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Condemned flats look like ghosts of more hopeful times

Jan-Carlos Kucharek

Photographer Chris Leslie has documented the post-war Balkans and Disappearing Glasgow, and finds the hallmarks of destruction and dereliction bounce between the two

Red Road flat, Glasgow, 2014. Canon 5d Mark II and 28mm lens. Credit: Chris Leslie
Red Road flat, Glasgow, 2014. Canon 5d Mark II and 28mm lens. Credit: Chris Leslie

Chris Leslie has been documenting the history of the Balkans since he arrived as a young volunteer in 1996, a student from Glasgow whose white lie on a CV saw him teaching photography to kids in Pakrac, Croatia, in the aftermath of the Balkan War. This small town, 90% destroyed, was, he recalls, a statistical mirror of historic city of Sarajevo in Bosnia, which, sat in a valley and besieged by pro-Serbian forces in 1992, saw its city centre and high-rise housing decimated by hostile artillery.

It’s peaceful now, but, he says, tensions around nationalism and ethnicity remain. Further south in Mostar, a recent subject was the hillside Partisan Memorial Cemetery, designed in 1965 by Bogdan Bogdanović to honour Yugoslavia’s WWII communist resistance. Its surreal stone terraces, graves and sculptures now lie derelict and vandalised. Swastikas had been freshly painted at its entrance, as if in anticipation of the shoot.

Perhaps a meditation on that experience, Disappearing Glasgow was started in 2010 for his Masters but continued in its own right. These 1960s towers, he says, were seen then as a social housing standard for the city, but cut off from it by the M8 they fell victim to underfunding, deprivation and anti-social behaviour. Condemned in 2008, they were deemed good only to house asylum seekers. In 2014, the city council considered blowing up the housing blocks live on TV as a stunt for the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony. Demolished a few months later, the site still lies empty.