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Strands in the Outer Hebrides.
Strands in the Outer Hebrides.
Published by wiesmier
31st December 2009
Default Strands in the Outer Hebrides.

Since I am extremely privileged to live on these wonderful isles up here in the far north-west of the UK near Scotland, I have found lots of people say to me that I must have loads to photograph what with the landscape such as it is. Only, I’ve not been too inspired with the countless images that saturate the gift shops and even the art gallery – or Flickr indeed. If I see another pretty picture of a beach, a sunset/rise or the flippin Callanish stones, I shall probably throw myself off the edge of the carpet. I find myself trying to capture the essence of the place as I experience it. Dark, windy, cold, bleak, friendly and wonderful.

There are really three strands to my snapping, firstly the documentary style using in the main an old Zorki6 and a temperamental Kiev II [or it might be a 4] and evolving in my trailing of a local crofter in my village as he struggles through the year to keep all in order [ see ].

Then there’s my medium format work. This I hope is a tad more considered and I’m trying to create composed imagery based on feelings and emotions one gets from living on this little paradise. A paradise that is harder to imagine at the moment as I write this while wrestling flu and sheltering from a cold wind and snow showers outside. Still, the work has teetered on plagiarism with my Moving Stillness series where I used long exposures and occasionally an auxiliary slit shutter to frighten subjects. That’s the subjects of the snap not my subjects.

My third strand of snapping is large format using at first a wonderful FKD 13x18 view camera that was brought back as a presi from Azerbaijan by a chap who used to service the pace-motorbikes we used when I coached at the Manchester Velodrome. Or was it Kyrkystan – I can’t remember but wherever it was they have/had oil and it is a stan. This wonder of LF camera was in a poor state with no ground glass, some weird barn door shutter nailed inside the fragile, partially translucent paper bellows. Yes, nailed. Oh, and two lens’ on the same lens board- side by side. Luckily, these lens are not too tack sharp so suit my imagery perfectly.

I actually paid for a proper ground glass and found a 5x7 picture frame held the thing in place in just about nearly the right area. With copious use of elastic bands and gaffer tape, I find I can use this beast best using a hat or dark-cloth for a shutter. My selection of dark-slides include a 5x7, 13x18 and some wooden plate holders about the same size which I use to expose old glass plates. This is what the elastic bands do – hold the dark-slide in place with the help of two specially selected pieces of kindling wood filched out of the firewood store.

The great thing about this sort of camera is that one can play, modify but not drop without fear of making things worse. The day it did fall off its terribly fragile and unstable wooden tripod, the base spit apart. Luckily, people here are use to mending things and a neighbour fashioned a new one – much better than the original.

I started by shooting paper and x-ray film as the former had been suggested to me and the latter given to me by Andrew Sanderson when I spent a day course in his lovely darkroom. Results were varied. But I loved the opportunity of making alt prints – cyanotypes and Vandykes.
Now I have an 8x10 on loan from the Coelyns – photographers of this parish. Well, the next one actually. This camera sits on the other side of the room where I type and sweat the flu out – hopefully. I was given some Maco film to play with but to be honest, I have never been able to get this to give me enough density for alt process – despite exposing at asa 25 and dunking it in paper developer for a week and half - so I went back to paper negs – which are much cheaper, unique and awkward to use.

Meanwhile, I’m still making waves at The Croft. It does rather stretch my imagination for continued and varied compositions when the croft is only a few acres around the croft house plus various other crofts around the village that Paul the crofter can wangle use of. Snapping animals is also something new to me. Trying to concentrate on getting the focus right on the cow’s eye in a dark byre with a turkey trying to hump ones ankle can be a tad difficult. Keeping out of the way of the huge saddleback pigs as they race around the ‘lawn’ chasing chickens and disabled ducks while on their way to the veg patch for a spot of rooting keeps me on my toes. And apart from having to keep the cameras dry when the snow and rain is coming in horizontally – as it does, a lot; a deal of time is spent ensuring I don’t sink knee deep into something smelly. And warm. Its fun. Most of the time.

Having said that, I must just pop down again now since I went this morning and there was no sign of the crofter. For the third day in a row. I know the poor fella has had flu too, but what I don’t want to find is him on the floor with the animals having partly devoured him. Oh gosh, what a thought. Sort of Ravilious meets Witkin!

Snap1.1944. Glenn McMiller big band evening in Stornoway. Kiev II Legacy 400 @1600 in Rodinal for a few hours 1:100. I have printed this - and its even better than this scan! But I can't find it. Might have lit the fire with it!

Snap2. Castle; Fine print on Kodak Polyprint RC from 6x6 home-made pinhole and old, old , knackered Perutz B&W film. I think I may have developed this film in print developer - or something.

Snap3. Maggie; an island artist. 5x7 with Shanghai 100 film in print developer. Printed as cyanotype on Bockingford - toned with Fairtrade coffee [no milk or sugar].

Snap4. Vase; 5x7 cyanotype from x-ray film [I think]. Toned in white tea.

Snap5Xmas Turkeys. Christmas Turkeys looking shifty the day after their numbers declined by one. film; Legacy 400 /LC29. Neg scan as yet. The darkroom is too cold at the moment.

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By CarlRadford on 1st January 2010, 11:41 AM

You have a vision that is unique - as indeed are you! The resulting images are about the things that are important to you and not the stuff of frippery or glorification. You really have the chance to produce a body of work that will stand the test of time - hopefully lots of time. The more images you make the more you will edit, the more you will see and hopefully be inspired.
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By B&W Neil on 1st January 2010, 01:33 PM

A great read and I feel I know a lot more about you and where you live. Loved looking at the images as well. A very inspiring piece of work and many thanks for making the time to put it together, I hope you are soon over the flu too.

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By JimW on 1st January 2010, 05:05 PM

Yes, get well soon. Thank you for taking the time and trouble to show us your images, and to tell us your thoughts. Inspirational.
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By PaulG on 4th January 2010, 08:11 PM

A very interesting and entertaining article. Hope you feel better soon.
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By StanW on 4th January 2010, 08:49 PM

Thanks; I really appreciate hearing a photographer speak about his work. It's a rare treat for us.
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By Andrew Bartram on 10th May 2010, 03:49 PM

What a mysterious fellow you are, living the lifestyle you do with the job that can't be discussed, practising your mysterious craft in a mysterious place.
Having said all that I love your blog and will try to follow it.

All the best

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By mono on 10th May 2010, 04:41 PM

Just happened to fall over your article today.
Interesting to read and hear about a photographer´s life on the Outer Hebrides.
Must come back some day or other...
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By StanW on 10th May 2010, 09:26 PM

Many thanks for a fascinating article.
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By wiesmier on 11th May 2010, 08:58 PM

Thanks all. Forgot about this.
Still working snapping The Crofter. Still the turkey is a blasted nuisance, the sheeps have multiplied as have the coows and the guinea pigs.
Off to a Photpolymer graveure course in the morn where no doubt we will get covered in ink or worse!
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