With a few exceptions, photographers as a breed tend not to be show offs. They live their lives behind a lens, ready to pounce in that magical moment when their eye becomes our eye. 

Typically, amateur photographer, Eric Watt was not one for the limelight. A quiet man, for most of his working life, he taught science at Woodfarm High School in Thornliebank on Glasgow's south side and lived in the family flat in Pollokshields. He never married or had a family of his own. All his free time was spent taking photographs around the city. From 1958 onwards, he was an active member of Queens Park Camera Club, one of many such clubs around Scotland. Well-known on the amateur photography circuit, he gave around 1000 talks on his archive to camera clubs and historical societies before he died at the age of 71 in 2005.

Fame of sorts came late, when Glasgow Museums staged a hugely popular exhibition of his work at Scotland Street School in 2002. The show, Bairns and Backstreets, was curated by Alison Brown, and focused on the many images Watt took of kids at play around Glasgow.

Reviewing it at the time for the Evening Times, Brian Beacom wrote: "Until time machines are invented we have to be eternally grateful to the Eric Watts of this world…"

According to Eric's brother, Graham, his passion for photography was ignited when he received a small camera as a Christmas present in 1947 at the age of 13. He never looked back.
Graham explains: "He always left the house with at least two cameras round his neck should he see something of interest, which he nearly always did. Then it was back to his bedroom which had a huge cabinet containing all his developing paraphernalia. He spent the evenings mounting his slides and finally the family were entertained to a show among which are the historical pictures contained in this book."
The book in question is a new publication called Coming Into View: Eric Watt's Photographs of Glasgow. Published by Glasgow Museums and written by Isobel McDonald, with Alison Brown, it features almost 100 photographs, revealing different aspects of the city Watt lived in for most of his life as it went through a turbulent period of intense social and physical change. 

The images are grouped in the book under nine themes; Glasgow at Play, Changing City, Kids, Politics and Protest, River Clyde, Working Life, Going Shopping, Transport and Faith. 

Watt created a vast archive of photographs which chronicle the life and times of Glasgow from the 1950s to the 1990s with wit, warmth and humanity. Following his death, a large part of his archive was gifted to Glasgow Museums' collection by his family. The images in the book have been selected from more than 3,500 photographs in the collection.

Earlier this year, an exhibition of his work was due to open at Glasgow's Kelvingrove, but like many events this year, it has now been postponed until 2021. This book, however, fills the void with panache.

In keeping with his habit of staying behind the lens, Watt appears fleetingly. Firstly as a serious young man, staring intently at the camera. The portrait bears his signature and it looks like it was taken for some official documentation.

On the same page, we see another Eric; this time in middle age. His face is obscured behind a camera and he's standing in the corner of a kaleidoscope display at the Dome of Discovery set up in Govan's South Rotunda as part of Glasgow's European Capital of Culture celebrations in 1990. The reflections show Watt, in a brown anorak, appear many times over as he photographs a wee girl in a red bow and pink jacket amazed to discover there are six of her all linked together Ring a Ring o' Roses style.

In another colour image taken in July 1975, he can be seen partially reflected in the mirror at the back of a window display at Glasgow’s Finest Food on Duke Street. 

As the book's author, Isobel McDonald says, the labels – with everything from coffee to dried egg being described as "finest" – must have amused him. 

It's clear that McDonald, Glasgow Museums' Curator of Social History, has fallen under the spell of this quiet chronicler of Glasgow's times past. "Eric was great at catching moments," she says."It was just something he loved to do. He was aware of what other photographers were doing and read photography magazines avidly.

"Before he died, he worked with my colleague, Alison Brown, on Bairns and Backstreets. She recalls that he was at pains to say the photographs were 'not perfect'. For Eric it was all about having the eye."

Watt’s first job was as a chemist for Schweppes in Possil Park in the north of Glasgow and apart from a brief sojourn to Newcastle with the drinks giant, he lived all his life in the city. Among the earliest images in the book are two pictures taken in the Schweppes factory. One, taken for The Marble Archer, Schweppes’ staff magazine, shows a woman behind a visor, closely examining upside bitter lemon bottles at the factory. Another presents a woman called Lyn, all dressed up by her friends at work on the day she left work to get married. 

