Exhibition captures Dundee of days gone by
A popular exhibition of black and white photographs taken in Dundee in 1968 is coming to Aberdeen in October as part of the Develop North festival launched by Gray’s School of Art.
Mono ’68 features a series of images of Dundee in 1968 taken over the course of one month by artist and design lecturer Phil Thomson while he was a student in the city and will go on display on the Robert Gordon University (RGU) Garthdee campus from Saturday, October 3 until the end of the year.
Phil, who now works as a senior lecturer in visual communication at Birmingham University, said: “The images are a snapshot of a city and its inhabitants, in transition from the post-World War II austerity years to the brave new world of flyovers, shopping centres and tower-blocks.
“The content of many of these photographs capture the social and urban characteristics of the period – a pronounced gender divide in the workplace, the street as playground, graffiti as an emerging means of expressing identity, personal transactions rather than digital interactions and the nature of inner-city transport.
“They give a distinct feeling of a lost world, almost a sense of lost innocence.”
Despite having taken the images in 1968, it wasn’t until 2014 that Phil, a former student of Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, decided to re-examine the photographs.
He said: “I have long regarded my experience studying under Joe McKenzie, my photography tutor, as the high point of my four years living and studying in Dundee and I knew that one day I would share the work with a wider audience.
“Every few years I would return to the work and make a plan – but my life as a designer and writer seemed to take priority over the dream.
“However, you get to a point in life where you re-examine your values and I realised, about four years ago, that these images were worth returning to as a collection; that perhaps they might even have a contribution to make as historical documents.
“Of course, nostalgia plays its part – in putting the show together I was re-living that wonderful creative journey I was on. A decade or two earlier might have been too soon, so I made the time and my university backed the first show.”
Growing up in post-war Paisley, before moving to Perth as a teenager, living in Dundee as a student represented a new freedom at a particular point in his life, Phil said.
“The people were very warm and welcoming, it was small enough to feel you belonged, you could be a part of it; but you never quite knew what was going to happen next.
“By the time I was working with my twin lens reflex camera, I had become curious about the pace of change in the city. I was aware that there was a clash of cultures – perhaps the city fathers’ plans against the stoic, intimate locale.”
Phil believes the collection shows the city caught at a paradoxical time.
“There were new housing estates going up, the new road bridge, disruption everywhere yet even the endless demolition had a dynamism about it and marked progress,” he said. “There seemed to be a certain vulnerability in the inhabitants, carving out a living amidst so much change.
“We could decide it was tragic to be losing the familiar old landscape or welcome the open spaces as a sign of hope in the future.”
He added: “When I get off the train in Dundee, or park up, I’m a student again and it all comes flooding back. Those four years were a formative experience.
“Every time I visit, I make a point of engaging only a long-serving taxi driver. I take a different, roundabout route each time. The conversations are fascinating, the anecdotes and inside track totally absorbing and there’s that same spirit I recognise from way back.
“The skyline might change, but as ever, there is a reluctant pride in being a part of it all.”
Mono ‘68 will go on show at the Faculty of Health and Social Care Building at RGU’s Garthdee campus from October 3 until the end of the year.
It is being shown as part of Develop North, a two-day photography festival launched by Gray’s School of Art, running over October 2 and 3 and featuring a series of free workshops, talks, screenings and exhibitions.
For more information about the festival or to book a place at any of the events,
Communications Officer | Design and Technology