The Gestation of an Elephant

an elephant

Sadly this isn’t a blog to announce the birth of an elephant, rather an Alan Patridge inflected opening gambit. But who wouldn’t want to make such an announcement? Apparently a baby elephant or calf is carried in utero for 18-22 months, which coincidently is around the same time it takes me to clock that my blog is looking sad and untended. You may have noticed a lot has happened in that time but I won’t mention any of that ephemera – pandemics, brexit, etc – as this blog is about me, me, me. Or rather the bits of me that aren’t tending to various corporeal functions, sleeping, eating etc ie the products of my labour.

Please stop here if you are triggered by self-aggrandising, boasting and general self promoting nonsense. If you choose to continue please mindful that this post omits negative life experiences, financial struggles, ailments etc in the interests of projecting productive and creative engagement across multiple art forms with the aim of securing further projects.

Reclaiming the shed
Reclaiming the shed

Like you I left the normal, prepandemic, world just at the point that Alasdair Gray physically departed this plane of existence (not that he would have had much truck with anything that smacked of new age, although I’m guessing, neither would he have been so conceited as to say he had all the answers). Thats an aside but if you are a freelancer the pandemic would have had a special kind of terror in that you will have perceived no possible way in which you could generate an income, but it turns out, for me anyway, it was all ok. Phew. I even discovered things right under my nose that I didn’t even really know I had – like a shed. I did know I had a shed obvs, but I didn’t know I could change my mobile plan so that it worked for wifi and hey ho I had an office, of sorts. A leaky office, but an office non the less.

I was fortunate that I had a couple of big projects to occupy myself. A time capsule for Paisley Town Hall – for which I was the only applicant! The idea for the project started out as a book with various chapters which would accommodate different voices (the Gray afficinado’s will note a direct steal (homage to) in the video above). Although the chapter idea remained I hit on the idea of a scroll on a bobbin, which tied into the idea of the townhall being built on the site of the first bobbin’s production – a huge big deal which laid the groundwork for the sewing machine and from this (stick with me here) cinema (google “intermittent mechanism” if that sounds a bit tenuous).

The Provost clasps Time capsule whilst being photographed for the paper

I also was a beneficiary of a VACMA development grant, organised by the wonderful Kate Drummond (sadly now departed from Renfrewshire for pastures new), of which there were many applicants. The grant was not a lot of money and mainly to travel and research a proposed installation around children’s tv in the 70’s. Although I couldn’t travel (I was in discussion with Yoffy of Fingerbobs fame who was going to be visiting family in London) I could do research and shoot some sequences and even order some materials to start playing around with a finger bob or two. Being high minded of course the project wasn’t (isn’t) so much about children’t tv but about nostalgia and the context which produced children’s tv: industrial relations in the early 70’s, the rise of attachment theory, perceptions of audiences and class from within the “Institutional State Apparatus”. Hell to clarify my understanding of the Institutional State Apparatus, I even bought a book about Althusser although I struggled to read it.

Insidious machinations controlled by the capitalist ruling ideology in the context of a class struggle to repress, exploit, extort and subjugate the ruled class, nb not to be confused with the Repressive State Institutions

Although this project is in limbo (a less comforting notion from my childhood than finger bobs) it did rekindle an interest in showing films in odd places. This rather usefully tied into to another big project I have recently completed called Sightlines.

Sightlines was a response to a call for outdoor commissions sent out by Renfrewshire Leisure. The brief was for events/artworks that would be part of a proposed Cycle Arts Festival (a little aside here, the cycle arts festival was my idea…about 3 years ago at a visioning event in Johnstone Town Hall). Like everyone in lockdown I had been wandering further afield and without particular purpose. On one occasion I did go for a walk specifically to find an ice house that I knew existed but had little idea of where it was. I found it, along with an ornamental cave which had had various functions attributed to it. On seeing it I realised that this would be a perfect place for a film installation.

So when the call for outdoor commissions came up I saw there was perfect synchronicity around an idea based on peoples experience of gardening in the pandemic, and perhaps more importantly the history of Parkhill Woods, the gardens designed by a self styled Colonel McDowall.

McDowell was an apprentice overseer on a plantation in the West Indies and went onto become one of the richest commoners in scotland. He generated his income from enslaving people, a fact that couldn’t be avoided in any project that looks to think about how this dreadful legacy still shapes our environment. I won’t preempt the content of the film, but clearly this made for powerful material to shape into something that reflected on, amongst other things, the nature of trauma, the trauma of nature and lots of other things besides.

Alongside grappling with the content of the film and form of it’s delivery there were a number of not insignificant technical hurdles to overcome as well as some environmental concerns including a couple of bat surveys to ensure the work wouldn’t encroach on their habitat. Fortunately there is a local batman, Davy Whyte who turned up with his son Robin, to certify that it was not a bat cave. There was also the issue of what technology would allow for a projection to run for over four hours off grid. After much quizzing of many people and research into potential back projection materials I hit upon hardware solutions which were incredibly expensive and crucially, hinged on a hand mirror for £2 sourced from the local charity shop.

I’ve screened Sightlines twice now with support from Muriel Ann Macleod from Renfrewshire Leisure. I’ve also been there for all the screenings and have got a lot from the feedback of visitors. These have ranged from the unexpectedly hostile – one person was very agitated and concerned that Lochwinnoch would be subject to Black Lives Matter protests; to the visceral – one of the last viewers was overcome with emotion and started weeping. I think over the 5 days it was shown there was near enough 200 visitors to the event which surprised me as it is a good 30 minute walk to the site from the nearest car park.

