emily Munro

They’re just beautiful to look at, absolutely, and kind of unexpected and evocative.

Niall Murphy

There’s the beautiful Alexander Greek Thompson one on Queens Drive, which is wrecked-

Emily Munro

I love that.

Niall Murphy

… sadly, but I love walking past it.

Emily Munro

Me too.

Niall Murphy

It’s so evocative. There’s another one buried in the hedge in Strathbungo too, so at least they have somehow clung on. And it’s funny, because you can see on the Ordnance Survey map where the others were, and it’s just these last fragmentary survivors, but they’re really beautiful artefacts.

Emily Munro

That’s it. My dad talks about visiting his grandmother in Shawlands and the gas lamps flickering, and he says that as a child, he was terrified of being sent out. John, go to the fish and chip shop. And he was terrified, because it was so spooky being in those dark, close’s with the flickering gas lamps. It’s something that I can’t imagine what that must have been like. But, there are people who still remember that.

Niall Murphy

That would be incredibly evocative, wouldn’t it? Quite terrifying at the same time. Fascinating stuff. Another strand in these films is all about how people in Glasgow got to work and the kind of this fascinating integrated traffic and transport network that we had of trams, trains, buses, and ferries, and how it all meshed together. So, I thought that was really interesting too. And other footage too, which I thought was amusing when they were talking about how awful the Gorbals were. And, yes, when you look at it, children playing in bin stores, not a good thing, but when you look at the streets, I’m looking at them nowadays and thinking, oh look, there’s a low traffic neighbourhood.

And it’s like, it’s 15 to 20 minute neighbourhood as well, because everything’s in the street, everybody’s playing in the street, people are really congregating in the street, and the traffic is so much lower than it is nowadays. And it’s really interesting to see how that is a active city that you could walk around or take the tram around. And if you really needed to jump on a train to somewhere more remote actually functioned. And the lessons that we can learn from that nowadays when obviously we’re thinking about carbon footprints and obviously COP26 happening in Glasgow and what’s just happened with Egypt as well with COP27, how we basically have to shift back towards that idea of a city. I think that’s really fascinating.

Emily Munro

It’s so interesting, isn’t it, that we’ve gone through this cycle of feeling like the city’s overpopulated and that we need to push people to the margins. And then, now we’re like, oh, actually we need people living in our city centre, because otherwise it’s barren. So, let’s bring people back.

Niall Murphy

Post COVID in particular.

Emily Munro

Exactly that. So, yes, these cycles that go on. And in some ways, I think actually the new towns were more successful than the city development areas because-

Niall Murphy

Yes, they were.

Emily Munro

… at least there was an idea of what was required to make a functioning community, that people needed to be able to get around. That the car was going to be important, because it was at that time and people needed to get to work, but actually there needed to be spaces for pedestrians as well. And there was less of that less density, that high rise thing. Cities in the sky, there was less of that.

Niall Murphy

And a child of the tower block.

Emily Munro

Well, some of those schemes were relatively successful and actually well-loved, but others, of course, were not. I’m thinking about the Gorbals and the Hutchesontown Block E, which I think survived only a few years and then was demolished because of damp.

Niall Murphy

Actually, a comprehensive disaster. It was a construction system that came from the south of France and it just was totally unsuited to Glasgow’s climate. And ironically, when you look at it nowadays, it’s got these fantastic super graphics on you thinking, wow, that looks really cool. But, it just didn’t work. It was never going to work in our climate.

Emily Munro

You’re right, absolutely. You appreciate the aesthetic. But, actually, to just take something from the south of France and put it in the west of Scotland, now, gosh, we’ve got real challenges on our hands with the amount of rainfall for new buildings as well as for the old buildings. And that’s something we’re going to have to grapple with for years to come.

Niall Murphy

Very much. It’s something that we look at when we’re looking at tenements. We ask people to check the size of the rainwater goods that they’re actually, they can cope with that increased capacity. And that’s having been involved in other schemes where nobody has checked, and then suddenly you’re getting water ingress in a newly conserved building. You’re thinking, ah, this is exasperating. Somebody should have checked those things, and how we then work with that. That’s part of the thinking behind the Avenues project in the city centre. That’s the main motivation for it. It’s not actually that it makes those streets look prettier. That’s a handy side effect of it. It’s tackling the drainage problems in Glasgow because of stormwater runoff, and it’s slowing all that down and making it more manageable, and thereby releasing sites which can’t be developed at the moment because the system has been at capacity. It’s about building a capacity so those sites can be properly developed and brought back into the city once more.

