ICONIC works by Glasgow photographer and filmmaker Oscar Marzaroli go on show from today until the end of January at Scotland’s largest private gallery.
The Tenements to Towerblocks exhibition at the Roger Billcliffe Gallery features his famous images of Glasgow and its people, and boasts that “Glasgow has attracted its fair share of photographic commentators and recorders but few have seen it with an eye both perceptive and affectionate, as did Oscar Marzaroli in the late 1950s and 1960s”. It also headlines this major exhibition with the words “Paris had Cartier-Bresson, New York – Diane Arbus and Glasgow – Oscar Marzaroli”, which was the tag-line for a BBC documentary about the life and work of the photographer.
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Marzaroli, who had arrived in Scotland from his native Italy at a very young age, and died in 1988 aged just 55, left behind a huge collection of work, only a small proportion of which has been seen at any one time.
The half-hour documentary screened in 2014, narrated by Bill Paterson, described him as the “last great Scottish photographer of the pre-digital age” and revealed that Marzaroli’s family had some 50,000 of his photographic negatives.
He also recorded Glasgow when the city, and areas such as the Gorbals, were in the process of being transformed. A website of his prints has since been set up by his family.
WHAT’S FEATURED IN THE EXHIBITION?
MARZAROLI’S subject matter focuses on the urban decay and regeneration of Glasgow in the 1960s; the men of shipyards and steelworks, street life and children. Described as a documentary photographer, Marzaroli engaged and moved amongst his subjects as an equal, a participant.
The photographs record the radical changes that took place in Glasgow during this time, both socially and architecturally, as well as the demolition of tenements and the construction of new housing schemes in the city. Upon his return to Glasgow in 1959 he saw the city he grew up in changing.
Marzaroli captured all of his subjects in an unobtrusive way – they did not pose for the camera, they accepted it and the man behind it and their ease with him allowed the life of Townhead and Gorbals tenements to be captured as never before.
Marzaroli was working at a time of great change in Glasgow. He saw the docks and shipyards before their inexorable decline in the later 1960s and 1970s. He photographed Ravenscraig in its heyday and witnessed the construction of the huge blocks of flats that replaced the slums of Townhead, The Gorbals, Anderston and Cowcaddens.
However, what Marzaroli will always be remembered for are his glimpses of life in those areas. Kids playing in the streets and back greens, seen against a backdrop of derelict tenements awaiting demolition with the skeletons of the new city blocks being assembled across the street. In Townhead his friendship with the artist Joan Eardley gives us an insight into her studio and working practice, alongside the inimitable images of the children of the local tenements who became immortalised as much in Marzaroli’s photographs as in Eardley’s drawings and paintings of the Samson family.
WHAT’S MARZAROLI’S BACKGROUND?
HE was born in Castiglione Vara in north-west Italy and came to Scotland with his family at the age of two. As well as being a Scottish photographer of post-World War II urban Scotland, he had a career in photojournalism in London and Stockholm. Marzaroli’s work came to national attention in the 1980s with the publication of three collections of his photographs by the Edinburgh publishing house Mainstream. He was also a film cameraman, as well as director and producer, for Ogam Films, which he founded with three friends in 1967.
In 1991, a number of Glaswegian musicians came together to help compile a tribute album entitled The Tree and the Bird and the Fish and the Bell – the title is inspired by the coat of arms of the city of Glasgow. Scottish pop rock band Deacon Blue, who contributed to the album, had already extensively used Marzaroli’s photographs on their album and singles covers.
In the same year Marzaroli was also the subject of an ITV documentary.
WHAT’S THE ROGER BILLCLIFFE GALLERY’S HISTORY?
IT’S the biggest private gallery in Scotland and opened in 1992, occupying five floors of an early 19th-century building in the heart of Glasgow, taking over the building formerly occupied by the Fine Art Society plc where Roger Billcliffe had been director since 1979. The gallery now specialises in exhibiting the best of Scottish contemporary and 20th-century painting.