Monday, 22 August 2016

Tom Langlands - Three Hours on Lunga

Back in July I headed off with fellow Galloway Photographic Collective photographers - Roger Lever and Allan Wright - for a planned few days on the Treshnish Islands. This group of islands lies off the west coast of Mull with the largest of the group being the island of Lunga. The idea was to camp for a couple of nights and photograph the landscape, flora and fauna of this very special place. Unfortunately, after we pitched tents for an overnight stay on Mull, the vagaries of the Scottish weather presented us with a night of torrential rain. This was followed by one reasonable day of weather and then a further forecast of more heavy rain. We changed our plans and opted for a short three hour stay on Lunga and a visit to Fingal's Cave on Staffa.

As a wildlife photographer I like to explore areas in advance and although I had been to Lunga once before I couldn't be sure what to expect by way of bird life. This combined with the fact that the previous night of rain had left much of the island soaking wet with slippery paths didn't help the available options.

On the boat trip to Lunga I decided that rather than try to cover too many options I would opt for a small area of the island where I knew that there were accessible cliffs. It was a forty-five minute walk there and back and which left me with a little over two short hours to see what I could do. On this occasion there wasn't enough time to study flight directions, animal behaviour or sit and wait for 'something to happen'. This wasn't an ideal situation but I called upon my reserves of knowledge to concentrate on a couple of species and two specific locations. The main thing I wanted, was to get clean backgrounds in order to show off the birds in the images. My first shot was a statuesque shag with the distant backdrop of clear blue water.

Because the light was quite harsh at times I sought out a shaded area of cliffs with almost black backgrounds. This was to be my location for some kittiwake photography. It proved to be the best fun of the short time I had but also the most challenging. I opted for some adult bird shots, some juveniles from this year's brood and also some in-flight photography. The black backgrounds and the white of the birds made for some tricky exposures but I like to think that I got there in the end.

In next to no time we had to head back to the boat and I finished the trip off with a couple of puffin shots. With the bright summer, afternoon light I opted to get down very low and shoot through the yellow, flowering heads of the plants along the clifftops. It was a momentary glimpse of summer in what was a very wet few days.

Tom Langlands

Monday, 15 August 2016

Allan Wright - New material from The Capital City

Recently I set myself to work on new stuff for various Edinburgh projects due for an image refresh. I enjoy city/street work more & more these days and fortunately I never seem to tire of trying to suss out new angles on familiar places, I try to be always ready for the chance encounter I guess I sort of treat it as sport.

The National Monument Calton Hill.

Early start on Salisbury Crags, nothing dramatic going on but noted the warm, low directional light hitting the pillars. I grew more interested in the potential on noting the placid surface water on the Forth & steaming condensation rising from an industrial zone on South Fife. I like it when there is an element of juxtaposition and or “contra” subject matter within an image.

Musselburgh Esplanade

Having gently cycled round from Portobello I was struggling to catch any significant architectural forms to work with so took a moment to chill in a beachfront park area and glanced back towards the city. A partially silhouetted public art curiosity comes to life with some theatrical cloud action and heavenly rays exploding behind it.

The Edinburgh Trams

Some alert jay-walking was required to catch the Edinburgh Trams presence. Their quiet smooth trajectory adds grace to the night scene here on Princes Street.

The Meadows

Always enjoy a stroll through this chilled out zone here in the heart of this elegant city. Its location is a complex crossroads of pedestrian routes and recreational action. Never looks the same it always delivers people watching material in abundance, it’s all going on, all the time.

Fettes College

A bit of a legend for different reasons, its turrets are loaded with pictorial power, gaining notoriety in a scene set in one or other Harry Potter films. Arguably now rather infamous, being the seat of learning for our disgraced ex PM Tony Blair, the stripey red blazers are a conspicuous symbol of privilege especially as more egalitarian principles are hopefully being embraced, at least in Scotland that is. It’s graduates also include Christian Salvesen and perhaps more comfortably on the conscience, it also delivered Tilda Swinson.

Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

An impressive venue for its illustrious collection I particularly like this bizarre but engaging neon lit statement shouting out from the wooded grounds. A message worth bearing in mind.

Allan Wright

Monday, 8 August 2016

Laura Hudson Mackay - Darkroom Masterclass

Film photography is making a comeback and I’m excited. For a good number of years film has been threatened due to the transition into the world of digital photography but like the recent vinyl record boom, enthusiasm for using film is growing again at a steady pace.

As a photographic artist who works almost exclusively in black and white, film photography, processing and hand crafting images offers many interesting and creative opportunities. Spending time in the darkroom enables a wide range of interpretations, emotions and possibilities and for me, can also be a relaxing and meditative place to work.

It is a good thing as an artist to continually train, push forward, develop and improve, so I set myself a challenge to book a course with an Ilford Master Printer. Dave Butcher, who is based in Derbyshire, worked for Ilford Photo for 21 years, including running the photographic printing department and more recently has become a genius teacher.

The course was split over two full days and time was spent working from my own medium format 6x6 negatives and included using all four different enlargers in the darkroom. The experience of using this range of equipment, although confusing at first, was invaluable. 

During the course, I learnt the technique of Split Grade printing, probably the most useful and powerful method of darkroom printing. It is the technique used by Ilford printers for pretty much all hand prints. Once mastered it considerably reduces the amount of dodging and burning adjustments. It involves using both low and high contrast exposure instead of the usual single exposure.

On the final day I left bursting with ideas and inspiration and with a head full of new skills and top tips that Dave had imparted, along with a number of hand printed (by me!) large prints ready to frame and exhibit.

Now it is time to put all I’ve learnt into practice and disappear back into my own darkroom enlightened and much improved.

If you have any unwanted darkroom or film photography equipment you no longer have a use for, please get in touch as I can find a new home for it/pass onto someone who will make good use of it. Please email me at info @ and if you are in Dumfries and Galloway, I’ll happily come and collect.

Monday, 1 August 2016

Holly Burns - 8 Things You Should Never Say To A Photographer

As a professional photographer, I have experienced a variety of odd requests and comments which would suggest that the art of photography is often overlooked as a creative and technical skill. In our efforts to promote ourselves and expand our existing portfolio, we can often be undervalued by our existing and potential customers.

I have compiled a list of 8 common comments that are sure to irk any photographer.

1. “That’s a great picture! You must have a fantastic camera...”

This is possibly the most irritating thing a photographer can hear. It’s like going to a high end restaurant and saying “What a lovely meal, you must have a great oven.” Sounds ridiculous and insulting doesn't it! Yet I hear this often from well meaning people. A great photograph is very much more than the components of a camera. It is the culmination of many processes and skills undertaken by the photographer themselves that creates a successful image.

2. “Give me a free photo shoot and I will promote you”

Again, this is a very common request and indeed an opportunistic one at that. It is like going into a supermarket and asking for a free loaf of bread and telling them that you will tell all your friends how lovely it was. Again, sounds absurd doesn't it. Don't get me wrong, there may be times that this scenario may prove mutually beneficial, however, generally selling photographs and photo shoots are a photographer's full time job and it is this what puts food on the table, try not to take advantage of them.

3. “Can’t you just Photoshop that out?”

Yes, technically a photographer can Photoshop things out of an image, however this can take a lot of extra time when if they were provided with the time to get it right in camera it would no longer be an issue. Photoshop should always be used creatively and not depended upon to fix mistakes that could have been avoided with a little more patience. It is important to understand that a photographers process involves setting up, test shots and tweaking light in order to make a client look their best.

4. “Can you Photoshop me thinner?”

Again, yes, technically we can do this however, a lot of photographers are reluctant to alter or adapt a clients appearance too much. Retaining a level of authenticity is important. We want you to look like you! We prefer to work with a client and get the best body posing and flattering light to suit their body type.

5. “I love this photographer, can you do it just like that?”

