The Shetland Project: Young Prospects was made in 2018 during a six-day trip to the Shetland Islands with the MAP6 photography collective. The Shetland Project was MAP6’s fourth project, following on from The Moscow Project, The Lithuania Project and The Milton Keynes Project.
“The route to developing a project with MAP6 is very different from working solo. MAP6 specifically makes work around people and place. Each project is centred on one place, be that a city or country. The criteria for selecting a location is that no one in the collective has visited before. The projects are also restricted to a set time period, which has ranged from 48 hours to 6 days. So it is a different yet interesting way of working. It’s easy for photographers to procrastinate about projects. However, with MAP6, once the date is set, that is it. With The Shetland Project we had about three months to come up with a planned project.
As a portrait photographer, projects require a lot of planning, as sessions need to be scheduled in order to make a body of work in just 6 days. Consulting the god that is Google for inspiration, I developed two project ideas. When lead times are short, I find it’s good to roll with a few project ideas in the planning stage to see which is most viable. The first was about making portraits of women in the oil industry within the landscape, but I could not get enough traction, and I think it was more a romantic idea rather than a realistic prospect. The second was about young people and their relationship with the islands and the landscape. This idea came up in my research as 2018 was the Year of the Young in Scotland. Using this as a hook was a great opener and reason to make connections with youth groups.
In order to complete the project in just six days I worked with the council’s youth services, who put me in contact with a number of young people to photograph and interview. I was particularly interested in their relationship to the landscape, their thoughts on the mainland and plans for the future. I expected many would long for a life on the mainland, but everyone I spoke with was content with their childhood and life on the islands. Many had plans to move to the mainland for a university education; however, they also were quite sure that they would return to the islands. Here are a few of their comments:
“The Shetland Islands are just perfect.”
“Shetland means a lot to me, from the people to the landscape. It’s very unique, secluded, with genuinely nice people that you wouldn’t get in a city. It’s one of the best places to live, and I hope to stay here for the rest of my days.”
“Very chaotic yet peaceful. Lots of noise, but quiet noise like birds, the wind and the sea.”
“Isolated, but in a nice way. You can’t really do much, but at the same time you are free to go anywhere.”
“Quiet – and you know everyone.”
“Everything we need is here, and it’s nice and safe.”
Some may wonder if this is the ideal environment for a child. Yet the younger generation has spirit and loyalty to their land. It’s a place where children can roam freely within the community and be in contact with nature. Some are more isolated than others, with school friends living many miles away, yet there is a sense of contentment and belonging. Or maybe the eyes of a child yet to be clouded by the complications of adult life present a more of a peaceful and romantic portrayal of island life? Living here, where a child can be a child, colours the inhabitants’ lives.”
Heather Shuker is a London-based, award-winning photographer. Her work is about people and place, and relationship between the two. She studied photography at the University of Brighton and Central Saint Martins College of Art. Her work has been exhibited and published both in the UK and internationally.
The Shetland Islands geographical positioning as the UK’s furthest northerly landmass, has over the last 100 years, made it a key strategic observation point for the Military to defend the UK from foreign activity.
During WW1 and WW2 there were many observational posts across Shetland that were used to defend key areas of the Island to stop invasion and inform the mainland of any imminent attack.
During the Cold War strategic observational posts and communication systems were set up on Shetland, observing through Radar any activity in the North including that of the Russians. This included a Remote Radar Station at Saxa Vord and NATO’s ACE High communications system, allowing long-range communications between NATO’s high command across the rest of Europe.
At Saxa Vord on Unst the Remote Radar station closed in 2006 but as of July 2019 has recently been reinstated to full capacity to monitor the Russian threat once again.
For this project I visited these key Military sites and became interested in the Geography, Topography and history of the landscape. To slow myself down and pick up as much detail as possible I photographed most of the work on a 5×4 large format film camera. This felt important as it meant I spent many hours at each site observing the constantly changing weather conditions and was able to appreciate the desolate nature of the landscape.
The work was made in collaboration with the MAP6 collective, each photographer choosing a different theme to document around the Shetland Islands. The work was then exhibited at the Brighton Photo Fringe in 2018.
