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Life in the Scottish slums of the 1960s revealed in new exhibition

Life in the Scottish slums of the 1960s revealed in new exhibition

A collection of photographs documenting Scotland’s slums is coming home almost 50 years after they were taken.

Depicting striking images of families living in filthy, cramped conditions, the exhibition comes after photographer Nick Hedges agreed to lift a 40-year restriction on the use of the photographs in Scotland.

In 1968, homeless charity Shelter commissioned Hedges to document the oppressive and abject living conditions being experienced in poor quality housing in the UK, to illustrate, in human terms, what the real cost of bad housing was.

He spent three years visiting some of Scotland’s poorest and most deprived areas, documenting housing conditions and quashing the myth that only people on the streets are homeless.

Hedges, now in his 70s, had originally limited the use of the images in order to protect the young children and families he photographed.

Now, for the first time in half a century, the images will go on public display in Scotland.

  (Nick Hedges for Shelter Scotland)
via STV via STV

One iconic image shot in the Gorbals in Glasgow shows a young mother pushing her baby, surrounded by rubble. According to the photographer he met the smiling teenager just as she was about to enter a derelict tenement, ready to carry the buggy up three flights of stairs to get to her flat.

He recalls how she told him that just a few days before, she had been in bed with her husband and they had both woken up to loud noises. It was a wrecking ball, demolishing the tenement block. Her husband ran out screaming for the demolition to stop.

The conditions were so bad the demolition men hadn’t thought that people could still be living there, and didn’t think to check.

  (Child in damp semi derelict tenement flat Glasgow 1970 - by Nick Hedges)
via STV via STV

One image within the original collection shows a family living in one room in Glasgow’s Maryhill. During their meeting with Nick Hedges they recounted to him how they slept with the lights on in a bid to scare off rats. They told him that one night they had counted 16 rats in the small, damp room.

Another image shows children playing on swings in a playground by the shipyards in Govan, Glasgow - where Nick took many of the photos.

"I was a young man when I took these photos. They shaped my understanding of documentary photography – how images can serve a purpose," he said.

"In the years which followed, I became committed to photographing the everyday life of people. I never pursued anything more exotic.

"There is no single picture that I am most proud of in the collection. The people’s words, the stories I heard while I photographed them are just as important. Together they mean more than any single image can."

  (Tenement courtyard Maryhill 1971 - by Nick Hedges)
via STV via STV

The photographer, who went door-to-door to speak to people, says that the occupants were heartened that someone was listening and taking an interest in their living conditions.

He added: "I haven’t forgotten any of the names of people I photographed or the conversations we had 40 years ago. They are just as clear in my mind today as if they happened yesterday.

"Whilst in one sense these photographs are a piece of social history, in another sense they serve to remind us that the crisis in housing is as significant today as it was then.

"The insecurity, the ill health and the anxieties that young families, the poor and the elderly face is unfortunately as real now as it was then. It points to our failure as a society to address the basic needs of our fellow citizens."

  (Mother with her sleeping child living in a single end tenement flat Glasgow 1971 - Nick Hedges)
via STV via STV

The Make Life Worth Living collection will be shown in a free open air exhibition in Edinburgh’s St Andrew Square until the end of October.

Graeme Brown, director of Shelter Scotland, said: "These photographs are a sobering piece of history not only for Shelter Scotland, but the nation as a whole.

"They show us how far we have come in providing safe, secure and affordable housing to the people of Scotland, but also that we must do more for the tens of thousands of families and individuals still desperate for a home to call their own."

  (Father and child in a Maryhill tenement 1971 - By Nick Hedges)
via STV via STV

"Almost 50 years after these pictures were taken, it is a mark of shame that almost 5000 children in Scotland will wake up tomorrow homeless, often living in cold, damp and dangerous conditions.

"I encourage everyone to visit the exhibition in St Andrew Square and to share in this important piece of Scotland’s social history."

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