If you’re an Edinburger, part of the joy of artist Soo Burnell’s new photography collection, I am home, is working out the location of the shots.
You can try, if you visit her new solo show at the Capital’s Saorsa Art Gallery from June 3-11.
The easily identifiable ones include the high-ceilings and Art Nouveau columns of The Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Waverley Station’s roof, The Dominion cinema in Morningside and a cavernous and almost empty National Museum of Scotland.
However, she also features a few less recognisable spots, like the exterior of Murrayfield Ice Rink or the new squash court at Meadowbank.
“They're not that obvious,” says Burnell. “But if you hold on a second and look again, it's like, oh, yeah, I remember. I've definitely been looking at places from my own past and revisiting buildings that I completely forgot about. It’s not Edinburgh like you've seen before. Maybe you wouldn't recognise it at first glance”.
As Burnell grew up in Blackhall, she took many of the I am home shots in nearby Stockbridge. These include one of The Grange Club, where two identically dressed women prune the hedges.
In general, it’s rare to see the city presented as vibrant and Wes-Anderson-symmetrical, as opposed to Gothic, moody and Hogwarts-y. There are no shots of the castle.
“Edinburgh is known for its dark, grey, rainy-reflection photography,” Burnell explains.”’I wanted to take a new angle, showing a more colourful, quirky and whimsical side of the city”.
You might have seen her at work, if you’ve been up in the wee hours. The National Museum of Scotland pictures were taken before they opened the doors, when it was free of children’s shrieks.
As she says, “These buildings are completely empty and echoey and it’s just the most wonderful thing”.
She photographed The Mound at 6am, so it was “clean and free of traffic” and still had to piece three shots together, post-production, in order to edit out the cars and photobombers.
Although the locations may be familiar to some, the human subjects always remain anonymous.
They’re posed so you can’t see their faces and wear vaguely retro clothes that echo the era of the architecture, or match the surrounding colours. The styling is an important part of the process. The unusual outfits are a feature, but not the focus. Many of them are carrying suitcases, as if they’re leaving or arriving. None of them are interacting with each other.
“Maybe the viewer will be left to wonder who the person is, or think about their story,” says Burnell, who prints her photographs on linen.
Although professional models were used for most of the shots, this artist has also recruited relatives, including her 24-year-old nephew, Ben Irvine. He’s the be-suited figure, sitting outside Edinburgh cafe, The Milkman, while holding up an edition of The Scotsman so it covers his face.
“I love to use him because he really understands my work and fully embraces the character,” says Burnell.
In another picture, Irvine is silhouetted against a beautiful domed roof. Where is he?
“That’s the Royal Bank of Scotland building,” Burnell says. “You can just walk in and take a look. They're actually really welcoming and there's a bit of history in there for tourists and things to go and have a look at. I think they're used to people being amazed by the building”.
As with most of the shots, this one has a cinematic feel. The recurrent twins - or, in the case of The Scotsman Picturehouse image, over a dozen doppelgangers - are reminiscent of The Shining. However, there’s also a bit of Cindy Sherman in some of the figures and others resemble the plastic figurines on an architectural maquette.
The artist’s inspiration includes the work of surrealist artist Rene Magritte, as well as 1975 film The Stepford Wives, and other more contemporary references, like television series Mad Men, The Queen’s Gambit and psychological thriller, Severance.
“My love affair with Wes Anderson is gonna last a lifetime, but I do feel like this collection has moved away slightly from that”, she says. “I guess that’s partially to do with the colour palettes of the buildings as well. I’ve just watched The Queen’s Gambit again and I think it’s even better the second time around. I sometimes wonder if I’m following the story because the shots are just so beautiful”.
Burnell’s last collection, poolside (2018), features some of the city’s historic swimming baths, as well as ones in other parts of Scotland and beyond. The images were published in her book, To the Water (2021). Completing those pictures was part of the renewed admiration of the city that so many of us take for granted.
“I swam in Edinburgh’s pools but I certainly didn't appreciate how beautiful they were. You just went on your summer holidays and jumped in, but I certainly wasn't appreciating the architecture”, she says.
Although the Capital is the setting for much of Burnell’s photographs, locals aren’t the only ones who are interested.
“My work is sold all over the world. Lumas is one of my galleries and they have 50”, she says. “I'm hoping people from Edinburgh will be interested to come and see us, and that people love these places as much as I do”.
I am home runs from June 3-11 at Saorsa Art Gallery, 8 Deanhaugh Street, Stockbridge, Edinburgh, www.saorsa-art.com