Richard Chivers is a documentary photographer based in Brighton, England. His work broadly looks at the British landscape and how it is shaped and re-shaped over time. Examining rural, industrial and urban spaces through history, geography and social themes that convey the complex nature of the landscape we inhabit.
His work has been exhibited across the UK and Internationally including the Brighton Photo Fringe, Format International Photography Festival, Arles, the MK Gallery, Anise Gallery and various other places.
He is a member of the MAP6 Collective whose work is currently on show at the Brighton Photo Fringe 2020.
In the first of a series of portfolios from Shetland Isles, we look at the work from Map6 photography collective.
-Who are the MAP6 photography collective, and how did you come together?
Six of the original members first met whilst studying on the MA Photography course at The University of Brighton. Some of us had exhibited before, but largely we were new to the photographic industry and eager to gain experience. So in early 2012 Mitch Karunaratne, Paul Walsh, Heather Shuker, Chloe Lelliott, David Sterry and Laurie Griffiths devised MAP6. The Brick Lane Gallery in London invited us to show our work for the first time, six individual projects that we were working on at the time during the MA. The concept of the show was about collaboration, and sharing work about the relationship between people and place. We really enjoyed the experience and found that working collectively made getting things done much easier. The show was a success, and we had fantastic feedback from both the gallery and visitors.
When we graduated from the MA in 2012 we decided to continue working together, but under the premise of actually setting side time each year for making work together. Five of the original members are still with the collective, and since then we have had numerous other members join, some that collaborate for a single project, and some that have become integral to the collective today. We are continually looking to collaborate and work with new photographers that bring a different dimension to the group. Today the collective members are Mitch Karunaratne, Paul Walsh, Heather Shuker, Chloe Lelliott, David Sterry, Barry Falk, Richard Chivers, Raoul Ries and Rich Cutler. We have worked on seven projects in the UK, Moscow, Lithuania, Milton Keynes, Shetland and most recently in Finland.
-What was the thinking behind working collectively?
The original thinking was that we set aside a period of time each year to come together within a creative space, to support one another and experiment with new approaches to photography. Collectively we try new approaches to making images, to editing, sequencing and presenting work, which informs our own individual photographic practices. Fundamentally what is at the heart of MAP6 is experimentation and collaboration. Another important aspect of MAP6 is that we each bring a variety of skills to the group, and each member has fallen into their own place. For example where one member handles the marketing side of things, another is responsible for maintaining the website or social media, organising trips, curating shows or securing funding. We have come to realise that putting together a show can be a stressful undertaking, and having numerous members of the group all tasked with handling different things makes the process much easier and less time consuming.
-What’s been the secret to your collective surviving since 2012? Many collectives implode after a year or two, or run out of energy.
Many photography students form a group after university to show their work, which can offer support for students fresh out into the professional world. How we have survived for so long is that we get on together and have fun whilst working. We are close friends and remain in contact throughout the year, supporting one another and informing one another about what’s happening in the photography world. We only actually meet a few times a year, so it always feels like a reunion. Trying new things is also key to us remaining together, continually having new members onboard and always trying to expand the way we exhibit our work keeps the creativity going. Currently we are nine members and the collective spirit in the group is stronger than ever.
-You work on very specific projects, based a round a location. How do you decide where to go for these projects and do all photographers take part in the projects?
Each project is different, and it largely depends on what is happening in the world at the time. We always choose somewhere new to all members, so we are on the same page when we arrive. The Moscow project was our first time working and staying together abroad. At the time Russia had just started to allow low cost airlines to fly into Moscow, and we thought it was an interesting time to make work there, before the influx of change bought on by tourism. With following projects, the decision has increasingly become more complex. Lithuania was interesting because at the time it was the geographical centre of Europe and had just embraced the Euro. Milton Keynes was chosen, partly because we had a show already in place, but also because the town was celebrating its fiftieth birthday. More recently with Finland we were considering creating a series around Brexit, but we couldn’t seem to get motivated by it. It was Mitch Karunaratne that first suggested creating work that would be like a positive antidote to the negativity that what was surrounding Brexit. She had been looking into the World Happiness Report and we each became fascinated by the worlds happiest countries and how they had become so successful. Finland had been nominated the happiest country twice (since then a third time). Previously we had only visited each location once, but for Finland we decided to plan two trips, to allow us more time to consider the work. Members each decide if they can participate in each project, but for Finland it was the first time that all members were present, making it our largest and most ambitious project to date.
