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Go behind the scenes with Andy J Mather, Edinburgh Park’s first photographer in residence

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Construction worker on site environmental portrait

All places are made by someone. Every home was once a building site. Edinburgh Park’s first photographer in residence is Andy J Mather and his work reminds us of the people behind the progress.

Beginning in November, Mather has spent months on the site, mingling with the construction workers and mapping the rapid transformation they’re bringing about.

His photographs confront the construction at both a colossal and a human scale. Stark lines of cranes and looming walls bisect his images. But his eye is also caught by details: a tangle of chain, the lean of a fence, discarded lengths of piping. And then there are the close-up portraits that, as Mather puts it, shine a spotlight on the people behind the scenes.

When complete, Edinburgh Park will be a new cultural quarter for the capital. But it’s a future that we’re determined to realise in the here and now as well. That’s why you’ll see the work of local and emerging photographers and poets documenting the park as it changes.

Mather hails from Biggar, on the outskirts of the city, and was awarded the residency shortly after he graduated with a BA in photography. He shared his thoughts on the experience so far.

In your artist statement, you say this residency is a way for you to explore and experiment. How’s that been going?

I'd only graduated within three weeks, so it was a complete shock when I got the email back saying that I'd got the commission. I was startled but thrilled — it is just the opportunity that you look for as a new graduate, that initial foot in the door. This commission is a bit of a dream come true, because it's an opportunity for me to do what I do. I've been trying to not overthink it and just shoot how I shoot.

Overgrown fields with construction work and train on the horizon
Tram lines from above

You’ve been photographing Edinburgh Park since November, at first in colour but now increasingly in black and white.

It’s the nature of a working building site. There’s hi vis everywhere: really garish, bright yellows and bright oranges that don’t lend themselves to the work I produce. The textures and tones of a building site are brought out a lot more in black and white. Even the aerial cranes, those suit black and white as well from a graphic point of view, because they are quite geometric with the multiple cranes. It simplifies it. Black and white just breaks everything down to shape and form and texture and tone.

Black and white focuses on the mechanisms of what’s happening. That's one of the interesting things about a construction site, it's a highly organised space in a state of transformation.

Yes, it’s a state of flux, but everything’s very organised and methodical and it’s been an amazing insight. Everything needs to be done, from every last brick to the last tile on the roof. It’s incredible to see and especially on this scale. A week is a huge amount of time on a building site. You can shoot things that are never going to be that way again. If you’ve missed an opportunity, that’s it gone.

Two photos side by side of partially completed walls, with an abstract aesthetic

What are you hoping to capture by the end of this year-long process?

The architectural side of things, the geometric shapes and forms, be it cranes or the actual superstructure as that changes — but also the character of the people that make these things happen.

A lot of machinery is involved, but there’s people at every single stage. Someone laid every single brick and pipe and nail. It’s amazing to me that these things are built, every little bit at a time, by two pairs of hands. Or a lot of pairs of hands, but all working in sequence. Maybe that’s something to start to experiment with when I go back, the grander scale of it: lots of people, all working in harmony. As long as I can do the people doing the work justice, and they’re proud to see themselves in the spotlight a little bit.

See more of Andy J Mather’s work documenting Edinburgh Park’s progress on his website. Our interview with Mather has been edited for length and clarity.

Construction worker at work
Close up of a pile of chains