Radio Silence

As some may be aware, I will soon be embarking on the next step of my educational career as one chapter comes to a close. That chapter, of course, being my M.Res. in English Literature from the University of Glasgow, the dissertation for which I am currently in the process of wrapping up.

And as of this moment, I have felt some admitted reticence to write — on top of the frank inability to do so due to the overriding domination of my research, the political climate of the world, it seems, is in total upheaval, and there is so much which needs to be said, and not enough people listening to what is being said.

So as I have sat, between piles of notes and books and drafts of my dissertation, self-conscious of my evolving writing style, forever tempered with the sometimes – direct tonality of academic discourse, it has been, admittedly, hard to pick up on the backlog of forty-plus projects which I have had to neglect for the sake of my postgraduate, or Master’s degree.

Beyond this, I have reached the point in my progression as an [person-who-feels-she-is-yet-undeserving-of-the-titles-‘artist’-and-‘writer’], where, despite this, I would like to begin pursuing more formal avenues of publication, leaving me hesitant to ‘pre-release’ work in this very public, digital atmosphere.

But this does not change my affinity for WordPress or for the community fostered here, so at this time, I have decided upon the following solution both for my own edification and such that I may continue interacting with the wonderful folks I have been lucky enough to digitally meet here.

Photography and writing are the reasons I get up in the morning. Every week, I take thousands upon thousands of photographs, travel to various locations with the intent to photograph and write, and scribble two-in-the-morning thoughts on bedside napkins or carry out menus. Every week, the people who interact with me tolerate this forgivingly. A fusion of the two has always been the point upon which my work and my life pivot, and a balance between both is what I desire in the release of that work. As I proceed in my professional career, I want WordPress to remain an enjoyable avenue where readers can view that balance, comment on the thoughts it hopefully inspired, and interact with me.

For this reason, going forward, I will begin sharing more of my photography — and accompanying prose — for the majority of my posts. This does not preclude my inclusion of the occasional reflective piece, story, or notification of some work being published elsewhere — all of which I will continue to feature as well — but for the sake of interacting with this community as much as I used to (and because I enjoy it), I think it is time to feature the other side of my life much more heavily, as I intend it as well to be the cornerstone of my MFA thesis, and hopefully, further academic research in years to come.

I send thanks to the WordPress community and greatly look forward to sharing more of my work in the months and years to come!

(The current featured photograph for this post features a wave crashing on the shores of Traigh Ghearadha, or Garry Beach, in New Tolsta, on the Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides, Scotland — roughly equal in latitude to the very North of Newfoundland in Canada.)

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Wednesday at the Louvre: On Paying Respects

While in Paris recently, practising my own art and photographing the city, I had the opportunity to visit the Louvre. The pilgrimage I had anticipated as an eager six-year-old proved the closest I have yet come to the documented neuro-chemical feelings typically attributed to religious experience (and is, hopefully, the last time I have an “I’m not crying, you’re crying” moment in a public place for a while).
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We recognise these iconic glass pyramids and think of culture, of mastery, and perhaps, even, of perfection in the field. We see their reflection, itself an impressionist image glittering on the surface of now-calmer metaphoric waters, and in it, the sins of the historically-elitist ‘Academie’ are more easily distorted, or even washed away, hiding in folded curtains of water (perhaps, themselves, so becoming art).

It was fated that the days of Van Gogh would see him misunderstood and rejected by the very same community which would one day study and celebrate him perhaps above all others. Of Da Vinci, to be persecuted on the grounds of Christian morality — of Caravaggio, to be skewered for boisterous recklessness — and of countless other artists’, whose work is not displayed on the more heavily-trafficked floors, their names all but lost to history, eroded from the stone — and for thousands of others, their work to become the dirt beneath our cities, our towns, and our streets, where dust settles on them even now.

It is they to whom I sought to pay my respects, poring over paintings and sculpture and textile for hours, wandering endless rooms filled with art, in a graveyard as much as in a dream. It remains our duty to the global art community to remember them — all of them — through our current actions, as much as it is in our best interest and the best interest of our children (viz. our young students) to examine the works of the masters in our museums.

