Thresholds – Roddy Simpson

Thresholds is a series of lyrical, black and white photographs, taken between 1994 and the present, by Roddy Simpson, a photographer, photo-historian, writer and lecturer who lives in Linlithgow.

His engagement with, and exploration of, place, means the locations stretch from his home area of Linlithgow across Scotland, from Kirkcudbright to Orkney.  The emotional journeys stretch far further, for while thresholds are both entrances and exits, these photographs offer, rather, perspectives into unknown and essentially unknowable emotional venues.

These are entirely unpeopled images, photographs of buildings, of gates and doors and windows, of passageways and paths, yet the, detailed, careful work of human hands is never far distant.  Even what at first sight might appear a rural idyll, a gate through which a track meanders into the distant hills in Galloway, has pinned to it an Entry Prohibited notice warning of the danger of foot-and-mouth disease.

There is  a fine attempt to examine the relationship of place and history. The intricacies of a doorway in Dundrennan Abbey have survived centuries: Mary Queen of Scots, who spent time there, was to survive only briefly after her departure from Dundrennan.  Wallace’s Cave at Westfield, West Lothian, and several superb photographs of Linlithgow Palace, all put human effort in its place.

There is also optimism.  Roddy has captured the doorway to the home of the artists Jessie M. King and E.A. Taylor, in Greengate Close, Kirkcudbright.  The doorway is bathed in sunlight; the close is shrouded in shadow; but beyond the close is the warmly lit courtyard of the artists’ home, a reflection as Roddy notes of the ‘inner light’ of their work.

There are several photographs of tree-covered landscapes in which the photographer’s eye has been first caught by the contrasts of light and dark, of sunlight and shadow, of cloud and clarity.  Even in these however, tracks and paths, offer routes to further destinations.  There is humour also:  on Bowden Hill, Linlithgow, Roddy has wryly observed, beside a disused path, an overgrown boot, revealed only because the surrounding vegetation has receded.

Roddy Simpson’s photographs have appeared in numerous publications and his fine monochrome prints have been widely exhibited and are in private and public collections including the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. He is an Honorary Research Fellow in the School of Culture and Creative Arts at the University of Glasgow and a Lifelong Learning tutor on the history of Scottish photography at the University of Edinburgh. His has written articles for academic and popular publications and his book, The Photography of Victorian Scotland, was published by Edinburgh University Press in 2012 and has been described as ‘the seminal book on the history of Scottish photography’.

This collection presents myriad views of Scotland.  It offers a subtle view of light and shade, of contrasts yes, but of nuance.  It stands head-and-shoulders above the standard collections of photographs of Scotland.  Don’t miss it.

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Alex Wood

Alex Wood has had a varied career in education. He started as an English teacher at Edinburgh’s Craigroyston High School in 1973 and completed his school-based work as Head Teacher at Wester Hailes Education Centre in 2011. In between he worked in community education, was a Learning Support teacher, headed a behaviour support unit, was Head of a special school and worked in Edinburgh’s Education headquarters. He is a member of the Education Committee of St George’s School. Alex is now an Associate at the Scottish Centre for Studies in School Administration (SCSSA) at Moray House and is Secretary of the Scottish Educational Leadership, Management and Administration Society (SELMAS) as well as being a free-lance writer. His experience however ranges well beyond the worlds of schools and education. For seven years in the 1980s he was an elected member of Edinburgh District Council and he retains a keen interest in the political world. He has a long involvement in genealogy and family history, as a researcher, teacher and writer. He is a member of Edinburgh Common Purpose’s Advisory Group and of the committee of Linlithgow Book Festival. Although he has lived in Linlithgow for over 20 years, and in Edinburgh for the previous 18 years, he remains a loyal fan of his home town football club, Brechin City.

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