When photographer Iain Clark learned that Paddy’s Market, a staple of Glasgow life for 165 years, was to be closed his photographers instinct to preserve its trace kicked in. Ten years later Julie Lawson, SSHoP Committee member and Curator at the National Galleries of Scotland, asked Iain to reflect on the project.
JL: What was the inspiration for this photography project?
IC: I have always been interested in Humanist and Social Photography so when I learned in 2009 that Glasgow City Council had decided to close Paddy’s Market I realised that Glasgow was going to lose an important and historic part of its culture. I wanted to record for perpetuity the atmosphere of this special place by documenting it and the people who worked and shopped there before it disappeared for good. Like many Glaswegians I considered Paddy’s Market, which had been in existence for 165 years, to be an important part of Glasgow’s heritage. The Council declared the market a “crime-ridden midden” and announced a “new vision”, which included plans to revitalise the area and lease units to artists and “legitimate traders”. This view was angrily opposed by the stall holders who regarded the actions by Glasgow City Council as a means of ‘cleansing’ the area prior to Glasgow playing host to the Commonwealth Games in 2014.
The traders pointed out that the market was a unique piece of the city’s heritage. They also argued that it served a vital social need – providing the necessities of life at the lowest prices for those living in poverty as well as a place for the lonely and disenfranchised to find some form of human interaction. Paddy’s Market allegedly started when a starving Irish immigrant escaping the potato famine arrived in Glasgow by ship, tore the shirt from his back and offered it for sale in Shipbank Lane which then grew to become Paddy’s Market.
JL: Do you shoot reportage style or do you seek permission from your subjects?
IC: I tend approach street photography in two ways. If I spot an interesting looking character I will approach them to ask if they would allow me to make their portrait. Often they are taken aback and ask why? I then explain that I am a photographer and that I think they would make a good subject. Usually most people agree some of course say no.
The other way I go about it is just wandering around observing then shooting interesting aspects of the human condition as they occur. The street can be like a theatre full of drama and surprise. However, I knew from previous experience there was no point in showing up at Paddy’s Market camera in hand as I would be met with cries of “Drug Squad”, “Social Security” etc and have people turn their backs to me every time I lifted the camera to my eye. To make it work I had to meet and talk to the traders to explain what I was doing and that I wanted to do it with their permission. Most of them were happy to oblige despite their anger at the closure of the market and the loss of their livelihood.
JL: How did the traders react to your taking their pictures?
IC: Most of them were quite willing and engaging. Many of the ‘Hawkers’ in the market I spoke to were third and fourth generation, inheriting their ‘pitches’ from their parents or grandparents. In many cases the pitches were handed down through the female line from mother to daughter.
A redoubtable 85 year old grandmother who had traded on the market for 70 years following on from her “Hawker” mother, grandmother and great-grandmother said “I am heartbroken, I used to go there not just to trade, but for the company and the chat. It was my life. It is a sad fact that ten years on from the enforced closure the lane is lying empty and abandoned, the promised revitalisation never becoming reality.
JL: Why did you do the series in Black and White?
IC: I decided to use black and white as it has a timeless feel and it can also add ‘grit’ to the images.
JL: Who are your favourite Street Photographers?
IC: There are quite a few I admire Henri Cartier-Bresson I guess is the most famous others who have made an impact on me are Garry Winogrand, Josef Koudelka, Robert Doisneau, Walker Evans, Elliott Erwitt and Diane Arbus.
You can find more of Iain’s work on his website where you will also find contact details should you wish to exhibit this work.