As well as doing these projects I have still managed to keep a foothold in participative and education type work. Stop/Start was my first taste of running animation workshops online. This was a workshop over six weeks with young people from PACE, organised by Remode and funded by Paisley’s Sma’ Shot Festival. As well as working with me on the visuals, another group worked with two local musicians to create a soundtrack. I was highly sceptical of how the project would run initially when it was proposed in March 2020 at the beginning of lockdown. I needn’t have worried, the project was a big success and went onto win best animation and best film in the U18’s section at the Scottish Youth Film Festival that year. I’ve recently started working with The National Deaf Children’s Society on remote workshops, although we’re hopeful we can take the workshops in person in the autumn.

I also went back into education myself, on Queen Margaret University’s and Screen Scotland’s course in Professional Practice in Film Education. This was a catapulting back into a world of film theory that was at once familiar yet startling different. The course was a mix of teachers delivering media studies and filmmakers who find themselves delivering education work. It was challenging on a number of fronts, not least the sometimes 4 hour long lectures and seminars delivered on a Saturday morning on zoom (the best thing I can say about zoom is that it’s not teams). Anyway, and I’m still figuring out how to drop this into casual conversation, to complete the course I had to deliver a lesson plan for a 20 hour project and a reflective essay, for which I received a mark of 80%. An MA level essay, 80%! Following on from an undergrad course where I barely scrapped 60% on essays I was blown away, especially with the nice comments I received about the work: “This is a brilliant bit of work. It really gets to the heart of what reflective writing should be about: honest, thoughtful and critical in the right ways.” I also managed to jimmy in an Althusser joke.

There have been lots of other ventures over the past 18 months, sadly none involving elephants. I developed on an online seminar for The Renfrewshire Mental Health Arts festival alongside the Paisley chapter of U3A, The University of Southhampton and Richard Weeks of Renfrewshire Leisure, who I’d previously worked with on a project around home movies (this exists as a fragmentary feature length film which I suspect will never see the light of day nor the darkness of a screening). The University of Southhampton has a department of nostalgia, rather like something from a novel by one of my favourite writers Ismail Kadare, and Professor Tim Wildschut gave an excellent intro to this.

Finally I should also mention that I managed to do some in person work in the form of workshops in Gigha Primary School, wherein I had a couple of days off the mainland and helped the whole school (all ten of them) make a series of little films that hopefully sparked some interest in filmmaking. Courtesy of the Gigha island trust they also have some tech to help them make the most of their iPads.

Oh and if you’ve got this far…at the beginning of lockdown a number or projects came to a close.

…and I also done some stuff for free..just to keep my hand in etc

And as a final final, I’ve also started making a longer film….which hopefully etc etc

Thats enough about me, me, me! Until 2023 etc etc….

A brief description of how I came to work with Alasdair Gray and how it was brought to some kind of conclusion

The GFT hosted a screening of my film about Alasdair Gray on Saturday 22nd February, and I was asked to do a short introduction to this. It was a lovely event, and I was pleased to see so many people and for the film to be experienced with such warmth. I thought for those that didn’t make the event it might be of some interest to read how the film came about and how it finally came to a conclusion. I ad libbed a bit and dropped some bits but these are the notes I worked from.

Thanks for coming along today. It still seems strange that Alasdair has died – he’d survived so many illnesses over the latter part of his life I don’t think anyone was expecting it. Since his death it’s been a revelation to see work that I didn’t know about – such as the prints at the print studio and also last week getting a tantalizing glimpse of his notebooks spanning his whole life when I was taking some video of his flat before it’s sold. It’s all reminded me that the film you are about to see is a partial account albeit one that his friends and family have told me captures the Alasdair they knew, who could be by turn exasperating as well as fascinating and charming.

SO this is not a eulogy – just a brief description of how I started working with Alasdair, and my own hazy recollections on why it went on for so long!


I started working with Alasdair in about 1997, when he recorded the voice over for a short film that I made. It set a precedent in that, although the film is only 5 minutes long, it took about 2 years to make – mainly because of a bout of ill health, during which, via a local library, I worked my way through Alasdair’s books. So I asked him as a fan but more than that as a fan of his voice.


Not being a west ender, getting to Alasdair was rather involved in the days before internet and mobile phones, this was done through my wife Gillian Steel who had known Alasdair’s friend the painter Carol Rhodes through their mutual work at the free university.


On the morning of the recording I was incredibly nervous and vomited before leaving the house. I needn’t have been quite so anxious: Alasdair was accommodating and chatty and I told him about some of the other projects that I had been involved with before becoming unwell. These included an hour long film about RD laing and a short film for canal plus in France. He said that we would like to see them but that he didn’t own a tv, let alone a video player.


When the film was finished Alasdair came over to my flat in the east end on the Gallowgate. He was very late and by way of an apology he brought a bottle of whisky and a large stuffed Winnie the pooh (not for me, but for my daughter Rosa who was then six weeks old). We watched a few more of my films and he roared with laughter that I had misspelt his name – a common occurrence he said. Anyway, I think Alasdair must have felt at this point that I had passed some kind of test as shortly after this I received a very nice letter praising one short film I had made in particular and adding something like I would surely go onto great things….which was news to me because at that precise moment I was making weather maps part time for the regional pages of teletext!


Then in 2000 Alasdair sent me a hand written page about an idea for me to film his mural work. Ken Neil, then head of Arts at STV, had seen the short I had made featuring Alasdair’s voice and on being approached with the idea commissioned it for Artery, an STV series of 30 minutes with tiny budgets but lots of freedom for filmmakers. As a twist to all this Alasdair decided that he wouldn’t be in it as a talking head, which morphed into that he wouldn’t be seen in it at all…a not insignificant complication – the programme after all was mainly about one wall in a west end flat – myself and Gillian Steel filmed the sequences of him working on a wind up 16mm camera as a playful response to Alasdair’s challenge of not appearing in it. It was at this time I thought there could be a longer film in this that might at a push be filmed over a couple of years. It was also around this time that I consciously stopped reading Alasdair’s books as I wanted to find him for myself as a filmmaker rather than as a fan of his books.


