INTERVIEW: Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert

Fòcas talked with our judges, Devika Daulet-Singh (curator and publisher, PHOTOINK) and Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert (photographer) about what drives their work and how they see the future – and the present – of photography in India and Scotland.

F: You moved back to Scotland having lived in Japan and worked internationally from there. What impact has returning here had on your photography?

J: It’s been good being back. During my time in Tokyo I was really the quintessential assignment photographer, undertaking commissions for clients and travelling all over Japan, and also further afield through the Asian and Australasian region. But back here in Scotland, since my return, I’ve refocused my time and energies into my personal work a bit more, and exhibiting my personal work. It always feels better…but of course I still undertake assignments, still have to.

F: What inspired you to found Document Scotland with Sophie, Colin and Stephen?

J: I’d always been inspired by the Farm Security Administration of the American 1930s, and then more recently with the Facing Change Documenting America photo-collective of a few years back, and it was this new group of photographers in USA, including a colleague Tony Suau, that gave me the idea to form Document Scotland and that a similar like-minded bunch of photographers in Scotland could try and undertake a joint project, working on stories here and also flying the flag somewhat for documentary photography undertaken in Scotland which in latter years seemed to have been neglected

F: Document Scotland’s exhibition at the National Galleries has just finished. Can you tell us a bit about the work you showed?

J: I showed portraits from my project and book ‘Unsullied And Untarnished’, a project which looked at the festivals and participants of the annual Common Ridings in the Scottish Borders. The Common Ridings are steeped in history, tradition, pride and love for community, and are visually great, all of which were attractions for me as a photographer. In my portraits, which are in the book of the project, I wanted to show the face and looks of the people who loved their communities, who take part, commemorating events of years gone by but who at the same time, by their annual participation, take their community forward and hopefully keep it strong. I tried in my portraits to capture their look, the interesting clothes and sashes they wear, and to show a cross section of all the participants, – the principals players, the Committee chairmen, the kids, the elderly, everyone.

© Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert

F: Even in Scotland this is a part of our history we know little about. What drew you to the Ridings?

J: As per above, but I enjoy learning of history, of Scottish history, and after returning from living abroad it was a great way to get out and explore the country again, to spend two summers down in the Borders area, a beautiful part of the world, especially on a summer’s evening.

F: How has the show been received at home and around the world?

J: It seems to have gone well, we’ve received good feedback and comments, haven’t heard anything negative at all. Document Scotland managed to keep the press interested to the very end, so hopefully that exposure brought a lot of people in to see it.

As for my part of the show a lot of the people in the images visited the exhibition and the feedback was all positive, people were glad the Common Ridings and the culture of those festivals was brought to a wider audience, an audience who might not otherwise know of the traditions. That was important for me to hear that those I’d photographed and who had been generous with their time and hospitality in the Borders were happy with the resulting work on show.

F: How do you see Scotland’s contemporary scene shaping up in the near future?

J: I think the work of Document Scotland in the past few years has reinvigorated a bit of the photo scene here in Scotland, shown that things are possible, that we should be working hard, getting work out there, and that there is room for collaboration which helps everyone.

The forming of the Institute for Photography in Scotland has been positive also, with different institutions and galleries coming together and making waves to bring lots of individual events to a focus, pulling them together to support and to disseminate news of events.

There’s a lot going on, a lot of young photographers out there doing good documentary work and working individually, and hopefully photographers in Scotland can keep the ball rolling forwards. I think it important though that we all work together with the aim of growing the reputation of photography being undertaken here. It is easy to be single minded and see others as competition perhaps, but I think working together, promoting each other can be more beneficial and help grow the pie for everyone.

But we need to also stretch beyond our borders and take Scottish photography to the international scene, to promote abroad the good work being done here.

F: And what’s next for you – and for Document Scotland?

J: As ever I continue to work on projects, continue to shoot assignments. There are some exhibitions bubbling under at the moment for myself, hopefully they’ll be announced soon which will involve some of my photos from my archive being shown. That is great to revisit older work, and to bring it to new audiences, to keep giving it a life.

Document Scotland continues of course. We’ve had a manic first three years with a handful of shows and publications, and to a degree we’re letting the dust settle a bit. We’re each taking time to produce new work, and we’ve ideas for future collaborative projects which are forming, being discussed and we’re moving forward on.

You can purchase Jeremy’s book ‘Unsullied And Untarnished’ here

To read Devika Daulet-Singh’s interview, please go here.

Jeremy shared this brilliant image he took in India in 1989 as part of a personal project.

© Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert

02Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert grew up in Scotland, where on his 13th birthday he received the gift of a camera. A few years later Jeremy subsequently became a UK based freelance photographer for editorial, corporate and NGO clients. His work has appeared in magazines such as Time, National Geographic, Italian Geo, Le Figaro, The Guardian, The Sunday Times, and many others. For over a decade Jeremy has been one of the principal photographers for Greenpeace International.

In recent years Jeremy was based in Japan, but missing the raw weather he relocated back to his home country of Scotland. His work has taken him to over 80 countries, as far flung as Antarctica and Outer Mongolia. His personal and commissioned work, for which he has been the recipient of photojournalism awards, has been widely published and exhibited in Europe, Asia and USA.