Photography often has a curious characteristic and sometimes the image is inverse to the personality of the photographer. The great Depression era photographer, Dorothea Lange who captured the painful poverty of dust-bowl America lived a comfortable life as a studio photographer in San Francisco, thousand of miles removed from the poverty she defined. Robert Doisneau, whose most famous photograph Le baiser de l’hôtel de ville better known simply as ‘The Kiss’ was so shy he was unable to photograph the kissing couple but discovering they were young actors asked them to repeat their romantic clinches for a fee. This inverse personality is at work with a new collection of photographs by the Glasgow-based photographer Brian Sweeney.
Sweeney is best known for his garrulous personality, his love of the fast life and his wild-child reputation amongst the demi-monde of Glasgow nightlife. By contrast the photographers, are quiet, understated and intensely remote. They are the polar opposite of his work promoting the Sub Club, Glasgow’s underground haven of electronic dance music. Sweeney took many of the photographs on journeys to the most remote football grounds in Scotland, to John O’Groats, to island pitches on the rugged west coast and to Ardgay near Glen Morangie. The images are shot mostly in natural morning light as the sun struggles to rise through bleak clouds, and although they can seem cold and isolated they are enduring, sturdy and a searing comment on the real roots of a community game that has been vandalised by television, fake glamour and hyped wealth.
Sweeney claims that “as way of fuelling boredom whilst on tour with shite bands I started shooting shit football stadiums everywhere I went.” It was a growing reputation as a music and lifestyle photographer that took him to Iceland. In 1995 he was sent to shoot a festival run by Kiddi from Iceland’s legendary record store Hjomolind on a glacier in Iceland. He arrived Keflavik in the early morning at 1am to be picked him up in a minibus. Near Reykjavik, they passed a football pitch with a wooden stand. Sweeney naively asked what junior team played there and was indignantly told it was the stadium of the greatest football team in Iceland – Valur. It is a moment that should send a shiver down the spine of any Scottish football fan. Iceland’s community teams have since become a touchstone for youth development, and unlike Scotland have qualified for the 2016 European Championships in France.
Chastened by what he saw in Iceland and the grounds he photographed there, Sweeney returned home to Scotland where he is now a proud advocate of community clubs. On Saturday’s he blanks his mates who are in many cases glory-hunting Celtic fans and travels with Albion Rovers, the club closest to his heart, a love affair triggered by his grandfather who first introduced him to a world of underdogs and outsiders. But as the images show he has found a strange and at times alienating beauty in the remote fields and rusting crossbars of real football.