Emily Munro

Some of the films that I love, absolutely love with all of my heart are the New Town films, because of that utopian imagining of what society could look like. And there’s one film in particular about Cumbernauld, and in part of that film, there’s a wee boy on roller skates, and the camera follows him going through the neighbourhoods on his roller skates, just flying down hills with ease, going through underpasses and things like that. And sometimes I look at that and I think, wow, when I’m able to go around Glasgow in my roller skates, I’ll know that we’ve cracked active travel.

Niall Murphy

Absolutely. That would actually be, I used to do a lot of roller skating as a teenager, and I don’t do it anymore. And it’s one of these things you kind of think, that’d be quite fun to revisit it and actually do it in the streets rather than in a roller rink somewhere. But, if you could do that and you could enjoy it without worrying that you’re going to be mowed down by a car in the next five minutes, that would be a real sign that things have moved on and progressed, that streets are for everybody and not just for one class of person who happens to have access to a car.

Emily Munro

I think so.

Niall Murphy

Very much. What next then for the Moving Image Archive? We’re living in an era where everyone has a smartphone. We can all be filmmakers. Tell us about your kind of plans for, where you’re going to go in terms of outreach and engaging with citizen filmmakers? I presume you’re really enthused about this, so tell us all about it?

Emily Munro

Absolutely. We never stop collecting, and those smartphone films are going to become part of the Archive. Not all of them, but some of them will be. And I think it’s more important than ever that we take a critical look at our past as well as how our media is produced. So, there’s a role for film archives to play there in thinking about both of those things. I want to see people enjoying history and to have the same privilege that I do to step into the time machine and observe lives past, see old streets and buildings that have disappeared, fashions that have all but vanished. And to that end, I think what we want to do is to keep having conversations with people about the collections in all sorts of different ways. And sometimes that might involve a co-curation exercise where we’re working with community to pull out the things that really matter to them. In other cases it might be actually working with the community that we haven’t worked with before and who are underrepresented within the collections too.

Niall Murphy

Sure.

Emily Munro

Because, while it’s easy for me to say, oh, well, the Archive is for everyone, not everyone is well represented within the collection at present.

Niall Murphy

Sure. I can completely appreciate that.

Emily Munro

So, we really have a bit of work to do on that front. We hold regular events at Kelvin Hall and they’re free. So, please come along to some of our events to find out about the collections and talk about the collections. Next year we’re going to be doing a special focus on the history of broadcasting, which is going to be a lot of fun. I’ve been doing some research into community television production in the ’70s, the first community television experiments, one of which took place in Leith in Edinburgh in a high rise here that no longer exists.

Niall Murphy

Fascinating.

Emily Munro

And another one that took place in Vale of Leven, which was part of the quality of life experiment set up by the government at that time, which was a big cultural experiment in certain deprived areas of the United Kingdom. So, it’s a really interesting story. So, there’s lots of possibility. I’ve definitely got plans for things that I’d like to explore myself. I’m really interested in whether we can use the Archive to envisage a future. So, can we look back and look at how people were imagining futures then, and what can we learn from that that we can bring forward into the future? I’m quite interested in that, and doing some work around that. And I always say to people, I’d love to do a project on the M8 and I say this all the time to people and some people roll their eyes, but actually maybe this is the moment for that. I would love to do a project looking at the M8 and the communities that are cited along the M8 and the footage that we’ve got about that story. I think it’s a really interesting focal point for lots of different reasons.

Niall Murphy

It is. It’s very fascinating. We talked to the Scottish Motorway Archives last year about that and that actually, and having been to some of their talks as well, completely changed my perception of the motorway. I’m still not a fan of it, but it was the whole thinking about how it was designed as this scenographic trip through the city and how they were lining up vistas on it. And they really thought through it in this very, as though it was a film. It was what you were seeing at speed as you drove through the city, and how they lined up things like the Park Circus Towers, how you went over the Clyde, all of it was actually quite carefully thought through. Still, it was pretty damaging to the city, but it was fascinating. And there was a recognition that you had to accommodate the car somehow, and that was the thinking of the day.

Emily Munro

Absolutely. We’ve got films that completely reflect that point of view. In my film, Living Proof, I took the opportunity to do a montage sequence, which starts with the Kingston Bridge and really tears apart a promotional film that was celebrating the opening of the Kingston Bridge, and interweaves pictures, footage of the demolition of the city at the same time. And there’s this very pompous music that was in the original footage, and it was great fun to play with, extremely cathartic, I have to say. Being able to tell those two viewpoints in one short sequence.

