Et in Arcadia Ego by Bill Duncan

I am always intrigued by creative people who manage to cross-pollinate their practice by involving other disciplines.

I first came across the work of Angus-based writer Bill Duncan in the first years of this century, when he published a couple of wry, funny and beautifully-observed chronicles of Scottish life through the prism of Calvinism. His first work, entitled The Smiling School for Calvinists was particularly uproarious, a depiction of life in Broughty Ferry narrated in the vernacular which caused me to laugh out loud across many pages.

Around the same time, I was exhibiting Catching the Tide for the first time: it was embarking on a wee tour of the North East, and Bill very kindly purchased one of the images from the show. Dialogue and correspondence followed, but as so often in the modern world, we strayed off in different directions.

Many years passed until Bill and I were re-united, this time in Argyll on Easdale, the island location for my annual photography courses. Bill signed up and produced an insightful and beautifully-crafted series about one of the residents which alerted me to his talent as a visual storyteller as well as writer.

Recently, Bill got back in touch to let me know that his series Et in Arcadia Ego, a allegorical series of images set on a Highland hunting estate was about to be published in the forthcoming SSHoP journal Studies in Photography. I thought this would be an ideal opportunity to find out more about Bill’s lens-based work.

He takes up the story: “I have been working on a photographic exploration of Highland deerstalking for four years. The project incorporates elements of landscape, nature and working lives within the wider context of Highland culture. The project has a distinctive backstory, in that I am an urban Scot with no connections with the culture and lifestyle depicted here. Indeed, some of the most challenging aspects of the project were human as much as technical: it was not easy to gain the trust of a fairly private and closely-knit community. So far I have spent numerous days on the hill with the stalkers across the seasons in all weathers, generating a large number of wide-ranging images. The project is ongoing.

As a keen hillwalker I have long been fascinated by the Red Deer and its place in Scottish culture. The project title refers generally to the concept of an imagined pastoral ideal from classical literature where goatherds tended their flocks in a sylvan paradise. More specifically, it refers to Poussin’s painting Et in Arcadia Ego, where a group of shepherds are exposed to the presence of death in their supposed idyll. I saw a parallel between these goatherds and the Highland deerstalkers who manage their herds in a landscape that is often romanticised. The images portray the animals in life and death.

Some anecdotes relating to the project may be of interest: the extensive hill fog on one of the days depicted led resulted in water ingress to my camera, corroded electronics and an expensive repair. Other conditions imposed interesting challenges: the requirement to maintain the uncompromising walking pace wordlessly demanded by the stalkers in ever-changing light and weather across miles of ascent and descent taught me the virtue of Aperture over Manual priority and precluded the use of filters, promoting instead a raw documentary aesthetic. The need to remain still and silent and, literally, to adopt a low profile, were also quickly learned and constantly observed. In addition to landscape, work and nature, the project also touches upon more controversial areas of animal ethics and social class.”

The photographs certainly have a primal, uncompromising energy about them. What interests me here is process and it is fascinating to hear that he is motivated strongly around issues which affect rural Scotland. That is something, of course, which Document Scotland is continually exploring and dissecting. It’s a pleasure to amplify other voices working on photography projects concerning our landscape and we’d like to thank Bill for sharing this work with us.

Et in Arcadia Ego. © Bill Duncan 2020, all rights reserved.
Et in Arcadia Ego. © Bill Duncan 2020, all rights reserved.
Et in Arcadia Ego. © Bill Duncan 2020, all rights reserved.
Et in Arcadia Ego. © Bill Duncan 2020, all rights reserved.
Et in Arcadia Ego. © Bill Duncan 2020, all rights reserved.
Et in Arcadia Ego. © Bill Duncan 2020, all rights reserved.

We hope you have enjoyed the above article and images. Since forming in 2012 all the work featured on this site, and the work undertaken to enable it, has been free of charge. Now, times are changing. To continue we feel we need to ask for your support, to help us manage our time and energies, and to continue sharing photography we care about. Please visit our Patreon page and consider being a supporter. Thank you – Jeremy, Sophie, Colin. 

Become a Patron!

Did you like this? Share it:

Homeless in Covid, by Iain McLean

A few days back photographer Iain McLean told Colin and I that he’d been working on a series of portraits of homeless people, and assisted by the Simon Community Scotland. Today he shares with us some of the work, which is still ongoing and due to be exhibited in October, along with his thoughts on the project. – Jeremy

Radislav from Poland
Radislav was in Glasgow with his friend. He was photographed in the Ibis Hotel showing his open hand with a drawing of the landscape of his homeland which he missed greatly. ©Iain McLean.

