Joseph McKenzie ARPS (1929-2015)

16 July 2015

Society news, Industry news

Joseph Mckenzie ARPS (born London, 1929-2015) was a post-War British Photographer whose work often deals with documenting images of post-War Scotland. Known by many as ‘the Father of Modern Scottish Photography’, Joseph McKenzie was one of the most ambitious and prolific post-War photographers.

He was educated in Hoxton, and during the war at Cranbourne, Dorset. After conscription, and regular service in the R.A.F. as a photographer (1947-1952), he studied photography at The London College of Printing from 1952-1954. He was invited to introduce photography as a lecturer to St. Martin's School of Fashion, London, in 1954, and was later appointed Lecturer in Photography at The Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art, Dundee, a position he held until he retired from the post in 1986. 

He joined The The Royal Photographic Society in 1954 and gained his Associateship the same year, and in 1969 gained third prize in The Nikon International Photographic Contest. In his public years, he carried our freelance commissions in support of his essays, including a feature for the designer engineer on completion of building the Tay Road Bridge, Glenlivet Distilleries, The Jute Industry Group, and the social effects of North Sea Oil, plus many portaits of public figures including HRH The Duke of Edinburgh and Lord Mountbatten.

In 1965, he commenced a series of major exhibitions with Glasgow Gorbals Children 1964-65, shown in Edinburgh, Dundee and Dunfermline. This was followed by Dundee – A City in Transition (1966), a study he made to commemorate the opening of The Tay Road Bridge. In 1967-68, Dunfermline and its People was shown in that town; then in 1969, Caledonian Images was toured throughout Scotland, by The Scottish Arts Council. In 1970, Joseph McKenzie’s controversial study Hibernian Images (1967-69) provoked a deal of criticisim and an attempt to censor the photographer’s catalogue statement. As a result of this, McKenzie withdrew from public exhibition of his works.

In 1974, Joseph McKenzie established The Victoria House Gallery of Photography at his home at Tayport, with a permanent installation entitled Homeland. This gallery was closed in 1980. The images of Joseph McKenzie are represented in a number or public and private collections. Amongst the public collections having holdings of his work are The Carnegie Dunfermline Trust, the Scottish Arts Council, The National Portrait Gallery of Scotland, and The Victoria and Albert Museum, London. During his publicly active years, Joseph McKenzie produced a substantial body of work, primarily in the form of five major exhibitions, each of a minimum of 200 prints. Joseph McKenzie’s utilises every type of camera, from 8 x 10 view to 35mm. His broad technique is matched by wide ranging subject interests. Landscape, streetscape, social documentary, portrait, and even personal family snap-shots are all integrated into his archives. His work, therefore, represents not just a documentary view of British society, but also a record of his experience, a commentary on human existence. He has a close aptitude to American humanist artist-photographers, such as Paul Strand or Ansel Adams. Like them, he combines aesthetic with ethical and political concerns. His work is monumental and static – metaphysical rather than existential in tone.

Described by The Scotsman as having ‘the eye of a true poet. The tonal brilliance of his prints…marks the excellence of his craftsmanship, but their compositional arrangements brim with a superb variety of exciting balances, patterns and textures, and are stamped with an inventive interpretation that is most remarkable’.

Calum Colvin commented: ‘I am saddened to hear of the passing of Joe McKenzie. A brilliant photographer and a generous teacher, he taught me a huge amount and helped me establish my career as a photographer (along with countless others including the massively famous Albert Watson).’

Image: © Joe McKenzie / Mrs Wallace, Wallace's Pie Shop. From Hawkhill - Death of a Living Community, from an essay on the Pie Shop 1964/86 /