Thursday, November 12, 2020

From the outside looking in

Back in April 2017, I was in little doubt as to the highlight of the Strange And Familiar photo exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery: Raymond Depardon's pictures of Glasgow, shot in 1980. It's incredible to look at the images now and consider that they remained in obscurity for more than 35 years, finally (and deservedly) displayed and published in 2016.

Talking at a recent University of Glasgow event, Depardon revealed that it was the strange rather than the familiar that drew him to his subject matter, the most impoverished areas of the city: "I found everything exotic." Indeed, he attributes the quality of the pictures to the fact that he was a "Martian" exploring an alien landscape populated by people whose language he couldn't understand.

The naturalistic and unflattering nature of the images troubles some Glaswegians, apparently, particularly given that they're the work of an outsider - but others appreciate the way Depardon was able to capture "a city that has disappeared". Ian Jack, the Sunday Times journalist who initially acted as the photographer's guide, has since written of the pictures' "unforgiving bleakness" - but, as I noted in my review of Strange And Familiar, Depardon is in fact a master of incorporating glimpses of colour amid the gloom, which gives the images a spark of life, humanity and hope.

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