Robbie Lawrence’s Northern Diary is a homecoming in pictures

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The particular Edinburgh-born photographer’s exhibition draws together three Scotland-based projects, offering a snapshot of life in post-Brexit Scotland

When Robbie Lawrence began discussing ideas for an exhibition with Ben Harman – director of Stills in Edinburgh –  the two of them came up with a concept that would link together three projects, made over the past five to seven years.  

“We both liked the fact that whilst I have never necessarily considered me a Scottish photographer, the three bodies of work are actually all photographed and videoed in Scotland, so there exists a thread of Scottishness that links it all, ” Lawrence says.  

Born in Edinburgh, the photographer very first left Scotland at eighteen, then returned to study with University of St Andrews before leaving again. All through all of this coming and going, the early concept for Northern Diary kept cropping up in his notebooks, and the ending exhibition became about the notion of return – coming back to Scotland and looking at it from different viewpoints.

Jim, A Voice Over The Linn © Robbie Lawrence / WEBBER plus courtesy Stills.

Opening next week at Stills, Centre for Photography in Edinburgh, Northern Diary brings together images from three projects. A Voice Above The particular Linn tells the story of Lawrence’s visits towards the home and gardens of the Scottish botanist Jim Taggart; the video piece Blue Bonnets documents   a school’s Highland dancing competition after the pandemic; along with a set of images taken from The Atlantic documents   life in the UK in the run up to Brexit. This individual shot the latter images during the second Covid-19 lockdown. These types of frame the tone from the exhibition as a whole: a snapshot of life in post-Brexit Scotland.  

“These pictures depict quite transitory times – small, brief relationships, ” says Lawrence. “When approaching people during Covid, I had to be conscious of distance, and I think that comes across sometimes, in the feeling of the photos as isolated moments. Yet I suppose in many ways, the Scottish images within that project are again about seeking to understand the country that I’m from, and what my feelings on nationalism are. ” 

Of course , Lawrence has his own opinions on independence and Scotland, he says, but he’s tried not to be too forthright with any one place. “I think the way that we ingest media right now leads to a fairly binary perspective, so I always try to look for the middle floor. ”

Lewis Daniel, Edinburgh, Northern Diary © Robbie Lawrence / WEBBER plus courtesy Stills.

“It’s about choosing moments that are emblematic of a wider feeling – encapsulating a theme or a topic that will feels relatable”

Morning in Ayr, North Diary © Robbie Lawrence / WEBBER and good manners Stills.

Waves in Dunbar, Northern Diary © Robbie Lawrence / WEBBER and courtesy Stills.

Northern Diary moves between delicate portraits, to brooding landscapes, and subtler, more short lived details of Scotland’s coasts plus cities, like the spray of waves against a seawall in Dunbar, and a chaotic kitchen sink in morning lighting. Explaining this vision, he says, “I think it’s regarding finding moments that are representational of a wider feeling – encapsulating a theme or a subject that feels relatable”.  

In other words, it’s about crystallising fragments of normal lifetime as it ticks on against a backdrop of higher events. A narrative-based, humanist approach resonates throughout the entirety of this exhibition, with Lawrence honing in on everyday happenings and encounters with individuals in whose lives are part of a much larger story – the story of the country navigating an unsure time.

Joanna Cresswell

Joanna L. Cresswell is a writer and editor based in Brighton. She has created on photography and lifestyle for over 40 international magazines and journals, and held positions as editor to get organisations including The Photographers’ Gallery, Unseen Amsterdam and Self Publish, Be Happy. The lady recently completed an MA in comparative literature and criticism at Goldsmiths College, University of London

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