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Glasgow, then and now – Alan Dimmick’s compelling street display curated by Martin Gray

Captivating black and white images displayed on poster sites across Glasgow attest the seemingly endless inquisitiveness of Alan Dimmick.

He is renowned for documenting the city’s richly diverse visual arts and music scene for many years. The access he was granted by artists and bands and the inventive images arising from those opportunities vouch for the trust and respect Dimmick’s subjects have for the photographer.

Likewise, portraits featured in the current street display – Two Sisters, Woodlands (1981), Mr Wong, Woodlands (1982), Family with Baby, Woodlands (1981) – suggest a deeply humane and empathic connection. Dimmick’s depictions of Glasgow’s communities explore vivid aesthetics, cultural diversity, as well as a sociological and psychological fascination. They deftly achieve what photography and art historian John Tagg has described as ‘both the description of an individual and the inscription of social identity.’

There’s an intriguing aspect to this 2022 archival art trail across the city in that the contemporary display sites either feature in Dimmick’s original photograph or are close by to where he took the pictures. Tying together the past and the present, the displays were celebrated by art walks with the photographer, reflecting on his images and practice in-situ. By means of that comparison we’re able to witness the urban environment in a state of variously paced but constant change. The image 1 White Street, Glasgow (1996) is a subtly textural and tonal composition of an otherwise unprepossessing corner of the city. Its only ‘remarkable’ feature is the hand-painted lightning strike on a street-level dummy window. Nowadays the same building is a garish purple and orange estate agents with a lurid commercial notice where the graffiti bolt used to be.


Words by Adrian Burnham

Dimmick’s street photography employs several approaches associated with the genre. The wispy flora and shadowed gable end in Corunna Street, Finnieston (1997) brings to mind Eugène Atget’s enigmatic pictures of old Paris. Byres Road at Ruthven Lane (1984) is a street-level image that presents Glasgow’s amorphous human presence, here Dimmick is testing the borders of our visual and mental awareness. The aerial shot titled Partick Cross (1984) observes the city in yet another register. This curious composition featuring a blurred tree at its centre invites us to peer past the foliage and dwell on material features of the city: its asphalt and cobbled road surface dotted with cat’s eyes, the tangle of railings, the cars, food trailer and caravan, the cigarette advert and dark store fronts. With no central focus our gaze wanders over the scene in all directions. Tiny figures accentuate the somewhat desolate atmosphere.

Two photographs dating from the same year: Partick Cross (1979) and M8 Motorway, Charing Cross (1979) splendidly contrast ‘times gone by’ with what was once presumably a ‘brave new future’. In the first image the frame is almost completely dominated by a crumbling building façade and dilapidated commercial signage. The second features a dynamic view of the M8 underpass with its fluid markings, lariat guard rail, towering lighting poles and distant high-rises puncturing a vast sky. A counterpoint to cityscapes devoid of human presence is an affectingly intimate shot of Alasdair and Betsy Gray larking about outside her jewellery shop in Dowanside Lane, 1985. This introduces yet another mode of picture-making: Dimmick seems perpetually ready to take advantage of candid moments but often there’s much more to it than simply a serendipitous capture. In this case it’s the trompe l’oeil door ajar with a cat peeping out that affords a shade of magic.

In short, BUILDHOLLYWOOD is proud to support this remarkable archive celebrating Glasgow’s people and places, its fleeting moments and shifting moods. Viewing photographs from decades past on the streets today we’re reminded not just how attuned Dimmick is to both patiently composed and split-second picture making opportunities but also the vicissitudes of time passing. No single image can possibly convey everything there is to know about a city and its inhabitants but this public exhibition of select pictures – a fraction of Dimmick’s stunning body of work – succeeds in giving us a fabulous insight into Scotland’s largest city and its extraordinarily diverse populace.

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