Early 20th Century women photographers and filmmakers in Scotland

The main aim of this ongoing research is to show the breadth of work the women made, inspired by highland and island landscapes, as well as Scotland’s city life.

Jenny Brownrigg (The Glasgow School of Art)

Research themes include how the women recorded communities; the ways in which they captured historically significant moments and often changes to ways of life, work and industry; how they observed; how they observed place and nature; and how they recorded the place of women in both rural and city society. This research will result in a survey exhibition at City Art Centre, Edinburgh, in early 2022.

Brownrigg is currently researching thirteen women, including Edinburgh photographer Violet Banks (1886-1985). Veronica Fraser, an archivist at Royal Commission on the Ancient & Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) wrote about Banks’ life in
‘Vernacular Buildings’ (P67-78, ‘Vernacular Building 32’, Scottish Vernacular Buildings Working Group 2008-2009, ISSN:0267-3088):

Violet Banks (1886-1985) was born near Kinghorn, Fife and educated at Craigmont, Edinburgh, and at ECA (Edinburgh College of Art). In 1927 she was senior arts mistress at St. Oran’s, a private school at Drummond Place, Edinburgh’.

Banks’ photographs of the Hebrides were the result of a tour she made during the late 1920s / early 1930s. In 1935, Violet Banks established her own commercial photography studio in Edinburgh, going on to take numerous photographs of Scotland’s capital city.

A Day in Edinburgh, (1934, Grant & Murray), Photographs by Violet Banks and J. Campbell Harper, writing by H.B. Kay

In Practicing Landscape: Land, Histories and Transformation, Brownrigg presents ten original photographs that Banks’ produced as postcards as well as one brochure entitled ‘A Day in Edinburgh’ (1934, Grant & Murray). Brownrigg has collected these items via separate eBay purchases, an action mirroring the precarity of women’s work in archives. Indeed, Banks’ own photography of the Highlands and Islands only came to light when discovered by John Dixon of Georgian Antiques, in a drawer in a sideboard that had been part of a furniture purchase and then gifted to Royal Commission for the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) to become The Violet Banks Collection.

Exhibiting Artists: Shauna McMullan

Shauna McMullan considers time and landscape. SITTING is an ongoing series of actions created for and in response to specific locations on the edges of Europe; places with complicated historical, geographic and political landscape identities.

The first SITTING took place in Agios Sozomenos, Cyprus, next to the UN controlled Green Line separating the south and north of the island. The second was in Telavag, on the edge of the west coast of Norway; a village deleted from maps during World War II by German occupation forces.  On 31stJanuary 2020, coinciding with the Practising Landscape Exhibition in the Lighthouse, she marked what was Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland’s last day in the European Union, by sitting on the Scottish / English border at Scots’ Dike.

SITTING – Agios Sozomenos, Cyprus
33°3’57”N 33°26’18”E      
25 March 2018 (10am – 5pm)      
Photo: Duncan Higgins

The deserted village of Agios Sozomenos is 30km east of Nicosia in Cyprus.  Until 1964, the village was mixed, inhabited by Greek and Turkish Cypriots, but the last residents fled during the 1974 conflict and were displaced to nearby villages.  The UN controlled Green Line, which divides the north and south of the island, runs along the side of the village and a UN look out post situated on this line was McMullan’s point of focus throughout.

SITTING – TelavagNorway 
60°15’46”N 04°59’11”E      
14 November 2018 (9.30am – 4.30pm)       
Photo: Jane Sverdrupsen 

Telavag is a fishing village situated on the very west coast of Norway. The village was deleted from maps during World War II by German occupation forces and subsequently rebuilt by surviving families who returned following the end of the war. Looking west is the North Sea and Shetland, to the east is Bergen, central Norway and Sweden.  The small hill from where villagers were taken, on 30thApril 1942, to watch the burning of their homes was McMullan’s point of focus throughout.

Scots’ Dike, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland / England
NY 3307 7367 NY 3872 7319
31stJanuary 2020 (10am – 5pm)
Photo: Shauna McMullan

On 31stJanuary McMullan marked what was Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland’s last day in the European Union, by sitting on the Scottish / English border at Scots’ Dike.  Scots’ Dike is a three and a half mile long, low, interrupted earth ditch, constructed by the Scots and English in 1552 to mark the division of the Debatable Lands and to define a section of the border between Scotland and England. It is currently under mixed land-use. 

2 colour photos, stool, text.

Installation view. Photo: Jack McCombe


Hugh Watt’s work aims through a practice-led research approach to explore the relationship between nature, culture and spirituality within the Scottish landscape.