Buy local art. Encourage others and yourself to enjoy and explore expression: it is here we will find our voice in history. Pay attention to the art made by the artists from lesser-acknowledged communities, because those long-dead masters won’t benefit from your belated respect and adoration… They will.

 

Alcatraz Island in Full Colour: On Taking the Plunge into Photography

A year ago, living in California, I headed to the infamous Alcatraz island — a rite of passage for all bay area Californians locals and tourists alike. And thankfully, sunny (for once!) San Francisco did not disappoint in providing a good experience.

We think of Alcatraz as it is portrayed culturally — black and white, bleak. We think of the inside of the prison walls, of the stories which have been passed through oral tradition by way of campfire stories and through the big-name Hollywood media machine. We think of the cell block, of sensory deprivation and stark interiors, and of the stories of the haunted pasts of the people whose lives often ended on the island (sometimes, of the stories in which these haunted pasts surpass the limitations of the grave). We think of the “ghost hunting” shows with artificially-tanned, muscle-bound hosts, castigating the dead for their perceived inadequacies in life and jumping at the slightest indication of something which could evidence their own black-and-white, apocryphally-informed opinions. Often, we think of the tourists as perhaps the most colourful addition to the site.

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Our imagination captures the idea that our experience in visiting such a place will be the same as our inner vision so permanently that anything which suggests the contrary can come as a shock — and sometimes, a cultural faux-pas, perhaps seen as “glossing over” the darker side of its representative means. For how can a place beset with memories of such pain, darkness, and sometimes, the worst examples of humanity and best examples of poor choices, be anything but what we have heard?

When I visited Alcatraz, I had been grappling for weeks with the decision to buy my first professional camera (beyond my prized, pink, first camera given to me by my father at age fifteen). I had just finished my undergraduate course in art, and was struggling with which direction my heart wanted to take it. While I was fortunate enough to be in a financial position to make the investment, the final push to press “buy” was still off-putting.

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In the past, I had been told by people I was close to that I photographed “too much”, that it consumed me, and retrospectively, they were right. I stopped the pursuit of my earliest endeavours into the photographic arts for this reason, and picking it up again carried with it the fear of being chastised. But everywhere I went, my eye would reel for a camera in my hands, and ultimately, providing myself a momentary lapse in self control to snap a photo here or there was simply not working. As a young child, I had prayed for a lens in my cornea which would close the shutter when I blinked a certain way — a prayer which had turned into a lamentation at that point. I knew I could not wait another month, but the final push came from my Alcatraz photo series, however small and comparably low-resolution they may have been — for finding colour in a place I had, perhaps ignorantly, viewed as purely black and white.

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I took the guided tour. I stood inside the cells. I shuffled along the halls with tourists wandering aimlessly in every direction. I had read intensely in weeks prior of the island’s acquisition by Native activists in the late 1960s, and of its tribal significance as a place of evil and malcontented spirits prior to its acquisition for correctional purposes for the United States. History abounds from every angle over this tiny rock of land in the San Francisco harbour. The tour of the interior seemed not bleak, desolate, or illustrative of an inmate experience, but like a side show at a carnival.

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But as I walked around the grounds of Alcatraz, among the gardens which, previously maintained by inmates enabled to do so on the basis of good behaviour, were as much a testament to the island’s heritage as anything.

On the outside looking in, and in viewing the outside in portals and windows from the inside, a more authentic experience emerged — yes, life on the inside was bleak, desolate, and at many critical junctures, probably an affront to human rights.

But to portray it in this light alone — through the lens or otherwise — devalues the fact that an ‘outsider’s perspective’ is all most visitors will ever have, and lessens our ability to empathise with those who did, in fact experience life on the block — sometimes with a temptingly technicolor view of the world they were cast away from.

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My eye was drawn, increasingly, to these more colourful aspects of the Island for that reason — the rusting keyhole, the blue ocean viewed through a broken window with white sailboats drifting ever out of view, the irises lining the steep steps to an observation point, staring back at my own and imploring the pursuit of one of my most natural inclinations. It was windswept, it was heartbreaking, but it was beautiful, and it was in full colour. I bought my camera the next day, I have stopped every five minutes since to shoot, wherever I am, and I haven’t looked back since. I never will again.

