A search has begun to find the children and their families featured in iconic photographs of Scotland’s tenement slums.
The collection of photographs, taken 45 years ago by Nick Hedges for housing and homelessness charity Shelter, depict the lives of families living in cold, damp and often dangerous conditions.
The search comes after the documentary photographer agreed to lift a 45 year restriction on the use of the photographs in Scotland.
Nick Hedges had originally limited their use – as many feature young children and their families – in order to protect the subjects. He now wants to meet with the subjects he met all those years ago to hear their stories, and revisit the areas they once called home.
According to charity Shelter Scotland, which is helping to coordinate the search, many of those featured in the original photographs will now be aged between 50 and 70.
One image in the ‘Make Life Worth living’ collection, taken in 1970, shows a young girl sitting barefoot on a bed – behind her the walls are covered in damp. The fireplace in the corner is crumbling, covered in black soot.
Another shows a father cradling his son – the youngster’s bare legs covered in dirt – while the slum tenement crumbles around them. A large crack in the wall sits ominously behind them.
A selection of the over 1,000 photographs are on display for the first time in Scotland in a free open air exhibition on St Andrew Square in Edinburgh. The exhibition is sponsored by PwC and runs until 30th October.
Launching the search, photographer Nick Hedges, said: “It would be wonderful to meet the children I photographed all those years ago and to hear their stories. I often wonder what happened to them, if they went on to lead happy and healthy lives.
“When I was commissioned by Shelter to take these photographs, I never imagined that decades later they would still have such impact - none more so than on me personally. The poverty and terrible conditions I witnessed shocked me to the core. My hope is that all these years later, by reconnecting with some of those I photographed, I am able to hear good news of what happened to the families.
“I guess you could say it would bring closure to the project some 45 years after it all began.”
Nick Hedges, now in his 70s, was commissioned by Shelter in 1968. 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.
Graeme Brown, director of Shelter Scotland, said: “I encourage anyone who recognises themselves, or family members and friends to get in touch with us. We want to hear the stories behind these iconic images, and in particularly what happened after they were taken.
“These photographs are a sobering piece of history not only for Shelter Scotland, but the nation as a whole and it’s important to preserve the stories behind them. 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.”
Graeme Brown added: “Over 45 years after these pictures were taken, it is a mark of shame that almost 5,000 children in Scotland will wake up tomorrow homeless.”
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.
Another image shows children playing on swings in a playground by the shipyards in Govan, Glasgow - where Nick Hedges took many of the photos.
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.
To view the images please visit www.shelterscotland.org/lifeworthliving. If you recognise yourself, or someone else in the images, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org