DS – How did the project come about?
Iain McL. – I wanted to volunteer during the Covid epidemic and after a conversation with a client they offered me a commission to photograph a charity’s work during Covid. 
The Simon Community Scotland were fairly local and I was already aware of them and the work they do, so I contacted Hugh Hill (Director of Services and Development) and put my idea to him.

I imagine gaining access, and trust is difficult in such a situation, how did you go about that?
My contact at the charity is Julie and I felt our very first meeting went well and she really understood what I could offer. In my experience it is rare to be given the opportunity to work with an organisation who encourage you to pursue a creative idea. A refreshing experience! 
I initially did some volunteering in their warehouse, sorting clothes and helping load and unload food deliveries all the while taking some casual portraits and recording the events. This seemed to go well. We then visited the Ibis Hotel where I met the Simon Community staff and managers to have a look around and say hello. Once they realised I wasn’t a blow-hard they began to allow more access to travel to other services to meet and photograph both staff and clients.

Radislav from Poland
Radislav was in Glasgow with his friend. He was photographed in the Ibis Hotel showing his open hand with a drawing of the landscape of his homeland which he missed greatly. ©Iain McLean 2020.
Paul from England
Paul was looking for a way to get back home and to see family members he missed. Paul had literally nothing, which in itself was distressing but I was amazed to hear that he had saved a girl from drowning in the River Clyde last year in an apparent suicide attempt. His open hand is seen reaching out to help. ©Iain McLean 2020

What was your aim and goals for the project?
It quickly became apparent that there were 2 threads to the project – one was creating a library of stock images for the charity and the other was producing a conceptual project challenging the common perception of what a homeless person should look like.

How long have you been working on it?
I first contacted the Simon Community in mid April, with May and June being the most productive months.

Have you worked on these issues of homelessness before? Were there any surprises, or any issues you’ve learned from the project?
I had not worked with homeless people before but it was a profound and moving experience. My expectations were probably the same as most people’s, namely that I’d be meeting down-at-heel people with substance and/or mental health problems.I couldn’t have been more wrong. I’ve met travellers, religious people, immigrants, refugees, professional people, young and old and all races & genders. Many of them victims of circumstance.

Liah from England
Liah was very active in selecting her photos and interested in how she was presented. She was photographed with and without her glasses and took an active part in selecting what images we used. Her phone was her lifeline, although she was one of few people who saw their phone as an item of comfort. ©Iain McLean 2020
Hatim from Sudan 
Hatim was very widely travelled, and over the past 5 years had stayed in Sweden, London and Wales. He was a confident, eloquent man who was enjoying the welcome he received in Scotland and intended staying here to see what opportunities came up. He talked highly of the help he had received from the Simon Community Scotland and was pictured holding a card he kept with their contact details on it. ©Iain McLean 2020

How were the sitters themselves about being photographed, was it easy to gain their trust and collaboration?
The sitters were all invited to participate with the promise of a free print (or prints) in the week following the shoot. 
Most were keen to tell me their story but a few were quiet participants so were simply photographed and then left.

How did you decide on the manner in which you’ve photographed people against the white backdrop, and with the idea of photographing items they own and cherish?
The items were photographed in the hand of the sitter, with the hand being a metaphor for hope and open-ness as well as being symbolic of the Covid crisis – hand cleanliness etc. I felt the portraits needed more than just a short explanation of the person and their circumstances so used the idea of ‘comfort’ during this troubled time to give the work some extra depth. The white background was a deliberate act to take the homeless person away from any cliched location and to present them as a dignified, empowered person. A blank canvas. I was trying to develop the idea when my friend John Linton pointed me to the work of Stefan Ruiz who’s project ‘Cholombianos’ is shot on location against a white backdrop, and I saw that this technique would be perfect for my homeless project.

What are your hopes for the project? Are there plans to exhibit it or publish it?
We hope to exhibit in October. There are a couple of venues in the pipeline but we’re keen to get the portraits shown in as many locations as possible, so would be happy to hear from any suitable locations….and of course we will be back on the phone to Document Scotland too!

Thank you Iain for sharing the work, we look forward to seeing how the project develops.


We hope you have enjoyed the above article and images. Since forming in 2012 all the work featured on this site, and the work undertaken to enable it, has been free of charge. Now, times are changing. To continue we feel we need to ask for your support, to help us manage our time and energies, and to continue sharing photography we care about. Please visit our Patreon page and consider being a supporter. Thank you – Jeremy, Sophie, Colin. 

Become a Patron!

