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Photographers are not show-offs, with a few exceptions. Behind the lens, they live their lives, ready to pounce at the magical moment in which their eyes become our eyes.
Amateur photographer Eric Watt was usually not one to be in the spotlight. He was a quiet man who spent much of his professional life teaching science at Thornliebank Woodfarm High School, south of Glasgow, staying in the Pollokshields family flat. He never married or started his own family. All his spare time he spent taking photographs around the area. He was an active member of the Queens Park Camera Club from 1958, one of many such clubs all over Scotland. Before his death in 2005 at the age of 71, he was well known in the amateur photography community and gave some 1000 presentations about his archive to camera clubs and historical societies.
Fame came late in life when a very famous exhibition of his work at Scotland Street School was organized by Glasgow Museums in 2002. Alison Brown curated the exhibition, Bairns and Backstreets, and concentrated on the many photographs Watt had taken of children in Glasgow at play.
In his review for the Evening Times at the time, Brian Beacom wrote, “Until time machines are invented, we must be eternally grateful to the Eric Watts of this world…”
According to Eric’s brother, Graham, when he received a small camera as a Christmas gift in 1947 at the age of 13, his love for photography was ignited. He’s never looked back before.
“He always left the house with at least two cameras around his neck in case he saw something interesting, which he almost always did. Then it was back to his bedroom, where there was a huge closet with all his developing paraphernalia. Evenings were spent mounting his slides, and at the end the family was treated to a show, which included the historical pictures included in this book.”In case he saw something interesting, which he almost always did, he always left the house with at least two cameras around his neck. Then it was back to his bedroom, where there was a huge closet with all his developing paraphernalia. Evenings were spent mounting his slides, and the family was treated to a show at the end, which included the historical images included in this b.
A new publication entitled Coming Into View: Eric Watt’s Photographs of Glasgow is the book in question. It contains nearly 100 photos released by Glasgow Museums and written by Isobel McDonald, with Alison Brown, showing different facets of the city where Watt spent much of his life as it went through a turbulent period of extreme social and physical change.
The pictures are grouped under nine themes in the book: Glasgow at Play, City in Transition, Children, Politics and Demonstration, River Clyde, Working Life, Shopping, Transportation, and Religion.
With wit, warmth and compassion, Watt created a large archive of images documenting life and times in Glasgow from the 1950s to the 1990s. Much of his archive was donated to the Glasgow Museum collection after his death by his family. Out of more than 3,500 photos in the set, the pictures in the book were chosen.
An exhibition of his work was expected to open earlier this year at Kelvingrove in Glasgow, but, like many other activities this year, it has now been postponed until 2021. However, this book fills the void with panache.
Watt remains elusive, true to his habit of remaining behind the lens. Like a stern young guy, on the one hand, looking intently into the camera. His signature bears the portrait and it looks like it was shot for an official documentary.
We see another Eric on the same page; this time he is middle-aged. His face is obscured behind a camera and he stands in the corner of a kaleidoscope in the Dome of Discovery, set up in Govans South Rotunda as part of Glasgow’s 1990 European Capital of Culture celebrations. The reflections show Watt in a brown anorak photographing a little girl wearing a red bowtie and pink jacket, and noting with amazement that there are six of them, all connected in a Ring o’ Roses style.
In another color shot, taken in July 1975, Glasgow’s Finest Food on Duke Street is seen partially mirrored in the mirror on the back of a window display.
As the book’s author, Isobel McDonald, says, the labels – which describe everything from coffee to dried eggs as “finest” – must have amused him.
It’s clear that McDonald, curator of social history at the Glasgow Museum, fell under the spell of this quiet chronicler of Glasgow times past. “Eric was great at capturing moments,” she says. “It was just something he loved to do. He followed what other photographers were doing and avidly read photography magazines.
“Before he died, he was working with my colleague Alison Brown on Bairns and Backstreets.