Actually I’ve been back for a couple of months now, though I think I’ve left a part of me behind judging by this ache in my soul to return.
Though living in exile, as a Scot I have a huge affinity for my homeland, particularly the Highlands. It’s a place of majesty, wilderness, enigma and wonder. Growing up in the Scottish Borders makes me something of a ‘flatlander’ but my grandparents lived on Skye and so every summer and quite a few Christmases we’d make the long drive through this wonderful land.
Back then many of the main roads were single track and journeys were long. If you came up behind a caravan meandering the shores of Loch Ness you were stuck behind it for literally tens of miles and what felt like hours. The ferry crossing - now replaced by the Skye bridge - added to the sense of adventure, and as you skirted the Cuillins they always seemed a dark and foreboding place. Stories of ghosts and faeries, of kilted highwaymen and ancient battles, all helped to heighten the senses. This was a fantastical and wild place, and so it remains for me.
Having spent time on Skye and on popular spots along the A82 (Glen Coe, Rannoch Moor, et al) I chose to take a right just before Kyle and head further north, to Torridon and Assynt. Here I would find an ever more wonderful landscape and the remoteness I craved.
Hopes and Fears
My first goal for the trip was to dedicate some time to my photography, immersing myself in the landscape and making some new images. This was something I felt I had been neglecting - not always through choice! - since the birth of our second daughter in May. Between nappy changes, running workshops and my fulltime job, my personal creativity was feeling the squeeze. This was a source of great frustration for me. I felt like I needed some time to recharge - or discharge? - the creative batteries, just the camera and I.
Looking at images I'd previously made in Scotland I felt that I had a number of 'hero' images that I liked, but nothing in between them, nothing to connect them other than being taken in the same country. They felt like a mishmash rather than a body of work.
My aim on this trip was to try and create a more ‘connected’ series of images that would work well together, and at least provide a well rounded view of my experience of Scotland . What might that mean? Well, primarily it meant that I wanted my images to be original to me. Not unique by any stretch, but as true to my own experience of the place as possible. I purposely avoided doing too much research on common locations and viewing images others had made in the area. I wanted to let my photographs reflect my own reaction to what I found, as untarnished as possible by what had gone before.
It also meant that I wanted to do more than just visit the 'wow' locations. I wanted to explore the landscape in between - literally connecting the images, geographically at least if not thematically. Often it's these spaces in between the well known locations that go unturned which I think is a real shame.
One danger was that I had heaped so much expectation on myself for this trip that it was almost doomed to failure. I think this is quite natural especially when it feels like one of few opportunities. You're desperate to not muck up and waste it. Over the years I've found myself developing an improving sense of self-awareness that really helps to give an early warning when negative emotions start to interfere with my process.
Going further, the 'aloneness' of a solo trip can have quite an effect on you. Few of us regularly spend time truly to ourselves, and certainly not for days on end. Spending time away alone where there’s a reasonable chance you won’t see anyone all day can feel quite strange. You certainly have to be comfortable with yourself and your own thoughts.
You also need to trust your own judgement and be self-aware when things aren’t going well (be that danger, or just a tough time photographically) to pick yourself up and set yourself straight. I don’t want to sound overly melodramatic but being out in the wild on your own can be quite emotionally draining if you're not used to it.
Though I understand, and at times would have appreciated, the camaraderie of travelling in a group, I personally find photography to be a pursuit of solitude. Time with the landscape, with your own thoughts, to explore freely. For me the presence of others leads to pressure (through some sense of competition), distraction (conversing rather than immersing) and corruption (of what you intended, being influenced by others).
Yes, being alone - and there's a big difference between being alone and being lonely - can be quite taxing, but I think it's incredibly liberating and you can get much deeper into your thoughts and your process. Throughout the trip I was practically mentoring myself to not worry about the 'bigger picture' and take each moment and opportunity as it comes, and remain philosophical when things went against me (which they surely did at times).
Though it seems a while ago now, the images still feel quite fresh and as I revisit the collection my thoughts change and I want to process them slightly differently. I don't think I'm 'finished' with them by a long stretch.
That said I'm proud of the images I have produced. Aside from the early images made on Rannoch Moor, all of the images are very much my own. I'm not calling them unique by any means. But I feel like I explored for them, found them, and created them completely under my own steam (ok, with a few hints on good locations from mates).
That seems like an odd thing to say. After all, isn't that what we as photographers always do? Well, I don't think so. I think a lot of the time we take awareness of what went before to guide our own creation. And though in this instance I've seen similar images since returning, I'm happy that I made them without the awareness at the time. So they feel 'original to me'. I'm happy with that.
I'm not sure I achieved the 'connectedness' I was looking for, but perhaps that was unlikely for a first time visit to somewhere anyway. Still I do think they sit quite handsomely together, and the results help to inform my approach for future trips.
I'll share more pictures and the stories behind them in upcoming posts. I hope you enjoy these ones in the meantime.
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