Did you like this? Share it:

Island Tides – Paul Glazier

Today Paul Glazier launches a kickstarter to support his new book “Island Tides”

Published with Bluecoat Press the book documents life on Vatersay in the Outer Hebrides over the 35 year period Paul visited the island.

Beyond Barra Head © Paul Glazier 2013 all rights reserved
Beyond Barra Head © Paul Glazier 2013 all rights reserved

“When I first went to the island of Vatersay in 1978 I was only twelve, but immediately I could feel that the landscape and people resonated with some inner reality of my own.

This is why I felt a sense of homecoming and why I’ve been returning to the island ever since.

Vatersay is the southernmost inhabited island of the Outer Hebrides, and the rugged landscape is the backdrop against which everything happens, from the smallest occurrences to the most momentous, lending a perspective that gives significance whilst at the same time making you aware of the ephemeral nature of the world and our place in it.

The remoteness and the scale of the island nurtures a sense of community, continuity and connection with the past, and I hope that through this book I can contribute to that narrative.”

Hector © Paul Glazier 1985 all rights reserved

We featured Paul’s project as a portfolio a wee while ago on the Document Scotland site and are delighted to see it’s now going to be a book. Paul kindly spoke to us and answered a few questions the day before the launch of his kickstarter launched…

DS: Why did you first start the project?

PG: It evolved very slowly into a project, growing out of my love of the island. As a young artist it was natural for me to turn to something close to my heart for inspiration.

DS: How easy was it to establish the trust and collaboration of the islanders?

PG: That simply grew out of my ongoing relationship with the people there. There are always people who are more comfortable in front of a lens and some less so. The fact that they know me makes a huge difference and most are now used to my photographic habits and are fairly relaxed about me taking photos, though I try to make it as little intrusive as possible.

Jennifer © Paul Glazier 1985 all rights reserved

DS: How often are you there?

PG: In my teenage years and into my twenties I was there once or twice a year in the holidays. When I moved to Amsterdam in 1994 this became less frequent but since 2010 I’ve been trying to get back every year, though I have missed a couple.

DS: What has been the most rewarding aspect of undertaking the project and spending time there? 

PG: Spending time there has always been very rewarding in itself and I always feel recharged after my stay. As for the project itself, it has been great to see and hear how much the islanders themselves value the work. Many of them have my photos hanging in their houses and that is a huge affirmation for me that my work has worth.

DS: What made you decide to publish it as a book?

PG: As a project it could of course go on indefinitely and I’m certainly intending to continue visiting the island and taking photographs. But it just feels like the right time to give it a more public form, both as exhibition and as a book.

DS: How did you do the process of editing 30-years of work into one book? 

PG: Yes, that was tricky! I had a couple of exhibitions last year so that really helped in finding a core to the book. But it was really just a question of going through all the material and finding the strongest images that said something about the island.I could have made various versions of the book but I wanted to focus on the islanders and their environment, to make a kind of portrait. However, it is in no way an academic documentation. It is more a personal reflection on the people and place.

The people in the images seem to love the photos and I have shown many of them a digital version of the book. In fact, I recorded their comments and some of these appear in the book as captions.

DS: Did you work with an editor?

PG: No, but for the shows last year there was a bit of discussion with Elliott Halls Gallery in Amsterdam and Malcolm Dickson at Street Level Photoworks, but our choices were fairly much in line.

DS: Were there design considerations to be made about the book, and how you wanted it to look? What influenced those decisions? 

PG: Of course the design is very important. I wanted there to be a certain informal flow and rhythm and avoid a too academic approach. At the same time I wanted to allow each image to breath, and that has been the crux of the process, to get the right balance between these two qualities. I’ve had some great feedback on that through the photo-book club and some friends here in Amsterdam.

DS: Are there further plans for the project and work? 

PG: A couple of exhibitions are planned for next spring. One in a new art’s centre in Oban as the opening show, and one in Amsterdam at the Elliott Halls Glallery.

If you’d like to learn more and support this project, do check out Paul’s kickstarter here…

Vatersay Village © Paul Glazier 2017 all rights reserved
Walking towards Sandray © Paul Glazier 2016 all rights reserved

To learn more about Island Tides and support the project please visit https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/islandtides/island-tides

Best of luck with the kickstarter Paul, we’re sure it’ll be a huge success!

We hope you have enjoyed the above article and images. Since forming in 2012 all the work featured on this site, and the work undertaken to enable it, has been free of charge. Now, times are changing. To continue we feel we need to ask for your support, to help us manage our time and energies, and to continue sharing photography we care about. Please visit our Patreon page and consider being a supporter. Thank you – Jeremy, Sophie, Colin. 

Become a Patron!

Did you like this? Share it: