We were delighted to welcome Chris Leslie , film maker to our Monday Morning meeting. For Scotland’s Festival of Architecture 2016, the Glasgow Institute of Architects commissioned Chris to create a new 15 minute film, entitled [Re] Imagining Glasgow . This film looks at Glasgow’s regeneration over the past forty years and the pledges made by the Corporation of the City of Glasgow. In a reworking of Oscar Marzaroli’s 1970 ‘propaganda’ film, 'Glasgow 1980', and using previously unseen footage, shot by Marzaroli, for an uncompleted follow-up film, 'Glasgow’s Progress', Chris embeds that contemporary imagery alongside footage of Glasgow today.
It shows how Glasgow has been torn down, reimagined, transformed, decayed, torn down again and re-(re) imagined – a seemingly never ending urban renewal. Keen not to miss the moment, Chris Leslie juxtaposes in this and subsequent films the optimism of Marzaroli’s public sector polemic with the voices of those who moved into these first transformations, memories of hope and decency when compared with later residents whose tales seem more heartbreaking.
In exploring the moments before the latest tearing down at the Red Road flats, Sighthill and the Gallowgate, he shows an ability to deftly move between the still, frozen picture and the moving image.
Most arresting of these still views are images taken from inside derelict apartments of multi-storey buildings, looking outwards through multiples of window less openings to the vivid urban landscape of the city. The juxtaposition of the texture of urban life outside and the richly captured tapestry of decay within seem at extreme odds with the cold stark realities of the image of the towers and the original banality of the interiors they contained.
This coldness he overcomes in a number of ways, by in his external pictures, overlaying original family polaroids taken generations ago onto contemporary takes of these images, traces of an absent humanity. And in film creating silhouette stills such as of the former twin Gallowgate, Whitevale Towers (now demolished) acting as foreground to the exploding celebratory fireworks of the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony or as a background, capturing their twin profile in the foreground echo of the monumental headstones of the Glasgow Necropolis – a telling commemoration.
Mazaroli importance lies in the astonishing poignant and direct black and white human record he captured in the wake of post war urban decay. His ‘Glasgow 1980’ film drops that particular humanity, replacing it with an anonymous ‘angelic’ white car that orbits the seemingly empty but now colourful if not ‘heavenly starched’ new city roads. He is surely being ironic – a quality his follow up ‘Glasgow’s (read Prilgrim’s) Progress’, would have confirmed.
Chris Leslie builds on that erudite pointed critical observation and legacy of photography from the Victorian photographer Thomas Annan, through to Marzaroli. The city is fortunate to have such a critical friend, the contemporary conscience of our generation, able to aim his lens with astonishing focus, at the same time capturing the beauty, sadness and poignant with a pointed dignity.