We all make stylistic choices based on what inspires us. For example, we furnish and decorate our home, often after looking through magazines and visiting different stores in order to come up with our own style and direction. We would never just walk into someones home, decide we love it and replicate it exactly in our own home! That would be crazy!

Photography is a creative medium in which the outcome is based primarily on the photographer's style. Its good to have inspiration in mind or even a mood board to work from, but it is very difficult for any artist to replicate another’s exact style without getting some of their own in there as well. It is much easier to book a photographer because you like their specific style rather than another’s.

6. “I’m so glad you can come to my event! Bring your camera!”

Basically when this is said, a photographer hears “I don't actually care if you come and enjoy the event, I just want free professional photographs.” I would never ask a waitress to my party and then tell her to fetch my drinks all night! It is always best to be clear from the offset if you want someone to work at your event rather than have them think they are a guest. By doing so, the photographer will bring their A game and you will get the best photographs they can produce.

7. “Can I have the reject photos please?”

This will always be a clear and resounding ‘no.’ This is because all of the pictures where you are yawning, blinking or chewing food are not attractive, to anyone, therefore it is not worth the time to edit them. Making the vitoed photographs available for public viewing can also give the photographer a bad reputation as our portfolio is only as strong as our weakest photos.

But don't worry, a photographer will never be holding back that one gem of a photograph that tops all the ones that have already been given to you. We cull to save unnecessary editing time so we can put more time and effort in the best of the bunch.

8. “Anyone can be a photographer, it’s just pushing a button.”

Well that’s like saying I can be an architect because I know how to draw straight lines! There is a reason why we go and study for several years to learn our craft. There is a difference between taking a photo with a camera that does all the work for you and gives you no creative control and how a photographer is able to hone their talents to create something substantial. If photography was as easy as clicking a button there wouldn't be an industry at all.

Don’t worry too much though, us photographers don't take these comments too personally. We will always try to accommodate your requests and when we cant we will explain fully why and what can be achieved to get the photographs you desire.

Holly Burns

Monday, 25 July 2016

Kim Ayres - A Mad Hatter's Tea Party

Each year, Castle Douglas High School final year pupils have the chance to be part of an Enterprise Group, where they design and create products, which they then have to market and sell.

This past year's group called themselves High Tea and created, among other things, cake stands from recycled vintage china. They went on to win the regional Young Enterprise Award for South West Scotland, ahead of 10 other schools, which took them into the Scottish finals last month. Although they just missed taking the overall winner, they still came away with the Marketing Star Award and the Best Trade Stand Award.

High Tea's Trade Stand - awarded best stand in both the regional and Scottish finals

Rewind to late last Autumn, and I'd been asked by Andrea Thompson, commissioning editor of Dumfries and Galloway Life magazine, if I would take some photos they could use for publicity and she could put in a magazine article about the group.

A Mad Hatter's Tea Party theme was decided on and I met up with a few of the group for a hot chocolate to discuss ideas, strategies and potential venues for the shoot. A little over a week later we all met up at Cally Palace Hotel in Gatehouse of Fleet, with the full team in action. It was like one of those high production shoots with lots of different people in charge of hair, makeup, props and outfits, and there were even a couple of them recording the experience with cameras and video.

I have to say I was extremely impressed with the level of organisation and cooperation, which meant the shoot ran much smoother than some I've been involved in.

And this was reflected in the result. Because I was able to focus my time and energy into getting the lighting and composition right, rather than having to chase everyone and see they were all doing their jobs correctly, I was able to get some great pictures.

However, the point I go click is only one step on the journey to the final images. Once I have the photos on the computer there are a thousand directions I can go in.

In this instance I decided to try and create an illustrated feel by creating an effect so as the image moves out towards the edges it becomes increasingly like a drawing. This has the effect of the characters coming to life out of the pages of a storybook, which I felt tied in with the whole Alice in Wonderland theme.

I then gave the whole thing a slightly desaturated, sepia tone, which creates the look of old hand-tinted photographs. This, I felt, tied in with the Victorian/Edwardian setting of the Lewis Carroll story and the retro crockery used for the cake stands - harking back to days gone by.

