A Contested Land – behind the lens #5

‘Untitled, 2019’ from Treasured Island. Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2019 all rights reserved.

 

In the lead up to the opening of our latest showing of A Contested Land, which takes place as part of FLOW Photofest in Inverness in September, Document Scotland’s photographers give an insight into the work they have made for the show. Here, Colin McPherson, tells us about one of his favourite images his project entitled Treasured Island.

“Serendipity is one of the great pleasures of photography. Some might confuse it with the famed and often-debated ‘decisive moment’ but in order to get into that space and place to click the shutter at the correct time, the photographer does rely on what in everyday life can be termed good luck.

And so it was with this image. I was nearing the end of making the work for my contribution to Document Scotland’s A Contested Land exhibition which was due to launch at the end of January this year at the Martin Parr Foundation. Being from an editorial background, I always believe in shooting until the very last available moment, and was fortunate enough to be given the time over Hogmanay to finish of the project with some key images at what is a very important time annually for the people of Easdale Island, the subject of my work.

The small inner-Hebridean island is famed for its flooded slate quarries, a legacy of a once thriving industry long-since moribund. One of the quarries is the venue each year for the World Stone Skimming Championships and in recent years, the quarries have become ever more popular with locals and visitors alike looking for cool places to swim. With the explosion in interest recently of cold water or wild water swimming, Easdale has become a destination for those prepared to dip their toes – and more – into its cold, clear water.

The photograph featured here was taken on New Year’s Day. Twenty-nineteen had dawned bright and blue, and as always with the first day of January, there seemed to a mood of optimism in the air. A time to clear out the bad memories and start afresh. Everything that day appeared quiet, calm and perfect, like the undisturbed surface of the water in the quarries. First-footing is still a tradition on Easdale island, where shortly after midnight people visit their neighbours, wish them well and head off into the night. Just before midday, I came across my own group of first-footers, intrepidly about to take their first steps into what the islanders call ‘the swimming quarry’.

At that moment, as the group moved in unison towards the water, it was time to forget the trials and tribulations that the world faces. Climate change, Brexit, austerity, whatever your political poison, was lost and forgotten in that magical, optimistic moment when a phalanx of young people went where no-one else had so far ventured in 2019.

Set against the open sea, the quarry’s water appears as if it is made of a different substance. The mountains in the background gives the image its scale and drama. I composed the frame to allow a sense that the group were walking towards, or into something. Their pale skin marks them out brightly against the blue background. I took about three or four shots, but this one was the only one in which their bodies are all balanced and natural, although a couple of them are obviously trying hard to stay upright as the cold water hits them. I love the way their clothes are all piled up on the water’s edge, metaphorically they are leaving their cares behind them.

It was a bit of luck that I’d been first-footing the back shore of the island and therefore  happened to be there to see this scene with my camera. Serendipity, indeed.

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