Updated: Jul 27, 2022
Back in 1990 I ventured through to Glasgow. Being an "east coaster", it was a place I'd only venture to if there was a gig or party (for which there were a few) but it wasn't really a place I'd go to just wander the shops or eat out, but on this occasion I decided to take my SLR camera that I had at the time and see if I could get some decent photos.
Unlike these days, the city still had that 'industrial' feel to it, though it was enjoying it's status as City of Culture. Even so, a theme park didn't define a city and there was a lot of poverty around and the population which had consistently been on a decline had bottomed out and unemployment was high.
The UK prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, and the Conservative Party were hated in Scotland which was excacerbated with their attempts to trial the despised Poll Tax in Scotland leading to protests but only recognised once the people in London decided to protest. That was how little they cared about the Scots.
The Glaswegians, in particular, didn't hold back for their contempt for the UK government, which still holds today but the landscape has improved considerably, making it a pleasant place to visit as it has been reinvigorated with new architecture and landscaping (although the impact of Covid has left the shopping centres emptying faster than you can say Weegie).
But it was in this environment that I took the train through hoping I might get some interesting photos. With street photography, you're never sure what you might come across. It's the element of surprise that is half the fun, but if there is nothing of interest going on then at least you can take some interesting photos of the architecture (although I admit, photos of buildings isn't to everyone's taste but at least you're capturing a bit of social history). After all, we look at old photos from the last centuries and we are fascinated with how the streets looked. Who's to say a hundred years from now people will be just as curious to the landscape we currently walk in.
The Merchant City under restoration.
After exiting Glasgow Queen Street Station I headed across George Square and towards the Merchant City. Unlike today with it's hip cafes, pedestrianised streets and sand blasted buildings, it was in the midst of a restoration phase. Iron girders stopped buildings from collapsing and, like many cities, the black soot of the pre-80s still discoloured many structures.
I crossed over Argyll Street and headed towards the shore. I wasn't familiar with the city so I was just aimlessly following my gut. I had to be frugal with what photos I wanted to take as film was expensive for a student in my late 20s, unlike today when a DSLR will enable to to be snap happy and take as many photos as you want.
Over towards the barren industrial site I walked, where now stands a car park that adjoins the Pyramid at the St. Enoch Centre. High metal fencing surrounded the area and I followed Mart Street.
My initial sight was of two old ladies sitting in collapsable chairs, bin bags strewn around their feet while clutching some as if to ensure no-one else would get their hands on them. I looked along the street to see others with bric-a-brac lying on the pavement. I snapped some photos then took a closer look at what they had.
A lot of it was discarded rubbish that no-one else wanted or needed. Some things you'd maybe find in a charity shop these days but most of it was useless, or so I thought. I turned round the corner and stepped into a lane (which is now fenced off and inaccessible) to find people rummaging through piles of clothes and plastic bags. Sewage was literally running down the gutter.
I was gobsmacked! I couldn't believe people in the 20th century in Scotland were so impoverished that they were reduced to this. We watched images on tv of people in third world countries doing the same thing in landslips and here was the same thing happening. Old people and young trying to find something of use they could take home.
I felt guilty at taking photographs of these people in their plight but although I half expected someone to approach me and remonstrate or for things to get ugly, I captured the moment. As I said at the begining, you can never be sure what you might come across.
Poverty is still around us. It's maybe not as obvious as back then.
I left this area of desperation and headed towards the other end of the city passing the vaults under the railway bridge that still stand there today. Second hand goods for every requirement. Bath tubs and toilets on display should you need one.
A bathroom ready to be uplifted.
As I headed on, I looked back to see the people still milling around, then up above the vaults, in large letters I noticed the call to arms. "Pay No Poll Tax Demo", "Get Militant". Damn right. Fuck the Tories. Since the Poll Tax was all about property, the irony wasn't lost that the sign next to it offered the chance to get 20% of your house insurance.
Finally I was in Scott Street. I had just left a filmset over by Cadogan Street (which I'll post at a later date) and was slowly making my way back to the station. I was around Scott Street which runs on a steep slope. Some kids were playing on a mound of gravel that was being used for roadworks.
It's funny how kids can make use of anything to have a bit of fun and here they were running up and down this mound, the girl dressed in what looked like new clothes. I thought her mother would give her a good telling when she got home if her clothes were in a state. Anyway I asked if I could take a photo of her. She seemed surprised but she acquiesced to my request and did what most kids do: stand straight with their hands by their side as if to attention.
All this dirt and gravel and she looked shiny new!
Girl on the Hill
I'd taken my last photo for the day and was ready to head back east. It had turned out to be an eventful day and nothing like what I expected.
If you want to view more of my photos from this day, nip over to the Black and White section of the site where some are available to buy.