In 1980, the Sunday Times Magazine sent Raymond Depardon to Glasgow, on an assignment to show the wealth disparity in Glasgow. After many years photographing in the desert—the Algerian war, liberation forces in Chad, the Nigerian desert, etc.—he found little interest in the discrete displays of wealth around the golf courses and fancy parts of town, and instead found himself drawn to the slums: children playing in the streets; drunks getting there or already passed out; proud, downtrodden women pushing prams; all of it against the backdrop of wide boulevards and solid buildings from Glasgow’s earlier boom.
The assignment was never published, and Depardon shoved the Kodachrome 64 slides in a box and forgot about them.
The first time I looked at Glasgow, I thought the scans were bad, or the printing was bad, or I don’t know. The images are dark, most of the greens, blues, and browns are a sort of dirty, ruddy grey, while the reds and yellows pop. When I looked again recently, I noticed the little disclaimer on the last page, under a portrait of, presumably, Depardon in a safari jacket, smiling between a couple of Glasweigan kids next to some railroad tracks, “These photos were taken with a Leica Reflex and a 28mm lens on Kodachrome 64 film.”
So that explains it, maybe.
Depardon took two 10 day trips to Glasgow for these slides, capturing life in a couple of impoverished areas around the docks and shuttered factories. The children laugh and play, blow pink bubblegum bubbles, mug for the camera. Mothers with their children and women on their way to work or wherever tend to ignore him. Men look away or laugh with each other, stumble drunkenly down the sidewalk, or lie, passed out in the street. In one frame, two middle aged men and a woman sit near a trash fire on some discarded boxes. The woman is hogging a bottle of El Dorado, one of the men reaches for it, while the other buries his face in his hands.
The whole series is a depressing reminder of the early days of globalization, of the collapse of the welfare state and the beginnings of Advanced Capitalism. That Glasgow has emerged, that these areas are now gentrified and remade in the image of all the other twenty-first century forgetting, only underscores the need for projects like this to reappear, as reminders of who we were and what we’ve become. And I wonder how the new “landscaped parks of condominiums and gated communities and vast silvered monoliths of modernist architecture”* will fare after Brexit.
After spending some more time with the book, I’m still not quite sure if the color came from the slides and their age, or some issue between the scanning, color correcting, and printing, but the purple clouds and grey/green skin tones in many subjects are a little bit distracting. The book is hardcover, but has some flex to it, almost as much as a softcover copy might, that gives it a bit of a cheap, low production feel that doesn’t do justice to Depardon’s photographs, which are almost universally elegant and very well constructed.
Overall, I rate it 3.5 stars.
You can see most of the images from Glasgow at Magnum, and I took some information from an Interview Depardon did with Vice in 2016. Note that the pictures on both sites are brighter and have different color balance from the book and each other. I have no idea how representative of Kodachrome 64 slides any of them are, and it’s just another reminder of how variable photographic output is, especially now that everything has gone digital.
You can find a copy of the book direct from the publisher, and at fine new and used booksellers. If I had experience with other Depardon books, I would probably recommend those instead, but Glasgow remains an important document, despite the (apparent) issues with printing and binding, and maybe I’m just spoiled by all the Mack and Steidl and self printed zines I’ve looked at over the years.
Actually, I forgot… I found a copy of Adieu Saigon in a used bookstore some years ago, and it’s excellent. Sure, it’s black & white, and much smaller format, and Vietnam, but there’s no question about the quality of it, and Depardon’s vision and ability shines. It’s highly recommended, and usually cheap cheap cheap used.
Boyd, William. “Glasgow.” 2015 preface to Raymond Depardon, Glasgow. Editions du Seuil, Paris, 2016.