IT’S not quite as certain as a field of bluebells as a harbinger of spring, but the first in-gallery photography exhibition of 2021 certainly feels like the beginning of the end of the Covid pandemic in Scotland.

Assuming the vaccine programme enables us to avoid a third wave of the virus, it won’t be long, one hopes, before we are perusing pictures in galleries without our masked faces being reflected back at us in the glass.

For now, however, it’s masks on, hands disinfected and contact ­details given before one is admitted to ­Glasgow’s Street Level Photoworks gallery for Nicky Bird’s haunting exhibition, Legacy. Bird defines her work as the art of “living memory”, that is an exploration of people and places, and the relations between the two, “before it becomes ‘history’”.

This idea manifests itself here in an interestingly diverse series of ­artistic forms, ranging from photomontage, to postcards and backlit images. There is even a piece, titled Ghosting the Castle, which is built around an Ordnance Survey-style map.

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Bird’s map contemplates the massive change brought to the village of Helmsdale in Sutherland by the building of the A9 bypass, in the shape of a bridge, in the 1970s. A photomontage which accompanies the map combines a modern-day, colour photograph of the bridge with an old, black-and-white picture of the ruined Helmsdale Castle, which was removed to make way for the bypass.

The effect, as the title suggests, is to cast the disappeared ruin as a “ghost” of Sutherland’s past. Inversely, it presents the realigned A9 carriageway as an agent of the erasure of history and the remaking of a landscape.

The integration of this picture into a piece in the form of a map is ingenious. Whereas regularly updated maps represent the often altered geographical present, Bird’s work “maps” the “living memory” of the people of Helmsdale before it becomes ossified as “history”.

Few of the changes documented and represented by Bird are as visibly striking as the removal of a ruined 15th-century castle. However, many of the works here carry an undeniable emotional weight.

In what the artist terms “sites of personal archaeology”, we encounter a re-envisioned, working-class housing scheme. Through the combination of new photographs and cleverly superimposed “found” images of the same place, we see, for instance, a girl on a slide circa 1978-79 on modern day Scotscraig Road, Dundee.

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The montage also includes no longer existent high-rise flats. As such, it is a surprisingly touching document of lives lived in erased buildings that we are encouraged to consider unlamented.

A SERIES of three montages of the same modest home in Burnton, in the Ayrshire village of Dalmellington, gives particularly brilliant expression to Bird’s “personal archaeology”. Found photographs, “mere” family snaps, place the figurative ghosts of three distinct generations of the cottage’s residents in the context of the house as it is now.

Perhaps the most affecting image is one not of people in the constructed environment, but of a woman photographed in a forest at Lethanhill, Ayrshire in the 1930s. Super-imposed upon a picture of the woodland that was taken in 2008, this deceptively simple montage has the effect of reminding us of the fragility and relative brevity of a human life, as compared with that of the natural world around us.

Beautifully put together and impressively varied, both in form and content, Legacy is a fittingly engaging and humane exhibition in which to contemplate our emergence from the loss and collective trauma of the pandemic.