Photography: I work principally in landscape and portraiture
Film: My films have been screened throughout Europe; I also curate programmes for festivals
Architecture: I am an RIAS Conservation Accredited Architect
My film and photographic work is guided by my knowledge, skill and experience as a conservation architect. The work is rooted in place and the intrinsic connections between people, land and heritage.
I am an artist working predominantly with lens-based media, principally as a photographer concentrating on antique photographic techniques such as wet plate collodion and as a filmmaker combining digital video and hand-developed film.
My award winning photography and film is driven by my historical knowledge, skill and experience as a conservation architect: the work is rooted in place and the intrinsic connections between people, land and sea. All my photographic residencies have been in Scotland, though my film work has taken me abroad. Born in 1971, I trained at the Glasgow School of Art then fled the country, returning after a dutiful spell in London and a more relaxed time in Amsterdam; I now live and work in Edinburgh.
I am the founding director of Filmpoem, a poetry, film and workshop project this year partnering Poetry Society, Antwerp Book City and Southbank Centre, inviting many of the most renowned and international poets and filmmakers to share a stage. I am also the founder of wide scale collaborative documentation project, Document Britain I am an active teacher and community worker, currently on residence with Absent Voices to deliver a programme within the Greenock community. My work was recently profiled on Central Station.
“Arresting and nostalgic, contemplative and intriguing…Cook’s portraits create their own atmosphere and intrigue.”
Giles Sutherland, review of McArthur’s Store, The Times [4 Stars].
“Alastair Cook’s films are beautiful.”
Joyce McMillan, review of Not In My Name, The Scotsman, [4 Stars].
Project: ALASTAIR COOK McArthur’s Store
McArthur’s Store is a series of wet plate collodion tintype portraits of the fishermen who work from McArthur’s Store, an historic creel store on the Old Harbour in the small Scottish fishing town of Dunbar.
WET PLATE COLLODION is a photographic process dating from 1851 and was a primary method of capturing images until the 1880s. The process must be completed within ten minutes before the plate dries; this brings a certain intensity, offering the ability to produce mercurial and unique images.
The process captures an image directly onto glass or tin, which has been coated with collodion then steeped in silver nitrate to render it sensitive to light. Wet plate collodion balances light and time – the photographer’s decision – with a chemical process involving cleaning, washing, dipping, coating, mixing, fixing and drying. When the image first appears in the fix, a little smoky at first, it is startling, as if alchemy has been witnessed. This is a skilled craft and can be disrupted by many variables. What sets my work apart is its sheer physicality – these are sensuous, vital, vulnerable, proud portraits.
In 2012 and 2013, with the support of North Light Arts and Dunbar Harbour Trust, I set up a traditional dark room within McArthur’s Store, a building dating from 1658, working with the men in their place of work for a total of six months over two years. I chose to use this antique process to record these fishermen as collodion is sensitive at the violet end of the spectrum, allowing us to peer beneath the skin: these men have worked in the open air their whole lives, beaten by all weathers. After my first three months there, I learned that the fishermen were bringing on the next generation, so focussed my final three months on these recent school leavers, already experienced fishermen.
“Arresting and nostalgic, contemplative and intriguing…Cook’s portraits create their own atmosphere and intrigue. Rooted in place, they reflect its spirit, at once harsh and poetic; the tracings of light from a northern sky on raw metal.”
Giles Sutherland, The Times [4 Stars].