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St Andrews Student Photographers: In Conversation

St Andrews draws the student photographer. With its historic structures, cobblestone streets, and coastal views, the town of St Andrews invites, almost too naturally, the artistic shot. Student photographers recognise the opportunity and rise to the challenge. I learned quickly when I brought my Nikon FM10 over to university at the start of my first year. It was not difficult to find a photo-worthy landscape or to capture my friends in complementary light. But St Andrews’ status as an appealing place to the photographer’s eye is not new.

In fact, St Andrews carries a deep history of photography. Dr John Adamson, whose family home on South Street is now occupied by the restaurant and bar the Adamson, pioneered the mid-19th century developments of photography in Scotland and elsewhere. Dr Adamson was the first person to successfully take a calotype portrait in Scotland and a number of his photographs, including some of the town’s earliest coastal shots, remain in the university’s special collections. As I just learned in one of my earlier second-year Art History lectures of term, Adamson’s work circulated St Andrews and abroad, making the town a legitimate base for developmental moves in photography.

The town’s history of photographers and photographic development makes recognising current St Andrews student photographers all the more important. In conversation with third-year and Colchester native Ewan Soutar and third-year San Francisco native Oliver Walter, I was able to take this closer look. Soutar’s cameras of choice are his 35mm SLR Pentax SP500 and Canon EOS 70D. Like most student photographers, Soutar enjoys photographing his friends. He attributed May Dip and Raisin Sunday with supplying some of his favourite St Andrews subject matter. I asked Soutar if he had a favourite type of photograph to capture—I personally enjoy shooting the candid solo portrait. He explained his struggle, claiming a distinct type of picture: “I’m just going to say whatever feels right.” Soutar first learned the basics of photography and composition from his father, who gave him his first digital and film camera and provided feedback on Soutar’s first photographs. He also spoke of his inspiration for taking up the medium and explained, “My mum died when I was 11, then I moved to Scotland when I was 14. Going through my formative years with this sort of baggage on my mind was hard. I was and still am a quiet person, I was never great at art or English at school, but I still wanted to have an artistic medium that I could express myself with.” Soutar looked to photography as this outlet. He further explained, “After repressing a lot of tough and sad memories throughout my teenage years, it now means that I sometimes struggle to remember things, which can be hard when you realise you can’t remember what your mother looked like.” Soutar eloquently touches on a sentiment I think most active photographers struggle to put into words: the notion that photography as a medium allows artists to express and remember moments as beautifully and honestly as they were experienced.

“The point is that photography helps me remember the moments that I thought I shouldn’t forget,” he described.

I also had the chance to interview third-year Oliver Walter of San Francisco, California. Walter uses the Canon EOS 5D and a Nikon AF Nikkor film camera to capture some classic St Andrews spots, including his favorite: Greyfriars. Walter practices mainly street and scene photography and cites Paola Franqui, Josh Edgoose, and Shane Taylor as his initial inspirations for these types of shots. Walter credits San Francisco and general city life with launching his interest in photography. Walter explained, “I have always been a people-watcher and from an early age I was almost always surrounded by people—some friends, others strangers. Once I got my hands on a camera and could venture out on my own, I would people-watch just as I always had, except this time with a way to record and interact in a totally new capacity.” Walter also uses photography as a comforting outlet and says that, although often not public, his photos from outdoor adventures and hikes with friends mean a great deal to him.

Dr Adamson and original St Andrews photographers did not have the luxury of quick development and digital photography, nor did they have an easily accessible platform on which to share their pioneering works. We students do. To share these moments, like many other student photographers here at St Andrews do, Soutar and Walter look to social media. I encourage the St Andrews community to appreciate these ac- counts (including @ewan.soutar and @waltersnaps on Instagram) and recognize these photographs for what they are—a continuation of St Andrews’ legacy as inspiration to the photographer and their artistic shot.

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