After this Alasdair would call when he was thinking about starting a new mural refurbishment. I enjoyed hanging out with him and would fit this around other projects. Despite the enthusiasm for having his work documented there was always a bit of difficulty and grumpiness when it came to the bit of  doing anything like a formal on camera interview. Of course I can’t complain: his head was awash with all kinds of information, and could happily expound on the various schisms of the 19th century church of Scotland or anecdotes about the filmmaker Bill Douglas in a manner that would make any line of questioning banal by comparison. I did however feel an irk of hurt pride when sometimes referred to me as his videographer.


The second tv commission was 0-70 for the BBC. I really didn’t think that was going to happen as I had received very negative feedback from the executive producer about the more experimental work that had been the result of the mural refurbishment in Palacerigg.  So how it came about that I was sitting in the canteen discussing the project in Queen Margaret Drive was really down to Graham Macrae Burnett, then a development researcher and John Archer producer at Hopscotch and former head of Arts at BBC Scotland. So with my access to Alasdair it was agreed that I would make a film to celebrate Alasdair’s 70th birthday and that the film would reflect Alasdair’s experimental approach to his own work.


A key part of this film was the huge work at Oran mor – despite my at that point terrible vertigo. Alongside this there was footage shot by Neville Kidd. This was also when we shot the sequences when Alasdair interviews himself– it’s fair to say that Alasdair was not immediately taken with the idea feeling it to be a bit gimmicy, and we weren’t sure if he would do it even up to the day before we were schedualed to do it. Although Alasdair liked the idea of performing, I don’t think he liked being thought of as a performer. Anyway he did it, emerging from his bedroom clean shaven and suited, every bit the model of an establishment critic. Even with the recent screening of the film on BBC Scotland people asked me who the interviewer was.



I still somewhere had the idea of doing something longer and this was something Alasdair was keen on, although I think we had quite different notions of what that longer thing would be like. I think Alasdair’s favourite sequence of a film about him would probably be from Under the Helmet which has an extended sequence of images from one of his big church murals set to handels messiah. Which was probably my least favourite bit of the film.


I realized I needed to bring this to a close, or Alasdair might out live me. John Archer at Hopscotch offered to support a rough cut and support some final bits of filming: Alasdair on Start the Week on Radio 4 as well as performance of the play Fleck in Oran Mor. I should thank John with sticking with the project and supporting it when there wasn’t actual institutional support. Also for suggesting Scott Twynholm as the composer for the film who added a whole new dimension to the film by using Alasdair’s voice as a sample on the soundtrack.


Anyway a rough cut of the film was sent to Allan Hunter at The Glasgow Film Festival 2013 principally to get some feedback, they suggested screening it as a work in progress. I did another cut for the Dunnon film festival, and finally it was premiered as a complete thing in September at Sheffield.


I should add that having shot the film on numerous formats and cameras, the final stages of the editing where absolute torture –the film drifted in and out of synch in new and unexpected ways with each attempt to do a final mix on the sound. John Cobban who did the final mix was super human in his patience!




I should leave the last word to Alasdair…in an email dated Monday 7th October 2013…I should add that he followed this up with a further email of around 800 words of notes on the film on how it could be “improved” which was Alasdair’s way of saying completely changed!….he told me what he would say at a planned screening, I won’t do Alasdair’s voice “I will mention the many things I like in Kevin Cameron’s documentary later, but state my main criticism now:- A Life in Progress shows far too much of Alasdair Gray the fat old endearing slob and far too little of his work, which is why he exists…………………………………….

That time of year when I get anxious about work and write a blog…

So at this rate I will never be a blogger, however it’s becoming increasingly likely I will be one of those elderly relations that inserts round robin christmas updates their cards that will cause mass outbreaks of eye rolling.

Anyway please gather round as I recount the tale of what came to pass in the period following my trip to New York.

It’s been a bit of a difficult time as my mother was living with a diagnosis of lung cancer that finally ended her life on December 4th 2018. It was an intense time, myself, my siblings and my Dad were able, with the support of the NHS staff and carers, to look after her at home as she wished. I’m not sure if this is the kind of thing I should put in a blog that is ostensibly about my professional life but being a freelancer and working from home the lines are often blurred at the best of times. Fortunately I was able to wind things up for a period as I tried to reorientate myself in this new landscape, a process to be fair I’m still struggling with. Being able to spend time caring for her at the end has helped with this.

Sometimes during this period I even managed to get a bit of work done. I made a short film on Paisley’s Town Hall which my mum even had some helpful comments on!


Into the New Year and I found myself working on a series of films with primary school pupils and students from UWS’ computer animation course for ReMode’s fashion show. We took a different tack with these films, Gillian, ReMode’s creative director had some definate scripts that she wanted to see realised as short animations – using for example the famous speech of Greta Thunberg and the words of  Silent Spring author Rachel Carson. This approach proved to be highly impactful when they were launched at the ReMode fashion show in March.


After Easter I completed a couple of transition projects in West Dumbartonshire and Renfrewshire. The former, Step Up, has been a long running documentation project for three years that followed  young people identified as struggling with maths as they moved through upper primary into first year. The latter Pizza Learning had similar aims but was more focussed on involving the wider family in the learning process. It perhaps goes without saying what an enormous privilege it is to watch these innovative and highly successful projects evolve. This was a point that was underlined for me at the launch of the Pizza Learning film in Johnstone town hall where some of the parents were visibly moved by being featured in the film. I even got a personalised round of applause! I hope both these films go some way to advocating for more holistic and creative ways of working with young people in schools and engaging parents.

Alongside these projects I was fortunate to be called into Loudon Academy in East Ayrshire by their Cultural Coordinator Joe Gallagher, to devise a three week project with the art department. In this project first year pupils went from building large scale sets out of cardboard then used them as backdrops for animation. The films were all made on iPads and edited by the young people in iMovie and they were as inventive as they were funny!