– Some of you visited Shetland, what took you to there?
After intensely working on the show at the MK Gallery in Milton Keynes, we were eager to work somewhere which would be in absolute visual contrast. At the time Scotland had been in the media as having been nominated the most beautiful country in the world. Previously we had worked on the Lithuania Project, which spanned a relatively large country. We wanted to work on something that was more intimate, in a place that was big enough for us to find our own projects, but small enough for us to try and comprehend in just a week. We had never worked in an area made up of islands which presented an exciting new challenge.
-What were your thoughts on working in Shetland, what were the highlights?
We really loved working in Shetland, we felt a strong connection with the people and place. Shetland is such a unique area, which in most parts feels untouched and wild. Before arriving in Shetland MAP6 managed to appear on Shetland radio which had a surprising impact on our stay. All six members that went were at some point approached, and asked if we were ‘one of the six’. People were really curious about what we were doing and eager to share their islands with us. On one occasion Paul Walsh was approached in the street and then driven around on a mini tour, being shown some of the highlights of the area. Before visiting Shetland we reached out to people via email, to arrange meetings relevant to our projects. Having people open up to you about their life is an incredibly touching experience, and those that we met were kind and willing to help. As is often the case, the people were the highlight of our journey.
-Tell us about the work of the three photographers in this portfolio piece.
Mitch Karunaratne is a documentary landscape photographer, based in London. Her work is principally concerned with how stories are held within the land and the relationship between the land and regional identities. For the past years, she has been focusing on the northern parts of the world, where she explores the process of changing relationships with the land.
For the Shetland Project she made a series called Three Times to The Moon and Back. The work looks at the migratory behaviours of birds moving back and forth between these geographically remote and strategically important islands, over 200 km from the Scottish mainland.
Phil Le Gal is a documentary photographer from Brittany in Western France. His work focuses on the consequences of geography and globalisation. In previous years he has documented life in China, The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), former Soviet countries, Nigeria, UK and France.
Phil made a series called 60 Degrees. He was Influenced by the Shetland writer Malachy Tallack, who walked the width off the islands from the Atlantic coast across to the North Sea coast, before circumnavigating the world following the 60th Parallel. Phil Le Gal’s series follows in the footsteps of Malachy Tallack along the 60th latitudinal parallel which cuts through the southern section of the mainland island as well as the island of Mousa. Along the way he explored life and its possible encounters.
Paul Walsh is a fine art and documentary photographer based in Brighton. His personal work explores the relationship between walking and photography where he creates projects drawn from the physical, psychological and historical experience of walking.
Paul worked on a series called Far From the Centre of Things. The work was Inspired by the Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid, who in 1933 travelled from London to Shetland to move into a small abandoned fisherman’s cottage on the island of Whalsay. MacDiarmid spent nine years living on Whalsay where, despite an unstable mental state and living in near poverty, he wrote more than half of his life’s work. Inspired by MacDiarmid’s writing Paul Walsh travelled to Whalsay where he stayed alone in a small isolated cabin. From there he visited MacDiarmid’s cottage, and then made a circular walk around the island making photographs in response to the isolation he felt amidst the vast Shetland landscapes.
-Any plans for a publication of the Shetland work?
-How was the Shetland work received by the islanders, and do you have any plans to exhibit the work there?
We had lots of really positive feedback generated from the feature in Shetland Magazine, and one of Heather Shuker’s portraits was selected as a winner of the Portrait of Britain. Paul Walsh’s publication has also been very well received and is almost sold out. We would love to show the work in Shetland and share it with people where it was made. We have been discussing the possibility of exhibiting the work in Lerwick, but any plans at present are on hold with the current restrictions.
