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




Great review by Thirza Wakefield of A Life in Progress in “Sight and Sound”

Since the intricate, scenic workings of his ticker-tape mind do not always make it out intact, Cameron’s documentary is a rattled, embattled, uneven attempt at filming the artist’s interiority. Bizarrely, it’s effective: a sideways film, it moves on a sliding scale from the most recent footage of a 2012 radio-roundtable about the potential for Scottish home rule to the earliest, in 2000, which sees the wallpapering by redevelopers of Gray’s private-house mural of Jonah and the Whale, with all dates disordered in between.

In a sense, the film is itself a trompe l’oeil, expressive of Gray’s imagination – which, as he says, holding Harmsworth’s Encyclopedia, knows “no separation […] between the adventures of science and space… and the fantasies of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass.” There’s unity in euphony – in the neighbourly relation of all things in the resourceful, imaginative mind.

Gray is abashed before the camera, like he doesn’t believe in it – so Cameron’s camerawork is self-trivialising; has to be. The film’s anecdotal centrepiece, catching Gray off-guard “at a moment of crisis”, finds the painter in a muddle over a lost portfolio, containing two months’ work toward his Hillhead Underground mural, and misplaced after a heavy night of drinking. In this instant – albeit with no thought to framing, with scarce eye-contact and lowered head – Gray appears a little more accepting of the process of filmmaking, which he’s heard elsewhere to dismiss (“No doubt it would be extremely better without filming me at all; just having a sheet at a time with my voice over”). In fact, in this sole extended to-camera fragment, Gray’s aberrant appeal to the lens proves true measure of his worry, which his outward behaviour makes woollen with giggling and ebullience. His uneasy relationship to film becomes tablature for tacit emotion.

Gray’s surprising voice is the sure star of the film: ululating, undulating, ascending and descending, risen in song – a baritone, a bugle reveille, the wee squeak of storybook mice before sleep. At the film’s opening, the soundtrack samples Gray’s declarative voice, recognising that this is his instrument. Given the sacrificial art of Cameron’s specific task (filmmaker as faithful supplicant), the film might be alternatively titled His Master’s Voice – with Gray the gramophone.
Like The 50 Year Argument, Cameron’s film isn’t concerned with story as chronicle – but with the unruly, untidy, pedestrian individual: a work in progress.

Sheffield Doc:Fest 2014: literary champions abide | Sight & Sound | BFI

4 months and 28 days later…

I’ve been spurned into updating my blog by a call from the BBC about Grierson for the Radio programme Cafe Culture, the film has recently screened at the Glasgow Film Festival and a researcher from the show arrived here…so a little bit of evidence that someone has been reading it. Hurrah.

The last 5 months has mainly been dominated by family stuff which, if I was of a business mind, and were it not so common place,  and had I been a national journalist….would probably have recycled as an ongoing series of articles in the Guardian (I like to imagine it being lauded as by turns humorous, angsty and touching).

Beyond the home front though I have been otherwise involved.

One of the bigger projects that I have been undertaking is research work around participative practice with Artworks Scotland. The results of this will be published in various forms in early summer.


This has brought me into contact with some really striking work being done in the field of Education in four of Scotland’s local authorities. I will be blogging more about this later in the year.

In particular, and as a spin off from the research work, I have done a spot of work with Di Naylor and Paul Collard of Creativity Culture Education. A bit of an experiment was conducted with Paul and Di in using video as a feedback tool in evaluating creativity. This was carried out as a nail biting day long session in the offices of Creative Scotland in partnership with Education Scotland where six two minute films where made on the spot to be played back to the subjects of the filming. The stills, directly above and below are taken from a couple of these films. It was a useful reminder, to me anyway, of how quickly things can be turned over where this is a requirement, and how technology has finally caught up with its initial promise. CSpic

Throughout December and up until the present I have also been making work for Crossroads Caring and Real PR. Initially planned as two 5 minute films, we now have arrived at five 5 minute films, with a variety of case studies and overviews of the kinds of services that the charity offers. Its been quite amazing to see how people cope with life at its most challenging and has been a real privilege to see how people care for their loved ones in need, often with very little back in return in terms of interaction. I’ve been shooting mainly on a canon 7D for this project and using a slider which allows for short tracking shots. I’ll be posting some moving image material from this soon, but until then here are some stills which shows the variety of situations I’ve been filming in.  Working in small spaces with vulnerable people, in the past there would have been something of a compromise between quality of image versus intimacy of material – again the technology has allowed filmmakers to move moved beyond these concerns.  SEN Club 01351419 SEN Club 01202105 lily2betty colour balancedjenny and betty compressed shots  01092318 early cuts banchory Copy 01013601 diane and lewis 01185420 banchory3I’ve also been doing some camera work for Media Co-op – it has been great to be part of an actual crew with call sheets, scheduled breaks and even someone on sound!


Back on the domestic front I’m pleased to say I’ve also completed the challenge, 28 Drawings Later. This participative project was initiated by painter and former employee of Hopscotch Films, Victoria Evans, and invites people to submit a drawing a day across the month of February. I like to think across the 28 days I had something of an improvement in my drawing…but am still tethered to in a style which could perhaps be categorised as Late 20th Century Higher Grade Comprehensive! It is great to actually participate in an arts project, albeit remotely, and reflect on what some of the terms that pop up in the Artworks research: creativity, engagement and of course risk. Kevinday25small
day22 day24 Kevinday20-2 day26

Jam, Jute, Journalism meets Pioneers, Practice and Professionalism

We’re off to Dundee take part in the Artworks Scotland Conference 2013. In 2012 I was filming it, which was good, but a tad frustrating as it not done to leave your post and join in the debate! This time I have the luxury of not working but joining in.

When you’re in the thick of doing work it can be difficult to reflect on what it is you’re actually doing and the quality of the interactions that are the basis for participative practice. It’s also an area where practitioners are prone to not identify what their skills are.

It was a nice little memory jogger making a showreel recently of the work that myself and Gillian Steel have been doing over the past few years.