Chick Chalmers’s America

Chick Chalmers (1948-1998) was a Scots-born photographer who studied in London during the brief flourishing of photography in the UK in the 1970’s, though perhaps just a little too young to really gain the exposure that he deserved before the theory-driven shutters came down on documentary photography.  In his final year as a student at PCL he produced a magnificent portfolio on Orkney, where both sides of his family could claim their origin, later published as ‘Life in the Orkney Islands‘ in 1979, and the following year got a Scottish Arts Council grant enabling him to spend 3 months touring the USA in an elderly VW camper van.

After producing these two significant bodies of work, he settled down into working as a teacher of documentary photography, still taking photographs though apparently producing no other significant body of work, but inspiring many young Scottish photographers. In 1998, after 19 years without a day off work. he was diagnosed with cancer, dying later in that year.

His work lives on, and on the website set up by the Estate of Chick Chalmers, The Photography of Chick Chalmers, you can see his pictures from both Orkney and America.

Document Scotland a few days ago published Chick Chalmers: American beauty by Colin Mcpherson, which gives more information about his American road trip, illustrating it with perhaps some of the more Robert Frank inspired images. Of course no one could make that US road trip without being inspired by Frank’s The Americans, first published in 1958-9, which was by then something of a Bible for all young photographers, along with works by US photographers such as Lee Friedlander.

An American Roadtrip was first shown at Stills Gallery in 1982, and is only now on show again for the first time in four decades at Gallery TEN in Edinburgh until 9th May 2019.

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