Hugh Watt (The Glasgow School of Art), Martin Wildgoose (Archaeologist / AOC Archaeologist Group) 

portal-bone passage 02 red 2

Portal-Bone Passage 57° 12’ 50’’ N, 6° 0’ 40’’ W, (2019/20), Hugh Watt

Through inter-disciplinary enquiry with archaeologist Martin Wildgoose, Watt has been undertaking field trips to two locations on Skye, namely High Pasture Cave and Cave of the Seed. Watt is interested in how these sites, from mid bronze age, through to the Iron age, were occupied and used during the mid-bronze age and iron age, prior to its closure in 80 BC. In particular, Watt’s research has drawn on the use of these underground spaces as ceremonial spaces. For the exhibition Practicing Landscape: Land, Histories and Transformation, Watt shows new video work which explores the notion of a threshold or liminal space, within landscape that connects the physical with the spiritual. In addition, he exhibits a new piece which works with a 3D scan of, the cave’s area known as ‘Bone Passage’. Watt has experimented with having a scaled down 3D print, cast in plaster, which is about the size of a human spine. He is interested in how this print can make reference to the human body and also tree roots, trees being that which was understood to sit between the physical and the spiritual.

Portal-Slippage, (2019-20). 2 channel video, 200cm x 226cm, Hugh Watt


TOP IMAGE: Hugh Watt, Portal-Bone Passage 57° 12’ 50’’ N, 6° 0’ 40’’ W, (2019/20), (Detail)

Revisiting two works: Raging Dyke Network (2012) and Heritage Site (2014–2016)

The aim for revisiting two works for the exhibition Practicing Landscape: Land, Histories and Transformation was to demonstrate how the vernacular postcard has been instrumental in leading to alternative voices that reveal a landscape’s latent histories.

Raging Dyke Network: Nicky Bird (The Glasgow School of Art), Alice Andrews (volunteer, Glasgow Women’s Library)

Heritage Site (2020, Version 1): Nicky Bird, Stuart Jeffrey, Clare Graham & Mike Marriott (The Glasgow School of Art), Calder History Group, Mark Daniels (New Media Scotland), Isabella Mason Kirk and family.

This research takes two existing works in which the vernacular postcard has been instrumental in leading to alternative voices that reveal a landscape’s latent histories. By revisiting Raging Dyke Network (originally 2012) and restaging Heritage Site
(originally 2014-2016
) in 2020, Bird considers the passage of time for both works, and the collaborations so essential to their realization. For Heritage Site, this has shifted from living memory to history as the work’s storyteller – and her generation – has now passed. For Raging Dyke Network, the cultural landscape of LGBTQ and accompanying discourses have evolved significantly.

Raging Dyke Network (RDN) was commissioned by Glasgow Women’s Library. Raging Dyke Network was a group of radical separatist lesbians active in the late 1990s. It spanned across 52 locations from the UK, Europe, Canada and USA. At the network’s centre was an activist in Norwich, who donated materials – including personal letters and zines –o the Glasgow Women’s Library and the Lesbian Archive in 2000. The postcard series represents the network’s scale and makes visible an overlooked history, without revealing personal and political content of a group who identified themselves through their separatist gender politics.

Installation detail, 20 January, 2020
Heritage Site (2020, Version 1) by Nicky Bird

Heritage Site (2014-2016) centred on an industrial heritage landmark known as the ‘Five Sisters’ on the edge of West Calder, West Lothian in Central Scotland. 240 metres high, these spoil heaps, products of the oil shale mining industry active in the 19th century until the early 1960s, were given Scheduled Ancient Monument status in the 1990s. Heritage Site responded to local community memory of a house that is buried deep within the Five Sisters. Prompted by an Edwardian postcard of Westwood House and the memories of Isabella Mason Kirk, the project asked how can art and heritage visualisation practices come together to investigate a site of layered histories, memory and imagination?

TOP LEFT IMAGE: Raging Dyke Network, 2012: No 2 of 20, Nicky Bird with Alice Andrews
Courtesy the artist and Glasgow Women’s Library

TOP RIGHT IMAGE: Heritage Site, 2014-2016, Nicky Bird
Photographic postcard, photographer R. Braid c.1910. Courtesy the artist and Davie Rennie

National Islands Plan — Embedded Artist

Following work undertaken on the ‘Law, Arts & Island Resilience’ project, Susan Brind and Monica Laiseca (GSA) invited visual artists living on Scottish islands to apply for a Residency and Commission responding to the development of Scotland’s first ever National Islands Plan. The selected artist, Saoirse Higgins, joined the consultation team on a number of events taking place on different islands in the summer of 2019. Higgins is producing new work based on this experience for exhibition.

