Past Collection Highlight - David Williams

David Williams Sixth Form Girl Primary I GirlSixth Form Girl, Primary I Girl is part of an early photographic series by Scottish photographer David Williams, completed as a six-month artist-in-residence commission for St. Margaret's School for Girls, Edinburgh, in 1984. The title of the series, Pictures from No Man's Land, playfully acknowledges the unlikely admittance of a male observer to the protective sanctuary of this girls-only world. His portraits sensitively record the young girls' developing identities within this largely outmoded educational environment.

Aside from the tell-tale 1980s Princess Diana coiffures, the photographs have an old-fashioned, timeless quality facilitated in part by Williams's use of an antiquated Rolleiflex TLR (twin lens reflex) camera-the kind that hangs from a long strap around the neck, putting the viewfinder at the level of the photographer's ribcage or navel. Through his (literally) averted gaze, we observe this generation's experience of a similarly timeless cycle: the journey from childhood through adolescence.

How quickly-seemingly within the blink of the camera's shutter-does the ponytailed child arrive upon the threshold of adulthood. As if Williams's twin lenses have the power to compress time, we can imagine Sixth Form Girl, Primary I Girl as a vision of the potential and the realization of the same girl. One could easily be a forward projection or the recollected past of the other. The first-year child brims with exuberant, unmasked anticipation. She stands straight, feet together, safe within her tightly buttoned uniform. The elder girl wears a more reserved, relaxed attitude, already preparing to shed her St. Margaret's-emblazoned cocoon and emerge, transformed, into the world beyond.

Karla Niehus
Assistant Curator of Collections and Exhibitions