A young Spanish Telford College student spent eight months taking photographs in Muirhouse while working on a documentary portfolio for his HND in photography. The result was some superb images, excellent exam results – and friendships that could last a lifetime.
Borja Prada Garcia first became interested in Muirhouse when he passed through on the bus on the way to college. “It was an interesting place, photogenic,” he said. “At first sight it seemed like it had been painted on a grey canvas, but later as I visited day after day I found a broader palette of colours behind it’s doors. Muirhouse is actually a colourful place, because of it’s people”.
Borja may have seemed like an unusual figure, a stranger always armed with a camera but as the days and weeks passed he got to know local residents. “Some people were wary and suspicious when I approached them, one or two were threatening, but most people were friendly and helpful. They were inquisitive and interested when I explained what I was trying to do,” he said. “I found that there are lots of misconceptions about Muirhouse; it may seem like a cold place but the people were warm – their smiles can light misty days.”
One family in particular welcomed Borja into their home. “The Sargents were so good to me”, he said. “They were like a family for me here in Muirhouse – they let me share their lives and I visited them every week.”
Over days, weeks and months Borja built up his portfolio, photographing buildings, people and situations on film and then developing prints. It was a long, laborious and expensive process – Borja reckons he shot between forty and fifty rolls of film – but the effort proved worth it: Borja gained 98% for his Graded Unit 2!
Borja self-published ‘Welcome to Muirhouse’, a 60-page book of Muirhouse prints, and now hopes to exhibit his work both at local venues and at galleries further afield. North Edinburgh Arts Centre will perhaps be the first of many when it stages an exhibition of Borja’s work in October.
Borja’s tutor Susan Richards said: “Each year we have three or four projects worth taking further, but every so often a student submits work that is extra special and Borja’s portfolio falls into that category. It is a really impressive body of work and I know how long and how hard Borja worked to achieve it. That dedication and the images he’s produced certainly deserve a wider audience and I’m delighted that more people will be now be able to appreciate it”.
Borja makes a living by working in a restaurant, but the young Spaniard won’t be saying ‘adios’ to Muirhouse any time soon. “The project is ongoing and I intend to shoot in Muirhouse for several years. I thank all the people of Muirhouse who helped me during the project, especially Jim, Jennifer and the Sargents. It is still a very close relationship – they are my friends and we will stay in touch with each other.”
If a picture paints a thousand words: some of Borja’s images of Muirhouse …