Finally another advocacy project was brought to a conclusion – the ten animations for Education Scotland’s Creativity Portal. This is a series of ten films that look at different aspects of creativity in education. I worked on this with my brother Paul Cameron and partner Gillian Steel, so a real family enterprise. For this project we worked closely with Stephen Bullock, Education Scotland’s Creativity Officer, who devised and voiced the scripts.


Oh sorry that wasn’t finally…throughout all this, from August last year, I’ve been working on a participative short film about post war diy clothing. The project moved around different groups with older people being interviewed from ROAR, University of the Third Age and the Paisley Patchers. Young people from Barnardo’s and Project Z in the Tannahill Centre contributed sequences of animation. Some archive was kindly donated by Paisley’s very own Falconer Houston, who you can read about in a previous blog. The film is being screened as a bit of a taster at Sma’ Shot Day on the 7th July in a pop up gallery before it gets its official premier later in the year. It was a curious process making the film as I recalled my own mother’s making clothes for my sister in the 70’s.

Here’s a pic of my mum from way back when we were stationed in Singapore in the 70s. She’s the one sticking her tongue out in a dress that I could well believe she made herself, img_1071.jpeg 

New York, so good they named it the site of the Fourth International Teacher Artist Conference

IMG_0688Its been over a week since we’ve been back from, er, “performing” in New York’s Carnegie Hall at ITAC4 with our presentation “A School of One’s Own” (with artist Gillian Steel). Before I have a go at describing what we did I’m going to describe some of the events I attended and some of the thoughts I came to.

First off something I didn’t attend. Unfortunately, due to some technical issues, I watched the introduction and first key note speechs online on my return to Scotland. Which was a bit of a shame (insert emoji sad face). There was lots of information about the ITAC collaborative project, the beginnings of an online timeline of participatory arts, as well as some interesting insights into the situation in the States.  Perhaps due to the lack of public funding and different political context participatory arts has come to occupy a space that is nearer to activism than I think is the case in Scotland. The key note speech around Amplifier.Org is a case in point: developing out of the Dakota Access Pipeline Protests and protests against Trump, it has created a platform for disseminating protest materials. Whilst not doubting the sincerity of those involved, I had some misgivings about this as an example of Teaching Artistry or indeed as a model of activism. You can see the ITAC4 videos here. You can also see an introduction to the conference by our own Joan Parr of Creative Scotland as well as Eric Booth, the key instigator of the term “Teacher-Artist” (a term I first came across in 2011 and wrote about here).

So the first session I attended was “Story Activism: Facilitating Emphatic Creative Collaboration Through Visual Storytelling” with Chitra Chandrashekhar, which was an interesting take on graphic storytelling. What was exciting about this presentation was the creation of  something open-ended yet still engaging and beautiful to look at (see below). From a basic story that began in Hindu mythology, new stories were being generated that spoke to current concerns and diverse audiences. Chitra used a variety of techniques and worked with a cross section of participants, many of whom wouldn’t normally engage with this kind of work. I sensed in this context we were quite a difficult audience and Chitra’s self effacing demeanour wasn’t entirely at ease with giving us the initial direction to get us started. As my first breakout session it was quite clear how many different takes there are on idea of the teacher artist and what the essential qualities of collaborative practice might be and where perhaps different peoples comfort zones were at odds.

My next session was “the Art of Playing” which was to take me quite a bit outside my comfort zone (this was in fact a bit of an ongoing issue for myself as many of teacher artists came from a performance background in dance and drama). So my initial particular boundary to be challenged in this instance was in dance where we were invited to form a circle and move around making eye contact with different people. The speaker Victor Martinez was from Columbia and showed us some of the techniques he had used with indigenous groups for whom eye contact is something of a taboo, particularly along gender lines.  An American person in the audience, who was originally from Finland, questioned Victor on this approach to “shyness”, when often times this could be seen as something of a defining cultural characteristic of some groups. It sparked an interesting debate and I took away some ideas of how you might break the ice with a group who didn’t know each other.

The day ended with a poetry performance by Lemon Anderson which was informed by his experience as an orphan of a family overtaken by Aids and Heroin addiction. It was a great to hear the rhythms and language of New York’s streets against a backdrop of the skyline that imposes through the double height windows of the Weiss Music Room. It was the first time to hear issues of social justice explicitly and unapologeticly  articulated at the conference (doh! you missed the keynote speakers) and amusing to hear people click their fingers in appreciation, in a tradition, I was informed, that had initially started with the beatniks as a way of showing appreciation without the disruption of applause.

The morning of Day 2 of the conference was taken up with a visit to the Lincoln Centre that was a hop across a road from our accomodation in the Empire Hotel. We were here for a presentation of Aesthetic Experiences and Social Imagination with Lincoln Centre Education. To begin with we were split into groups and taken into spaces to do workshops prior to the performance. The presentation looked at images from race riots and took us on a journey to where by the end of it there were a couple of songs written. From here we were led into the auditorium for a performance of “Soundtrack ’63” billed as “a live, multimedia musical performance and retrospective of the African-American experience in America”. As you might imagine it was by turns shocking and intense, shaped by live music   from an 18 piece orchestra that alternated between dissonance and harmony to tell a parallel story of richness of African-American music. To be honest I was surprised of how much of the story was unfamiliar to me.

In a reflection session following the performance we returned to our groups and had an opportunity to discuss what we felt about what we had seen. The event was interesting to me, having never been in a forum where I had to think about my self as white (having been brought up and living in what is a fairly monocultural environment). It was a shame that we didn’t have much time to extend the conversation as the session only lasted for about 15 minutes. Again this experience at the Lincoln Education underlined how broad the understanding of what the role of a teacher artist might be, with this, for me, sitting more in the teacher role or the wider education remit that museums and publicly funded theatres might deliver.

