> The Ties That Bind

Document Scotland / The Ties That Bind


Following in the wake of the 2014 referendum on Scottish Independence, The Ties That Bind is an exhibition by the photography collective Document Scotland, curated by Anne Lyden and shown first at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh from September 2015 until April 2016.

Inspired by the ongoing period of intense debate and self-examination among Scots, each of the collective’s four internationally acclaimed photographers – Stephen McLaren, Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert, Colin McPherson and Sophie Gerrard – has created a body of work which considers a different strand of Scotland’s culture and heritage, and in the process explores very timely questions of personal and national identity.

For The Ties That Bind, the four photographers have created four groups of work that consider legacy – Scotland’s role in the slave trade and sugar plantations of Jamaica in the 18th century; tradition – the centuries-old celebration of Border towns in the Common Ridings festivals; engagement – the devotion and commitment from football supporters in small towns and communities across the country; and the land itself  – focusing on contemporary farming through the experiences of six women.

A Sweet Forgetting”, Stephen McLaren’s project, revolves around the involvement of Scots in the sugar economy of Jamaica in the 18th and 19th centuries, which was built on the back of slave labour from Africa. McLaren spent a month in Jamaica looking for the sites of plantations owned by seven Scotsmen of that era, before coming back to Scotland to trace how these men spent their wealth, and what is left of this legacy today.

For “Unsullied and Untarnished“, Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert focused on the Scottish Borders area and its traditional summer festivals, known as the Common Ridings. During the Common Ridings, riders chosen as representatives of their communities symbolically survey the boundaries of the town’s and burgh’s common lands. Participating in the yearly ritual is considered an honour for the local youths; the Common Ridings are an opportunity to represent their community by carrying the standard around the neighbouring borders of the common land, before bringing it back “unsullied and untarnished”.

Colin McPherson’s contribution is entitled “When Saturday Comes”, after the eponymous football magazine which has commissioned McPherson over the last 10 years to photograph football culture both in Scotland and further afield. An ardent football fan himself, McPherson has used the opportunity to explore the game at all levels, although for this exhibition he has focused on lower-league football and the rituals associated with the sport; his photographs explore the sense of belonging and commitment shown by supporters, players and those charged with running the clubs.

The fourth project is “Drawn to the Land”, is Sophie Gerrard’s ongoing exploration of women in the contemporary Scottish landscape. Gerrard’s photographs offer a glimpse into the lives of six women farmers in a variety of Scottish settings and how they shape, and are shaped by, their surroundings. Working as hill farmers with responsibility for remote and diverse parts of the land, these women identify as custodians rather than as landowners, and often talk of being drawn to the hill. For “Drawn to the Land”, Gerrard set out to understand her own connection with the Scottish landscape, which is often seen as a symbol of national identity and nostalgia.

While the work touches on the political landscape around the Referendum, the images do not affirm any one position, but seek to portray a multiplicity of views that portray the complex challenges and subtle nuances surrounding the larger debate. Together these images create a compelling dialogue about Scotland, its people, diversity and culture, and reveal the subtle nuances that shape a nation’s identity

The exhibition has drawn comment and praise from a number of influential reviewers:

“…excited by the debate emerging around the referendum – the show comprises projects that each focus in detail upon an aspect of Scots life or culture. Some of those involved see and relish the political parallels, others actively seek to avoid them; but in each of the strands here a powerful sense of perspective upon others’ lives and their relationship with an aspect of their country is profoundly explored.”

David Pollock, The Independent


 “Throughout the photographs there is a commonality, strands that run through a place and a time – when Scotland took a good look at itself,”

Janet Christie, Scotland on Sunday


“Together, they conveyed to me a Scotland which too often I have chosen to ignore and even to disparage. To understand these values, these people and the communities in which they yet prosper is to come to a fuller understanding of Scotland. The campaign for independence gave us a chance to pause and reflect on what Scotland means. Few of us took that opportunity but these four artists did. What they captured was more timeless and authentic than perhaps even independence itself.”

