Kneeling in front of the old John Smith’s bookshop in Glasgow’s St Vincent Street is a boy. Perhaps it is a girl, we will never know. The child, in a woollen bobble hat and knitted trousers, is gazing at the cover of David Attenborough’s book Zoo Quest For A Dragon. 

The photograph is typical Oscar Marzaroli. Taken in 1962, it preserves a moment as if in aspic, an anonymous sliver of Glasgow life.

But it wasn’t part of a lengthy photo shoot. The celebrated photographer was in the city centre to photograph a student rag parade, which at the time was a busy, raucous event. It is alleged that it even featured an elephant. 

Yet Marzaroli broke off to capture the quietly transfixed moment for this one shot, the only one of the child in the set of parade negatives.

The same photographer’s famous image Castlemilk Lads? Again, he took only one. 

That is one of the reasons why a donation of Marzaroli’s entire collection of negatives – on the 35th anniversary of his death – so excites the archivists at Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU). Nobody quite knows what it contains.

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He has become identified with – almost synonymous with – photographs of Glasgow in the 1960s, not least after Deacon Blue used several of his images for single and album covers in the 1980s. But Marzaroli worked primarily as a film-maker, making dozens of documentaries for the Highlands and Islands Development Board. 

His camera was ever present, however, and his photographs are now regarded by many as art. 

At an event at the university last night, Deacon Blue lead singer Ricky Ross launched a campaign to raise £200,000 to enable the entire collection to be made freely available online.

The money is needed  to carry out the work necessary to preserve, catalogue and digitise the images into a searchable online collection.

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The image of the child at the bookshop window is one of 14 original prints, all but one developed by Marzaroli himself, to be auctioned to kick-start the fund in an event which runs until Thursday, September 5. 

Italian born, Oscar Marzaroli moved to Scotland at the age of two. He  missed out on much formal education and did not go to art school as his brother had, largely as a result of childhood ill-health. 

He spent a year in Kingussie Sanatorium fighting TB in his late teens – there was doubt as to whether he would recover. Soon afterwards he was in a motorcycle accident. 

“He felt his whole life that he was living on borrowed time”, says Marie-Claire Marzaroli, one of his three daughters. “I think it gave him a kind of focus.” She argues an egalitarian outlook also contributed to his ability to capture a sense of someone’s personality. 

“He didn’t like hierarchies. He would spend the same amount of time with someone, whether he was photographing a big film star or someone selling him fish.”

Through portraits and landscapes, he captured Scotland and its people at a time of great social change in the 50s, 60s and 70s. Many of his photographs of Glasgow provide a record of significant social change, as city slums were being cleared to make way for new social housing.

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The huge body of work is perhaps surprising given his untimely death on August 26, 1988, at the age of 55.

During a three-decade search for a permanent home for their father’s work, Marie-Claire and her sister Nicola say it wasn’t until meeting archivist Carole McCallum at GCU that they felt confident they had found a solution that satisfied them and which would have pleased him. 

Both teachers, they are thrilled at plans to digitise the collection and make it freely available online. “It was our mother’s wish we find the right setting to preserve his legacy and the family are excited by the university’s plans,” Marie-Claire says.

There is excitement too about what might be found when the negatives are fully catalogued. While there are contact sheets in some of Marzaroli’s files, only around 2,000 of the images have ever been printed up, and there is no certainty about what is contained in many of the negatives. 

Some spools of film, retrieved from his camera bag, have never even been developed. Nicola says: “There are so many images, even we do not know what treasures our dad has left hidden in there”

Launching the appeal, singer-songwriter Ross said: “I got in touch with Oscar after I became fascinated with his work, and he ended up coming out with us and shooting some photographs for our first Deacon Blue album in different locations.

“I’d told him about the idea of Raintown and he called me one day to say there was a picture he thought suited it. 

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“It’s the one of the sunshine coming through the clouds. We loved it and our music from that period has been linked to Oscar ever since,” he said.

University archivist Carole McCallum says the Marzaroli Collection is of international importance. “Oscar’s photographs are instantly recognisable – particularly the iconic images he took in the Gorbals before the tenements were cleared away.

They’ve become rooted in popular culture, but people don’t realise Oscar worked all over Scotland and further afield both as a photographer and filmmaker. We are tremendously excited about putting the archive online.”