HERALD MAGAZINE 2020
Glasgow Eye: Brian Anderson’s black and white street photographs capture the city in all its colours
Halloween 2010. Photographer Brian Anderson
“IT was 2am,” Brian Anderson remembers. “I was sitting in a cafe in Queen Street and I saw the police chasing a snowman. And I thought, ‘That’s got to be a picture.’
“I ran out. I left my soup and everything. The guy was dressed up as a snowman and the cops had him pinned. And right above him is a sign saying ‘Fancy Dress’. You couldn’t get a better picture.”
This is how it often begins. Luck, the right place and being ready. Always being ready.
For 30 years now, Brian Anderson has been taking photographs of Glasgow. He has wandered the streets at all hours, seen the city at its best and worst. And all the time the camera is with him, an extension of his eye, just waiting for the right moment, the right combination of people and place and light and emotion.
Born and raised in the East End of the city, he is the latest in a long line of photographers – from Oscar Marzaroli to Harry Benson and Raymond Depardon – who have tried to frame Glasgow, to catch the quicksilver nature of the place in all its moods. It’s just that Anderson has been doing it longer than most.
Read More: Oscar Marzaroli’s Glasgow
For much of that time he worked a news photographer for the now defunct News of the World. He covered crime stories and public events and maybe some of that filtered into his off-duty photographs too.
You could precis his work as a Weegie take on Weegee, the infamous New York crime photographer of the 1930s and 1940s. He wouldn’t disapprove of the comparison.
“Everything’s in close. My style of photography is in people’s faces capturing the action, emotion, pain, whatever.”
Like his Jewish-American predecessor, Anderson shoots in black and white, uses flash and isn’t afraid to show the darker side of the city.
Anderson says he prefers black and white because it looks timeless. “There’s no colour distractions here.”
Even in monotone, though, his photographs capture the city in all its colours and not just the green and the blue (though they are both here too).
“I had to document the city in all its forms,” he explains. “I think that’s what makes it different. Random violence in the street attracts me to get pictures. You’re just recording all life. It’s quite a dark book. And in Glasgow you’ve got the whole religious divide as well.”
But then there are also images of Glasgow as party central, as a home to characters all keen to perform for the lens, images that try to pin down the city, to picture Glasgow in all its raucous, ugly beauty. “It reminds me of New York, Chicago. It’s a magical city,” Anderson suggests
And in passing Anderson’s photographs, now gathered together in a new book, Eye Belong to Glasgow, are a history of a modern city over three decades, charting its highs and lows and the currents of humanity that have flown through its streets.
It all started in 1988, “by total fluke.” His wife’s father was a keen amateur photographer and one day Anderson picked up his father-in-law’s camera, a “horrendous” Russian Zenith and took it to an arts project in Cranhill which was teaching working-class kids photography. When he developed the first roll of film he ever shot he found there was nothing on it, but working in the dark room seduced him, Anderson says. “From that day I wanted to learn everything about photography.”
In the years that followed he made a career out of it. But his street photography Anderson did for himself. It’s a solitary, at times unrewarding, endeavour. “You can walk for days and not find a picture. And then when a picture presents itself you can’t miss it.
“There’s pictures everywhere. In a second it’s gone. Sometimes you have to be either stupid or cheeky to get the shot. Some of the stuff I’ve done in the Subway. I’m literally sitting beside someone thinking, ‘What a great picture, but as soon as I take that I know for a fact I’m going to get grabbed by somebody …’ It never happened.”
He has been threatened with arrest by the police, found himself in the middle of running battles as football casuals have had a go at each other. “My philosophy is, take the bloody picture and then worry about who prints it.” The only time he remembers running away is when he saw someone pull out a machete.
Anderson is an East End boy and maybe that explains his attraction to that side of the city. “I always find around the Barrowland is the heart and the soul of the city. The true characters of the city. So, I always end up in the same area, the Gallowgate, but I’m all over the city.”
But maybe not for much longer. He’s in his fifties now and beginning to feel the bite of time, the years of cold nights, the damp that creeps into the bones.
“I never really thought I’d be 30 years of patrolling the streets. It must have took a toll on me. I’m feeling the after-effects now. I’ve been diagnosed with arthritis. There’s a good chance it’s coming to an end.”
Still, there are other pictures to be taken. He is working with musicians including the Bay City Rollers, Pete Doherty and the Alabama Three. Maybe Rod Stewart if he’s lucky.
But in the end it’s possible that it’s his images of Glasgow that will prove to be his legacy. A vision of a city at the end of the 20th century and the start of the 21st in all its ragged glory, in all its pain and joys. This is Glasgow. In black and white.