Kevin McKenna, The National


Christopher Baker, Director of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, commented that: “Document Scotland has impressively addressed through The Ties That Bind some key themes about belonging and history, the resonance of Scottish heritage and diversity of community life across the country today. Their work demonstrates the outstanding quality of contemporary documentary photography and its ability to provoke us to think about issues of individual and collective identity.” 


The work made for The Ties That Bind was made possible by financial assistance from Creative Scotland and the University of St. Andrews Library’s Special Collections Division.


About Document Scotland:

Document Scotland is a photographic collective formed in 2012 by Colin McPherson, Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert, Sophie Gerrard and Stephen McLaren – four Scots-born photographers. Together they respond to the global audience looking at Scotland at this, one of the most important times in the country’s history. They each have lived and worked extensively both at home and abroad and their work has been published in various international magazines and newspapers, in addition to featuring in exhibitions around the UK.  Since forming in 2012 Document Scotland have exhibited at Impressions Gallery in Bradford, Street Level Photoworks in Glasgow, Scotland House in Brussels, Photography Oxford FestivalFife FotoSpace in Glenrothes, The Millennium Centre in Cardiff and The Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh. The collective have self published a number of limited edition newspapers and books and a digital iPad magazine which you can download free for Apple and Android devices. Find more information on all these at www.documentscotland.com


About the photographers:

Stephen McLaren

McLaren started out as a television producer and director working on documentaries for several UK channels, and has worked as a freelance photographer, writer, and curator since 2005. His work has been published in several international newspapers and magazines including The Guardian, New York Times, San Francisco Magazine, Der Spiegel and Internazionale. He has also taught photography and regularly writes about the medium for several publications including the British Journal of Photography, BBC, and IMA Japan.


Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert

Sutton-Hibbert received a camera as a gift for his thirteenth birthday; a few years later he became a UK-based freelance photographer for editorial, corporate and NGO clients. His work has appeared in magazines such as Time, National Geographic, Italian Geo, Le Figaro, The Guardian, and The Sunday Times. For the past decade Sutton-Hibbert has been one of the principal photographers for Greenpeace International. His work has taken him to over 80 countries, as far flung as Antarctica and Outer Mongolia and his personal and commissioned work, for which he has been the recipient of photojournalism awards, has been widely published and exhibited in Europe, Asia and USA. Sutton-Hibbert was based in Japan in recent years, but has now relocated back to Scotland.


Colin McPherson

McPherson has been photographing in Scotland and abroad for over 25 years. He undertakes long-term projects alongside commissions and assignments for a number of newspapers and magazines and is represented by the Corbis agency. His work is published internationally and held in archives and collections including the Scottish National Portrait Gallery and the Special Collections of the University of St. Andrews. His photographs have featured in more than 30 solo and group exhibitions.


Sophie Gerrard

Gerrard began her career in environmental sciences before studying photography at Edinburgh College of Art and then London College of Communication. Gerrard’s work frequently combines contemporary social stories with environmental themes, and has been featured in publications such as Esquire Magazine, The Guardian Weekend Magazine, Financial Times Magazine, The Telegraph Saturday Magazine and The Independent on Sunday. A recipient of a number of awards including the prestigious Jerwood Photography Award (which identified the most innovative artist photographers emerging in the UK) Gerrard was shortlisted for the 2015 Remote Photo Prize. Her work has been exhibited internationally, including at The Jerwood Space, The Photographers’ Gallery in London, Streetlevel Photoworks in Glasgow, Paris Photo and a solo show in The Arbetes Museum Sweden. Gerrard currently lectures in photography at Edinburgh Napier University. She is represented by The Photographers’ Gallery, London and on the Board of Trustees of Impressions Gallery, Bradford.


Current exhibitions:

The Ties That Bind is showing at The Scottish National Portrait Gallery until 24thApril 2016.

Document Scotland and Welsh collective A Fine Beginning will exhibit together in Common Ground: New Documentary Photography from Scotland and Wales at The Millennium Centre in Cardiff from 5th February – 10th April 2016.