French photojournalist Raymond Depardon was commissioned by the Sunday Times in 1980 to travel to Scotland’s largest city for a feature on Europe’s overlooked tourist destinations.
But instead of capturing fashionable Hillhead or the impressive Victorian boulevards of the centre, Depardon was drawn to Govan, Maryhill, the Gorbals and Calton.
Now a new book, Glasgow, has published his complete 1980 project for the first time, with a preface by the novelist William Boyd.
Several of the images will also be displayed at Street Level Photoworks in Glasgow from June 4 as part of a new exhibition.
The districts Depardon visited were the frontline of city’s post-war struggle with deindustrialisation and depopulation, where a legacy of slum clearance and high unemployment had left them bruised.
The photographer’s work detailed the harsh realities of life for some, but also found children playing happily in the streets, and widespread evidence of a community spirit undimmed by tough circumstances.
Ian Jack, the Scottish reporter who was sent to work with Depardon on the feature, later recalled why the photographer was drawn away from the original brief of capturing the city’s acceptable face.
“I noticed how his eyes glazed whenever these features were pointed out to him, and how they lit up whenever he saw examples of the cliche I was trying to avoid – the drunk, the waif, the grim line of tenements awaiting demolition,” he wrote in The Guardian in 2014.
“Eventually I gave in and took him to a notorious pub, the Saracen’s Head, where men with those thin white lines on their cheeks – evidence of a razor slashing – sat drinking and looking ominous. He loved them. They loved his Frenchness and his camera, which recognised their importance. Everyone had a good time, but the pictures were never used – they were the opposite of what was needed.”
Depardon produced more than 80 pictures of his time in Glasgow. They were later acclaimed by art critics and academics alike as some of the finest examples of urban photography of the late 20th century.
“To a photographer of the south and the desert, Glasgow seemed to be at the antipodes of his photography,” said a spokesperson for Magnum, which represents Depardon. “And yet he discovered the northern light, and remembered it later when he photographed the north of France.
“In Glasgow he functioned like an anthropologist: how could he avoid the trap of exoticism? What distance should he take? In large cities, Depardon feels like an inner exile, as a young man he found it hard to find his foothold in Paris.”
The Frenchman, now 73, grew up on a farm in Villefranche-sur-Saône and is largely self-taught. He won a Pulitzer prize for his work in Chad in 1977, and in 2012 was chosen to take the official presidential portrait of François Hollande.
Glasgow, published by Editions du Seuil/Abrams, is out now.