Jan Patience

The author William McIllvaney once described Oscar Marzaroli, one of Scotland's most admired documentary photographers, as being in possession of a pair of "magpie eyes". These eyes, wrote McIlvanney in a foreword to Shades of Scotland, a collection of Marzaroli's photographs published the year after he died, were perennially "darting everywhere, instinctively and manically gathering their hoard or bright, innocent images that had no purpose but their beauty."

Marzaroli's eyes, together with a huge dollop of humanity, melded into one when it came to capturing an image which placed the viewer in his shoes; forever watching and wondering.

McIlvanney went on: "He had the vulnerable preoccupation of those who know that they don't know what this is all about."

Marzaroli used this vulnerability to great effect when it came to chronicling the changing life and times of Scotland from the 1950s up to his untimely death at the age of 55 in 1988.

As Glasgow's Street Level Photoworks prepares to mount the first major exhibition of Marzaroli’s photographs in his home city in over 30 years, the spotlight is falling once again on this most noticing of men.

Oscar Marzaroli photographs must count as being among the most famous images ever created of Glasgow. Photographs such as The Castlemilk Lads and The Golden Haired Lass, taken in the early 1960s, have achieved an almost mythical status.

In the 1980s, his work reached new audiences when Deacon Blue used his images of the city and its people on their record covers. The cover of the band's debut album, Raintown, was taken by Marzaroli and depicted a rainy day over Glasgow’s west end, with the Finnieston Crane in the background.

Marzaroli was born in Castiglione, La Spezia, Italy in 1933. Like many Italian families in this era, economic hardship precipitated a move to Glasgow in 1935. The family went on to settle in Garnethill. Between 1955 and 1959 Marzaroli worked as a freelance photojournalist in Stockholm and London, and spent time touring Europe. On his return to Glasgow in 1959, he set up a photographic studio, Studio 59, and married Glasgow School of Art-trained sculptor, Anne Connelly, with whom he had three daughters; Marie Claire, Nicola and Lisa Jane.

In 1967, Marzaroli co-founded Ogam films with Mike Pavett and Allan and Martin Singleton. During the early 1970s, Ogam films were commissioned by the Highlands and Islands Development Board to make over 69 high-quality short films relating to the changing face of life in the Highlands and Islands. Marzaroli always had his stills camera with him though and many of the photographs on display in this new retrospective date from this period. There have also been several books featuring his work published between 1983 and 2013.

This exhibition features over 80 photographs – some of which have never been seen, as well as his cameras and contact sheets. An extensive range of subject matter will be embraced in this exhibition and through Marzaroli's eyes, we get to zero in on portraits and landscapes the length and breadth of Scotland during a time of seismic changes in society when city slums were being cleared to make way for new social housing and the old ways in Scotland's rural parts were fast disappearing.

He also documented the cultural life of Scotland, photographing major figures such as Hugh MacDiarmid, Alasdair Gray, George Mackay Brown, Sorley Maclean and a laughing Joan Eardley. Alongside the great and the good, there are portraits of remarkable people known in their own communities. People like the standard bearer in Selkirk's Common Riding, or Marion Campbell, a famous Harris tweed weaver from Harris. There's even a playful portrait portrait of one of the survivors of the Iolaire tragedy, taken in 1979 outside his croft on Lewis 60 years after the yacht sank in Stornoway Harbour. The bunnet-wearing man is holding a cat like a baby. It's one of these images you can't stop looking at.

Marzaroli left a huge body of work. More than 50,000 photographs taken by him have recently been donated by his family to Glasgow Caledonian University. Street Level is currently working with the family and GCU in bringing the work to even wider public recognition.

According to Malcolm Dickson, of Street Level, the process of scanning Marzaroli's original 35mm negatives has been a fascinating one for the team at the Glasgow photography arts organisation, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.

