JOAN EARDLEY BY OSCAR MARZAROLI

  • In this, the centenary year of the birth of Joan Eardley, we held a small exhibition of work by both...

    In this, the centenary year of the birth of Joan Eardley, we held a small exhibition of work by both Eardley and her friend, photographer and documentary maker, Oscar Marzaroli. In a series of intimate photographs of Eardley in her Glasgow studio and her Catterline home, Marzaroli takes us behind the now familiar oils and pastels to the artist at work. Eardley, Marzaroli admitted, was his greatest influence. They both approached Scotland with an outsider’s eye. He had been born in Italy in 1933, she in the south of England in 1921, coming to Glasgow in 1939 to escape the Blitz and enter the art school. Eardley died in 1963, the same year that Marzaroli photographed his ‘Castlemilk Lads’, and, as Peter Ross notes, there is a sense of the torch being passed. Here Marzaroli explains his affinity to Eardley’s paintings of Glasgow: being passed.[1] In an interview, Marzaroli explains the affinity he has to Eardley’s paintings of Glasgow:

     

    ‘If you’re asking me if she had an influence on my picture taking, yes, Joan Eardley more than anyone. Her work has an immediate quality, a realism, and a kind of urgency. Here in her paintings were the children of the tenements as I recall them from my own childhood in Garnethill, which was a very mixed area; Hungarians, Italians, Irish, Polish, Lithuanian.’

     

    ‘When I got back to Glasgow in 1959 the city was changing and I wanted to get it in the can. The changes were being expressed in the poems of Edwin Morgan, the paintings of Joan Eardley and Angus Neil, the songs of Adam McNaughtan about throwing jeely pieces out of a thirty storey new high flat. Gorbals, Hutchesontown, Cowcaddens, Anderson and many other areas had been made Development areas. I felt a need to establish a rapport with the city and its people. A place like the Gorbals was a microcosm of what was happening in all the great cities of the world. It was as exciting as any location could have been.’

     



    [1] Marzaroli, A., Grassie, J., Crawford, R., Ross, P., Waiting for the Magic: The Photography of Oscar Marzaroli, (2013), pp.113-114.

  • While there is no doubt that Marzaroli was a documentary photographer - a much debated area of photography – he  engaged with his subject in a way his predecessors hadn't. The realism and objectivity to which photographers aspire are often impossible to disconnect from their own values, political and moral. The subject of twentieth-century documentary photographers was that of the urban masses.  It was witness to their living conditions, the hardship and in the work of Marzaroli, a decade of rapid social and political change.  Documentary recording of Glasgow was plentiful in the 100 years up to 1960, but few recorded it thereafter.

     

    Marzaroli and Eardley took the seemingly ordinary and every day and showed it to be exceptional and often humorous.  Neither were voyeuristic; they were participants and allies.  Dr Tom Normand of the University of St. Andrew's notes: 'it is difficult to view Marzaroli's ideological position as paternalist, in the manner of Thomas Annan, or even as socially concerned reformism, in the style of the documentary radicals from the 1930s.  Rather, Marzaroli presented a documentary form that offered a non-judgemental reportage which nevertheless viewed its subject with respect and something approaching awe. Leaping from both their work is resilience, defiance, humour and an understanding of the malleable nature of youth.


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