Niall Murphy

And intertwine them. It’s a great kind of unwinding of the city at the same time, that there’s this new vision of the city overlaid on top of it. It’s one of the things I really enjoy about Glasgow is, it’s not like Edinburgh where you got one city, then another city built next door to it, and Glasgow was super in position and layering up of different cities. So, you can appreciate, it’s how two very different visions of the city end up getting butt spliced together, actually it’s quite enjoyable.

Emily Munro

I agree, Niall. Actually, I really do. And I think what I admire about Glasgow is seeing the beauty in the everyday, and that unexpectedness. And in a way it’s a bit like the films in the Archive, because you’re getting these glimpses and it can be a bit frustrating at times, because it’s always a partial viewpoint and films, that’s exactly what it is. It’s always a partial viewpoint. You never get to linger long enough. It isn’t like a still photograph where you can really gaze upon something. And Glasgow as a city is a bit like that. It’s full of these wonderful, extraordinary, beautiful things, but up against some really ugly, brutal things. And it’s surprising and it’s frustrating, but that’s part of the appeal of the city, I suppose.

Niall Murphy

Very much. I suppose it makes me think of Christopher Isherwood when he talks about himself as I am a camera, when he is documenting Berlin, and that’s how he sees himself as this narrator. It’s the glimpses of the city, and then how it all stitches together to tell the story of the city at a point in time. And that’s really what’s fascinating about your Archive, is you’ve got all of these different kind of visions of what the city was like in particular moments. And it’s seeing all that together in one place is fascinating. Well, in conclusion then, this is the question we ask everybody and it’s completely loaded. So, lovely to hear this one from you. What is your favourite building in Glasgow, whether on film or not, and what would it tell you if its walls could talk?

Emily Munro

Niall, this kept me awake last night. There’s so many possibilities. The more I thought about it, the more confused I became. And maybe it’s just me, I don’t know, but it’s like if someone asks me as they often do, what’s your favourite film in the Archive? And I’m like, what? It’s like, well, for a start, I haven’t seen all the films in the Archive, but also are you talking about my favourite film this week? My favourite film today?

Niall Murphy

This is me to a tee. I can’t make the mind up because I’m like, oh, but I really like that one. And then, oh no, that meant I couldn’t choose this one then.

Emily Munro

Totally. So, today I love the ambition of some of the commercial buildings in Glasgow, and especially the Victorian obsession with light and glass. So, I’m going to choose Gardner’s Warehouse on Jamaica Street.

Niall Murphy

Good choice.

Emily Munro

It was built in 1855 to ’56 by John Baird, and is really unusual in that it’s got a cast iron structure inspired by London’s Crystal Palace.

Niall Murphy

That’s right.

Emily Munro

So, I think it’s that sense of a temple to trade, and I guess I just love the ambition of it and the story of how it was built. For someone who’s an environmentalist it’s perhaps bizarre that I’ve chosen what is probably one of the least energy efficient buildings you could conceive of. It’s metal and glass, but I always get pleasure when I look at that building.

Niall Murphy

It’s a lovely building, and it’s the predecessor to the skyscraper, so it’s the first applications of the technologies from the Crystal Palace in a commercial building in the world. So, it’s really important from that point of view. And it’s also on Jamaica Street, Union Street access. It’s a rare survivor, because we used to have dozens of them down that street, and they’re hardly any left now. And one of them is on, very sadly, is on the buildings at risk register just around the corner where Tower Records used to be, which is by the same design team, which is a great shame because it is, that’s a cracking wee building as well. And, of course, there’s still the Ca d’Oro, the House of Gold up on the corner, which is-

Emily Munro

I love the Ca d’Oro.

Niall Murphy

… fabulous. But, there were more. So, where that car park is, directly opposite Gardner’s Warehouse, there was a whole series of them there, and I think they were taken out in a fire in 1988. So, Henry-Russell Hitchcock, who’s the great American architectural historian of the 20th century, he regarded Glasgow’s collection of cast iron warehouses as up amongst the best in the world, an equivalent of New York and Chicago, and we’ve really lost so many of them and they’re actually really important. So, it’s fantastic that Gardner’s Warehouse still survives and is in fantastic shape as well. It’s really a beautiful building.

Emily Munro

It looks to be in great shape, and I’ve actually never been inside it.