For the afternoon I was back at the Carnegie Hall (not I sentence I ever imagined having to write) with the keynote speech of Marc Bamuthi Joseph, activist and spoken word artist. In a powerful yet intimate address, Marc offered a series of challenges –  for instance who would we be if we spent even 1% of the pentagon’s budget on a department of inspiration? This was a fantastic and wide ranging speech which retained its power when screened in front of a sharing the learning event in the Lighthouse back in Glasgow recently (at which it was very nice to see so many of the Scottish participants from the conference at). You can see the film of the talk here at around the 4 hour 38 minute mark.

Following this talk I was booked onto a  session with  indigenous Australian artist and Tony Albert and Educator Charlotte Calleguillos on their project Solid Ground. In some ways this was a much more conventional presentation of Power Point and Q and A. The model that they had used was one of artists in residence in schools and was interesting for the lack of demands made on the artists in terms of how they engaged. The key point was to have practicing indigenous artists visible within schools and encourage more young people from the same heritage to consider working in the arts as a viable career option. Their approach was long range and spoke of the tenacity and commitment needed to make this kind of work. Albert described how his particular residency developed culminating in the production of a beautiful hard backed book which celebrated Gadigal Country. I am ashamed to say, despite having studied Australian cinema, that I didn’t realise that Indigenous peoples aren’t one nation in Australia but over 240. I also ashamed to say that though I got the book I failed to be one the few that got the matching tote bag.

Into the next session and a whole other continent. Christiana Deliewan Afrikaner, was from Namibia and described a project with radically different aims any I come across in Scotland. Effectively it was looking to utilise existing dance movements to create cultural experiences for tourists in return for cash. The central theme was to empower young people from a marginal community in Namibia. Again I was struck by the diversity of approaches of Teacher Artists from around the globe, and how their emphasis changed in reference to Art, Teaching and how they engage with communities as well as the needs on the ground.

After a performance by Urban Bush Women, we made our way across town to Brooklyn and a “live podcast party and dine around”. The concerns here, though touching on those of Namibia, seemed a million miles away and very keyed into the identity politics of which pronouns to address individuals by (in a number of sessions people had added these to their name badges, as in he/him, he/she, them/they). What was striking in amongst this was that though there were many references to ethnicity and gender, there was very little discussion of the ideas around class, which seemed a bit incongruous for a conference based around the idea of social justice. I would say that in the uk all of these discussions would be a hedged around an idea of not appearing to be too worthy, or perhaps might be suffused with a self consciousness around this. But that might just be me.

The mornings key note on the last day of the conference was by Liz Lerman, a choreographer, writer and speaker (amongst other things). Inspiring, she garnered lots of finger clicking and left us with numerous tantalising ideas..7 kinds of wealth…changing the hierarchy of arts practices….

With lots to mull over  I went along to do some stitching at the collaborative flag making project.

My next breakout, Creative Environments at the Heart of New Learning, again focussed on work being done in the Southern Hemisphere. Ines Sanguinetti’s session was mainly focussed on some of the techniques they used in the challenging settings of Argentinian slums as part of the organisation Crear vale la pena. Again my comfort zone was invaded by the request to join in the dance, hold hands and other practices alien and bizarre to the inhabitants of the west coast of scotland. We were also asked to think through pictures of how we might breakdown the borders of science and art. It occurred to me during this session that I wasn’t so much participating, as thinking about it as a model of participation which kind of got in the way of participating….

I was much more comfortable in the next session that I went to: “Activating Artisty in Schools: A Global Conversation”. There was a presentation from two academics from Australia alongside one from Think Arts of Mumbai. There were lots of interesting questions raised about risk and what young people stand to gain from this kind of work. There were also a lot of healthy links to stuff that was already happening in Scotland such as Room 13. For me there were lots of questions around how you stop things becoming institutional and how an element of jeopardy can enliven arts practice in schools.

With that it was the closing plenary of the Conference. There was lots to take in, lots to reflect on about Teaching Artistry in Scotland. Being exposed to people with a very different view on what their work was, was refreshing and challenging. It was kind of heartening that in some ways, and this will sound conceited, but Scotland is ahead of the game in terms on artists working in schools for instance, and was often cited as a model of good practice.

Anyway back to the beginning and our own workshop. Having applied for the spot at ITAC4, not really thinking we would get it, it was possible to think big and then when we got it how to rescale it as it became apparent that we couldn’t fit what we had originally planned into the allotted time or space. So we developed the initial ideas as new information came in from ITAC4 and tried not to get too nervous. As it was we needn’t have bothered with the nerves: the participants were all wonderful and enthusiastic, sometimes a bit too enthusiastic for my liking in the moment – really must you wheel the thousands of dollars worth of piano out from the wall? Must you tie it in string? The answer was yes and it was an illustration of one of Michael Booths central tenants of “creative restraints”. It all made sense. Our breakout session was called “A School of One’s Own” and the idea was to think with our hands to reimagine what an effective learning space might look like. The session was broken into three segments interrupted by the school bell, a sneak preview of relevant films from our forthcoming series with Education Scotland and some new questions for participants to build into their designs. What resulted from this was fascinating and spoke volumes about where participants came from and where they hoped to be going. Lots of the designs featured swimming areas, one even had a fire. Working with recycled cardboard and string alongside more traditional materials freed participants from performance anxiety around drawing and craft skills. Hopefully from the images you will see what an amazingly creative space erupted into being. Here’s a short video of the session too. Apologies for the sound – I did it all on a trusty dslr and didn’t think to pack a mic.


















What’s Another Year

Which is an unfortunate title as I felt compelled to google the fate of Johnny Logan, winner of the eurovision in 1980. On the plus side he is still around and well enough to edit his own wikipedia entry.

Actually that should read, whats another 16months or so. That probably wouldn’t have done Johnny Logan any good. And doesn’t scan.

Big news is I won a prize. Well the film about Alasdair won a prize. Best film in Scotland Regards section of Krafta Film Festival! It was a nice festival with an admirably narrow focus, and great to meet some filmmakers from overseas who had work screening. It’s always a pleasure to act as a tour guide.

