For the first few months of 2023, I have been using medium format photography to document a collection of zines, posters, photographs and booklets from the Lothian Health Service Archive. The material all relates to the epic struggle to educate on the topic of gay lives and HIV at a time in Edinburgh when bigotry and fear of contracting HIV were prominent, which led to Edinburgh being described in the popular media as the “Aids Capital of Europe.”
Currently there is a comprehensive exhibit at the National Library of Scotland that charts the timeline of the history and impact of HIV in Scotland for which the CHDS contributed conservation report photography for the objects that were loaned. This was to make sure that our collections teams have a good record of their current condition before going on exhibit so that any deterioration that might occur as a result will be easier to spot.
I was particularly struck in awe by the short run Zine by Edinburgh Women’s Liberation Newsletter (EWLN). I have a personal connection to DIY production, having founded a cassette label in 1982 where I produced my own graphics and cassette products on a non-existent budget whilst unemployed in the early 1980s. As a result, I really have a deep-founded appreciation for the artistic skill and effort that goes into producing these zines.
The EWLN is everything and more that you would want from a subculture zine and, although it may now sound odd to refer to being gay as a subculture, it very much was underground at that point. The EWLN is crafted with beautiful hand drawn graphics relating to the culture and information on groups, meetings and safe spaces to socialise. The EWLN represents a place to build a much needed and hard fought sense of community, at a time where persecution against the queer community especially was at an all time high.
Something special happens when you capture handcrafted modern DIY material with medium format photography. In one sense it’s a contradiction of technologies. A4 photocopied material has a very distant relationship to a medieval manuscript but they both belong to their time and an equivalence in documentation renders this recent history into an equal in terms of a preservation archive. To me it feels equally important to photographically document this modern material with the same care and respect that we attribute to ancient material.
If you want to see more of these wonderful hand-crafted zines, our team has also contributed photography for an online exhibition being held by the Lothian Health Service Archive, which dives deep into exploring queer identity through writing and zine-making and can be found here.
By Malcolm Brown (Photographer)