Niall Murphy

Have you not?

Emily Munro

I’ve not.

Niall Murphy

Oh, you should go.

Emily Munro

There’s a business which I don’t need to name.

Niall Murphy

I hesitated there.

Emily Munro

So, it’s possible go in?

Niall Murphy

It still has its original lift inside it as well, which is, it’s one of the first Otis lifts I think, in Europe. So, it’s really important from that point of view as well. So, that’s why I went inside it. I don’t think I ever, it used to be Martin and Frost’s furniture shop, but I don’t think I ever went in then. So, there you go. But, great building, very good choice, and thank you very much, Emily. It’s been an absolute pleasure speaking to you.

Emily Munro

This has been great fun.

Niall Murphy

And I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.

Emily Munro

I certainly have. Thanks so much, Niall.

Niall Murphy

Thanks for sharing all your images. It’s really very fascinating. And it was quite poignant, look back in time to some of the things that we’ve lost, which are actually really special when you look at them now. It’s much appreciated.

Speaker 3

Glasgow City Heritage Trust is an independent charity and grant funder that promotes the understanding, appreciation, and conservation of Glasgow’s historic built environment. Do you want to know more? Have a look at our website at glasgowheritage.org.uk and follow us on social media @Glasgow Heritage. This podcast was produced by Inner Ear for Glasgow City Heritage Trust. The podcast is kindly sponsored by the National Trust fo

Student Bursaries

Photograph of Glasgow skyline at sunset

Applications are now open for Glasgow City Heritage Trust’s new bursary scheme for postgraduate students in relevant taught Masters programmes, who are undertaking dissertation research that focuses on any aspect of Glasgow’s historic built environment. The purpose of the bursaries is to engage with, and support, student research into the city’s built heritage.

There are four bursaries available, each for £750. The bursaries are awarded on a competitive basis. To be eligible students must be enrolled in a taught Master’s programme through an accredited university based in the UK and planning to complete their dissertation by the 1st September 2023.

Successful applicants will be asked to fill in an evaluation report within two months of completing their dissertation, detailing the process and findings of their dissertation and how the bursary helped with their research.

If you have questions about the scheme or whether your dissertation topic is applicable, please contact taylor@glasgowheritage.org.uk

Download an Application Form 

Applications are due by 17th April, 2023 

Please send completed application forms to taylor@glasgowheritage.org.uk

New Director Announcement

Glasgow City Heritage Trust are delighted to announce the appointment of Niall Murphy as the Trust’s new Director.

Originally from Hong Kong, Niall studied at the Mackintosh School of Architecture and practiced architecture in Edinburgh, Berlin and Hong Kong before settling in Glasgow. Having retrained as a conservation architect with conservation specialists Peter Drummond Architects, Niall joined the Trust as Grants Officer in 2016 and has been Deputy Director since mid 2017.

Niall is currently Chair of Govanhill Baths Building Preservation Trust. Previously, Niall was chair of Pollokshields Heritage, Planning Convener for Pollokshields Community Council and a member of the Glasgow Urban Design Panel. From 2016 – 2018 he was a member of the Development Management Working Group for the Scottish Government’s Planning Review.

Niall has won two Glasgow Doors Open Day Awards (in 2014 and 2017) on the strength of his walking tours, the Sir Robert Lorimer Award for his sketches (in 1996) and was nominated for the Scottish Civic Trust’s My Place Award for Civic Champion in 2015. Niall regularly lectures on architecture, heritage and urban design issues and hosts the Trust’s “If Glasgow’s Walls could Talk” podcast.

Glasgow City Heritage Trust Trustees said:

‘We are very fortunate to have Niall in this role and know he will be a sure foundation for progress at GCHT. Our congratulations to Niall!’

Niall Murphy, new Glasgow City Heritage Trust Director, said:

‘To take on the role of the Director of Glasgow City Heritage Trust is an honour. Glasgow is my adopted home and I feel a deep affection for the city and its citizens. My hope is that in some small way via this new role, I will leave Glasgow, and its superb built heritage, in a better condition than when I found it. I look forward to working with our talented team and Trustees to that end.’

Designer Brief: The Knight Map Exhibition

GCHT is inviting tenders for the design of our upcoming exhibition, which will showcase Glasgow’s historic built environment through the artist Will Knight’s recently completed map of the city.

