There’s an old untruth that says other people’s holiday snaps are boring. It’s the kind of thing said by people with no taste who want to pretend they have taste. A slightly superior taste to you or me. If other people’s photographs were boring, then there would be no likes on your holiday snaps, no Instagram, and not much call for a site like this.
It’s the bane of writers’ lives to admit photographs are interesting because they communicate more succinctly, more effortlessly than all the hours of sedentary toil.
Other people’s photographs are fascinating because they show our shared humanity. We recognise the things that unite us. The smile, the hug, the embarrassing haircut, the joyous offspring, the drunken night out, the kiss that might just last forever. Of course it does as it’s set forever on a glossy six by four and shared a thousand times on social media.
When Jim Downie’s Mother died he inherited all of her family photographs. This included the snaps taken during the long ago summer holidays spent in Kinghorn, Fife.
My family, all of my family cousins, aunts, uncles, all went to Kinghorn for their holidays. I think my grandmother originally came from Fife and I think when she was older, probably fifty or so, she started going back to Kinghorn for her holidays. All the sons and daughters started going. During the Trade’s Fortnight, we used to go from Edinburgh to Kinghorn. We stayed in the same house for those two weeks every year. I sometimes stayed with my Mum there for a month because my Father, who was a painter and decorator, would travel back-and-forth by train to work, so we would be there for a month just exploring the place.
My Mother was a bit of photographer with her Box Brownie and my Dad used to write on the back the place and when the pictures were taken.
When my Mum died, about five years ago, I found all these photographs that been taken during that period. I hoped they wouldn’t go to waste. So, I scanned every one of them and kept them on my computer. I had always thought of going back to Kinghorn. When I took my Mum’s ashes there to spread that gave me the idea of looking at places I remembered through these black and white photographs. That idea was put into my head.
Downie’s idea was to create a biography in time. Taking black and white pictures from his childhood and placing them in their present day setting. It’s a simple idea but one that is deeply affecting.
You may not know Downie‘s name, but you will have most certainly seen many of the adverts he produced during the seventies, eighties, and nineties. Advertising campaigns for beer, whisky, cars and good health.
Downie started out as a printmaker before attending the Edinburgh College of Art. He quickly moved into graphic design. His original and iconic work established him as the singly most creative Art Director working in Scotland. Downie is modest about his success and when I spoke to him over a crackly phone line to his Edinburgh home, he said:
In the seventies, I worked as graphic designer and then became Creative Director of one the biggest agencies in Scotland. That took me to 2004 and I sort of retired since–basically I do little jobs here and there but I’m retired.
A modest man. But as he is described by younger creatives, Downie’s name was synonymous with the best and most creative advertising campaigns.
Having planned to do something with his Mother’s pictures, Downie was eventually inspired to get cracking before the recent coronavirus lockdown.
I summoned up enough guts to drive over to Kinghorn and take those photographs of the paces we’d been and then come back and work on it because I thought I am going to be stuck in the house I might as well have something to do. It was as simple as that.
The response to his pictures from their first posting on social media has been phenomenal. Already there are galleries across the country queueing up to exhibit Downie’s photographs, while a book will be forthcoming soon, which will not doubt include much of his other photographic work.
But for me, what I like about Downie’s pictures is the fact they are so evocative of childhood, holidays, love, family, and those carefree days spent in the sun.
Photographs copyright Jim Downie, used by kind permission.
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