Caught by the River

Caught by the Forth & Clyde Canal

7th August 2021

‘G20’ is Brian Sweeney’s year-long documentation of the contrasts of life and changes on the Glasgow branch of the Forth & Clyde Canal, commissioned by Scottish Canals as a pre-cursor to large-scale re-development. Sweeney’s photographs form a visual diary of his year spent walking the canal, documenting the people he met along the way and the changing face of the waterway from its industrial heyday to a site of leisure and recreation. Find photos from the project, alongside an accompanying text by Carl Lavery, below.

These pictures are like memory prompts for me. 

Every day, no matter what the weather, I walk the canal in the company of my dog, a black cocker spaniel called Mali. So I know the places in these images intimately. 

The same goes for many of the faces, the people I have encountered on my walks over the past five years.

The photographs are uncanny, then. They return me to moments I had thought gone forever – a kind of dream photography, images of strange weather, digitised recollection captured by the hand of another. 

My double.

To listen to the word remember is to hear the body insisting on a return – quite literally a ‘re-membering’, a becoming corporeal again, images you can taste, smell and touch. Images that dissolve past and present, making time into a dynamic vector, a geometry of breath, a folded typology.


In this image, the canal is swathed in fog. Air so thick you can see it. The weather becoming vestimentary, a coat to wear, something that falls around you in pleats and curves. Place as contingent, always on the verge of becoming something else.

A song comes to mind. 

Jacques Brel’s ‘Le Plat pays qui le mien’, a ballad for his life in Belgium, a song in which landscape is not outside but inside, a kind of soul writing, a memory that emerges from the very breath that he took as a child, a place, an image that returns in moments of deep solitude, sad moments, moments that escape all will, all volition, moments that touch us.

The canal so low, it seems to hang itself.

What I love about these images is the sense of the seasons in them, elemental photography. Everything here is weathered – faces, buildings, children. There is a palpable sense of time passing. The pixels are saturated, as if they had been exposed to the air, to nature.

In these pictures, the image, that thing that seems so fixed, so still, is always on the verge of taking off, ruining itself, searching – seeking – for something else. Doubtless, this explains the fascination these images have with boats, with water, with birds on a mad line of flight.

All art is always of the earth. And these images – everyday images – allow us to see that. In them, there is an acute sensitivity to the philosophy of light, to the poetry of weather, and to the exuberance and sadness of time as it passes.

Faces in a landscape.


‘G20’ will be exhibited at Trongate 103, Glasgow, from 28 August – 26 September, as part of ‘Everything Flows’, a specially curated coastal exhibition trail, programmed by Street Level Photoworks in partnership with regional venues and supported by EventScotland as part of the Year of Coasts and Waters 20/21. More information available here.

You can follow Brian on Instagram here.