I took this photograph last night. It marks the most recent advance in a long list of failure.
Failure isn’t something widely talked about, especially by those fraught with it. And especially not, by photographers. I am lowering the tone but after all my recent grand successes and fruitions, it is only to strike a balance to write about that which is forgotten when fortune rides around. Success itself is a frustrated process, only so because of defeat and disappointment. But there are no moralistic preachments here today, as i’m sure i normally would have it. I have no words to turn vinegar to wine. This kind of failure is failure complete, from which there is no turning around and any lesson learned is a false compromise. This failure is the failure to act, and here no one wins.
Above is the folding façade of the Fountainpark Brewery. Closed in 2004, before i ever arrived on the scene. Some rusting megalith to values and industry of a forgotten past. Having never lived more than 10 minutes from the site, I walked past it so many times it became invisible. It wasn’t until tiny protrusions of scaffolding and jet-black hoarding began to appear that my ears pricked up. In an area now overrun with clean, new, polished, empty apartment complexes, i saw the inevitable in the old brewery. What was actually a skeleton of a once enormous brewery was due to start full demolition September last year. Nearly a year on, and it is all but razed to the earth.
When i found out for certain, i’m not sure what stirred me, but i felt hugely sad that I was on the doorstep of a chapter of history closing. I discovered on an old map drawing from the 1870’s that the Fountain Brewery was indeed writ large. As was Edinburgh, with huge thanks to its brewing industry arm. Exporting internationally and competing in the elite, it was young muscle on an economic ledger. Here now is the great symptom of modernity. Forgetfulness and thanklessness of our past. In Leith, in Slateford, in Canongate, in Craigmiller, here at the canal, old terraced houses built for the families of the factory workers. Roofs that weathered the storm of paucity and hardship to ferry their families to a more comfortable future. And a promise fulfilled.
Kicking my way down Gilmore Park some freezing night, looking at my breath against the blinding fluorescence of the wrecking crew lamps, I realised there was nothing i could do, and i was out of my element even trying. So i did nothing. I took a few choice pictures of the outside and gradually the sensation of calm and curiosity i enjoyed when i took a shortcut past and smelled the canal and the old stone and metal, became replaced by guilt. In the final months of college I launched a feeble project to document the structure’s demise. I focused on recognisable markings of the plant that had been marred by the demolition. I never approached anyone about access to the inside. Maybe they would have said yes? Either way, the photos are not very good. But they draw on a power that dictates all of photography, the power of time. That soon all will be gone and the photos will age, showing an old place where a brewery once stood.
But this is no documentary. In these photos you cannot feel the heritage and age of this old site, the frantic activity of the canal, in a time long ago enough to be a foreign land. You cannot imagine the faces of the workers, and their expressions when the doors closed and their overalls hung up for the last time. You cannot feel the change and the time that has seen this thing through. You only feel the empty silence of an old utility plant crumbling down. And you cannot feel the strange romance i have developed for the place over the last 4 years, all falling away.