I have been working, until recently, fairly regularly for Renfrewshire Council mainly on what has come to be called “Sitting Room Cinema” – a super 8 film project with Richard Weeks who, amongst other things, runs the Camcorder Club. The Camcorder Clubs gives (mainly older people) the opportunity to transfer home movies and videos into digital files. In the majority of cases we interview the filmmaker and I edit this to the clips that Richard scans at high resolution. I’m still not quite sure how this will pan out for screenings for the general public….but here’s a scene from the film that has been “leaked” and very well received on Facebook. A bit of context: the Cattigan Family in Paisley recorded letters on reel to reel tapes as well as reels of films and posted them out to family across the Atlantic, a theme which is picked up in a number of scenes in the longer film…

In the run up to the Paisley 2021 bid I had the opportunity to work on a number of other projects with different partners in the town. The main one was a documentary about the architectural legacy of the Coats and Clark families, the people who founded much of the textile industries of the 19th and 20th Centuries. I worked on this with the young people and staff of Create. Funded by Paisley Townscape Heritage and Conservation Area Regeneration Scheme, it was a nice introduction for the young people to see the places you can get to if you make a film about it…and so it was we got to get to look behind the scenes of some the rich architectural legacy of Paisley and meet some of the great characters of the town who keep that legacy alive for generations to come. The film was shortlisted for the best documentary at the Scottish Youth Film Festival at the end of 2017.


On the subject of Paisley…in spring of 2017 I had the good fortune to help shoot and edit the Baker Street saxophone event, when it all suddenly seemed possible, if not, probable that Paisley could be the city of culture for 2021. It was a buzzing day…and that buzz continued in the edit when we started slotting in the drone footage. Ultimately it wasn’t to be but the process was a wonderful one for telling a new story about Paisley and Renfrewshire.


Stepping outside the paisley pattern, I’ve continued doing projects with Scottish Film Education. As well as working in the classrooms of East Renfrewshire and South Lanarkshire I’ve been using the insights from the training that I have received in new projects that I’ve recently started with  Learning and Engagement for Glasgow Film Theatre and the  Creative Minds Learning Network in East Ayrshire.

Oh and there were some more short films for Crossroads Caring on the terrifying subject of dementia and for Leap a short on fuel poverty (made I must add with the assistance of Samuel Araya, a talented Eritrean refugee who I met on the Make Strange project).

As if all that wasn’t enough…in a couple of months I/we will, hopefully, fingers crossed, be unveiling the results of a stop frame animation collaboration with Education Scotland.

Bits and Pieces, In-Between

I had toyed with calling this blog Liminal Bricolage. These two words popped up in to my head when I was thinking about what I’ve been up to. I wasn’t entirely sure what they meant but I liked them and thought it sounded like the kind of title that I might click on should I be feeling intellectually aspirational. Which as it happens is quite a lot. Although sadly I lack intellectual it remains aspirational. But it also felt hopelessly pretentious….even for me! However I did enjoy thinking about the words, especially liminal. I like the idea of an in between. Which is kind of where I am at. Personally – my kids are at an age where they don’t really need me but I need to be around just in case; professionally, I’m not working on anything “big”. But that’s ok. The long and the short of it has been a good few months of quite intense but disparate elements.

In this latter part of the year I made a short for House for an Art Lover, ably assisted by Samuel Araya, one of the participants in Make Strange and a gifted cameraman in his own right. He has recently secured Refugee status and is looking to build on his existing experience shooting video in Eritrea, so do contact me if you want to actually practice diversity and inclusivity rather than…..anyway It was good working with someone else and meant that in the couple of days we had to shoot I could do some nice tracking shots. It was great working with HAL, its the kind of place that is a great day out for a family as well as doing really interesting work as a living, breathing research project.

Alongside this I have been editing and shooting a series of four films for Renfrewshire Council and Strathclyde University on their new approach to literacy in schools. This collaboration between myself, Richard Weeks at the council and Jess Anderson of the University is aimed to be an introduction to putting reading back at the heart of education. The videos are being launched before Christmas 2016.  I’ve also been helping Richard with a number of other corporates and shorts, mainly focussed around Archive material in the authority.

As a Film Education Practitioner I’ve been in schools teaching teachers….a daunting situation, alleviated by the great resources of Scottish Film Education. After maybe a year of attending training courses in Edinburgh I have been let loose in the classroom and have delivered my first couple of presentations on Sound and Image as well as Storyboarding.

In amongst all this I am still keeping a hand in participative work with regular animation workshops  at Paisley Museum and summer schools in shooting and processing 16mm with Lochwinnoch’s Yep, which also included a week in Create Paisley.

On a final, jolly note….I was asked at very short notice to make a video to help with a wedding proposal…

I’m relieved to say it worked!

Make Strange at Glasgow International

“Its customary now to start each blog with an apology for not posting for a long time with the addition of an excuse. I won’t do that this time” I wrote 3 months ago…and then forgot about it… it is now…if that makes any sense at all.  


Most of the first part of the year..are we really half way through?…was taken up with a project that developed out of the work for the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and the Scottish Refugee Council (described in the previous blog). At the end of that project one of the participants asked me if there would be opportunities to do more creative work. Taken aback (as I was still struggling with the incongruity of something like animation with the horrors of fleeing as an asylum seeker), I said I would see what I could do. Coincidentally I had noted that Glasgow International had put out an Open Call for artists who work participatively to develop a project during the festival.

What was clear from the call and the context was that it would have to be something ambitious. I went back to the group to see if this was something that would appeal…it did and so with Gillian Steel we set about devising a proposal that became Make Strange. We duly submitted the proposal and presumed, as you always half do with proposals no matter how much you love and believe in them, that that would be the end of it. Aside from the compulsory letter stating how overwhelmed they have been with the response, and that, on this occasion the application has been unsuccessful.

