Artist Sandy Carson emigrated from a small industrial town near Glasgow named Newmains. In the US he established himself first as a successful international BMX rider and as a photographer later. From the late ‘90s onward he began regularly travelling back home to spend some time together with his single-parent mother. What first started as random documentation of those emotionally charged encounters soon evolved into an organised body of work about his mum’s ageing and the growing detachment from his hometown.
Passing Place besides being a portrait of Sandy Carson’s family, is a radiography of each of us who has moved far away from our relatives. Published by Yoffy Press in 2020, the project is a fine combination of archive images as well as original photos taken by Carson during his short stays at his mum’s home. A heartfelt homage to his mother who recently passed away, leaving behind an old tin stuffed with family photos and other memorabilia, that would have been thrown away if not picked up by Carson for this project. Together with the artist’s original contribution, they create a nostalgic portrait of a woman, a place and a time in history that once were present and are now memories.
The title Passing Place alludes to one-lane rural roads with wide spots that are common in Scotland, where people stop to let each other go before continuing their car journey. It also defines a space and time in our personal histories that symbolise our transformation into adulthood. The black cover is enriched with an embossed sailing ship as a reference to a place where you stay whilst on the go. On a more personal level, it recalls a printed envelope that used to hold school portraits when the artist was growing up.
The work grants us access to a private narrative where we don’t belong, but which can fully understand. Most vividly, what stands out is an invisible bond between the visiting son and his mum. Cautious of her decline in health, Carson records those everyday domestic rituals that mark his mother’s existence with great tenderness. The work materialises certain cosy/melancholic feelings inherent to those short visits to the family house. Something that feels good, although slightly painful at last – like a sudden realisation of the irreversible quality of time. It also succeeds in depicting an emotional solitude of the elderly’s life, something we struggle to process when confronted with the older generations around us.
The book appears modest in its outlook, anticipating the mixture of feelings it unveils by the austerity of colours. It is held together by a black wrinkled cover that resembles one of those old family albums, with golden-edged pages and tissue paper in between. This makes us realise we are in a private setting and are about to enter the intimate space of memory. Inside, small booklet additions provide a further dimension to the visual narrative, together with insightful essays by Daniel Kalder and Stephen McLaren. The introduction by Allan McNaughton gives a wonderful summary of Carson’s life and the Scottish heritage of which the book is a product of.
Passing Places unveils a fine sensibility to the intimate swing between joy and suffering we experience when dealing with the ageing of older members of our families.
Sandy Carson is a self-taught documentary and commercial art photographer, film maker, musician and cyclist who grew up in Scotland, now based in Austin, Texas. He studied communications at University before dropping out to tour the UK and Europe playing in punk bands and making fanzines. After moving to the States in the ’90s to pursue cycling, he travelled the world for 20 years as a professional BMX rider, where he honed his skills a photographer. His work is an intersection of two careers that have been the recipient of numerous awards. His work is published and exhibited nationally and internationally. Sandy’s long-term photography projects and documentary works are represented by INSTITUTE.