As a result of the recent fair weather and a drive to get out of the flat more often, I was just yesterday discussing the apparent lack of workspaces in town with one of my flatmates, who suggested that I try out a nearby café he has recently been frequenting on his walks (a nice perk of Glasgow’s small size is how easily one can get around to new places on foot). There’s no time like the present, so I put his recommendation into action first thing this morning and headed out for a big iced tea to accompany the day’s work.
As much as I would love to be out shooting 24/7, being committed to building a business also means spending some time attending to administrative tasks, like accounting and emails (so many emails). It’s not all that bad, though; after all, I have a blog to maintain now, and I might be the only person on the planet who actually enjoys writing up all these grant proposals. But regardless of how much excitement the inbox and to-do list bring, it eventually becomes time to pack up and move on to other necessary tasks, like preparing dinner.
I left the café and elected to walk back on a route that would take me through the University campus. The Gilbert Scott-designed main building is absolutely stunning, so I try to see it in as many different kinds of light as I can manage. There are always new things to see when you revisit a familiar spot, and this time was no different — but not because of the architecture or light.
I exited the courtyard to a sight I was definitely not expecting. Looking down from the top of Gilmorehill I could see a huge column of dark smoke to the southwest, likely just minutes old. I didn’t stop for too long — fire moves fast, stories change by the second… and I didn’t have a camera with me.
My flat is, in a stroke of luck, right en route to the scene. Through the door and halfway to my quarters, I called out for my flatmate — “Hey Johnny! Fire! There’s a fire!” — and two doors, neither to Johnny’s room, opened. One wondering why the smoke alarm hadn’t gone off, and one just now waking up after his weekend revelry. Two hasty apologies and a few knocks on Johnny’s door later, I was advising him not to forget a scarf while we tied our shoes. Can’t be too prepared, especially when your safety could be at stake.
Johnny and I crossed the River Clyde and were passing through Festival Park when a group of cyclists passed us. I am still unsure of how the lad carrying his bike was able to keep up with the rest of them, but they appeared to be on a mission, so we stood out of their way. We turned towards the park’s only exit, and were surprised to see a very large, very heavy metal gate in our way. Even if we could reach the padlock on the other side, neither of us would have been able to pick it without a few extra joints in our wrists, so another solution was going to be necessary.
The cyclists had arrived as well, mere moments before us, and appeared to be executing the very thoughts I was thinking.
After the cyclists followed their rides over the gate, Johnny and I also climbed up the wall and to the other side, in what I am sure was a thrilling display of slow-motion amateur parkour. Hoping that a little adrenaline would keep a newly-tweaked ankle steady, we set off in the failing light towards the smoke.
Traffic on the roads was getting more congested as we neared the scene, and the density of emergency vehicles confirmed that this fire was certainly not a planned event. When we seemed to be on the right block, we followed a tall fence around to a narrow parking alley, walled on one side and chain-link-fenced on the other; the wall hid a residential block from view while the fence discouraged trespassers from entering a large asphalt lot filled with piles of I-beams and tarp-covered wooden pallets. We were not the first ones to arrive; about a hundred civilians were gathered casually in the alley, and a few dozen stood over the top of the wall, possibly residents or passers-by of the nearby homes.
The source of the fire was not immediately evident from the entrance end of the alley, but everybody had their phones in the ready position, videos recording the smoke cloud and panning around to give family members and internet followers a look at the surrounding alley. A few cameraman had positioned themselves up higher to get a look over the fence on the other side of the alley:
Photographs of the fire itself do about as much as you expect: document the fire — purely representation imagery. Perhaps a few people might frame it up nicely and make the colors look nice in post, but no number of images of the fire would say much about the people it affected.
As I continued to work my way around the crowd, I was surprised to come across a surprisingly familiar sight: four bicyclists, the very same ones from earlier. Unlike the rest of the crowd, they didn’t choose to take their phones out to record the fire, but rather stood there in quiet contemplation. I imagine that they must have done exactly what I did, having seen the smoke from a distance, and gathered their team to go on a small adventure across the city to see something new and fascinating.
The story is in the people, I think. Their response, their choices going forwards from the experience, are what form the story. For many of the people there, it was probably their first experience of a fire incident (it certainly was for me). The whole thing makes a big impression, from the monumental beauty of the smoke above, the ash and debris falling through the air, and the size of the big, bright fire itself. I, for one, left the scene thinking about how each of those people will be considering their experiences later tonight, or tomorrow, or a week from now.
As I was departing, I passed two scrapyard workers remarking on their fortune that nobody came to any harm in the fire.
Some more images from the day can be found over here.