Monica Laiseca, Susan Brind, (The Glasgow School of Art), Islands Team (Scottish Government)

Saoirse Higgins, the artist selected to be National Islands Plan – Embedded Artist, is based on Papa Westray; a small island in Orkney with a population of 88 people. She brings an environmental focus to her work as well as extensive experience of working in community settings. Her work is directly focused on environmental concerns and the sustainability of island life. In addition to undertaking this commission, she is currently in the process of completing PhD research by practice under the title, ‘Survival tools for the Anthropocene’.

Commission funded by Scottish Government.

Exits and Entrances

To find audience-facing forms for translating an ongoing dialogue, between artist and writer, around ideas of the invention of a romantic mythos of a specific landscape.

Alan Currall (The Glasgow School of Art) and Professor Emeritus Colin Cruise (Aberystwyth University)

Over the course of a year, and along a regular walking route, Currall produced a series of photographs of small, but modestly spectacular, hill pools in the Scottish Southern Uplands. These pools, formed as a result of historical lead mining activity in the area, sit atop the hill that stands behind Currall’s home.

When a friend and former tutor, Emeritus Professor of Art History, Colin Cruise saw these photographs he felt compelled to respond through a collection of poems written from the perspective of these pools. Currall’s own existing research around ideas of knowledge, belief and perception found a provocative foil in Cruise’s interest in the Romantic, and the imaginative potential of invented mythology. During an extended period of dialogue they worked on several ideas for the future development of this project, which may include a publication and/or exhibition.

In this particular work, for the Practicing Landscape: Land, Histories and Transformation exhibition, Currall has reworked a number of these photographs for video, and created a soundtrack to accompany Cruise’s own readings of a selection of his poems.

Installation View. Alan Currall, ‘Exits and Entrances’, 2020; Video with sound (20 mins)
Photo: Jack McCombe

Exits and Entrances, 2020 from Alan Currall on Vimeo.

TOP IMAGES: Alan Currall, stills from the video Exits and Entrances, (2020)

Exhibiting Artists: Susan Brind and Jim Harold

Susan Brind and Jim Harold’s contribution to Practicing Landscape: Land, Histories and Transformation comprises three elements: ‘Looking South – Facing North’, a painted area of wall and vinyl text; 3 x Digital Photographic prints from within the Cyprus Buffer Zone, also known as the ‘Dead Zone’; and Letter worksa selection of letters specifically relating to Cyprus, extracted from a larger series of works known as ‘Coffee Letters’.  The artists are interested in the politics of landscape and our physical experience of place.  This specific body of work relates to their visits to the UN De-militarized Buffer Zone in Cyprus, a country which has been divided since 1974 and contains the only politically divided city in Europe.  This new configuration of work is part of an ongoing collaborative project with CCFT (Creative Centre for Fluid Territories, People, Places and Processes, an international research grouping started in 2016).  The differing modes of representation presented here aim to de-stabilise any singular reading of place within what is a very complex political history. It also enters the Buffer Zone itself as a liminal space of otherness.  

Susan Brind and Jim Harold
‘Untitled – from the ‘Coffee Letters’ series’, 2000 ongoing; Archival digital print on paper, presented on lecterns and table.
Photo: Jack McCombe

TOP IMAGE: Susan Brind and Jim Harold,‘Untitled – from the ‘Buffer Zone’ series’, 2016; Three archival digital prints. Photo: Jack McCombe

Exhibiting Artists: Ross Sinclair

How can the process of practice-led research make visible the contradictions of a wild and beautiful landscape punctuated by weapons of mass destruction secreted deep within the military industrial complex? What could be the most appropriate ‘voice’ through which to reflect the complex paradox of questions emanating from this heavily coded landscape? 

Ross Sinclair aims to interrogate the agency of an individual art practice set against such a coded landscape, proposing a new constellation for the Lighthouse, seeking to explore empathetic formal manifestations conjured by these questions where certain forms, for example, the photographic or aural, may be too fixed or formalised to simply readthis particular landscape.

Over a full Calendar year, Sinclair repeatedly walked a 10km route along the spine of the Rosneath Peninsula in close proximity to the Nuclear Submarine Bases at Coulport and Faslane, on the Firth of Clyde – Gare Loch/Loch Long. This investigation was undertaken in all seasons and in all weather, with Sinclair observing and documenting the changes in light, weather flora and fauna at the destination of the walk: Trig Point OSBM S5140. 