-How does the collective function when you edit, Is it a collective process or does each photographer select their own images and work?
When actually making the work we stay and work intensely together, sharing our photographs each evening. This adds to the collaborative nature of the work, and in doing so each member helps to shape the entire project. Once we return we will have a number of sessions editing the work collectively. We have found that making prints and being able to move them around and play with different sequencings and pairing has always been the most effective way of editing.
-What are you working on a present?
For the past couple of years we have been working in Finland in response to the world Happiness Report, and Finland being nominated the worlds happiest country to live in.
-You have an exhibition in Worthing this month, where and when is your show?
We are showing Finland: The World Happiness Project for the first time. The exhibition is at Colonnade House, Worthing, West Sussex between 29th September – 25th October. The exhibition is part of the Brighton Photo Fringe 2020 and is free to visit. All nine members have work on show, which is exhibited in a variety of different media, from prints, wall posters, sound, film and video. This will be our biggest project to date and afterwards we intend to show the work in London, before taking it to a number of venues in Finland.
-How can our viewers who can’t travel to Brighton Photo Fringe see the work?
The Brighton Photo Fringe 2020 festival opens on the 3rd of October and there is an accompanying gallery website where you will be able to see a selection of our Finland work online. We also plan on showing the work in London before taking it to Finland for a major show, where the entire project will be exhibited. For updates on the project you can follow Map6 on Instagram and see more of our work on our Map6 website.
We’re very pleased to be able to show the Shetland photographs, from the 1970s, of Scottish photographer Tom Kidd. The work was originally published as ‘Life In Shetland’, by publisher Paul Harris, and it is this book that we saw, in the home of Edinburgh photographer Murdo MacLeod, which caught our interest.
Tom Kidd has very kindly answered some questions via email about his Shetland photography, more of which can be seen here on the (Tom Kidd) Black Gold Tide website. (Make sure to look for the Browse the Archive button in the menu bar…).
Document Scotland- When was your Shetland project shot, and for how long did you work on it? Tom Kidd- 1975 to 1979. I think I was there on and off for about 10 months….seemed longer.
DS- How did it come about, via a grant or bursary, or assignment? TK- I was awarded a Kodak Bursary on leaving Napier College.
DS- What was the aim, or brief, for the project? TK- To try and document the effect North Sea oil was having on Shetland.
DS- A lot of readers like the technical information of projects, what cameras did you shoot on, and films did you use ? Do these matter to you? TK- All shot on Nikon FM cameras with mainly 35mm lens. Some with a 24mm and few with a 135mm I borrowed from Chick Chalmers. Mostly shot on Kodak Tri-x developed in D76. The FMs went everywhere with me. Wonderful cameras. My wife Clare still has one and it amazes me how big and bright the viewfinder is compared to current digital cameras. I just wanted a small robust camera that was reliable.
DS- How much did you shoot over the period of the project ? TK- Probably shot about 200 rolls, but honestly never counted. I would shoot about 20, 30 or 40 rolls then return home to Edinburgh and develop them in big batches in our darkroom in Polwarth. Sometimes with near disastrous results.
DS- We’ve seen the books, ‘Life In Shetland‘, and ‘Black Gold Tide‘, can you tell us the story of how they came about and how they work together? TK-Chick Chalmers was working on his ‘Life in the Orkney Islands‘ book at the same time as I was doing my Shetland project. We met as Stills Gallery was taking shape and Chick pointed me in the direction of his publisher, Paul Harris. Paul was keen to do it, and later went on to do ‘Life in Caithness and Sutherland’ by Glynn Satterley.
A book was a real bonus, and something that gave me the shove I badly needed to carry on with the whole thing. I had become disheartened, felt I wasn’t producing anything worthwhile. I had gone off to photograph a year in the life of a prep boarding school on Speyside. Going back up to Shetland with fresh eyes, a purpose and a deadline all helped. I was very fortunate to be helped and encouraged by a group of friends who really lifted the awareness of photography in Scotland in the 70’s.
