Evening Times – Picture Perfect

Article by author Russell Leadbetter

The passers-by in the European capital stopped and stared, and then they stopped and stared some more. What they were gazing at was not something you see every day: giant, 84-metre high photographs by a young Glasgow University student, projected during the hours of darkness onto the facade of the national parliament – the largest building in Europe.

Thousands of people enjoyed the public art show in Bucharest, Romania, and somewhere in the crowd was the photographer himself – 24-year-old Alex Boyd, who could be excused for pinching himself at finding himself here, given that he only bought his first serious camera three short years ago.

Even at this early stage of his career, Alex has staged exhibitions of his photographs in Europe, the US and the UK – and no less a figure than Harry Benson, the legendary Glasgow-born photographer of presidents and film stars, has described his work as “stunning, and very compelling”. Alex is also making his name as a music photographer, having worked with acts including The Editors and shooting album covers for Mike Garson, David Bowie’s sometime pianist. Alex, though, is still on a high from the Romanian experience, part of the ‘White Night in Bucharest’ festival. “I never thought,” he says, “that when I first started as a photographer, that I’d ever get a chance to be involved in such an ambitious international exhibition. “I’m honoured to have my work shown on such a huge scale, and in such an important location.”

Not only the Parliament building, but also the four sides of the city’s University square, were draped with Alex’s distinctive work. German-born Alex lives in Irvine, where he works in a picture library that provides military-history photographs to clients including the BBC. He was just another amateur photographer when in 2005, “on a whim”, he entered a nationwide BBC digital picture competition, and was shortlisted in the urban category.
“That gave me a bit more confidence so I went out and bought a proper camera,” he says. “I taught myself how to use it through trial and error, and started shooting music bands in and around Glasgow, and doing landscapes.”

He got an early break when he was asked to go photography for Mike Garson, and this in turn opened doors to other acts, such as Smashing Pumpkins. Alex combined this with studying for an MA in art history at Glasgow, but he was already breaking in new directions.

Last year he made a short film, about the Allied bombing of a concentration camp-prisoner transport train in the German town of Celle in April 1945. Up to 2000 Ukrainian, Russian, Polish, Dutch, and French prisoners may have survived the bombing, but many were rounded up by local people and brutally killed. Alex, it turns out, was born in Celle, in 1984. He comes from a military family, and coincidentally both his father and grandfather, serving British soldiers, were stationed at Celle at one time or another. Alex’s mother still lives there.

The film, Die Hasenjagd, was screened in London, Berlin and in LA – and the fact that its
soundtrack featured contributions by Garson and Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan helped attract media attention. One Pumpkins track had never been heard in full in public before.

His photography, meantime was taking off – not least because more and more people were pleading for prints. “That took me by surprise because to be honest I am not a very out-going person and photography for me is a more private thing. “But when people started asking me for prints, it made me realise that maybe I was onto something.”

The final scene from Die Hasenjagd, a shot of a single figure standing in Loch Na h Achlaise, near Glencoe, stayed with Alex, and inspired him to embark his most recent project – a collection of striking landscapes photographs taken all over Scotland.

The series, called Sonnets of Scotland, mostly feature a single figure standing with his back to the camera. “That’s David Henning,” laughs Alex. “He’s been my best friend since I first moved to Scotland in the early 1990s and he was the best man at my wedding a few weeks ago.
“He drove me around all over the country and I made him stand in bodies of water while I took the photographs. I think he had to stand in something like 40 lochs and rivers.”

The series has just finished a run at the Arches venue and is now heading for a residency at the Glencoe visitor centre. As for the future, “I’m looking to exhibit my work alongside photographs by one of my heroes, Bill Brandt, next March in an special exhibition in Irvine. I’m also looking at putting together a book, and I also want to do an exhibition in Shanghai with Maleonn Ma, who is one of China’s most important photographers.

“There are also some 10 other planned shows in the works,” he adds. “This is all, of course, while I’m trying to do a post-grad in digital curation at Glasgow, so I’m probably mad trying to do so much.”
Despite all he has achieved in just three years, Alex still has trouble accepting the accolades that have come his way. “I am surprised by what has happened,” he says. “People tell me that I’m
a professional photographer but to be honest I still see myself as an amateur who has had a lot of luck. “Every opportunity that comes along, I have a go at. I think there are lots of equally good photographers out there. I just consider myself very lucky.”

Maybe so. But not every photographer in his mid-20s has attracted praise from Harry Benson, who knows a good photograph when he sees one.

Russell Leadbetter is the author of Thomas Muir – a Passion for Liberty, Times Past: The Story of Glasgow and You Don’t Have to Be in Harlem: Story of the Glasgow Apollo


About Alex Boyd

A photographer, curator, and mountain obsessive.

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