This Is Who We Are: Hogmanay 2009

Gaeme Murdoch of Cultural Connect Scotland Christmas 2009

And this is who he is – photographer and art editor, Graeme Murdoch of Cultural Connect Scotland who, with writer Harry McGrath, created what is potentially the most rewarding of all of the Homecoming initiatives: This Is Who We Are.

Copyright Graeme Murdoch 2009. Swans foraging for food at frozen Duddingston LochNow known across Argyll from Rothesay to Easdale and points in between, through a tour of the Show and Tell programme that was part of the This Is Who We Are exhibition, Graeme has sent this photograph to thank communities in Argyll for their interest and support.

In wishing everyone all possible good fortune for 2010, the photograph also reminds us who we all are just now – snow bound.

Graeme and hen-friend here are not in a rural environment. They are in Duddingston in Edinburgh. And just to give us a smile and a shiver, the eminent photographer has sent us some more shots, reproduced here. One shows swans on Duddingston Loch – which is currently frozen over, leaving the birds forced to forage and beg for food. The other shows a hen-friend evidently intent on serving itself up on one plate or another – and it seems magically to have been beamed down on this one.

This Is Who We Are and its legacy

With their This Is Who We Are adventure, Graeme Murdoch and Harry McGrath went to the Scottish diaspora rather than hoping that representatives of it would come here. They toured Nova Scotia and British Columbia focusing on places carrying Scottish placenames.They stormed the media everywhere they went. They gave Scots-descended communities cameras and asked them to film their own everyday lives.

They then came back to Scotland and hit communities with the same placename, giving them cameras and asking them to take shots of their lives and place. They weren’t looking for the grand and impressive images. They were looking for the living realities of two communities, sharing a Scots name and demonstrating developments from a common point in time where they split from each other.

Then they lassooed New Brunswick and Argyll’s Isle of Bute, bringing together the two Rothesays and sending Bute’s Rothesay-based photographer, Judy Parrott, to Rothesay, New Brunswick for a week in the imaginative guidance of Mary Jane Banks, Administrative Director of the town.

All of the photographs from all parts involved became part of a touring exhibition that was rehaped and refocused for every showing from its opening in Dumfries to its closing of Homecoming Scotland 2009 with an exhibition and reception at the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood.

Graeme Murdoch and Harry McGrath ‘walked the walk’ of Homecoming. They adopted an exploratory and respectful view of the Scottish diaspora,. not an exploitive one. Everything they did demonstrated a recognition of a new culture, born in Scotland but bred in new places, shaped by them and by the challenged and opportunities they offered – and fed by ambition and the a spirit of enterprise genuinely worthy of the name.

What they achieved, as well as establishing new and lively connections between communities sharing a Scots placename, was reminding Scotland that the diaspora is not full of lost Scots. It is full of new breeds whose vigour revives the gene pool. What do we know about them?

Scotland – as with the UK as a whole, is too content to take shelter under the image of a past, some of whose validity is questionable. Also like the UK, Scotland can be complacent in thinking that everyone wants what it’s got and that the diaspora mourns what it lost.

Yes there is a recognition of national origin in many diaspora communities, mostly but not always. Residents in Canada’s Calgary,¬† the massive modern city whose fortune is built on oil, had no idea that its name came from an idyllic little township and bay in the north west of Argyll’s Isle of Mull. They do now.

Copyright Graeme Murdoch

But thanks to This Is Who We Are, both sides of the events that shaped the diaspora have insights into each other’s development since those times. What we’re looking at is not a mothership with a series of satellites in orbit. We’re looking at independent members of a family, each secure in who and where they are, each leaving a different set of footsteps across the history of the territories they inhabit – and each aware that they belong to one family.

Graeme Murdoch and Harry McGrath are uniquely equipped to pursue and develop new perspectives on and connections with Scottish diaspora communities across the world. There is an entire and interconnected world-within-worlds to be set in motion – in the interests of all.

We can only hope that the unflashy but substantial and rooted achievement  of This Is Who We Are is recognised for what it was and that it is given life, authority and the capability to develop newly before the impetus is lost.

Scotland is too good at losing the momentum of valuable initiatives.

The photograph at the top, of Graeme Murdoch and friend, is by copyright holder, Julie Capener. The other two photographs are by copyright holder, Graeme Murdoch, None may be reproduced without permission.

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