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Wester Hailes, by John Walmsley

1 November 2021

In 1979, I had a grant from the Scottish Arts Council to live and work on the Wester Hailes estate in Edinburgh, work with the kids in the new school and wander the neighbourhood taking photos and chatting to the locals. It meant many hours out and about looking, hoping and trying to impersonate ‘un flâneur’. Most of the time, nothing. But, occasionally, extraordinary images. Now, 40+ years later, I’m self-publishing a book of the photos with reminiscences from people who were there at the time.

As it was shot in the city, I asked Edinburgh College of Art for some students to work with me on the book (I’d done this on a previous book and found it works very well). So, two students did the retouching and one has designed the book. They all got paid and we all now have a book. A win, win situation.

There’s an exhibition at Whale Arts, the community art space, in Wester Hailes, 25th Oct to 18th November this year. Plus, a full set of the photos will go into the archive at the School of Scottish Studies, University of Edinburgh, for use by students and researchers. View the photos here on my site.

I have two other books in the pipeline; one for spring 2022, on life in repertory theatre in 1973. There are many ‘Front of House’ photos but, as far as I know, my set covering all rehearsals from first read-through to first-night, plus time off in the pub, shopping, in the laundrette and earning lines in the digs, is unique in its breadth. Many of our ‘National Treasure’, actors, who readily agree they wouldn’t be where they are today had they not had Rep’ training, have contributed pieces to the book. The second, for summer 2022, will be a celebration of 100 years of A S Neill’s democratic school, Summerhill. I first went there when still at Art School and the photos were published the following year as a Penguin Education Special.

Wester Hailes, 1979, (21 x 21 cm, 164 pages, softback) by John Walmsley, is available here from 2nd November for £15 + £4 P&P to the UK & EU. The book will be launched with a short talk at the Photobook Café in Shoreditch on Tuesday 23rd November 6.30 to 9pm. To register free tickets (numbers are limited to 40) go here.

John Walmsley has been a freelance documentary photographer since leaving art school in 1968, supplying images to publishers worldwide. He is the author or joint author of 15 books and his work has been published in 1,000+ books around the world. He was a Fellow of the Digswell Arts Trust, living with a wide range of other artists and running public photography classes whilst also being a part-time lecturer at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London during its most vibrant period.

‘Artists should be paid, too!’ John also gives talks to new photographers about ‘getting their ducks in a row’ and being business-like from the beginning so, if someone tries to take advantage of their copyright, they have the necessary records to pursue infringers for the fees due.

His work is held in numerous collections including the National Portrait Gallery, Tate Britain Library, the National Art Library at the V&A, the V&A Museum of Childhood, Liverpool Museum, la Bibliothèque nationale de France and the University of California, San Diego, Library.

John's work will be exhibited from 11th-21st November 2021 at the Mall Galleries, London, in the exhibition ING Discerning Eye


See more work by John Walmsley

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