Click here for the full design brief

Deadline: 10th March, 2023 at 9:00am

Enquiries and submissions should be made by email to: info@glasgowheritage.org.uk

Blog Post: 5 Institutional Changes to Improve Social Media Accessibility

Photo of a keyboard key which says Access and a symbol of an unlocked padlock

The key improvements to the accessibility of cultural heritage social media content are the implementation of best practices, appropriate language, and a digital communication policy, as well as an honest and inclusive approach to content creation. The implementation of best practices must be made routine within the organisation, a task which can be aided by the creation of a guidance document. Recommendations include putting out a call for D/deaf and visually impaired people to test social media content, as well as gaining their insights on language, terminology and inclusion.

There are many institutional changes which can enable the improvement of your organisation’s social media accessibility. The following suggestions have the potential to make your organisation and its content more friendly for D/deaf and visually impaired people.   

Photo of scrunched up balls of brightly coloured paper and a stack of post-it notes, with the word training written on the top post-it.
Image of a group of people looking at a tablet.
Photo of colourful speech and thought bubbles against a light blue background.
An image of someones hands on a laptop keyboard. They are typing. Coming off the keyboard and up into the air are the images for a 'like' on Facebook (a white thumbs up on a blue circle) and also for a like on Twitter (a white heart on a red circle).

1. Undertake Training

Taking part in training on subjects such as disability awareness, social media best practices, and writing successful alt text, can ensure that staff become more aware of accessibility issues when it comes to social media. This, in turn, enables the development of knowledge on the steps needed to make content more accessible and inclusive.  This training may take the form of paid workshops with external organisations such as VocalEyes. However, there are also numerous free resources available online which would allow all organisations to better understand accessibility best practices. AccessibilityNet, for example, has produced a webinar entitled “How To Do Accessible Social Media” which outlines best practices for Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Youtube.

2. Improve Transparency

To make content more accessible, cultural heritage organisations need to take an honest and transparent approach, highlighting what is currently being done to improve accessibility, and what current barriers D/deaf and visually impaired people may face when trying to view the organisation’s social media content. It is likely that honesty like this could better encourage D/deaf and visually impaired audiences to view cultural heritage social media content, knowing what practices have been put into place to ensure equal access.

3. Ensure Appropriate Language and Terminology

Getting your language and terminology right is extremely important as it can have an enormous impact on the experience D/deaf and visually impaired people have with an organisation. Using appropriate terminology can enable people to feel more comfortable and included within the organisation. This can be done by actively involving D/deaf and visually impaired people in conversations about the terminology used. This will ensure that organisations do not marginalise communities, nor cause offence to any group.

4. Develop Better Inclusion and Representation

Long term, organisations must better include D/deaf and visually impaired people in their practices, gaining a better understanding of their perspective, and lived experiences. This could be done by getting advice on issues such as terminology and language and getting feedback on the accessibility of the content being produced.

5. Develop a Digital Communications Policy/Strategy

Digital policies/strategies can provide useful guidance on issues of accessibility and inclusivity, raise awareness of successful digital approaches, and may improve the consistency of social media content. Digital strategy guidance and resources include the Digital Culture Network’s “Introduction to Digital Strategy” and Cogapp’s “Digital Strategy for Museums” guide.

Headshot of a smiling young woman with blonde hair. She is wearing a green woolly hat and a green turtleneck jumper. She is outside and you can see the sea behind her with a green hill to her right.

This guide was written by Eve Alderson. Eve completed her MSc Museum Studies at the University of Glasgow in 2021, writing her dissertation in collaboration with Glasgow City Heritage Trust. She currently works as a Philanthropy Executive at the National Railway Museum

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Glasgow Historic Environment: A Snapshot – 2019

Ever wondered which buildings in your neighbourhood are listed, or even on Scotland’s Buildings at Risk Register?

Our new interactive map shows data collated between February and April 2018 which gives a snapshot of the current state of Glasgow’s historic built environment.

Blog Post: Ghosts and Zombies

Read our latest blog post about our Ghost Signs of Glasgow project, pondering the nature of ghost signs and what they tell us about the urban landscape.

Enjoy Family Fun with our Kids Trails!

Download our Kid’s Heritage Trails!

Become a Friend of Glasgow City Heritage Trust

Each year, our events help over 2000 people to understand and appreciate Glasgow's irreplaceable built heritage. Can you help us to reach more people?

We are hugely grateful for the support of our Friends whose subscriptions help cover the costs of these events, thereby ensuring accessible pricing for everyone in Glasgow in these challenging times.