Here are a few of the final pics, but you can find the full set on my Facebook page here

Mad Hatter's Tea Party, with emphasis on the cake stands


The Queen of Hearts

The White Rabbit

The Mad Hatter

A couple of weeks later I got a call from Andrea asking if I had a version of one of the photos that wasn't faded at the edges. She wasn't promising, but there was the possibility it might appear on the front cover of the January edition of Dumfries and Galloway Life, and they needed a version that would allow for writing to show up on top of it.

Fortunately I had a cleaned up, edited version that I hadn't done the final illustrated effect to, as that had been a key stage before trying out different post-production techniques. I sent it straight over to her.

When the January edition hit the shelves, we were delighted to discover we had indeed made the front cover!

Front cover for January 2016 edition of D&G Life

A few weeks later, a couple of the High Tea students edited together a video of the photo shoot. It gives a real sense of everything that went into the shoot, and reinforces the idea that great photos rarely happen by accident.

Kim Ayres

Monday, 18 July 2016

Roger Lever - One Night Stand

My previous visits to Skye have often proved rather dismal due to inclement weather conditions.

Spring this year (2016) however Skye enjoyed some of the best weather in the country with temperatures into the mid 20’s. Driving to the Isle of Raasay from Dalbeattie usually takes about 7 hours on a good run but on this day a rather tragic accident had blocked the road just north of Broadford. The road system on Skye does not allow any alternative route north so it was a case of sitting it out until the police decided it was ok to allow traffic to move.

We arrived at the boat terminal at Sconser just in time to catch the last ferry to Raasay. The short 20 minute crossing has been a relatively new route created by CalMac since Raasay House Hotel opened on the Island in 2013. Raasay House has undergone a complete renovation following a fire which gutted it in 2009. The setting, the friendly atmosphere and the good food all make this a must go to hotel next time you plan a trip to Skye. This day however that was not our destination.

View from the front of the Hotel overlooking the ferry Terminal with the Cuillin Hills behind.

About half way along the island on the one track road there is a path leading to the summit of Dun Caan, a distinctive upturned bucket shaped mountain which can be seen from miles around.

It is a while since my friend Joe and I had camped at the summit of a Scottish Mountain but something we have longed to do again since camping on Suilven more than 10 years ago.

Whilst Joe remains as fit as ever I have suffered serious back and knee problems which have restricted most of my sporting activities in recent years, so carrying a heavy backpack proved quite a challenge for the one and a half hour climb. With lots of huffing and puffing and groaning I did make the summit.

I had done this once previously with my wife Judy 2 months prior to this trip but without the heavy rucksack. It was somewhat easier then but the weather was more arctic like. The views however from the summit were spectacular.

From Dun Can.

With snow still on the mountains it is important to take a number off different exposures so you have a choice when it comes to editing. It can then be possible to combine more than one image for best results. With that and a little giggery pokery on photoshop CC I managed to create the feel of the place. It was cold, with snow flurries but we still had a magnificent panoramic vista in front of us. In these situations a dedicated panoramic camera such as the Fuji 645 Rangefinder (used by Colin Prior in the old days) would give phenomenal results. This image of course is cropped from my Nikon D800 NEF image.

Having rested and admired the 360 panoramic views Joe and I had to find a suitable place for the tent, preferably sheltered from the then cold northerly wind. There was only one such spot which proved to be perfectly adequate.

We were bother ready for food after pitching the tent. Our previous attempts at preparing a meal on another trek had failed miserably when the few matches we did take along proved too damp and our fry up never happened. Guess what, the same thing happened again. I didn’t see the look on Joes face but i am sure it must have been one of “oh God No, not again, disgust, what a plonker etc. etc.” What I hadn’t told him was that I had slipped a lighter into my pack at the last minute before leaving home. After about 10 minutes going through about twenty damp useless matches finally piped up ‘Oh, I’ve just remembered something” and proceeded to lift the lighter from its hiding place.

