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‘Paint it Red’ is a contemporary portrait of Easterhouse by Glasgow-based artist, Colin James Tennant. The exhibition is the culmination of a year-long photography project that has developed through conversations, interactions and experiences gained while working in Easterhouse. The work explores the local landscape; the social history, its personalities and the human spirit that contribute to this notoriously misunderstood community.
Colin, the artist, has a few words to add…
“I’ve spent time over the past year meeting and photographing people in the local community and hearing their stories. It’s been a truly fascinating experience – I’ve met so many inspirational people in what is a thriving, vibrant place.”
As part of the exhibition, Platform invited artist Matt Baker to reflect on the project, exhibition and the work of Colin.
Paint it Red is a photography project that has been developed and created by Colin James Tennant, over an extensive period time spent at Platform and in the surrounding area of Easterhouse. The work began as collaboration with artist Deirdre Nelson, documenting Deirdre’s ‘Made In Easterhouse project’ in 2016. ‘Made in Easterhouse’ celebrated local ‘making’ in all its forms, meaning Colin documented tea dances, party piece nights, knitting bees, jam making events, conversations, meet ups and workshops in various community settings. It also involved interactions with many groups from the community. Most of these groups were female, which inspired Colin to develop a project, which focuses more on the men of the community.
Paint it Red is a contemporary portrait, made with a camera, of Easterhouse and those that live within it. Embedded in the photographs is an open-ended and personal enquiry; one that lays bare the exchange involved in making a photograph. This opens a door onto what being a member of this community is and means in this place, in the early 21st century. It is a profoundly generous, hopeful and honourable body of work.
In 2011, Colin and I were part of the small group of co-founders of The Stove Network in Dumfries. The Stove was (and still is) an evolving project about using the role of the arts and artists as a way of bringing the local people of Dumfries into the conversation about its future in the modern era. Platfom has a very similar ethos. Both are centred on improving the community in which they are located. I mention The Stove because my connection to Colin’s creative process is important for the way I approach Paint it Red and I want to share that with you as best I can.
The working methodology of The Stove is very hands-on and practical; it creates opportunities for people to work together across different generations and life experiences. Colin was part of The Stove because he wanted to do something positive for his hometown, but also because he saw it as an opportunity to develop his understanding of photography and his career. Working as part of The Stove, Colin was always completely honest about what he wanted to get involved in and why – the exchange was transparent. It was also clear that asking Colin to take a constructed photograph (like a staged group photo) was like asking a fish to ride a bicycle; it just makes no sense to him. For Colin, being fully part of any situation is central to who he is as an artist and his talent is in the way he uses his camera to express his understanding of the situations, locations and communities that he finds himself within.
This brings me back to Easterhouse. Over the last 12 months, Colin has been on a journey to meet and become a part of different groups within the area. While the aim of making photographs was always in mind, it is vital to remember the importance of exchange for Colin and of playing his full part in any collective or group. He began by looking for clues and tracing absences in football pitches and abandoned doocots. Then there were the film club screenings he helped organise in Griers Bar (one of the only pubs left in Easterhouse) and the meetings he attended around forming the local Men’s Shed project. Meetings were set up to discuss Easterhouse of old, past football teams that once donned the now empty parks, chats in pubs, allotment sites, cafés and the shopping centre allowed Colin to gain a greater understanding of the area but, more importantly, to connect genuinely with those who live within it.
It was always clear that Colin is the photographer, but he joined in on events at the allotments, brought materials along for the makers and took part in events like the party piece nights. He gave his own skills, freely, to the groups, and whenever he made a photograph of a person, event or group, he would often hand deliver those photographs to the pub or community group to share what he had created. What you see in Paint it Red is only a fraction of the work Colin has created. It is as important to him to have offered his photographic work back to the community in return for their openness in allowing him to document the community, as it is to creating this selection of works for the Paint it Red exhibition. The exchange is transparent.