Sadly their efforts in getting Stills Gallery off the ground and pushing the Scottish Arts Council into being pro photography seem to have been ignored or forgotten. The late Richard Hough (famous for his bus queues) who was one of my lecturers, and a huge influence, the late Mike Edwards whose large format landscape photography was exquisite, David Pashley who pushed the Photography course at Napier to new levels, my flatmate Chick Chalmers, Lesley Greene and Lindsay Gordon at the Scottish Arts Council. There was a real buzz at that time. I had two “models” for ‘Life in Shetland’ in the form of Chick’s Orkney book and Gus Wylie’s wonderful Hebrides book.
‘Black Gold Tide’ was Tom Morton‘s idea. It was fun to go up and shoot some more, and to go through all the old contact sheets. I found quite a few nice shots that I had never seen or noticed before. Also alarming to see how crap a lot of the early stuff was. Tom’s enthusiasm was infectious and he put the whole thing together.
DS- How was it, as a non-Shetlander, working in Shetland on the project? Were people accommodating to the ideals of the project ? And how was the work received by the Shetlanders? TK- Like anywhere I suppose. Some were helpful and others weren’t. BP refused me access to the terminal at Sullom Voe which didn’t help. Lots of delightful people who did help me. I was at Napier with a Shetlander, Charlie Robertson. He was a help with a few pointers.
When I first went up there, I rented a cottage in the middle of nowhere. That was quite a lonely existence, and I found it hard work. Far more productive staying in B and B’s. Living with locals just gave me a better feel for the place I think. I ran out of money fairly quickly as well, so worked on building sites and as a furniture van driver to keep going. Again, that allowed me places and people I would not have encountered otherwise. There were mixed reactions when the book came out. I think the younger folk were more open to it, while some of the older generation expected a nice gentle collection. One review in a Shetland magazine said I made Shetland look like war torn Poland. It didn’t sell very well at the time.
Chick Chalmers unwittingly ended up with about 50 copies. The publisher closed down and Chick thought he was getting a load of copies of his own book cheap from the liquidator. I wish I could have seen his face when he discovered they were unsold copies of mine. His Orkney book had long since sold out. I gave him a Nikon camera in exchange for them.
DS- Have you been back there recently, shooting anything else? Any new projects on the go that you’d like to share with us? TK- Not for been there for a good few years. Last time was flying the air ambulance. I have a couple of projects in mind and I will let you know when they start taking shape.
DS- Many thanks for sharing the work, and the story.
Twenty years ago this weekend, on 5th January 1993, the Lerwick coastguard were advised that the Liberian-registered oil tanker, the MV Braer, carrying 85,000 tonnes of crude oil, was drifting without power in a storm 10 miles off of Sumburgh Head, in the Shetland Isles. The vessel eventually settled on rocks, leaking her cargo of Gulfaks crude oil, an oil which is lighter and more easily biodegradeable than North Sea crude. Nature spared the Shetland the worst of the spill, with the severe storms raging, breaking up the oil and averting the worst case scenario of the spill.
“I was sent immediately on assignment by the Scotland On Sunday, by picture editor Kayt Turner and editor Andrew Jaspan. I flew there in a light aircraft with Ian Lang, then Secretary of State for Scotland. My brief was to get a shot of Ian Lang observing the stricken vessel from the aircraft and get a picture back for the next front page of the paper. I forget if I got the front of the paper, but I ended up staying in the Shetland for almost 2 weeks. Along with fellow Scotland on Sunday photographer Adam Elder, and journalists Euan Ferguson and Willie Paul, we covered the disaster to produce a comprehensive view of it for a following magazine issue for the paper. Due to the numbers of media who descended on the island, and a lack of rooms available, we all shared one hotel bedroom, 2 in the bed, 2 on the floor. Shetland in winter, each day the light came up about 10.30am, and it got dark again at 2’ish, time available for photographing was short. And the weather was bad.
Standing on Sumburgh Head, trying to look down on the Braer was a fight against the storm. Inch your way past the police in gas masks due to the oil spray, inch to the cliff face, the wind buffeting you hard, crouch or stand, shoot a frame or two of photographs, then crouch, turn and wipe the oil spray from your camera lens. Such were those days”- Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert