Oscar Marzaroli (5 stars)

Oscar Marzaroli

Boys in High Heels, Gorbals 1963 / © Oscar Marzaroli Collection, courtesy of Street Level Photoworks

Poignant exhibition of photographs and films of Glasgow from the 1950s through to the 1980s by Scotland's most notable documentary photographer

The last time Oscar Marzaroli'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. Marzaroli'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 Marzaroli'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.

Marzaroli'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, Marzaroli's work goes beyond social-realism to create a haunting visual poetry of a community at work, rest and play. That's dignity, alright.

Street Level Photoworks, Glasgow, until Sun 15 Mar.

Oscar Marzaroli

Exhibition of black and white photographs by Oscar Marzaroli, who captured life in Glasgow from the 50s through to the 80s.


1. David ONeill9 Feb 2020, 10:00pm Report

The Marzaroli family cheated the Gorbals community group that made saving Oscars unseen collection possible through Caledonian University.

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