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Photographic gems

Pauline McLean | 17:49 UK time, Monday, 14 December 2009

Photos in galleryI've seen some unusual buildings transformed into art galleries in the past, but nothing quite so dramatic as the former funeral parlour hearse garage transformed into Glasgow's Hidden Gallery.

Owner Joe Mulholland has had past lives as a lawyer and a journalist but his present occupation as gallery director seems to be the one he's been heading for all his life, not least as a showcase for an extraordinary collection of photographs he acquired more than four decades ago.

Joe was then living in Glasgow's West End next door to an elderly Canadian born lady called Margaret Watkins. Joe and his wife Claire befriended her and were regular visitors.

Then, 18 months before she died, Ms Watkins presented Joe and Claire with a box which she insisted they didn't open till after her death.

She died in 1969 at the age of 85 but the Mulhollands - whose daughter had just been diagnosed with leukamia - didn't open the box for another two years.

At that point, Joe discovered that quiet, modest Ms Watkins was actually a photographer of note - a student and later teacher at Boston's Clarence White School of Photography. her box of photos turned out to contain many of her most famous images - from a controversial kitchen sink still life series to social commentary, beautifully lit nudes and portraits (among her most famous, the composer Rachmaninov).

He discovered further negatives of photos, which hadn't been developed, of 1930s Scotland and it's these which are displayed on the basement floor of the new gallery.

He had them developed by printer Robert Burns who used traditional paper and techniques to ensure they're as close to Margaret Watkins' vision as possible.

Ms Watkins first came to Scotland in 1928 to look after two elderly aunts. Their ill health and the second world war kept her there for decades and by the 60s, when the Mulhollands met her, she made no mention of ever being a photographer.

"She'd had disappointments in her professional and personal life," says Joe.

"That's why she was so keen to take a break from New York and come here for a breather.

"But I think she always intended to go back. After she died, we found out she'd packed a bag with her camera in it. i think that's why she left me the box.

"She knew i'd understand the importance of what was in it."

And this exhibition is just the beginning of a revival of interest in Margaret Atkins' work.

Among the earliest visitors to the Hidden Gallery show were staff from the National Gallery of Canada who plan a solo exhibition of her work in 2011.


  • Comment number 1.

    Congratulations to Joe Mulholland for exposing the work of this important photographer to the public again and to Robert Burns for the fine printing. Good also that the pr is working well too with a fare overview of it from Pauline McLean - there are many photography exhibitions that come and go and that are occuring in non-gallery locations too - but this is obviously work of some significance to Scottish photography. Street Level (in fact its then Director Martha McCulloch) worked with Joe in the early nineties on the presentation of the exhibition 'Margaret Watkins, Her Life & Photographic Work' which was shown in October 1994 and then toured to a number of venues in the UK and internationally. A publication was produced - 'Margaret Watkins: 1884-1969' with essays by Joe Mulholland, Halla Beloff, and Lori Pauli (ISBN 1 897723 04 0). Street Level have a couple of copies of that publication in their archive and I'm sure anyone who is particularly interested would be able to get a photocopy of the essays or be able to visit to peruse it.


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