A CONTESTED LAND
Colin McPherson | Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert | Sophie Gerrard | Stephen McLaren I Margaret Mitchell
A Contested Land examines the complex relationship between Scotland’s people, history and landscape through the work of four photographers. The contrasting series of works by the collective known as Document Scotland, will be exhibited at the Martin Parr Foundation for the first time before it is shown at venues in Perth, Dunoon and Inverness during 2019.
Document Scotland was founded in 2012 by four photographers – Colin McPherson, Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert, Sophie Gerrard and Stephen McLaren, and for this exhibition will be joined by Margaret Mitchell. Tired of the tropes and clichés which are often used to represent Scotland, their aim is to provide an accurate view of their nation today and disseminate their work beyond the borders. Although their work is contemporary, it acknowledges the past and its resonance with the present.
They work in a Scotland where vast tracts of wilderness have been scarred by centuries of mismanagement, marine resources are controlled by five all-powerful fishing families, the wealth of the richest is 250 times that of the poorest, and the population of its major cities continues to expand, whilst population growth in many other areas is flat lining, or even falling at an unsustainable level. With impending Brexit, climate change and unforeseeable global events, it is not possible to predict where Scotland will be in a generation’s time. It is against this backdrop that Document Scotland have created A Contested Land.
Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert’s work captures the raw and powerful political theatre of Scotland’s parades and marches. Played out in public spaces from Glasgow to Faslane, depicting Pro-Scottish Independence marches to demonstrations against Trident missiles – the photographs collectively show vibrant and lively displays of stand-bearing, placards, slogans and passion. Strip away the banners and confiscate the flags, the adversaries cannot be told apart - they are all Scots. Sutton-Hibbert’s photographs offers a beguiling view of the possibility of an undivided future aside from political discourse and disagreements.
The gentle and undulating landscapes of Scotland’s peat bogs are the subject of Sophie Gerrard’s work. Eschewing sentimentality, the photographs look at how this precious environmental resource has been desecrated and denuded over generations and how these almost magical places are being revived and reinvigorated through careful and considered conservation. Once seen as ‘fair game’ for industrial-scale exploitation, this series questions the viewer’s relationship with local and national areas of outstanding beauty, and how such places fit into Scotland’s topography and consciousness, linking people to the land and the land to the people.
Stephen McLaren’s series examines the hidden link between Edinburgh’s wealth and the slave trade with Jamaica. Scotland has distanced itself from its inheritance as architects and perpetrators of the widespread exploitation of many thousands of slaves - yet behind the front doors of Edinburgh’s New Town, lies the legacy of British colonial profiteering. Depicting everyday sites across the city once connected to the slave trade, McLaren’s work ignites a conversation about acknowledging an historical wrong, and re-evaluating the relationships with people and communities within and beyond its own borders.
History is also the starting point for Colin McPherson’s visual exploration of life on Easdale, the smallest permanently-inhabited Inner Hebridean Island. Once the epicentre of Scotland’s slate quarrying industry, the island has become a by-word for repopulation and reinvention as its current community continues to battle traditional adversaries: economics and environment. At its height in the 19th century, Easdale housed four hundred people - the slates they produced roofed the world. When an epic storm decimated the island in the 1880s it went into decline, only for a new band of pioneers to resettle and revive Easdale nearly a century later. McPherson’s personal connections with the island date back thirty years, and through this series he offers a contemporary commentary on the parallels with the past and how many of the 65 current residents live.
Margaret Mitchell’s acclaimed work, Family (1994) & In This Place (2016-17), asks do we have choices in life, or are some predetermined and made for us? Taken over 20 years apart, these two connected series ask whether the choices we have in life are ultimately predetermined by upbringing, locality and socio-economic position.
‘Family' features the daily lives of Margaret Mitchell’s late sister and her three children as they navigated their lives in difficult emotional and socio-economic circumstances in Scotland. 'In This Place' revisits the children’s lives in adulthood, now with their own families in a story of love, loss and endurance.
The children from 1994 did not travel far, moving from one area scoring high in government statistics on deprivation to another. A simple bus ride across town. These are life stories that ask questions on how society operates, how choices in life are related to opportunity and environment.
Through parental loss and limited opportunities, a glue binds the original three siblings together, intertwined and interdependent as they were as children in 1994. Yet, within this personal geography of one family, the social impact is evident. Choice is not equal for all.
Front Image: Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert. Bannockburn
The first showing of this exhibition was at the Martin Parr Foundation in Bristol, in early 2019.
‘At the Martin Parr Foundation, we are collecting and showing work from all over the UK and Ireland. I have been aware of the Document Scotland group for many years now and have followed their work and admire their aims and achievements. We are very pleased to have the opportunity to show their new group exhibition A Contested Land for the first time in the UK.’ Martin Parr
A Contested Land Exhibition tour:
- Martin Parr Foundation, Bristol, 15th January – 16th March, 2019
- Stills Gallery, Edinburgh, Salon event – 7 February 2019
– Perth Art Gallery and Museum – 20 April – 23 June 2019
– Dunoon Burgh Hall – 20 July – 18 August 2019
– FLOW Photo Festival, Inverness, September 2019
For further information on Document Scotland, please visit
Born in Edinburgh, Colin McPherson has been photographing in Scotland and abroad for more than 25 years and is represented by Getty Images. McPherson’s work is published internationally and held in archives and collections such as the Scottish National Photographic Archive and the University of St. Andrews University Special Collections. His photography has been featured in more than 30 solo and group exhibitions. His major Document Scotland projects include A Fine Line, The Fall and Rise of Ravenscraig and When Saturday Comes, which was exhibited at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in The Ties That Bind.
Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert grew up in Scotland and is a 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 amongst others. For over a decade, Sutton-Hibbert has been one of the principal photographers for Greenpeace International, and his assignment work for editorial and corporate clients has taken him to over 100 countries. 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.
Sophie Gerrard began her career in environmental sciences before studying photography at Edinburgh College of Art, and an MA Photojournalism and Documentary Photography at The London College of Communication. Working regularly for clients such as The Guardian Weekend Magazine, FT Magazine, The Independent and The Telegraph Magazine and on long-term self-initiated projects, she pursues contemporary stories with environmental and social themes. A recipient of a Jerwood Photography Award and Fuji Bursary amongst other awards, Gerrard’s work has been exhibited and published internationally and is held in numerous national and private collections. She is represented by The Photographers’ Gallery in London.
Stephen McLaren was a television director and journalist making documentaries for the BBC before returning to photography in 2005 His work has been shown in several exhibitions including: Onto the Streets at Photofusion in London; Eastend Street: Then and Now at the Rich Mix Centre in London; FORMAT in Derby, and Look11 in Liverpool. His work has been published in The Guardian, The New Yorker and The Observer amongst others. He has curated street photography exhibitions which have travelled round Europe with the British Council and he is the co-editor of Street Photography Now (Thames & Hudson, 2010).
Margaret Mitchell is a Scottish photographer working within a documentary and portraiture approach. Projects range from exploring communities and children’s worlds through to long-term documentation projects on environment, opportunity and social inequality. The inner and lived worlds of others are central to her photography which explores the intricacies and complexities of people’s lives.
Awards include the Sony World Photography Awards (2nd place Professional: Contemporary Issues, 2018) and The Royal Photographic Society’s IPE160 (Gold Award, 2017). Her work has been exhibited widely including at Somerset House, National Portrait Gallery, Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Street Level Photoworks and Getty Images Gallery. Work is held in the collection at the National Galleries of Scotland.