The look of relief on Joe’s face was choice. We proceeded to enjoy our unartistic mix of bacon, egg, black pudding fry up and a cup of weak tea followed by a couple of mints. Anything on the top of a mountain in these conditions tastes absolutely wonderful.

With the light and the temperature dropping rapidly I grasped my camera for a tour of the flat peak of the mountain. The sun was beginning to set over Skye to our West with the light changing by the minute. Here are just a few of the shots I took.

In this shot the tent is blocking out most of the harsh light from the sun but in doing so it also allows the colours in the sky to be more visible as the tent remains in silhouette. Adding a little on camera flash exposes the tent just a little and lights up the reflectors.

Taking shots into the setting sun can be rewarding or darn right disappointing. Again it is important to take variable exposures once you have picked your position. Sometimes a graduated filter can help to get a balance of exposure between the relative underexposure of the foreground and overexposure of the sun.

We both slept well even though there was a continuous cold wind flapping the tent about for most of the night.
By morning the wind had eased and as luck would have it I stepped out to relieve myself just as the sun was rising over the Scottish mainland.

In this shot I had to drag out some of the detail in what was underexposed foreground. The sea was relatively calm but creates an interesting pattern on this exposure taken on a tripod.

Turning the camera round the little bit of sun from behind me in the East was creating some nice highlights on the Cuillin mountains. Again it was a case of dragging out some of the detail in the foreground and getting more definition and drama by making it into an HD image.

I dived back into the tent for my camera, donned a few extra layers and waited for the display. Unfortunately the sunrise wasn’t that amazing as there was much more in the way of cloud cover. Shafts of light moved along the Eastern horizon creating an ever changing pattern of light. Even though I was shivering I managed to grasp a few shots as the scene changed. Resting the camera on large boulders acts as a very suitable tripod in these situations. With a little editing I was well satisfied with some of my images and well worth the effort to climb that wonderful little mountain.

A well earned rest and just a little indulging in a special brew.

We had a very enjoyable real meal at the hotel before catching the next boat back to Sconser and home.

Roger Lever

Monday, 11 July 2016

David Moses - Colour Street Photography

Colour photography isn’t just taking photographs in colour. It is about using colour in such a way that the colours become subjects in themselves, an intrinsic element of the photograph that is as important as anything else. Strong colour can really elevate a shot, so don’t just have colour in your images for the sake of it - it must add something.

My main influences in this regard are two of the great all time colour photographers - David Alan Harvey & Saul Leiter.

The way I approach it is to consider colour as a primary device in my photographs. By this I mean it becomes part of my decision making process. So when I’m looking for a picture I am on the lookout for (in no particular order)

1 - Subject
2 - Action or gesture
3 - Emotion
4 - Composition
5 - Colour
6 - Light
7 - Shadow
8 - Direction

Trying to recognise these things and act on them when you have no control over a scene is such a huge challenge, but one that is immensely satisfying.

So the next time you are out shooting, pay close attention to colour. Seek it out and see what it can add to your photography. Don’t overlook it. It doesn’t need to be a big wash of colour, it may just be a splash, something that draws the eye.

If you want to learn more about street photography, I offer one to one tuition and can cater for small groups. Please get in touch to find out more

David Moses

Monday, 4 July 2016

Viridian Skies - Celtic Magic and Quantum Physics

My interest and respect for indigenous cultures started in 2013 when I began studying the Sami people - the indigenous Reindeer herders of Scandinavia. In all honesty this likely stemmed from my own envy of their lifestyle - I yearn for a more natural existence. Sometimes I find myself wishing I was born in a simpler time. You could argue my interest in the indigenous folk of the World is a direct result of escapism.

A Norwegian South Sami man lassos a Reindeer during the roundup.

This interest eventually led to Expedition Norway; during the Winter of 2014 I travelled alone to Lofoten and then to central Norway to document through film the relationship of the Sami people with the natural world.

With the South Sami people of Norway I discovered many things, including my own interest in Astrophotography and following that, astrophysics and the visible Universe.