The easiest way to support the Trust’s work is to join our Friends scheme. Our tiered loyalty scheme means you can choose the level that’s right for you.

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Recording – Gizza Hoose: Post-War Housing Struggles in Glasgow from 1948 to Today

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Enjoy Family Fun with our Kids Trails!

Download our Kid’s Heritage Trails!

Online Talk: 19th Century Retail and the Rise of the Department Store

Wednesday 8th December 2021 | 7.30pm GMT | via Zoom

Focusing on architecture, window displays, and internal design, this talk will examine how Glasgow department stores, like their Parisian counterparts, became spaces not just of spectacle, but also of manipulation and disorientation.

The Map

“I feel like a bird soaring over the city when I gaze upon Sulman’s map, every nook and cranny with every detail so exact.

I can see where I came from and where I’m at.”

Become a Friend of Glasgow City Heritage Trust

Glasgow City Heritage Trust is an independent charity and your support is crucial to ensure that our charitable work promoting the understanding, appreciation and conservation of Glasgow’s historic buildings for the benefit of the city’s communities and its visitors continues now, and in the future.

The easiest way to support the Trust’s work is to join our loyalty scheme. Our tiered loyalty scheme means you can choose the level that’s right for you.

Support us

Like many other charities, the coronavirus outbreak is having a major impact on our activities, threatening our crucial work to protect, repair and celebrate Glasgow’s rich built heritage. As a result, we expect to lose an important part of our income this year.

We are therefore asking that if you are able to support our conservation and outreach work,
please consider donating to the Trust.

Blog Post: 5 Best Practices for Creating Accessible Social Media Content

Photo of a hand with a phone in front of a laptop; there are floating icons of different social media symbols coming out of the screen.
Photo of a woman in a yellow shirt smiling at her phone.
A birds eye look at a table with people sat around it. Two of them have on smart watches. On the table are some smart phones and tablets. Alongside there are logos from the major social media companies: LinkedIn, Facebook, WhatsApp, Snapchat, Instagram, and YouTube.
Pile of badges which feature various emoji faces on them.

Social media has the potential to enable a sense of connection for D/deaf and visually impaired people. For cultural heritage organisations, marketing and visibility are key advantages of social media. Social media platforms can therefore be leveraged in order to build connections with a more diverse audience, providing the space for conversation and dialogue with harder to reach audiences.

Accessibility should be a key consideration when creating social media content. There are many small changes that can be made to ensure that your posts are accessible to all that want to view them. The following best practices indicate some of the ways in which small actions can make a huge difference to the accessibility of your organisation’s content: 

1. Include Alternative Text

Alternative text, AKA alt-text, provides description of an image on posted on social media, allowing the image to be visualised by those who are not able to see it. A lack of alt-text is one of the biggest barriers to social media content for visually impaired users. Some platforms, such as Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, allow you to add alt-text to your posts within their post settings. Take a look at Tug Agency’s guidance for more information. 

2. Add Closed Captions and Transcripts

When posting video content, it is important to ensure that the audio is accessible to D/deaf people. Automated closed captions can be used, however, it’s also important to check that these are correct, as they may not always provide an accurate representation of what has been said. 

3. Consider Colour contrast 

If including images or infographics, you should make sure to consider colour contrast. The ideal colour contrast between text and background colour is 4:5:1, as is recommended by the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG). You can check this using WebAIM’s Contrast Checker. 

4. Use Camel Case Hashtags

When adding hashtags to social media posts, make sure to use CamelCase by capitalising the first letter of every word, e.g., #GlasgowCityHeritageTrust rather than #glasgowcityheritagetrust. By doing this, hashtags can be read out correctly by screen readers, making content more accessible to visually impaired social media users. 

5. Limit Emoji Use 

While emojis can be a good way of making posts fun and engaging, it’s important to make sure they are not overused. Text-to-speech software, a type of assistive technology which reads text aloud, will read out a description of every emoji you include. So, if you include four smiley faces at the end of a post, this will be read out as “smiley face, smiley face, smiley face, smiley face”, which can become quite frustrating. 

Headshot of a smiling young woman with blonde hair. She is wearing a green woolly hat and a green turtleneck jumper. She is outside and you can see the sea behind her with a green hill to her right.

This guide was written by Eve Alderson. Eve completed her MSc Museum Studies at the University of Glasgow in 2021, writing her dissertation in collaboration with Glasgow City Heritage Trust. She currently works as a Philanthropy Executive at the National Railway Museum.