Disappearing Glasgow is a series of stills, short films and audio interviews all conducted by photographer and filmmaker Chris Leslie. What started as an MA photography project has, eight years after, been turned into a glorious weighty full colour book documenting some of the tower blocks of Glasgow. Leslie talked as part of the Aye Write festival about his process in procuring and curating the images of flats stripped of everything but the wallpaper and buildings exhaling dust in their last sigh as they fall to the ground. As a non-native of this city I call home I was expecting to be surprised by the information, I wasn’t expecting to be enthralled.
He takes us through separate projects charting first Dalmarnock and its battle with the legacy of the Commonwealth Games that gutted the area on promise of renewal. Margaret Jaconelli, the last inhabitant of sandstone Victorian block who was forcibly evicted to clear for the athlete’s village is sitting in the audience. She says there is now a divided community. Old Dalmarnock and New. They are all waiting for the most meager of facilities, a local shop. Oatlands, Sighthill, Red Road, the infamous ‘Towers of Terror’ on Plean Street and Whitevale and Bluevale in Gallowgate are all part of the project. All built in the 1960s on the promise of a utopia that would lift the inhabitants of the city slums into a new life, elevated literally above poverty.
Leslie was asked to document the fall of the Red Road flats by the council, as the iconic landmarks fell they thought it worth making note. Not so his other subjects. Each tells its own tale and in his careful hands the stories are from the people who lived there. Not academics and architects. It is a mixture of happy memories of a first house with a bath, raising families and attending the bingo to accounts of finding bloodied bodies in lifts and just waiting for a letter to tell you a house had been found elsewhere. What could be misty-eyed sentimentality is instead real voices of people who lived there, and some who still did when he was filming.
What is really remarkable is the speed at which all this happened. Leslie spent what felt like a long time waiting for some of the blocks to fall but in a city where many houses are easily over one hundred years old, the internationally renowned tower blocks of Glasgow lasted just fourty or so. They were seen at the time as a massive achievement for renewal and architectural ingenuity. And it initially at least it did work. But sticking four thousand people in the same block does not make a community and ultimately this is perhaps why they are now widely viewed as a failed experiment. Leslie makes no claims to have insight particularly. He was just a man with a camera who got up at 5am to capture time lapse of clouds passing over the city shot from the thirtieth floor. His obsession has produced a series of startling and sometimes truly lovely images. By his own admission it is the voices of the people that bring the whole thing to life. Their words, their photos spliced seamlessly onto his own. It is a brilliant series of storytelling and there are some hidden angles that will come as a surprise to Glasgow natives and visitors alike.
Leslie’s Book Disappearing Glasgow is available for £14,99. More detail on the project can be found here.