"We have previously seen his images in books but it is a very different experience seeing them scanned. There are layers of details never seen before which give an added resonance. We gave scanned them and then done very basic touching up. The quality is amazing. It's just one step removed from seeing a dark room print."

This retrospective, which includes prints for sale, will start the process of giving Marzaroli his due on an international stage, says Dickson.

"Very much rooted in Glasgow, this gave him a special relationship with the subject matter, creating his images from an insider's viewpoint, with sensitivity and candour.

"His work is vast in number and it’s now time he was recognised internationally. He is to Glasgow and Scotland what Christer Strömholm is to Stockholm and Sweden; Bruce Davidson to New York; Helga Paris to East Berlin. It’s fitting that this is happening in the year of Street Level's 30th anniversary and that new audiences can see some of his finest work first hand."

Oscar Marzaroli, Street Level Photoworks, Street Level Photoworks, Trongate 103, Glasgow G1 5HD, 0141 552 2151, www.streetlevelphotoworks.org, open Tue to Sat, 10am–5pm, Sunday,12pm–5pm, December 7, 2019 – March 15, 2020

Critic's Choice

With the opening of a new exhibition featuring the work of Stuart Buchanan, Kim Canale and Dominique Cameron, Wall Projects in Montrose has come full circle. Artist and curator, Kim Canale, started up Wall Projects in her home 13 years ago and from this starting point went off in all sorts of creative directions.

In the interim period, she curated a host of exhibitions, bringing talent such as Anna King and Dominque Cameron to greater attention and facilitated various happenings at the nearby Old Ropeworks in Montrose. I attended Heroica's Joan Eardley: A Private View there in 2017. The rawness of the space and the connection to the industrial past of this north east town coupled with Alexandra Mathie's astonishing performance as Eardley, who lived and worked in nearby Catterline, made for a memorable evening.

Canale has now decided to go back to where it all started and get back to painting herself and showing it on a domestic scale. She has poured all her creative energies into creating a new body of work for this show. "There's been a shift and my new work is stronger," she explains. "When you facilitate a gallery, your objectives are your artists. I was so busy trying to get ofter people out there that I neglected my own work. Being creative gives me a purpose and I think there's a depth to this new work. I have stripped everything back. And also returned to my house where it all started in 2006."

Featuring ten new paintings apiece from Canale, Catterline-based Buchanan and Cameron, who lives further down the coast in Pittenweem, there is a freshness in terms of colour, tone and mark-making to all the work on show.

"Stuart has concentrated on Catterline and the work is so strong," Canale says. It includes a tiny painting of Joan Eardley's studio, The Watchie, which is just wonderful."

Silk scarves, I Love You + I Always Will, based on a painting Canale made to commemorate her mother, who died in 2003, will be available from today, at a special introductory price £95 each.

*Dominique Cameron will be giving an artist's talk in the gallery next Saturday, December 7 from 2-3pm.

Three Artists: Stuart Buchanan, Dominique Cameron & Kim Canale, Wall Projects, 17 Wellington Street, Montrose, Angus, DD10 8QD, www.wallprojectsltd.com, 07714 368203. Preview today from 12-4pm. Until January 25, 2020. Open weekends. Call Kim Canale for appointments.

Don't Miss

As my colleague, Sarah Urwin Jones pointed out last week on this page, small is beautiful, especially when it comes to Christmas markets. Holding this thought, if you are in the Glasgow area, Etsy Made Local is back for its fifth year in Glasgow. This two-day event features the work of 68 different sellers on each day. It’s part of a nationwide event that will see cities from coast to coast celebrating makers, designers and collectors that make up the creative community selling on Etsy.com, the online marketplace for handmade and vintage goods. Look locally for this year’s Christmas gifting.

Etsy Made Local Market, The Briggait, 141 Bridgegate, Glasgow City Centre G1 5HZ, facebook.com/GlasgowEtsyTeam, today and tomorrow, 11am–4.40pm. Free entry.