So when we got support for the project I was a little surprised.

It was great to go back to the group and tell them that we would be doing a bigger project. Three of the group couldn’t come sadly, but three could and another 12 soon followed.

morecaffenol2The run up to the festival wasn’t without its issues. We had proposed hand processing 16mm film, a process that Gillian was very familiar with, I less so. What we didn’t know was that the chemical packs routinely used for this process were no longer commercially available. I will resist going into the details of this, but every stock of film requires slightly different chemicals and times for processing. There were numerous calls to labs to see what we could get for the specific stock that we had already bought and all of these came up short.

Fortunately, searching for people who might have an answer to this conundrum  we stumbled on the parallel world of Caffenol processing…a process that uses as its main ingredient (the cheaper the better) instant coffee and a couple of other ingredients commonly found in kitchens. Having sourced a Soviet era bakelite lomo tank from the Ukraine via ebay we began the process of shooting material and processing it to nail down the correct formulae, timings, temperature and chemistry. Each good attempt seemed to be matched by a roll of completely black or completely clear film, yet, by the beginning of the festival we were good to go…albeit with nowhere to go to.

In certain parts of the city, Glasgow would appear to have more empty shops, bars and cafes than functioning ones. However the owners and their agents are, to put it mildly, reluctant to open them up to artists, citing paperwork and insurance as a block on anything other than long term leases. Fortunately GI, courtesy of Clyde Gateway, came up with the goods and found us a beautiful office space, The Albus, in Bridgeton where a number of other shows were running. We had to be a bit sneaky with the space – a kind gas engineer “accidently” forgot to lock the door on the boiler, thus allowing us a space we could black out to load the tank. And we were soon to discover that the hi tech security entry toilets weren’t very user friendly if english isn’t your first language…what appears as a warning on a button in one language can be a positive invitation to press in another.

We ran the project for a couple of weeks prior to the festival opening, initially working from our proposal to view the city through the eyes of strangers to make it strange….in the style of Brecht, representing it back to the audience:

“The best school of dialectics is emigration. The most acute dialecticians are refugees. They are refugees as a result of changes, and they study nothing but changes.” Brecht, Bertolt. Flüchtlingsgespräche [Refugee Conversations]

All the participants, bar a couple of people from Ethiopia, had escaped from Eritrea, a land of 3.5million people in North East Africa. They had escaped from indefinite national service, prison, torture and servitude. Although I had worked with some of them before I hadn’t realised the grimness that lay in their past. The fact that this was so unknown to people in Glasgow was what was strange for them and this then became the central idea of the project.

Having the space, time and budget to explore ideas and play with materials was great for all concerned. It felt like there was a genuine flow of ideas. For instance, some of the participants had been involved in tailoring in Eirtrea – their former link to Central Scotland had been in the form of Clydebank built Singer sewing machines. Looking at the experience of asylum seekers, forbidden from working, developed into the idea for hand stitching interview ties out of their screen prints. One of the ties fed into an idea for a film. This in turn suggested exploring double exposing the negative.

In  conjunction with this there were public workshops in screen printing and 16mm film. For this we went back to the original idea of looking at what is strange in our environment, developing an observation of the asylum seekers that in the UK we live in one of the safest places in the world yet obsess on security and danger, surrounded by CCTV, with streets that seemed to be absent of children. This work fed into the ongoing work of the group.

Much of the impetus of the work that we were doing explicitly drew upon agitprop devices of interwar years. To this end we employed screen printing, pamphlet production and filmmaking. It took a while for people to open up about their experiences. One of the participants told me about being locked in a 4 x 4 m metal box with 70 others for three months in an environment where the temperature regularly gets to 40C. Apart from the psychological scars, he had them physically where his skin had blistered and burst in the heat. Others had been held in torturous holds, known as figures of eight, for several days or spent months digging and refilling holes in the blistering heat. Most of them had been moved around the country’s notorious network of jails that outnumber schools

These stories fed into the work, but are rarely on the surface. They are folded into the pamphlets, in asides in the film work or in the images of the screen printing.

You can read a brief interview with us about the work here.

We are hoping to bring all the work together in an exhibition later in the year*, with the anticipation that people will become more aware of why people from Eritrea have fled their country. As one of the participants put it “we didn’t want to come to Glasgow, we just wanted to get out of Eritrea”.

*It is later in the year….later in the year from when this was written anyway…and it turns out the exhibition will be early next year. January 2017 in Trongate 103.


Paisley, Eritrea

I’ve been working on a film project with Renfrewshire Leisure concerning the films of Paisley painter and ceramicist Falconer Houston. Richard Weeks, Digital Arts Worker for the Trust, and a filmmaker in his own right, unearthed Falconer’s films quite by accident after a request was sent in from a member of the public for some archive of her husband who had passed away. In a series of unlikely coincidences this led to the discovery of the best film archive that exists for Renfrewshire from the 60’s and 70’s. And, fortunately, Falconer was and is still around to tell us how it came into being. In the process he tells an intriguing tale of the central part that Paisley Museum has played in the cultural life of the town, and the innovative work that was being done in schools in the sixties and seventies that led to some high praise from Basil Wright, director of Night Mail of Greirson fame.

Falconer made some great films and is a really interesting example of a participative practitioner, some 30 years before anyone even thought of such a category of human being. Sadly he has to date only made one film, as he says, “for himself”, the film “Sanctuary”, but it shows a visual style and control not unlike that of his contemporaries Bill Douglas and Terence Davies in both their Trilogies of black and white shorts from the 70’s.

On another note, I’ve also been working with the Scottish Refugee Council and the Holocaust Memorial Trust on a short animation and sound project  that will be exhibited in London as part of the Holocaust Memorial Day events in January 2016. It’s been a real revelation working with the group of young men from Eritrea. I had a abstract idea of what people have been through to get to Glasgow…I had no idea of what this might mean for the individuals involved. Hopefully we will pull something together that reflects their experience and works within the theme of “Don’t Stand By”.

