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Photographers Seek Inspiration In Shetland

by Alastair Hamilton -

A photographers’ collective is heading for Shetland in April, with plans to cover subjects that range from architecture and the human aspects of birdwatching to women working in the arts or possibly the oil industry. Newcomers to Shetland are also likely to feature.

The collective, known as MAP6, was established around six years ago by a number of students on the MA photography course at Brighton University. They’ve previously visited Lithuania, Moscow and, most recently, Milton Keynes. Individually, though, the members are very widely travelled and have worked all over the world; for example, the group’s newest member, Brittany-based Phil Le Gal, has documented a visit to North Korea, and the image above comes from that fascinating gallery.

Their work has been widely exhibited at venues including the Royal Academy and National Portrait Gallery in London. They focus on the relationship between place and people and, each year, they travel to a place that’s new to all members of the group. Six of the group will be heading to Shetland: Heather Shuker, Paul Walsh, David Sterry, Mitch Karunaratne, Richard Chivers and Phil Le Gal.

The group works collaboratively during all stages of the project, from picture making and directing to editing. Artistic collaboration – and how it can be developed – is something that they seek to understand and strengthen.

They’ve also undertaken a project on the theme of ‘home’ and what it means to each of the photographers in the context of globalisation and the movement of peoples around the world. For example, group member Barry Falk examined the phenomenon of temporary dwellings, including mobile home parks, that often exist on the outskirts of towns and cities, and that seem “neither rural nor strictly urban”.

On the other hand, David Sterry reflected on permanence in our buildings and our homes, which he says “provide an index to time and histories through their scars.”

In Moscow, Heather Shuker looked at the kiosk culture that developed in the city after the collapse of communism, when entrepreneurs began to import such things as cigarettes, chocolate and alcohol and sold them from kiosks in subways or along the streets. She says that they may soon become part of the past, as new shopping centres absorb the trade and the government cracks down on these informal outlets.

In Lithuania, members were interested in exploring the transition from Soviet rule to membership of the European Union and the eurozone, and the impact of change on the people and culture of the country. Jonty Tacon and Laurie Griffiths travelled to the town of Visaginas, a Soviet-era town that had been built to house workers at the Ignalina nuclear power station. The plant had to be decommissioned as a condition of entry to the EU and the photographers considered how the town’s loss of purpose was affecting the place and its people.

At Milton Keynes, the group examined many aspects of the new city’s development and the lives of its people. Paul Walsh decided to look at the means of moving around the city, which is built on a grid of roads, 11 on one axis and 10 on the other. He walked thirty miles around the outer roads on the grid, partly to see if walking was feasible in a city built around the car but also to reflect on the way that the car has shaped this and other places.

Richard Chivers sought to capture the architecture of some of the first areas to be built on the grid system, focusing mainly on the Modernist architecture of the central area and the prefabricated housing of the Netherfield Estate. Richard wanted to explore how it has changed over the years and how some of the residents that occupy these particular spaces interact with their surroundings.

So, why has the group chosen Shetland? Heather Shuker says that their choices are influenced to some extent by geography; they went to Lithuania because it’s the geographical centre of Europe and they’ve decided on Shetland partly because it’s the northernmost part of Britain. But she says it was also “because everyone was just really interested” in the notion of "the island" and the fact that Shetland is so distant from the rest of the UK. A couple of the group have previously been to Iceland and Scandinavia. Heather is also interested in the traditional role of women in the islands, when men went fishing and women ran the croft.

We’ll feature some of the images from the MAP6 visit in a future blog. However, Shetland’s landscapes, wildlife and community also inspire our many locally-based photographers. They turn out some great work, and there are links to several of their websites on this page.

everyone was just really interested

Posted in: Creative Scene

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