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The March of Intellect – London March for Science

At the dawn of the Victorian age, change on the horizon, a time of “faith and doubt” (as Elizabeth Jay writes) emerged from one of disease, classism, and scientific guesswork — marked progress in some ways and many great detriments in others. This birth, and those to follow from generations to come, stirred imaginable controversy among citizens of Victorian Britain, who, afraid of change, were not always welcoming of its risks and benefits.


The March of Intellect, as it was referred, saw a divisive culture emerge from a climate of educational and scientific progress, with much of the British populous either fearing or embracing change in social standards, scientific progress, and educational reform. That same age saw revolutionary riots surge in England (the Spa Field and Peterloo Riots killing and injuring many) in the wake of the end of the Napoleonic wars which left the country bereft of sufficient resources. With the industrial revolution in full effect, a need for educational change fueled the division, and debate ensued, peaking the public’s interest through satire and bitter division around 1820.


In 2017, some two hundred years later, echoes of the past repeat themselves as though we have learned nothing from the fear they harbour still but this: that humanity will repeat its sins again and again until the lesson is learned, and even then, human nature will be of consistent trouble to ‘rein in’.
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I have watched the United Kingdom react to Trump’s election, inauguration, and subsequent executive orders and politico-social faux pas. There is a consensus among the people of the United Kingdom’s educational centres (Glasgow, Edinburgh, London, etc) that Trump and his elected appointees are doing no good for the march of intellect.


Digitally, I watched as citisens of the digital age posted their preparatory motivation to march (this is to say, to heed the call to political action) to the “March for Science” Facebook group and event — ‘I march because I need a cure for cancer‘, ‘I march for my daughter‘, ‘I march for my students‘ — all reasons deserving of applause, all encouraging of a feeling of emotional and intellectual solidarity in a time of great need of such for the scientific and academic communities facing detriments to funding, acceptance, and educational value to their work as propaganda circulates the web and their physical mailboxes.


I watched London march with boots on the ground, photographing the English protesting in the most English way possible — politely, often quietly, and with pun-laden signs contingent on the dialect of the region (one sign of particular interest: “data scientist, don’t hate a scientist“) — wondering whether the climate was a bit more raucous back in Scotland. And so, with the introverted masses yearning to secure funding and a healthier future for our environment, debating verbal annotations to the popular chants including “what do we want?”“climate change!”“when do we want it?”“on an appropriate geological timescale!” and “what do we want?”“science!” — “when do we want it?” — “after peer review!” in murmurs, we marched on Parliament: children of all ages, men, women, and everyone who finds themselves in between left their beakers and books at home and took to the streets.

My personal ties to the scientific community are no secret, but as a researcher in English Literature (specifically, Victorian) and a student journalist, my own reasons were more general, as I again hear the academic call to arms of some two centuries ago sounding sickening, clearly:

I march for intellect.

I will march for the freedom of progress, for the ability to remain faithful to whatever faith I choose, and for law that will dictate that that faith shall not intercept the progress for which I advocate. I will march for art, for education, for women, for men, and for every pivotal point of intellectual intersectionality which harkens the need for more research, more thought, and more accessibility to both.
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And yes, I march because I, too, need a cure for cancer. Because while you are free to place your faith in the fact that God guides the hands of the Doctors, researchers, and chemists who treat your loved one’s ailments, God also ‘helps he who helps himself’ — and no God, should you choose to believe in one, will not do the work for you — because magic is not found at the crux of faith. I march because I, too, would like to feel safe bringing a daughter into the world if and when the occasion ever strikes me, and because I, too, should like to say to her when she asks me ‘why‘ I marched: “I will show you a thousand reasons why“, and so explain to her in any tiny piece of the world she points to (perhaps I hope, her reflection) why science matters. I, too, march for my students — so that they may enter a world in which they fear no truth.

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Some Good News

Excited to share some very happy news with family and friends… I have accepted a scholarship offer from the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) Creative Writing Program at Sarah Lawrence College in New York, where I will concentrate in Nonfiction beginning in the Fall of 2017.

The opportunity to earn a terminal degree from an institution which has been a consistent advocate for women’s education is a privilege, and I am so grateful for the support I have received as I have worked towards this goal for the last three years. 

