Whooper swans photographed by Frank McElhinney in Donegal, Ireland, 2019
Whooper swans photographed by Frank McElhinney in Donegal, Ireland (2019) ©

@Frank McElhinney, courtesy of Street Level Photoworks

Funded though the British Council / Creative Scotland Partnership in 2019, the project On the Edge #1 sought to foster an international collaborative exchange of knowledge and practice and to increase the visibility of new work. 

Through the programme, Glasgow-based Street Level Photoworks led two photography-based residencies with partners in Finland and Ireland between February 2019 and 31 March 2020.

Alongside the two residencies, the project supported a research trip to Finland for Street Level’s Director, Malcolm Dickson, to establish and develop connections across the country including with the Museum of Photography in Helsinki, the Union of Art Photographers (Hippolyte) and the Union of Media Artists.  

Northern Photographic Centre became the chosen Finnish partner to host one of the Scottish artist residencies because of its geographical proximity to the North in keeping with the theme of ‘On the Edge’.

Malcolm also travelled to the Baltic states to build on existing connections in Riga, Tallinn, Kaunas and Vilnius and future collaboration is planned as an outcome of these visits.    

The first residency saw Scottish artist Frank McEllhinney spend the month of November 2019 at Artlink Ireland in Donegal.  To kick things off, Frank delivered a talk and workshop to a dozen local people at Fort Dunree.  For the workshop, Frank led participants in the making and installing of pinhole ‘solargraph’ cameras around the site.  At the end of the residency the group were brought back together to process the captured images.

During his time in Ireland, Frank made connections with local artists Mhairi Sutherland, Rebecca Strain and Christian Skagen and with cultural organisations including the Regional Cultural Centre, Letterkenny and CCA and Void in Derry.  He also had the opportunity to explore some of Donegal, photographing local landmarks including Malin Head, Tory Island, Arranmore Island, Mount Errigal, Lenan Head Fort, Doagh Famine Village, and Roosky – home to his own family before they migrated to Glasgow in the mid 19th century.

Frank reflects on his practice and time in Ireland, saying:

“This residency was pivotal for my practice. My work investigates migration and national identity … Spending time in Donegal, the place where my ancestors lived before coming to Scotland in the eighteen seventies, felt like returning to the source of my own personal history of migration. My understanding of the process of migration shifted in unexpected ways during the residency and this is being developed in the work I am making now. 

Going forward my project is now focused on the impact of the potato blight and how that influenced the flow of people into the west of Scotland from both Ireland and the highlands and islands of Scotland ... My interest in this historical process is driven by questions about how we deal most appropriately with migration in the twenty first century.”

Frank produced a blog about his residency experience and the impact on his work which can be read here.  He was also interviewed by Artlink Ireland and a recording of the interview can be found on YouTube here.

The second residency took place between mid February – mid March 2020, when Glasgow based artist, Kotryna Ula Kiliulyte was hosted by the Northern Photographic Centre, Oulu in Finland.  She began the residency with a talk to local audiences introducing her practice and some of her larger bodies of photographic and moving image work.

Kotryna spent some time in Helsinki reconnecting with local artists Mari Hokkanen, Jari Silomaki and Peter Holiday (originally from Scotland).  She was introduced to a variety of galleries and arts centres including the Museum of Contemporary Art Kiasma, Amos Rex, Hippolyte Photographic Gallery, Helsinki Contemporary, Galleria Heino, HAM and many others.

She made new artist connections in Oulo, including Jens Friis, the publisher and editor in chief of the Danish Katalog Journal who was visiting Oulu at the same time.

Kotryna says of her Finnish residency: 

“This residency has been the best one I have been on so far. I liked the fact that I could construct some elements of it myself, choosing the places to go to, but also had organisational help from the hosting institution … During the residency I researched and started writing for a new piece of moving image work currently titled 'The Arctic Swell'. 

I spent a lot of time in Oulu library reading and writing after filming outdoors in very low temperatures. In Aska, Lapland and Rokua I mainly filmed using my newly purchased drone- gathering aerial footage of snowy forests and fields. This footage alongside with some filmed in the apartment in Oulu and upon my return to Glasgow will form a central part of this moving image work focusing on the concept of radical intimacy: in between species, humans, body and surroundings.”

The project provided fulfilling experiences for the two artists and resulted in a wide range of positive outcomes for Street Level including an exchange digital programme with The Centre of Creative Photography in Jyvaskyla, benefitting 36 participating Finish and Scottish photographers.  

Other new partnerships and invitations for future collaboration have been formed, some of which will be realised in a further iteration of the project, On the Edge #2, during 2021.

As Malcom Dickson reflects “It has provided us with a number of contacts wider than that originally planned, therefore providing the potential for greater international working … and reinforced the reputation of Street Level as a credible partner.”

One very tangible outcome of the project is a wonderful logo produced by the Centre of Creative Photography depicting the St Andrews flag morphing into the Finnish flag – a symbolic illustration of connection between the two countries.  You can view the logo here.