St Andrews is a small place that for any of its ex students holds a hoard of memories, all of them inextricably linked to the time as well as the place. I remember going back a few years after my graduation and feeling mostly a sense of loss. People I knew had left, their places taken by new cohorts, all intent on making the town their own, just as we did back in the day. Visiting since then (Sea Life Centre with kids, golfing holiday, last year’s Photofest ) I’ve felt a bit on the defensive, reminding myself it isn’t the same, and every time I am caught out by some of the changes. I don’t suppose there were equivalents of FatFace, Prezzo or Molton Brown in the 70s, but if there had been, they wouldn’t have been in St Andrews! But despite these superficial developments, I have come to the conclusion that in most respects it hasn’t really changed and never will.
Arriving late in the evening a few weeks ago, I took a stroll, only from Murray Place to the Scores for a quick sniff of the West Sands, then along as far as Butt’s Wynd, up past the Quad and back to my B&B. The streets were deserted. Pace the makes of cars on the pavements, I could have been in almost any decade in the last 50 years. It was Freshers Week apparently but there was no raucousness on the streets. Any partying going on was behind closed doors. Yes, it was always like this.
That walk seemed to set the tone for the rest of my stay. My old halls have been converted to luxury flats, but the exterior is the same. If I’d gone inside the views would have been too. I’d forgotten how each of the main streets has its particular atmosphere, so Market Street the main shopping street, has changed most, North Street the least. South Street, always bridging commerce, church and academia is still a mixture that hasn’t been tampered with too much.
On my second day I walked from the war memorial to Kinkell Braes and back again and saw more similarities than differences to how I remembered everything. In the Quad, looking towards LCH where I stood for a graduation photo, I wondered how many people had been photographed there and how little the background would have changed.
But there’s always something new to discover too, like the University Museum (once curated by John Adamson) with its uninterrupted view of the West Sands and fascinating Disruption memorabilia, or Holy Trinity Church where I chatted to local photographers. I must have passed this countless times without ever going in and seeing the fabulous stained glass.
The feeling of a place persisting in time was enhanced by looking at the early photographic treasures held by the University Library. I was walking in the footsteps of Victorian photographers as well as students and townspeople of every era. I was particularly taken by a calotype image of St Andrews harbour . I could swear I had a reproduction of this print, or a similar one, on my bedroom wall as a student, bought in a local art shop. It had been printed in blue and I just liked it, oblivious to its history or the story of its maker.
So to round off this short nostalgia trip here are two photos to make you think about time and photography.
This is from 1974, taken, I think, with a conventional 35mm camera or maybe a Kodak Instamatic.
The next from 2017, a Victorian wet colodion tintype by Richard Cynan Jones in which I’m holding the new digital camera used for the other photos on this page.
Finally, let’s not forget Rob Douglas whose 21st century calotypes constantly play with time. He had his own exhibition this year.
Next I’m off to my home town of Dunfermline where there are many more changes to contemplate including the amazing new library where I’ll be giving a talk about some of the real historical characters who feature in In the Blink of an Eye . I’m very privileged to have been asked along by the Dunfermline Community Heritage Projects to the Undiscovered Dunfermline conference on October 14th which promises to be a fascinating experience.
But just to round off my St Andrews trip here are a few more photos from the festival.