Colonsay Community Project

In May 2022, Document Scotland visited the Inner Hebridean island of Colonsay where we staged a week-long series of events under the title Show Us Colonsay. These included a community participatory project open to all islanders to take part in, a series of collaborative portraits of people on Colonsay made by the Document Scotland photographers (here by Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert, and Craig Easton) and a closing Salon Evening where the work made during the week was showcased to a live audience at the Heritage Centre. Show Us Colonsay was made possible by funding from Creative Scotland and was delivered in partnership with the Colonsay and Oransay Heritage Trust and Street Level Photoworks.

Photograph by Jan Binnie, 2022 all rights reserved.

Following on our initial introductory community session, held on the morning of our arrival, we then worked with nine participants over the following days, supporting and guiding them in how to produce their own personal photo stories, which would come to represent various aspects of their lives on Colonsay. Each participants approached the idea of creating a visual story in their own unique way, bringing with them elements which came from photos, ideas and reflections of the past. They then wove these into contemporary narratives which asked as well as answered questions about the community, environment and life on the island today.

Photograph by David Third, 2022 all rights reserved.

The participants who took part and who produced the stories which were shared at the Salon Evening event were:

• Clare Hay – Clare looked through photography she had undertaken on Colonsay during the coronavirus pandemic lockdowns and showed us life on the island in that period. Clare was new to photography when she undertook this and worked with us to develop the themes which she had worked on over the last two years.
• Jen McNeill – Jen goes wild swimming everyday in the waters around Colonsay, and showed us the environment she swims in and the fun, and mental health benefits that she derives from it. As a result of taking part in Show Us Colonsay, Jen has been inspired to keep going with her photography.
• Sarah Hobhouse- Sarah showed us life on her farm at Balnahard on Colonsay, and the work she does rearing some sheep specifically for their wool. Sarah uses the wool in her arts and crafts business, and making products for her Seapink Gallery on the island.
• Jan Binnie – Jan showed us life on her sheep farm during the period of lambing, from pregnant ewes through to the delivery of lambs and their first unsteady steps. Jan was new to photograpy and produced an intimate portrait of life on her croft.
• David Third – David is more used to photographing rocks and the environment in black and white, but tried working in colour digital to produce portraits of some people he knew on the island.

• Carol McNeill – Carol used her camera to show us the nature that surrounds her on Colonsay and the joy she finds in the environment’s shapes and forms and in different lighting conditions.
• William Leigh Knight – William selected from photographs he has shot over the past few years and which tell the ongoing story of the building of a new home for him and his partner on Colonsay. The photographs chart the progress of the land and the building of the house. 
• Lindsay Walker – Lindsay used her smartphone camera to show us the Colonsay Knitting Group, and the lamas and animals that they get their wool from, the garments they knit, and he fun they have with friends while doing so.
• David Binnie – David showed us in his photographs the story of the careful retrieval of a possible part of a stone cross from the abandoned settlement of Raisg Buidhe on Colonsay. 

Photograph by Jen MacNeill, 2022 all rights reserved.

As with all such projects, Document Scotland considers what the legacy should be from an initiative like this. While we are focused on the process – how the participants make work and how we interact with the community – we believe there should be something tangible which can serve as a reminder and resource for future generations. Document Scotland will be donating a selection of photographic prints to the Colonsay and Oransay Heritage Trust, which will remain in their possession and is for their use. In addition, we were fortunate that the Scotsman published an in-depth review of the project, which will serve as a record of the work we did on Colonsay.

We have also made this short film about Show Us Colonsay, and we hope that this can serve to show how involving communities across Scotland in photography projects and events helps us all to document and understand the world we live in. We hope you have enjoyed leaning more about Show Us Colonsay.

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