One of my first Astrophotography images. Jupiter hangs in the sky whilst the Northern Lights dance over Sami country.

That interest has led to my current position as a night photographer and tour operator. I take inspiration from the cosmos and apply it to landscape photography. I also run Astrophotography and Stargazing Tours with the aim to increase appreciation of the cosmos. However, I haven’t pursued my fascination for indigenous culture since expedition Norway.

Colours in the Spring Galloway Gorse reflect those of the Red Supergiants that orbit the Supermassive Black Hole at the heart of the Milky Way Galaxy.

Out of curiosity my partner Helen recently lifted an old book titled "The Celtic Tree Oracle" from the shelf. This led to a conversation about Celtic Cosmology and the relationship that the pre Roman inhabitants of the British Isles had with the natural World and visible Universe. This led to the decision to rekindle my interest in indigenous cultures by applying their interpretation of nature to my own photography.

The Celts were immersed in nature; during their time Britain was covered in forest, consequently trees play a major role in their belief cycle and annual calendar. Each month in the Celtic calendar is allocated a species of tree. My birthday is in March, therefore according to Celtic Tree Lore, Ash is my tree. This seemed like a good starting point from which to work.

I was surprised to learn that for the Celts, the Ash represents the infinite links between the microscopic world within our world of the macroscopic, and outward into the vastness of the cosmos. Perhaps this is because a single Ash tree can support a huge amount of biodiversity. It really is like a miniature city existing within one organism. This is used as a metaphor to illustrate the fact that your actions leave a fingerprint on the Universe itself, therefore you are part of an interconnected chain of events that shape the Universe.

Ash Trees on the river Bladnoch play host to a multitude of Biodiversity. Above, the Milky Way Galaxy plays host to a multitude of stellar life (and potentially other organisms). Moving outwards, the Universe plays host to countless other galaxies. As of above, so below.

This seemed like a strange coincidence considering my own interest in quantum physics and the theory that all possible events exist in a wave form of mathematical potential. Events are only determined once observed or experienced by ourselves as conscious manifestations of the Universe. Each person’s experience combines to leave a network of traces on the fabric of spacetime. It also links to my interest in the theory that the Universe is of infinite scale.

I’ve been stuck in an inspirational rut for a few weeks now, but inspiration can creep up on you from the most unexpected places. I decided to move a lamp last Tuesday night. That illuminated a hidden part of our bookshelf and led to Helen spotting "The Celtic Tree Oracle," resulting in the return of my interest in native culture and the decision to explore this through my photography. Strange how something as simple as moving a table lamp can result in newfound excitement and inspiration. Again we return to the idea that all actions, no matter how simple, link within a chain of events that combine into something greater. The Celts would interpret this using the Ash Tree's microscopic inhabitants. A quantum physicist would interpret this with a wave of mathematical possibilities that shape the Universe. I’m looking forward to exploring other cultures to find their own interpretations of the Universe, and applying this to my photography.

Watching the heavens through the top of a Sami Roundhouse.

Viridian Skies

Monday, 27 June 2016

Allan Wright - Castle Douglas - Portrait of a Forward Town

Earlier this year and with some trepidation I moved "into town" overturning my long held loyalty to abiding as near as possible to wildness and solitude. I chose "The Forward Town" Castle Douglas and it has been an engaging journey, and one with plenty of unexpected rewards.

Aside from the legendary array of quality shops and the convivial nature of the inhabitants I am struck by the many walks, shortcuts, nooks & crannies that have revealed themselves to me as I explore my new domain. I have been pleasantly surprised to discover that the town possesses some impressive architectural landmarks and this coupled with the privilege of having its "shores" lapped by a unique and captivating jewel that is, Carlingwark Loch.

It was essentially through dog-walking that my eyes and mind were opened to the different layers that compose this cohesive and sure-footed small town. Early morning and later evening sorties fed my growing curiosity and I soon went into full image-hunting mode just as Spring delivered its joyful and colourful expression of the life force. Landscape photography can be a bit solitary but it is also reliably enhanced by chance encounters with like-minded people who are also out walking, walking usually for the simple, meditative pleasure of it. Walking early and late has become both essential "timeout" for the busy mind and useful for feeding my perpetual photo habit.

