© Colin Tennant (Coulson & Tennant) // Tony
Colin Tennant (Coulson & Tennant)
The Story behind the Portrait
“Let me see your shoes… aye, they’re fine.”
“What do you mean they’re fine?”
“If they were shiny, I would have known you were either polis or from the social. You’re sound to come in.”
This was one of the first conversations I had with a regular outside the only pub left in Easterhouse, in Glasgow’s East End. From the outside, Griers Bar is an intimidating, Glaswegian pub, with no windows and barely any indication that it is actually a pub, except for a few old signs on its black and white exterior and the constant flow of men coming out for a smoke before disappearing back inside.
This portrait is of Tony, a regular, having a smoke in the covered area that faces onto the pavement. I started talking with Tony and many other men (it was only really men who frequented the pub) in the smoking area for a few weeks before I made any photographs or even entered the pub.
I had been developing a photography project that would later be called ‘Paint it Red – A Contemporary Portrait of Easterhouse’ and was eager to learn more about the community of men who spent time in Griers Bar.
I started working in Easterhouse while collaborating with artist Deirdre Nelson in 2016, documenting her ‘Made in Easterhouse’ project which celebrated local ‘making’ in all its forms. I photographed tea dances, party piece nights, knitting bees, conversations, meetups and workshops in various community settings. What quickly became clear to both Deirdre and I, was that the Made in Easterhouse project mainly connected with female groups. This inspired me to develop a project that focused on the men of the community.
Over the subsequent 12 months, and with the support of an arts organisation called Platform based locally, I developed a project that would explore the lives of older men living in the Easterhouse area.
Easterhouse is, perhaps unfairly, synonymous with social deprivation, a history of gang violence, addiction issues, high unemployment and low life expectancy rates. This photography project sought to ask questions about the lives of older Scottish men, loneliness, lack of solidarity, and where they seek refuge and companionship. The work explored the local landscape; the social history, its personalities and the human spirit that contribute to this once notorious and still misunderstood area of Glasgow.
The project began with conversations and interactions. I met and became part of different groups within the area and began looking for clues of places men would occupy; tracing absences in football pitches and abandoned dookits. I attended meetings about forming community-based projects and spoke with many locals about Easterhouse of old, football teams that once graced the now empty parks, and what it was like back in the day. I had chats on the street, in community centres, churches, allotment sites, cafés and the shopping centre, which allowed me to gain a greater understanding of the area but, more importantly, to genuinely connect with those who live within it. This led me to Griers Bar.
After the initial conversations on the pavement and proving that I wasn’t “polis or from the social,” I spent a great deal of time in and outside the bar. I photographed many of the locals, helped set up film screenings and attended poker nights and other events.
I always need to connect with people before I feel comfortable photographing them. I struggle to photograph anyone before I have, at the very least, had a conversation with them, and I will often start a project, meet people and community groups for a few months before I even take out my camera. Sometimes this is not possible but on long term projects it’s essential to me that I connect with the communities I am working with. During the project and after the resulting exhibition (first held in the local art centre, Platform) I would often hand deliver photographs to the individuals or community groups to share what I had created. It is important to me to offer my photographic work back to the community, in return for their openness in allowing me to document their community.
During my last visit to Griers Bar, I was pleased to see quite a few of the portraits of the regulars hanging up inside the pub. Another gentleman I photographed was Bobby who would come in every day, have a pint and do a crossword. Bobby, the landlord told me, had been sitting in the exact same seat for 40 years doing ‘that’ crossword. I photographed him in his seat and when I dropped a copy of the photo off for him it, it was proudly mounted above his regular spot in the pub. Sadly, Bobby passed away the following year. The photograph still hangs above his seat and a copy was given to his daughter.
From the outside, Griers Bar is an intimidating, Glaswegian pub but once inside it was alive with welcoming and open characters like Tony and Bobby. It provided many of the men I met with a type of companionship and community that they lacked elsewhere; a complex symbol within an area that is often misunderstood or portrayed with stereotypes.
I had chats on the street, in community centres, churches, allotment sites, cafés and the shopping centre, which allowed me to gain a greater understanding of the area but, more importantly, to genuinely connect with those who live within it. This led me to Griers Bar.
Colin Tennant is part of the artist partnership Coulson & Tennant.
Coulson & Tennant are an award-winning partnership who develop projects through a lens-based practice, combining genres of documentary and fine art. They create artistic, documentary and environmental work for a wide range of clients and organisations, as well as their own personal projects.
Coulson & Tennant’s work has been published by a number of national and international media outlets, including The Guardian, The Independent, the BBC and National Geographic. Their work has been exhibited extensively throughout the UK and abroad and has been purchased for both private and public collections.
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