This does not signal the abandonment of the research career I began at the University of Glasgow, and certainly not a divorce from journalism. But for now I have chosen to pursue a terminal degree in writing prior to considering doctoral study or other endeavours.

The programme is, uniquely, heavily centred on using writing as a way to give back to society, and I look forward immensely to all of the learning opportunities this will afford. Further, the willingness to incorporate academic intersectionality into graduate study which Sarah Lawrence is acclaimed for in its undergraduate programme fosters a learning environment I feel my work will have a place in. I am excited to get to work in the Fall and very much appreciate the support and feedback I have received over the last two years.

On to the next adventure!

 

“Generation Gap” – A Snapshot of Grief and Remembrance in the Digital Age

We live in an age where documentation of our most painful, precious, and pernicious “life events” (Facebook pun very much intended) is a tap away. The selfie has found an interesting place in cultural context in terms of memorialization. But how is it changing the way we express grief, respect, and demonstrations of remembrance publicly?

I recently visited Westminster bridge to document Londoners (and tourists) paying their respects to the recently-fallen victims of the terror attack at Westminster which claimed the lives of three victims. While London has made quite the comeback, which I covered in a recent photoessay featured by Edge of Humanity Magazine, it has also made a vested effort in displaying its support for the fallen and for the community’s togetherness in the wake of terror.

Flowers adorn the bridge at every lamppost, notes of encouragement and solidarity, love and oneness abound. On Parliament Square, bouquets of flowers lie in pristine rows, still wrapped in cellophane, stretching the length of the green.

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As I watched the young ladies on the left snap shots of the flowers, of each other, and seemingly quip back and forth about the “where-to” next, their backs turned to the flowers with the occasional exception made for a picture of the daffodils, the comparably-late middle aged woman on the right approached.

IMG_5266 (2).jpgQuietly, no digital device in hand, she placed her hand on the bridge in silence, remaining there for minutes on end, undeterred. It was unclear on whether or not they were a party at first, but as the young ladies made their way off into the distance after their photo-lust had been sated, I watched the older woman walk to nearly each and every lamppost on the bridge, pausing before each and every one.

There she stood for minutes on end, watching nothing but the flowers, absorbed in thoughts and, presumably, in silence for the remembrance of the fallen. Her sombre expression to me implied that she felt deeply for these people, and that in her pausing, she had expressed more condolence for these people than had a thousand selfie-takers combined.

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She persisted.

Everywhere, people stop to take pictures — because it’s London, and that’s what people do here and everywhere else. Photos of the buildings, photos of each other in front of the buildings, photos of the memorials (some by professional-grade photographers and others, novices). But many of those stopping for the “selfie” in front of the pop-up memorial locations represented an indiscriminately younger demographic, leaving out no minority from its midst, with middle-aged and elderly patrons pausing alongside the rows of flowers lying like bodies, or lamppost pediments adorned with flora to hang their heads and comment on the notes and sentiments left with more depth.

This raises some interesting questions, questions which, I acknowledge, are not “new” in terms of artists’ representations of this issue, with a recent “Yolocaust” project, which photoshops devastating photographs of the holocaust into the background of selfies taken at Holocaust memorial sites garnering important media attention.

It is an acknowledged fact that taking a “selfie” at a place meant to permanently memorialise an act of terror or atrocity can be considered gauche. But what does the tendency of some members of the younger generations to do so say about our increasingly-digitised culture?

But as a temporary memorial, and at that, a memorial which holds the purpose of unifying people and bringing a shaken community together, does this site hold a different social protocol?In this case, is the fact that these impermanent places of memorialization intend to represent normalcy, in a way — an exception to the unspoken rules of digital society? Does the selfie, in this case, inspire unity and respect the fallen, providing an opportunity for solidarity and strength?

Or potentially, has a faction of digital culture approached a need for self-glorification so desperate that the need to prove their patronage to sites meant for remembrance bears with it a social standard for the “selfie”‘s inclusion? Its intent, arguably to prove the selflessness of the attendee as users of social media sites enshrine themselves and glorify their lives at an increasing rate, arguably accomplishes just the opposite by shouting into the digital void for validation of altruism in a social forum.

