Groundbreaking exhibition explores pioneering women photographers and filmmakers in early 20th-century Scotland – The City of Edinburgh Council – Edinburgh Council | Episode Movies

Glean: Women Filmmakers and Photographers in Scotland in the Early Twentieth Century
November 12, 2022 – March 12, 2023
City Arts Center

Opening this Saturday (12 November) at the City Art Centre, Glean, 125 photographs, eight films and 35 associated artefacts are on display by 14 women who worked in Scotland in the early 20th century.

The work comes from 17 archives, mostly in Scotland, from Galloway to Shetland. This exhibition aims to show how the women with their cameras reacted to life in Scotland’s rural communities, towns and cities and beyond. It is the first time their work is being shown together and it reveals an untold story in the history of Scottish photography and filmmaking from the period. These women present different accounts of Scotland, covering both rural and urban locations and communities. The exhibition shows the breadth of her photographic and film work and offers a critical analysis of her work.

The exhibition groups the work under four themes: Nature, Landscape and Travel shows how the women were keen observers of nature and landscape, including tilling the land. Capturing Scotland shows how women have captured the transition from traditional to modern life in both urban and rural contexts. Recording Community focuses specifically on the works of two of the women, Margaret Fay Shaw and Dr. Beatrice Garvie, who have long lived in the communities where they were recording. Women and Society explores how they, as photographers and filmmakers, portrayed the role of women in rural and urban societies.

From rural Scotland we see a portrait of Shetland by Jenny Gilbertson; Margaret Fay Shaw’s portraits of sisters Màiri and Peigi MacRae and their lives in the small village of North Glendale, South Uist; to the wanderings of MEM Donaldson as she walks with her camera across the Scottish Highlands and Islands. At a time when islanders and highlanders were portrayed only as ‘guys’, the work of these women presents them as real people and equals, an intimacy afforded by longevity in their communities. Through her lens we can also glimpse the problems of the time, from Helen Biggar and Christina Broom’s recording of protest marches, to Ruby Grierson’s housing conditions of the lower class, to the interwar years in Marion Grierson’s films. Rural and town labour, industry and commerce are notably represented by Violet Banks, Margaret Watkins, Margaret Fay Shaw and Jenny Gilbertson. Isabell Burton MacKenzie was tour operator for The Highlands Home Industry from 1911 to 1914. Using a Kodak Vest Pocket Camera as a reminder, she visited the homes of islanders involved in crafts to encourage them to sell their work directly through mainland exhibitions through The Highlands Home Industry initiatives. dr Beatrice Garvie, who worked as a doctor for North Roaldsay, Orkney for 15 years, chronicled work and important community events on the island.

The exhibition alludes to the different contexts in which the women worked, from being self-employed to those working in or with industry. This, of course, happened at a time when in 1918 only some women over 30 had the right to vote and in 1928 all women over 21 were granted the right to vote. The early female photographers and filmmakers took a different path than their gender expected. For example, Banks and Broom maintained their own commercial photo studios, while the Grierson sisters worked through the government and industry-funded film initiatives of their brother, documentary filmmaker John Grierson.

The exhibition, curated by Jenny Brownrigg, Exhibitions Director at Glasgow School of Art, is a partnership project with the City Art Centre. The exhibition is accompanied by a program of events that brings together other researchers, gallery owners and archivists who have supported the work of these women.

Culture and Communities Chair Cllr Val Walker said:

Glean promises to be an empowering exhibition that looks back at the wonderful work of female photographers and early female filmmakers who created an important legacy in a male-dominated field. The women featured played a huge part in the history of photography in Scotland and Glean invites viewers to learn more about these inspiring women and it is fantastic to see the achievements of these extraordinary practitioners.

City Art Center curator David Patterson said:

The City Art Center is delighted to host this exhibition in partnership with Glasgow School of Art Exhibitions Director Jenny Brownrigg. We were really intrigued by Jenny’s original proposal to tell the story of these pioneering women and bring their work to a wider audience. The proposal also fitted so well with other photography exhibitions taking place at the same time, and provided national and historical context for the other two exhibitions, which have a clear Edinburgh focus. We are confident that visitors will find the exhibition of great interest, as will the accompanying program of events, which will allow for a deeper exploration of the work of some of the artists.

Glean curator Jenny Brownrigg said:

I am pleased to be collaborating with the City Art Center for this exhibition and thank all lenders. I hope that the exhibition shows the different motivations of women for their work. Seen together, their photographs and films tell different stories about Scotland.

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