These black and white images are the closest to reportage of any in the book. Many of the images are in vibrant colour, which turns the idea on its head that Glasgow's past is forever preserved in grimy black and white. Perhaps as a young man with a disposable income, buying expensive colour film was Watt's guilty pleasure. He certainly put it to good use.

Many images leap out and make you smile – or gasp with a sudden jolt of recognition. I kept returning to one colour photograph of a group of three lads and a toddler in a pushchair on a patch of waste ground in Kinning Park on Boxing Day in 1970. One of their number has been given a second-hand tent for Christmas and they have pitched it on the wasteland. The sun has come out momentarily and all is well with the world.

In another photograph, a wee girl stands in front of a chalk-marked wall making a cheeky face to an unknown person stage left. Clutching a white cup, she's in her stocking feet, wearing a red pinafore with a pink wooly jumper, grubby skint knees turning inwards in a pose familiar to anyone who has ever lived with a toddler. Reminiscent of Joan Eardley's paintings of Glasgow street kids from the late 1950s and early 1960s, you find yourself asking… who was she?

Glasgow comes alive under Eric Watt's steady gaze. On various perambulations round the east and west end of the city in the early 1970s, his eye tuned into gable-end artworks. The murals were commissioned by the Scottish Arts Council to brighten up demolition sites. One photo in the book shows John Byrne's Boy on Dog at Crawford Street, Partick in 1975. In the foreground, bags of rubbish have accumulated as a result of the Glasgow dust cart driver’s strike of 1975.

Perhaps my favourite photograph in the book is of an exposed gable wall. A graphic pattern has emerged  via the charcoal black fireplaces and chimneys interspersed by cupboards – or presses as they were known. As so many of the images in this collection reveal, Eric Watt had the eye, heart and soul of an artist and an uncanny ability to capture the moment.

Coming Into View: Eric Watt's Photographs of Glasgow, by Isobel McDonald with contributions from Alison Brown, Glasgow Museums Publishing, to order call 0845 370 0067/www.booksource.net, £12.99

Critic's Choice

The Scots saying tak tent o’ sma’ things has been a driving force in Julie Goring’s latest body of work, The Need for Eden, at Frames Gallery in Perth. Paying heed to small things has been a common theme for all in 2020, as the world around us contracts.

Goring, however, has been on a lifelong quest for what she describes as “unexpected beauty”. The “details that are easily overlooked in our busy lives, and unfold to us…” have found their way into her art; be that spotted leopard slugs hiding in a woodpile in her garden or rooks on a “flightpath” flapping overhead.

According to Goring’s husband, Hugh, who runs Frames Gallery, this exhibition is the “culmination of two years’ work and research and is a very personal response to the world of birds.

I remember very well when we first talked about the show she made it very clear to me that it would not be a selling exhibition and that she wanted to feel free to produce the work that she wanted without the inhibition of worrying about sales.”

The result is a flight of fancy which reflects the inner workings of an artist’s close connection to the avian world. Crows on gilded, hand-painted columns make a silent squawk in the gallery space, a small library of sketchbooks and small 3D sculptures sit quietly demanding attention while an altar piece to St Francis, patron saint of animals and ecology, pays homage to a flock of small bird paintings.

Drawing inspiration from the mediaeval world and also the Renaissance, Goring’s works on gesso panel with a sparing use of gold leaf are delicate and beguiling. Some of the work is for sale. Catch it before it takes flight.

Julie Goring: The Need For Eden, Frames Gallery, 10 Victoria Street, Perth, PH2 8LW, 01738 631085, www.framesgallery.co.uk, Monday to Saturday, 10am-5pm. Until November 14.

Don't Miss

The art of slow looking is second nature to mother and daughter, Patricia Sadler and Ann Cowan. Although there is no mistaking the work of one for the other, there is clearly a link between the way they translate their own vision of the world into paint – as this new exhibition at the Smithy Gallery in Blanefield reveals. A joyous exploration of colour, structure and mark making, if I had the money (and space), I’d buy them all!

Patricia Sadler & Ann Cowan: Journeys in Colour (A Mother and Daughter Collaboration), Smithy Gallery, 74 Glasgow Road, Blanefield, Glasgow, G63 9HX, 01360 770551, www.smithygallery.co.uk, Tuesday to Saturday 11am-5pm & Sunday 1pm–5pm. Until November 29.