Street Level Photoworks, Glasgow until March 15, 2020
The last time Oscar Marzarolli’s iconic black and white images of Glasgow were seen in a major exhibition was in the 1980s, when the dear green place was en route to reinventing itself as culture city. Marzarolli’s iconic depictions of back-street inner-city urchins at play were heroised on the covers of records by Deacon Blue, who sang of the dignity of labour in a city all but razed into rubble.
Thirty-odd years on, and with Marzarolli’s archive of more than 50,000 images just donated to Glasgow Caledonian University, the 80-odd photographs on show here are given a new layer of poignancy by the distance of time. Most of the images were taken within a short walk from the gallery, but the places and people depicted are pretty much no more.
The high rises that loom over a lone Gorbals tenement in The Old and the New sets the tone for an array of images depicting half-demolished gable ends, half-built tower blocks and crumbling houses bookending a now empty square, as desolate as the Necropolis beside it.
Marzarolli’s greatest hits are here – The Castlemilk Lads and Golden Haired Lass – as are the artists - George Wylie and his straw locomotive; a young and glaikit-looking Alasdair Gray; the cast of the original production of The Steamie; Bill Forsyth and Clare Grogan filming Comfort & Joy. But so too are Barrowland dances and the Clyde Fair. The faces of vulnerable-looking boys are etched with experience beyond their years.
The Humblebums and Matt McGinn play on Glasgow Green in support of the 1971 Upper Clyde Shipbuilders work-in, Billy Connolly louchely playing his banjo as the others raise their fists in gleeful solidarity. Thousands of Celtic fans at Hampden Park for the 1963 Cup Final share a limbo of collective anxiety. In this way, Marzarolli’s work goes beyond social-realism to create a haunting visual poetry of a community at work, rest and play. That’s dignity, alright.
The List, December 2019