I feel I am yet undeserving of the titles which culturally most accurately describe my professional inclinations: “researcher”, “writer”, “photographer”, “journalist”, “artist” — I do not believe I will ever feel comfortable with these titles, and so by those standards, am a part of the crowd. But as someone who fits, at least, the intent behind each of those titles, I acknowledge it would be hypocritical of me to address the actions of others when I, too, am behind a lens (and have taken photos of myself paying respects to my family’s graves since it is somewhat of a tradition). I believe firmly, that whenever photographing or otherwise documenting a cultural happening of any variety, it is ethically important to take a photograph for face value as much as it is important to take it for the thousand words it imbues; that is to say, that we can know little context beyond what is absorbed by the photographer and writer,  and all of what we can know by making our own assumptions and seeking the answers to our own questions.

Beyond this, I feel it is most critical that, like time spent in nature, only footprints are left at a scene of still-healing pain, and that in taking an image, and so capturing it forever, sometimes unaware of the audience it will be exposed to, photographers, writers, and artists take time to pay their respects in a non-digital way. A journalist’s job is to reveal the truth. A photographer’s job is to capture a piece of time. An artist trades in feeling, and a writer, often, in pain and pleasure. Our job as human beings of this age is to approach all things asking questions, internally processing always, wondering how we can improve ourselves as members of society.

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“Love Still Lives in London” Photoessay Featured by Edge of Humanity Magazine

My recent photoessay, focusing on the rapid rebound to normalcy in London in the wake of the recent terror attack and the city’s refusal to allow hate to win, has been published by Edge of Humanity Magazine, a site featuring journalism, nonfiction writing, photography, art, music, poetry, and more.

The photographs and reflection, which focus in and around Kensington Gardens in London, aim to convey the love and gaiety in the air as life carries on here in the wake of the attack. London has not missed a beat and, importantly, refuses to allow the differences to divide the city. Rather, diversity is a cornerstone, celebrated, and culturally essential component of life here for which I am very thankful. I am hopeful that, in Edge of Humanity’s feature of this project, the inclusivity which London in many ways has embodied in the wake of this act of terror will serve as an example of what I feel to be the correct moral response to acts of hate: that is, to love.

Edge of Humanity is a wonderful publication with a diverse count of very impactful stories, and I am so grateful to have contributed again. I have been overwhelmed by the positive responses from my other recent features with the Magazine, ‘How Van Met Phyllis‘, and ‘At the Edge of the World‘, and I would like to thank all of the folks who have taken the time to view / read my work. Please browse some of the articles featured on the site — though, in the hope of providing fair warning, it will quickly become an addiction!

Love Still Lives in London – Photoessay

In the wake of the eighty-two second terror attack last week which devastated the city, London reacted the English way — by keeping calm, and carrying on. I was in London at the time of the attack, but as little as four miles away in Kensington, the city was still as alive as ever.

Shows of solidarity were poignant and well-timed in the days to follow the attack, and throughout, the city rebounded quickly: marching forth with daily life in the traditional, no-nonsense London style.

Weekends are taken very seriously in London, and given the slower pace of the requisite two-day-window of relative respite at the close of what had been a trying and painful week, I half expected the city to be a little more morose, taking the time to lick its wounds. But by the weekend, the pleasant Spring-like weather had drawn all of London out into the city to enjoy — specifically, Kensington Gardens, where I focused my lens this week. I wanted the photos to prove that life had not stopped here, had not dulled, and most critically — that hate had not won in London, with photos of the park’s patrons enjoying their weekend unafraid and in love with the changing seasons.

As one of the most pristine neighbourhoods of the city, Kensington is, of course, an idealised portrait of life here — and with so much going for it, it draws a varied crowd representative precisely of the multiculturalism which fuels the economy and culture here. Kensington Palace and Gardens are ever a hub of different faces.

This weekend, love was alive here, never stopping, ceasing, or fearing. Couples of every orientation strolled through the park, unashamedly holding hands and without fear, children flew kites and fed ducks the bread they really shouldn’t be eating, women in burkas and saris strolled alongside Korean, Chinese, and Japanese tourists. Businessmen cut loose to jog through the park, students read, and young boys and girls played football (one, hitting me once by “mistake”, and subsequently shocked when I passed the ball back to him). Friends laughed as they failed — miserably, might I add — at rowing the rental row-boats, families picnicked, Kensington’s feral parakeets chirped and swooped down into crowds of onlookers, perching on hands of all colours, hoping for a free, fruity meal from apples held within. At least for two days, in Kensington, London was a portrait of multicultural success.