I have sussed out and savoured numerous views on offer from the surrounding gentle hills & gaps between trees & buildings that surround the town. I have taken delight also in how on the outskirts, both the agricultural lands and the wilder habitats merge into the dwelling spaces in a respectful way. I believe kids growing up here are most fortunate in having real countryside to grow up in. Its feels like one of the most valuable things I can recall from my own childhood experience.

Photography is mostly about seeing, the techy stuff is secondary. A great joy putting this work together is a sense of communion with nature, everyday semi-wild habitats on the doorstep are uplifting, surprising even, but also a connection with nature of human kind. Both of these accompany me when I am delving into new territory, it becomes a sort of mobile meditation. As I devised new angles on the town I relished the way a higher viewpoint elevated the stature of the towers and spires that define and decorate the skylines. I also find it intriguing how places can be immediately recognisable and yet, because of the viewpoint, they appear somehow unfamiliar, it's all about ones' "point of view".

It is with pleasure & privilege I offer this personal exposition of a great little town.

Castle Douglas - Portrait of a Forward Town
Exhibition runs at The Workshop Gallery from 1st - 31st July
183 King St. Castle Douglas (AD Livingston & Sons)

Hardback Book, 76 images, 4000 words, 24 x 29 cm, £20.00. available on line at
or at Livingston's furniture shop.

Launch 7 pm Thursday 30th June at the Workshop Gallery - all friends and followers welcome. (nibbles by Earth's Crust Bakery!)

I will be on hand 11am- 2.30pm Friday at The Gallery for book signing, general chat etc.

Allan Wright

Monday, 20 June 2016

Laura Hudson Mackay - Finding Silence in Dumfries and Galloway’s Thin Places

Dumfries and Galloway is a special region and full of what I like to call ’Thin’ places. Listening to the silence in the Galloway forest, embracing the stillness on the Solway Coast or spending time beholding standing stones, the revelation of thin places can be experienced with an open mind and heart.

The Celts understood thin places, areas where the silence is tangible, those rare spaces where the distance between heaven and earth is reduced. Nexus points, where barriers seem to melt away and another dimension seems close enough to touch. Sometimes these places may have a religious significance but more often they do not.

Having visited the region regularly from 2006 and since moving here in 2013, I have discovered many thin places throughout Dumfries and Galloway which have significantly influenced my photographic journey. Photographing a place which in some way feels sacred cannot be rushed, so initially I spend time soaking up its spirit.

Trying to describe such places in words is more difficult. Explanations of thin places aren’t merely useless, they get in the way; the experience of a thin place is special because words fail, leaving only stunned silence.

My home in Dumfries and Galloway was originally built by the last Abbot of nearby Sweetheart Abbey, in New Abbey. An Abbot, (monk) is an edge dweller, tending and gracing the borders of the in-between, he sees the hidden worlds between worlds and dares to imagine new possibilities that are not yet fully formed. As artists, we too are called to listen to the new thing being created right in this moment. We are called to slow down and see the world more deeply. Since living in this space, understanding ancient ways of seeing, feeling the silence and slowing down are becoming a way of life.

A most famous modern monk, Thomas Merton had begun his first serious exploration of photography in January 1962 when he visited a Shaker village near his monastery; "Marvellous, silent, vast spaces around the old buildings. Cold pure light, some grand trees. So cold my finger could no longer feel the shutter release. Some marvellous subjects. How the blank side of a frame house can be so completely beautiful I cannot imagine. A completely miraculous achievement of forms."

Silence is never merely the cessation of words…Rather it is the pause that holds together – indeed it makes sense of – all the words, both spoken and unspoken. Silence is the glue that connects our attitudes and our actions. Silence is the fullness, not emptiness; it is not absence, but the awareness of a presence. - John Chryssavgis

Laura Hudson MacKay