Interview with the Glaswegian photojournalist David Gillanders:
David Gillanders grew up in Glasgow and like most Glaswegians he was into tearing chunks out of other kids as much as he was into quaffing gallon drums of Irn Bru so soon found himself boxing regularly instead of hanging out on the street waiting to get stabbed or glassed. He was forced to quit boxing at 16 after being smashed in the head too often by bigger kids. However, he needed an excuse to hang around in the gyms as there really isn’t much else to do in Glasgow if you aren’t into eating battered Mars Bars. Inspired by the early black and white boxing posters that covered the gym walls, David began taking photos of fighters. This soon grew into a general interest in the fighters outside of the ring and his stark, black and white documentary style began to emerge. Since, David has shot projects in Russia, Odessa, Malawi and Egypt documenting the lives of the overlooked and marginalised because he says can’t help but do anything else. This project saw David photographing Ukranian street orphans many of whom will never get within spitting distance of 20.
VICE: Did taking photos replace the hole quitting fighting left in your life?
David Gillanders: Not really, I still fight. And I still take photos. They are both addictive though.
How did your early work documenting streetlife in Glasgow translate into you later work in Russia and here in the Ukraine.
Without sounding like a wanker it’s a fascination in humanity. Anyone who makes documentary photography has to have a sense of that otherwise they are liars or not in the right fucking job.
How did you come across the children who you documented in the Ukraine?
By accident to an extent. I was shooting a group of children under similar circumstances in Russia that they refer to over there as eesprizorniki. While I was there the Russians kept telling me about the kids that were literraly living and dying in caves with dead dogs in their own shit, piss and vomit whacked out on drugs twenty four hours a day. Turns out they were right.
Was it as bad as you imagined?
Worse. The most common drug they use is the core of a nasal inhaler which they mix with vinegar and then pull through a cigarette filter. The resulting compound is injected and opiates the kid but is extremely addictive. I have no idea how they worked out this would have any effect but within weeks of use it can bend bones and call massive nervous and immune system breakdown. None of these kids have much chance of making past 20 and they know that so destroying yourself isn’t such a big deal
Was there a single image that resonates from your time there?
There are too many but there was one kid who all of the times I have been out there I could see was getting progressively worse but wouldn’t let me take his photo. The last time I was there he beckoned me over and it was clear he didn’t have long. He couldn’t even talk but motioned that I could photograph him. He died later that week.
Do the government give these kids any aid?
There are Catholic priests who help them with a soup kitchen and minor medication but in the eyes of the government they don’t really exist.
How do you desnsitise yourself from the experience of witnessing that on a daily basis?