Ruin, upheaval and pursuit of normal life

29th April 2005 at 01:00
HAWKHILL, DEATH OF A LIVING COMMUNITY. McManus Galleries, Dundee until June 12. tel 01382 432350

In the days when people had proper lunch breaks, Joseph McKenzie put his to good use by making a photographic record of a working class community in the heart of Dundee that had been declared a slum and was earmarked for demolition.

McKenzie, now 75 but then a newly appointed lecturer in photography at the city's art school, documented the slow but steady destruction of the area from 1965 to 1981. Hawkhill, Death of a Living Community is an exhibition of 150 black and white images showing this.

The photographs, dating mainly from the early 1970s, have been chosen from a collection of almost 450 Hawkhill prints that McKenzie gave to the McManus Galleries in Dundee in 2002. This is the first time they have been put on public display and the curator, Clara Young, admits that even she has been surprised by how popular the exhibition is proving to be.

McKenzie learned to mix film processing chemicals while at college in the early 1950s, which is something he still does to this day, giving him an "outstanding control of the medium".

His work can be appreciated on purely technical and aesthetic grounds. The photographs are brilliant studies of mood, light and shadow, and texture.

Through McKenzie's camera lens, even smashed window glass and ground weed coated with demolition dust is beautiful.

However, the people of Hawkhill and the buildings they lived and worked in are the real stars of this show. He captures mill girls out on their own lunch breaks, school children sharing a poke of chips, an elderly woman going for the messages in her "baffies" and portraits of the demolition workers who were destroying the area as an ever diminishing band of locals continued to get on with their daily lives.

"Mrs Wallace's Pie Shop" is an essay in three pictures showing Mrs Wallace in an immaculate white overall, standing behind a spotless marble topped counter, beside a modest pile of meat pies set on greaseproof paper. In the background is an old-fashioned ornate cash register.

These are photographs you would never tire of looking at; so simple, yet so full of detail.

Most of old Hawkhill may be long gone, the people moved out to the periphery of Dundee, its houses and shops replaced by big roads and tower blocks, but thanks to McKenzie's lunchtime forays, it will never be forgotten.

Ms Young believes the exhibition will be of interest to upper primary classes as well as secondary pupils because of its links to art, social studies and even citizenship. Complementing the photographs is a brief history of Hawkhill (the name comes from its medieval past, when hares and rabbits were hunted using hawks), maps showing its physical change since 1962 and a Dundee street directory from the 1950s, when "Hawkie" boasted 13 pubs, 12 sweet shops, 15 bakeries and seven fish and chip shops.

McKenzie, originally from the East End of London, is a renowned fine art photographer. This is his 10th documentary-style exhibition in Scotland, others having focused on, for instance, Glasgow children in the Gorbals (1965), Dunfermline, Edinburgh and Northern Ireland.

McKenzie will discuss his work at the McManus Galleries on May 12 and 18 Clara Young will give a guided tour of the exhibition on June 7

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