However, for this manifestation of the research the images and sounds collected are put to one side and instead a vignette is created conjuring a palimpsest of reflections and reveries  conjured by this repeated journey. The works are further informed by Sinclair listening, while walking, to a series of audio books and lectures charting one paradigm of the culmination of human knowledge and understanding; The history of Philosophy, from the Pre-Socratics around the 7thand 6thCenturies BCE, walking through 2500 subsequent years toward the 21stCentury. As the distances and the knowledge accrues, the landscape itself becomes a dark mirror reflecting the end game of this rarefied philosophical discussion of Epistemology and Ontology. This knowledge and sense of being and ceasing to exist  troubles our thoughts, as the cognitive dissonance of this sublime landscape with its invisible underground stores of Armageddon repeatedly fails to resolve into focus. 

A series of T-Shirts are displayed announcing, ‘The Real Life Nuclear and Philosophical Resurrectionists Research Ramblers Society: Faslane & Coalport Chapter.’

Why not sign up for membership today?

Sinclair sees this new work as a manifestation of discussions around coded landscape themes undertaken as part of ‘Reading Landscape’ Research Group’s enquiries. Practicing Landscape: Land, Histories and Transformation offers an opportunity to further develop this research through public dissemination and engagement.  

Ross Sinclair, ‘The Real Life Nuclear and Philosophical Resurrectionists Research Ramblers Society: Faslane & Coulport Chapter,’ 2020, Details and Installation view. Photos: Jack McCombe

TOP IMAGE: Ross Sinclair, ‘The Real Life Nuclear and Philosophical Resurrectionists Research Ramblers Society: Faslane & Coulport Chapter,’ 2020, (Detail). Photo: Jack McCombe

Exhibiting Artists: Frances Robertson

Frances Robertson
‘Imposter’, 2020; Charcoal on paper
Photo: Jack McCombe

Frances Robertson’s landscape observations to date have been carried out in both words and images—in parallel investigations of the interactions between landscape representation, notions of national and regional identity and the cultural politics of design and landscape shaping in Scotland, such as ‘Power in the landscape: Regenerating the Scottish Highlands after the Second World War’ (in: The Culture of Nature in the History of Design, Routledge, London, 2019). She has also been involved in organising and presenting in the Through a Northern Lens, series of annual symposiums (Bird, Robertson, and Brownrigg), looking at different aspects of landscape (An Auto-Ethnographic Turn’ (2018); ‘Place, Image, Archaeology and Heritage’ (2017); and ‘Women, Picture and Place’ (2016). Here in the exhibition Robertson investigates landscape through a long-durational observational drawing of a tree body, acknowledging the structural and intellectual knowledge fostered in Western traditions of drawing. This new work in Practicing Landscape: Land, Histories and Transformation depicts a foreign introduction brought here by Victorian imperial plant hunters, the monkey-puzzling araucaria, indeed a particular specimen standing over the ancient Egyptian-style tomb of one of Glasgow’s more successful merchants. This work is the latest in a series of drawings that Robertson has been making since 2005. 

Exhibiting Artists: Lesley Punton

Lesley Punton
‘Collection’, 2018; 3 parts: vitrine case with rocks, inkjet print, and A2 poster stack
 Photo: Jack McCombe

Lesley Punton is interested in how we experience scale in landscape, multiple temporalities, and the interplay of the subjective alongside the monumental. The works in Practicing Landscape: Land, Histories and Transformation are informed by her ongoing interest in the ontological repercussions of walking and ‘being’ within remote landscape, and in relation to deep time. The work is made over an extended time, collecting rocks and minerals on her travels primarily in Scotland, but also meditates on rocks that have originated in Sweden, Iceland, Algeria, The Netherlands, China and England. These initial rock samples were collected somewhat casually, but as the project started to coalesce, Punton became more systematic in her collecting. The accompanying written narratives emerged from a broader writing practice seeking to contextualise these ordinary objects by text that shifts across personal meditations on place, experience, science and literature. The work on show at the Lighthouse includes, and builds on ‘Collection’, and other pieces in a body of work related to geology and time, 2018, Studio Pavilion  by the addition of a new studio drawing, considering drawing as a process analogous to walking, where the traverse of a landscape is equated to the traverse of a line on paper. The informal, exploratory nature of drawing as a creative practice, and exploration as an embodied process could be seen in parallel terms in this work.

Lesley Punton
‘Schaft/Chas’, 2018; Colour c-type print

TOP IMAGE: Lesley Punton
‘Collection’, 2018 (Detail); 3 parts: vitrine case with rocks, inkjet print, and A2 poster stack. Photo: Jack McCombe