The seasons march along here as does the pace of life, and as in nature there are no ideals. London bears its own battles against the tumult and sin of intercultural bias and prejudice, but on the whole, is on the up-and-up in the brightest way possible after a trying and painful week, demonstrating resilience and the long-living cohesive fire of the British Empire.

London is a well-oiled economic machine which runs on intellect and trades in quick-thinking transactions of thought itself, with little time to be slowed by anything which might suggest taking more time than would a cup of tea. Love has won in London.

“How Van Met Phyllis” – Piece Featured by Edge of Humanity Magazine

I am excited to share the release of my second featured piece with Edge of Humanity Magazine, a website specialising in photoessay, documentary photography, investigative cultural journalism, and memoir. As the second installment of an ongoing memoir and photography project, I visited Curley’s Diner in Stamford, Connecticut — where my maternal grandparents met in 1948 — to explore their love story, and in the process, explored the diner’s historic past and cross-cultural significance to more families than just my own.

This is a much more personal project than I am used to sharing and I’m honoured to have it receive such audience. I am so grateful for the amount of love I have received as a result of this story and send big thanks to everyone who takes the time to give my work a read, keep up with and / or interact with me, and of course, to Edge of Humanity for the work they do to give writers and photographers such a suitable and honourable platform.

Read more about The Ruby Slipper Project here and be sure to check out Edge of Humanity for some incredible articles, photoessays, and much more. To read the original blog post, click here.

Skeletons in the Closet: Necropolis Vandalism – New Glasgow Guardian Article Out Now

A few weeks ago, I reflected on historic and contemporary vandalism and disrespect to Glasgow’s famous Necropolis — one of the city’s most iconic, haunting examples of Victorian-era culture and the palace of the dead — considering how it has changed and commenting on its cultural significance. Passing over the “Bridge of Sighs”, it truly can be a respite from the otherwise-hectic liveliness of the city… but that place of respite is contingent as much upon those who maintain the sacred space as those who pass through it. That reflection has now been released with The Glasgow Guardian’s website, and is available to read here.

“In our contemporary political climate, and throughout history, the defacing of individual graves, historic monuments, and even entire cemeteries, is a well-documented tool of socio-cultural expression: and for what it’s worth, many would argue that vandals cannot injure the pride of the dead. But pride in Scotland is a special, undying beast, and as many other nations would agree, scrawling “fuck” onto a centuries-old gravestone does little to inspire political or religious reformation. What makes these less-specific acts an underreported phenomena is not their innocuous nature, nor their lack of frequency, but their target location and the shame attached to them: no one remembers old so-and-so – but attack the grave of someone notable and the press falls to pieces, reporting the disgrace of a crime which, in truth, exhibited symptoms in cases prior, warning of the storm to come borne of an issue which is both difficult to address tactically and culturally. The longer these minimal crimes go undiscussed, the more mischief-makers will take up arms and spray paint cans to insight a public reaction.”

A house for the dead of any magnitude should be regarded, regardless of one’s religious beliefs or spiritual considerations, as a place of quiet reflection and peaceful consideration for the beliefs of others. The intent behind my publication of this piece is to draw attention to this in the hope of advocating for a respectful approach to visitation and patronage of the site — and perhaps to instigate higher efforts from Glasgow’s City Council in the prevention of more subtle, but equally disrespectful acts of vandalism. At the end of the day, a grave is no more a chalkboard than it is a garbage can.

As both fodder for written reflection and photographic documentation to accompany and illustrate it, my camera is my weapon of choice in the documentation not, in this instance, of the vandalism itself (though this is a topic I hope to revisit through both writing and photography), but the emotional significance of the Necropolis, both culturally and spiritually. By capturing the beauty of the place, rather than giving audience to vandals who would otherwise disrespect its unique grace, there is hope that more patrons of the site will regard it with higher reverence and uphold greater grace than those who would willingly (or passively) desecrate it in any respect.

If you’ve a few minutes, take a glance at some of the other material produced by student journalists at The Glasgow Guardian and support student journalism.