Photographers' Visit Yields A Rich Portfolio

by Alastair Hamilton -

A new and fascinating collection of photography touches on many aspects of Shetland and its people. Back in April 2018, six of the nine members of the MAP6 photography collective visited Shetland to record our islands. You can read more about the group’s background and their plans for the visit in this earlier blog;

As a collective, they’re interested in how people and places interact and in how they, as photographers, can creatively collaborate. Their previous expeditions – all to places that none of the group had previously visited – have taken them to Moscow, Lithuania and Milton Keynes. Their photographs have been seen at London’s Royal Academy and National Portrait Gallery.

they’re interested in how people and places interact

Having spent the summer mulling over the wealth of images they captured in Shetland, they’ve now put a selection of the work on their website. The six photographers who came to Shetland were Heather Shuker, Paul Walsh, David Sterry, Mitch Karunaratne, Richard Chivers and Phil Le Gal.

A great deal of thought has clearly gone into the project. Each photographer approached the islands with a particular theme in mind, but within that framework they each produced a remarkable range of images that embrace diverse subjects, moods, compositional styles and degrees of intimacy. There are landscapes a-plenty but there‘s also really striking portraiture. Some photographs capture the poignancy of the past in deserted crofts; others explore the forms of our most modern housing. The range of Shetland’s April weather, often seen in a coastal context, is captured too.

Heather Shuker’s collection, Young Prospects, focuses on young Shetlanders. Her portraits seek to capture the ways in which the nature of the landscape has shaped that younger generation. In her notes, she writes:

Some may wonder if this is the ideal environment for a child, yet the young generation has spirit and loyalty to their land. Some children and teenagers are more isolated than others with friends living many miles away from one another, yet there is a sense of contentment and belonging

One of her Shetland portraits, Annie with her sheep, has recently been announced as a winner in the British Journal of Photography’s Portrait of Britain awards.

Paul Walsh began his sojourn on the island of Whalsay, which lies to the north-east of the Shetland mainland. In doing so, he was paying homage to the Scottish poet, Hugh MacDiarmid, who lived there for nine years from 1933 and, in MacDiarmid’s own words ‘found myself again’. Paul notes that:

Near to his home, on the neighbouring island of West Linga, he is said to have composed his poem “On a raised beach”, whilst spending the night contemplating the stars. The island of Whalsay became the centre of his imaginative universe and his writing reveals the introspections of a solitary man contemplating his place in the world.

Paul Walsh’s collection, entitled Far From the Centre of Things, includes some night photography. There are landscapes, too, along with striking portraits and a range of other images from his exploration.

David Sterry sought to photograph the Shetland Vernacular: “the old, the new and the decaying as a way to anchor Shetland’s unique identity.” The fog rolled in, co-operatively, for his shot of the foghorn at Sumburgh Lighthouse.

David wanted to explore “Shetland’s architecture and culture as expressed through its man-altered landscapes, from cemeteries to lighthouses and everything else in between”. David offers a new and striking monochrome interpretation of Grodians, an award-winning housing development in Lerwick that is more usually seen in photographs that emphasise its vibrant colour palette.

Mitch Karunaratne’s thinking was influenced by bird migration and the human response to it: these “delicate creatures”, the “true symbol of freedom…ignore fences, borders, cultural difference and nation states…Exhausted, they see Shetland and are welcomed home.”

Although birds – fulmars and gulls – do feature in Mitch’s portfolio, entitled Three times to the moon and back, he focuses mostly on the landscape in which they find that freedom, and on some of the natural details within it.

Richard ChiversShetland Reconnaissance was an exploration of Shetland’s extensive military remains, in particular those dating from the Second World War and the Cold War. As he explains, the islands have a long history as a base from which to observe potential threats and defend the UK.

Several locations in Unst were developed by the RAF, including the long-abandoned Skaw and Lamba Ness. Saxa Vord hosted an important Cold War radar installation which has recently been reinstated.

The work by Phil le Gal takes its cue from the 60th parallel, which crosses Shetland’s south mainland and the island of Mousa. There is a literary connection, too. As Phil recalls:,

On his quest to go “from Home to Home” Shetland writer Malachy Tallack walks the width of the islands from the Atlantic coast across to the North Sea coast before circumnavigating the world following the 60th Parallel.

Phil’s series, which he calls Across the Blue Waters and White Lands, follows in the footsteps of Malachy along the line of 60° North, recording the landscape and the encounters with the people that Phil met.

Between them, the six photographers have produced a strikingly original record of their visit. Their pursuit of individual themes gives each portfolio a distinctive personality, but it’s also clear that their collective approach has created a diverse record of the islands in 2018.

a strikingly original record

Shetland does offer any photographer unique opportunities. The landscape forms; the light, the darkness and the Northern Lights; the ever-changing weather; the natural heritage; the people, and their events, such as the many fire festivals; all are special. The islands are home to many keen local amateur and professional photographers and you can see some of their work here. Photography absorbs them all year round.

It’s hoped that an opportunity will arise to show the MAP6 photographs in Shetland. They’d certainly make a stimulating exhibition, demonstrating that for the collective, the whole really does amount to more than the sum of the parts.

Posted in: Creative Scene

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