Exhibition Review

The 2011 exhibition was reviewed by Madeleine Mason for FringeGuru
Anyone who was brave enough to venture outside on Thursday will remember all too clearly what kind of a day it was. Not being a native Scot, traipsing up the Royal Mile through a metaphorical sea of festival leaflet-pushers and, more importantly, an actual sea of rain, I began to question the decision I made a year ago to abandon the mild-mannered climes of Oxfordshire in favour of Edinburgh’s untamed elements. With fat, cold drops splashing from my nose, rumbling charcoal-grey clouds looming ominously overhead, and even my cheery green polkadot wellies failing to lift the mood, I highly doubted that the exhibition for which I was suffering this water-logged gloom would be worth it. Where even was this place, anyway?

I was looking for Gladstone’s Land, a seventeenth-century tenement building now onwed by the National Trust for Scotland and the temporary home to the Edinburgh and Beyond photography display. Catching sight of a flash of old-fashioned stone and wood through the misted windows of a vintage Edinburgh tour bus, I darted through the slow-moving traffic amid the rhythmic squeaking of windscreen wipers and, sure enough, there it was: six stories of history tucked away between two of the Mile’s bustling shops. After spiralling my way up a gloriously atmospheric rough-hewn stone stairwell, I emerged, dripping, into the gallery: a small space covered from top to bottom with the varyingly framed and mounted photographs of Hamish King and Ed Fielding.

Instantly, I felt warmed. This is not a dazzling bells-and-whistles blockbuster show, but an intimate, small-scale commercial effort designed to showcase the talent of these two local photographers. Removed from the traditional grandiose gallery setting that can sometimes be responsible for elevating even the most mediocre work to ‘high art’ status, these photographs of Edinburgh and the surrounding areas can, refreshingly, be taken at face value: as simple snapshots, designed to capture on film the splendour of the Scottish landscape. The combination of the handmade cards that supplement the main prints with the knowledge that the works are on display inside a National Trust property does lend the exhibition the slight air of a gift shop, but this simply adds to its charm. In fact, it colours the works with the quiet sense of care and craftsmanship that is so often lacking in the sterile and generic white-cube spaces that dominate today’s art world.

The photographs themselves are wonderfully evocative. King’s images offer an elegantly-composed – if somewhat grainy – collection of black-and-white glimpses into moments of Edinburgh life, while Fielding’s lens explores the bigger picture, drawing on the wider Scottish landscape for inspiration and expressing a genuine delight in the beauty of nature. The latter emerges through a series of breathtakingly clear and magically beautiful shots of sea birds, animals and panoramic scenery. Both artists’ prints are reasonably priced, with medium-sized mounted works available from £28.

So if you’re looking for something a bit different, this little gem is well worth a visit. A true taste of the natural world, the photographs on show capture the essence of the Scottish environment: vast skies, crisp air, soaring birds…every image is a reminder that we should all take more time to appreciate the beauty of our surroundings. Stepping back out into the rain, somehow I didn’t seem to mind it so much on the way home…