Leith locals displayed in life-sized pictures

Morvern Cunningham, producer of LeithLate festival, in front of some of John Harfield's portraits. Picture: Toby Williams

Morvern Cunningham, producer of LeithLate festival, in front of some of John Harfield's portraits. Picture: Toby Williams

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SOME of Leith’s most colourful characters are being immortalised in life-size portraits along the entire length of the Walk.

Striking black and white images of the port’s everyday heroes have been fixed to advertising hoardings and in shop windows along the length of Leith Walk, returning the gaze of startled passers-by.

The dramatic project started life when local photographer John Harfield, 31, began taking pictures of quirky strangers on his lunch break.

But when he posted some of the them online, the portraits became an overnight sensation, attracting the interest of a local arts festival and featuring in a charity exhibition.

John, who has been taken aback by the interest his work has generated, said: “I didn’t plan for this to happen.

“I didn’t really think anything of it at the time. I looked for people with something special about them, if they had a story in their face or they were covered in tattoos or they had a big beard.”

He approached eccentric and intimidating-looking people, including one man with nightmare tattooed on his neck, asking for permission to take their picture.

During the course of his work he discovered the perils of making judgements about people based on their appearance.

He said: “I’ve been truly amazed by the people I’ve met on Leith Walk. Quite often the most intimidating looking characters, have been the friendliest and vice versa.

“I’ve encountered folk from all walks of life, and heard countless personal stories and fascinating tales about the area. One thing I have found out for sure, all Leith Walkers are proud to be there.”

He added: “With so many diverse characters along Leith Walk, this is a fantastic opportunity for people to see some familiar faces. An outdoor exhibition is fantastic because it brings it all back to where it all began, on the streets of Leith Walk.”

Morvern Cunningham, producer of the annual LeithLate arts festival, was so impressed by his work that she came up with the idea of using the portraits in an outdoor display.

She said: “The Leith Walkers portraits are a fantastic snapshot of a great variety of Leithers and we’re delighted to be bringing the Leith Walkers back onto Leith Walk. I hope it jolts people out of their every day walk, and gets them to take more notice of their surroundings.”

Among those whose portrait is included in the exhibition is 43-year-old Christopher Mooney, owner of the Woodland Creatures on Leith Walk who has exhibited John’s work.

He said: “I had never met him before. He was standing outside the bar and he asked if he could take a photograph of me and some of my staff. I really like the project, and it has gone in a really interesting direction.”

The exhibition has been installed by the city council in partnership with LeithLate, which holds its annual arts event across Leith on June 21 and June 22.

Frank Ross, Convener of the Economy Committee, said: “The exhibition builds on the tremendously successful website John created and I am sure the portraits will attract a lot of interest.”

The portraits will be placed on advertising hoardings and seven will also be displayed as vinyl stickers in the windows of local businesses.

There will also be a board added on the side of Leith Grocers on Iona St. Hoardings sites will include Haddington Place, Shrubhill, Duke St and Swanfield.