This time last year I was looking forward to three broadcast credits…sadly this year it is but a one. But a good one, albeit a small one. My brother Paul has finished his Wee Govan Pipers film for BBC Alba and will be the first film of 2016 to go out on the channel. I shot a little bit for Media Coop on this production over the past 18months or so and was rather pleased to see one of the images I had taken being used for the production’s postcard. The film does a sterling job of telling multiple stories of Piping, Govan, the history of the Glasgow Police. The programme goes out on January 1st.

wee govan pipers

as fast as middle aged legs can muster

It’s been 13 years since I became a fully unadulterated freelancer, and, had I had a better business brain, then I think I would have spotted a pattern in the ebb and flow of the work I am doing. But I don’t have one and – rather like the goldfish of urban myth – am continually surprised by where and how I am working….and slightly surprised that I continue to work full stop as the squeeze on the funding for arts in all its guises is ongoing. So as stated in the previous blog…after a very full on end to 2014, where I was running from lego workshop to broadcast edit suite as fast as middle aged legs can muster it all stopped rather abruptly for what in freelance terms felt like an eternity.

But it did pick up again….as I completed the film for Education Scotland about their Creative catalyst project. Then with some summer schools for Lochwinnoch’s Local Energy Action Plan, then with a film featuring the Medieval drain under Paisley Abbey. Finally I made a filmed report for the Co-operative Party for their conference, for which they professed themselves to be very pleased.

In amongst all this, and in the absence of anything recognisable as career development, I try and set myself little challenges within projects…for the Education Scotland Project I wanted a more polished look to the interviews, for the work on the Abbey I got my hands on a slider. This latter bit of kit proved particularly useful, as, after all, it was, at the end of the day, a drain. Albeit a very nice one. As a little aside, whilst researching sliders and their uses, I discovered that one shouldn’t cut two slider shots together as this is a bit showy and gets in the way of the story…thankfully I read that after I made this or I may have taken it to heart.

With some support from Hopscotch, I’ve also been trying to get a film about older people with learning disabilities off the ground. As ever it is of course an uphill struggle…I’ve shot a couple of tasters so far which have raised a number of ethical questions not least to say questions around style and storytelling. Many of the people in the home that I have been visiting in pursuit of this project can’t communicate in ways that lend themselves easily to conventional interviewing techniques. Nevertheless they have experiences and stories that are important to be told. I would like to say watch this space, but realistically it’s more likely to be ask me again in a couple of years!

Autumn, Winter Collected thoughts 2014….oh and a bit of 2015

I’ve been a bit lazy about blogging, or rather busy doing other things so I have returned to this incomplete blog from a couple of months ago which as well as being highly informative perhaps lets you know I am (mostly) available!…..

It’s about a week since the screening of Alasdair Gray, A Life in Progress in Oran Mor with live music from Scott Twynholm and friends. It was, retrospectively, a great event with good ticket sales, a rumbustious Q and A from Alasdair quizzed (wrangled?) by biographer Rodge Glass and good record sales for the soundtrack (currently available on De-Fence records in a beautiful hand screenprinted (by label boss Gavin Brown) limited edition of 300).ALifeIProgress oranmor alasdairphoto by Paul Cameron

There was lots of press attention in the run up to the event with spots for myself and Scott on Scottish Televisions Riverside Show and Radio Scotland’s Culture Cafe and an item on MovieJuice. I made a little film of the band rehearsing..

Alongside all this I have returned to working with the Youth Engagement Programme in Lochwinnoch and Kilbarchan, fresh from picking up first prize and a “Leafie” from the St Andrew’s Green Film Festival for our previous production “Loops and Cycles”.

I’ve also started a project with Education Scotland looking at creative solutions to problems in education which is planned to premiere at the Emporium of Dangerous Ideas in June 2015.

and….I’ve also been popping into universities doing a bit of visiting lecturing with students on the new filmmaking postgrad at Glasgow Uni and students at Strathclyde as well as Napier Uni.

So after a fairly slow start to the year….always a bit scarey for a freelancer…this is where I left off 2014…

It was a quite intense third of the year to close 2014 with more public screenings then I probably had in my working life to date, workshops, and TV projects. Fittingly my last working engagement, technically, was on December 27th, in bed watching an hour long cut of the Alasdair Gray film on BBC2 Scotland dosed up on Benilyn and supping from a bottle of wine whilst, excitedly, watching the feedback roll out on twitter. Downstairs I had been upstaged by an anime offering on netflix.

greig tweet

A few days before this went out I had, for me, the rather odd experience of seeing two programmes I had finished editing, a matter of weeks before, broadcast on BBC Alba. The first of these, Am Balach MacCuidhein (MacQueen of Scots) was a revealing and charming portrait of the fashion designer as viewed through the lens of his fascination with his island ancestors. Editing the documentary (by indie Solus Productions and director Tony Kearney) was a hugely enjoyable experience and an opportunity to immerse myself in a world of fashion of which I knew nothing. One of the key successes of the programme was describing the process by which MacQueen brought his ideas to the catwalk with a depth and integrity that other artist rarely manage. The second, “An Oidche ron Nollaig”, was a short by Sealladh TV and producer Morag Stewart, aimed mainly at children, about the night before Christmas.

For me both projects were challenging in their ambitions in what felt like a very tight schedule and as ever there is learning learning learning….something that was a focus for another project for Artworks Scotland which was completed, looking at different pilots for creating learning exchange between learning providers (teachers) and creative practitioners (artists).

and jumping back to the near past…28 drawings later popped back again into my life where I continued to terrify people with pictures of my washing and hand made selfies. day19a Day6


oh yes, and we got another mouth to feed…in the form of a cat. Here she is escaping from a post operative check up…cat