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Enjoying Shetland on screen

by Louise Thomason -

With a near-national lockdown in place, the internet really comes into its own. As a resource for things to do the options are endless, and for those missing friends and family - and even places, it can help us feel less remote.

Old images offer a window into times past, helping us connect with a place and learn more about it. Some help us understand how far we’ve come in terms of comfort and technology.

For anyone unable to visit Shetland (or even those already in the isles) who are interested in seeing more of the place, or perhaps fancy taking a trip down memory lane, there are some fantastic resources for viewing Shetland film and photography online, from local photographers to national collections.

The Shetland Museum and Archives photo archive is a gargantuan collection of over 60,000 images, spanning two centuries worth of Shetland life, heritage and culture. The growing collection offers a unique insight into life in Shetland, and is a popular online resource, attracting more than 6,500 unique visitors each month.

The images are organised according to topic, such as landscapes, fishing, transport, textiles and crofting, but are also searchable - entering any place name, surname, or word will bring up dozens of relevant images. Details such as date, title, description, and sometimes the parish the photo was taken in and its author are also included, where possible.

Many of the images have been shared to the archive by local photographers, and some of these have their own collections which are available to search and view online. Well known photographers Dennis and John Coutts’ collection goes back to 1960, and is a treasure trove of events, faces and daily life.

From posed groups at events like Up Helly Aa and the now defunct Miss Islesburgh competitions, to candid shots of a way of life now long gone, the collection is sure to bring back many memories.

In a similair vein, photographer Tom Kidd’s collection of Shetland photos is a must see for anyone with a passing interest in life in the isles, and photography.

The photos, many of which were published in the book Black Gold Tide, were taken around the time of the discovery of oil in the late 1970s, when huge change was occurring in the isles. Documentary in style, they offer a glimpse of a Shetland current generations know little of: a reliance on crofting, fishing and knitting; the peat hill, clothes drying above a Raeburn, juxtaposed with the increasing modernisation and affluence that the oil represented. Kidd’s work is a wonderful resource.

Of course, it’s not just photos which record daily life: there is a huge amount of film of Shetland available online.

The stellar work of the volunteer-run Shetland Film Archive means there is a growing resource of film relating to Shetland.

The Film Archive, a registered charity, was founded with the aims of establishing a film archive in Shetland that will collect, clean, repair, preserve and digitise old film. This would enable it to be viewed and shared much more flexibly, including as it currently is, via their YouTube channel. Much of the content has been donated from personal collections, meaning the footage is wonderfully informal.

Love it or loathe it, Facebook is another good resource when it comes to sharing personal photos online. There are several groups set up to allow members to enjoy images of a specific theme - usually a place, but also weddings, nature and maritime Shetland. These informal groups offer up some real gems, and usually encourage relevant posts - joining in with the Shetland Photo a Day Challenge could offer up some creativity while social distancing.

Nationally, there are excellent resources for film at Scotland On Screen, which shares clips of footage - much of it very old, such as footage taken by Jenny Gilbertson, a pioneer of film making in Scotland. The National Library of Scotland Moving Image Archive British Pathe also has a number of films featuring Shetland (but be aware, when entering “Shetland” in the search box, that the results will include a lot of films about small ponies and not necessarily any that have lived in the north isles.)

We hope this brings you some inspiration for ways to pass the time. The only trouble is not losing hours online in the process!

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Posted in: Heritage

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