NHS 88 – Iain Stewart

‘NHS 88’
by Iain Stewart.

As I write, on a Thursday evening, I’m watching the clock, mindful to stop at 8pm and go to the front door with my family and most of my street to Clap For Our Carers, marking our gratitude and respect for our National Health Service, keeping us all alive and well in this time of pandemic. The weekly clapping ritual started spontaneously in other parts of Europe but quickly caught on here as an organised thank you and a morale boost – working both ways. The concept widened from applause for doctors, nurses and health workers to showing respect all those key workers who put their own lives at risk – teachers, shop staff, postal and delivery workers, public transport drivers and … the list goes on. A wave of awareness and gratitude has spread for those in tough jobs whose contributions we simply take for granted every day – or maybe we did, in more normal times.

So it is in this context that I’m delighted to be asked to share a series of NHS related photos made back in the late 1980s. These pictures are part of a larger body of work I undertook as a third year student at Edinburgh College of Art, back in 1988. The work examined the roles of auxiliary workers in the NHS in Scotland, particularly the laundry and kitchen staff at the Western General Hospital in Edinburgh. This is now, as it was then, particularly grueling and low paid work but is essential to keep the bigger machine of our NHS in motion.

‘NHS 88’, © Iain Stewart 2020
‘NHS 88’, © Iain Stewart 2020

The Western General series followed on from my second year project, PICTURE OF HEALTH which had examined the workings of the NHS in my hometown, Barnsley, focusing in on the relationships my parents (both General Practitioners) had with their patients. The pictures had been well received; my tutor, Murray Johnston, had even helped me frame the work and then arranged an exhibition in the college. So where I went next with my photography felt like quite an important step.

Initially I had quite big ideas about the big project for my third year, about class division, looking at the extremes of low paid work versus Edinburgh’s New Town banking elite. The late 80s was a time of choosing sides; by this point we’d had almost a decade of the Thatcher government; the Miners Strike; the anti-Apartheid Movement. Boycott Barclays! Don’t Pay The Poll Tax! Organise, Occupy, Kick The Tories Out! Students were heavily politicised. We would occupy the Art College on a fairly regular basis; pulling all-nighters to make leaflets and banners for street protests and marches. Some of this activism was bound to percolate through into our artwork.

Add in a new visiting lecturer to the Photography Department, a feisty, young photojournalist called Murdo MacLeod. Murdo wasn’t much older than us students; he had not long graduated from Napier and had energy, ideals, he didn’t dodge arguments or confrontations. I reckon he’d probably given his tutors quite a time of it at Napier. He brought quite a change of pace at ECA and I loved it. There would be loud debates and excitement on the days Murdo was in. Around this time I was discovering work by photojournalists like Don McCullin; pouring over books in the college library; the social reform photography of Lewis Hine; Humphrey Spender’s Mass Observation work; The Farm Security Administration (Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans) and Picture Post (Bert Hardy, Grace Robertson). Taking apart Bill Brandt’s pictures of the miners, being suspicious of new British colour photography from Paul Graham and Martin Parr. Like politics, at this time you chose a side; black and white or colour. I was twenty years old; life was in many senses black and white, right or wrong. Black and white for the purists!

‘NHS 88’, © Iain Stewart 2020
‘NHS 88’, © Iain Stewart 2020
‘NHS 88’, © Iain Stewart 2020

The first step had been to write letters and make phone calls, trying to follow up contacts or make new ones. One of the early positive responses that I got was from the STUC in Edinburgh, replying to my request to photograph auxiliary staff in Lothian hospitals. Could I come in and talk to one the Union leaders? Armed with my NHS portfolio and research notes, I went in to meet him, and thankfully something about my intentions or faltering account I gave of myself must have rung true; for whatever reason I was given the green light. I could go and observe and photograph in the laundry and the kitchens at the Western General Hospital, as long as I kept out of the way.

‘NHS 88’, © Iain Stewart 2020
‘NHS 88’, © Iain Stewart 2020

These photos are the result. I made repeat visits, one morning a week. Initially I struggled over this series, and at the time couldn’t really understand why. Time constraints had forced me to drop the other half of my project (the banker pictures) so I gave the Western General my full attention, and it needed it. The working environment was overwhelming – huge, noisy, hot and relentless. I sensed I wasn’t always a welcome presence – the folk in there had a rhythm and a pace that really didn’t warrant stopping for a camera. Not that I wanted posed shots, but as I scanned my initial contact sheets I felt a disconnect. My earlier doctor/patient pictures had, by comparison, come easily. There was an existing relationship to latch onto, and if you tackled it correctly, discreetly, sensitively, it was a rich, rewarding subject to photograph. Here I was starting from scratch, trying to make sense of the hard graft, the noise, the mountains of laundry or the speed and bustle in the kitchens, and the pictures I was making felt a bit lost. Forming relationships with any of my subjects was a struggle too. Fair enough, really, folk were just far too busy to slow down or chat with a skinny student, however earnest.

When the pictures eventually did come good they felt quite hard won. At first they didn’t speak about relationships between the people there but instead caught them isolated in mountains of work – literally at times – or completely absorbed in monotonous, repetitive tasks and heavy or hazardous equipment. The second part to the project, and the point at which I finally knew it was beginning to go somewhere, took me away from the factory floor – observing and magnifying quiet moments during down time. Tea breaks, catching breath in the locker room, brief respite away from the noise. Slowly some of the staff opened up and gave me a minute to make a portrait.

‘NHS 88’, © Iain Stewart 2020
‘NHS 88’, © Iain Stewart 2020

I should add that, in my newfound enthusiasm for the medium, I had decided to try out working on 120 format for the first time, so for the second half of the project I was clunking in on the bus with a huge carry case containing a Mamiya c330, assorted lenses, light meters and accoutrements, a heavyweight tripod, and often my own small 35mm kit too. A huge learning curve – a new format, and a brief window of opportunity from a sitter who had kindly stopped work or given up a precious minute of their tea-break, so I learned to work under (self-imposed) pressure. No quarter given for fumbling with rolls of film, delay and they just moved on with work. Some of my favourite medium format shots are not portraits per se but working shots – the exhausted canteen staff, the laundry worker with far away thoughts, and this pre-35mm, almost counter-intuitive photojournalist style reoccurred later in my work. TENDER, the NHS piece I was commissioned to do for National Galleries of Scotland ten years later mined this approach too, returning to the doctor/patient relationship.

‘NHS 88’ ©Iain Stewart 2020.
‘NHS 88’, © Iain Stewart 2020

The Western General pictures were not easy pictures to make, I set myself a lot of challenges but in the process learned a huge amount about myself, about photography and photographic working practices. Looking back now, as I’ve been asked to do, I find a direct connection with our current situation; Clapping for Carers, noticing and acknowledging that there’s a swathe of hidden work going on, marking it publicly. Our collective conscience needed jolted to see that all this is being done for the common good and often with little reward. We should be mindful, and voice our thanks to our NHS and those who keep it going.

‘NHS 88’, © Iain Stewart 2020

.

Starlings On Fire – Peter Iain Campbell

30th July 2016

“ It tests you physically, mentally and emotionally. Every single corner of your psyche gets

seriously rinsed out here……….”

(Title image: Starlings On Fire, © Peter Iain Campbell, all rights reserved.)

Starlings On Fire, © Peter iain Campbell, all rights reserved.
Starlings On Fire, © Peter Iain Campbell, all rights reserved.

 

SEARCHING FOR THE ANTITHESIS / A TANGLED WEB OF PIPING
11th November 2013 – 12th August 2014
Being strapped to a seat inside a metal cylinder and then submerged in a large, deep pool of tepid
water, to perform helicopter safety and escape drills, was the easy part. Establishing a way of
getting onto an offshore installation in the North Sea to work, let alone undertake a photography
project, was definitely going to be the hard part.

 

Starlings On Fire, © Peter iain Campbell, all rights reserved.

 

In late 2013, a sequence of photography projects and wild notions had brought me to an Offshore
Survival Centre in Aberdeen where I undertook the Basic Offshore Safety Induction and
Emergency Training course – the minimum requirement for anyone wanting to work offshore in
the Oil and Gas Industry. Completing the course didn’t guarantee anything, other than a fairly
deep hole in my pockets.
For the following 10 months, while continuing my work as a photographer, I contacted all the
Recruitment Agencies, Drilling Contractors and Facilities Companies based in Aberdeen, trying to
find a route into the offshore world. I had to be very resourceful. Photography is not a
particularly transferable skill into the Oil and Gas Industry.
I got lucky, and in August 2014 I started my first, 2-week trip offshore. It was on the Janice Alpha
Platform, situated in the central North Sea, approximately 175 miles south east of Aberdeen.
I remember my first helicopter flight. I was simultaneously excited and anxious. It was the
antithesis of the life as a photographer I had known up to that point. Exactly what I was looking
for. As we approached the production platform, I looked out of the window and witnessed this
vibrant, bright orange gas flare and what appeared to me to be a chaotic, tangled web of piping
floating in the sea. It seemed surreal, alien and almost post-apocalyptic. My life offshore was
about to begin.

 

Starlings On Fire, © Peter Iain Campbell, all rights reserved.
Starlings On Fire, © Peter Iain Campbell, all rights reserved.

 

Mid-2013
The genesis of ‘Starlings On Fire’ came in the form of two projects that I was working on
simultaneously during 2013, but which were conceived independently of each other. These
projects formed part of my ongoing interest in post-industrial landscapes. There was an
overarching dystopian nature to both projects.
I had been researching archival images that had the potential to be physically projected back into
some of the decayed ‘monolithic’ environments that I had been shooting in. I kept returning to an
image I have which dates back to the early 1900s. It depicts two diving men sitting opposite each
other, outside a telescopic gasholder, presumably about to commence interior test work on the
holder. I find the image truly captivating. It haunts me. I know nothing about the two men or the
photographer who took the picture.

 

granton_web
Gas Holder No.1, Granton Gas Works, ca. 1905, Photographer Unknown.

 

I started to examine the cache of albums that accompanied this image. They document the
construction of the Granton Gas Works in Edinburgh. I wondered about the lives of the workers
depicted in these photographs, posing with a steely, emotionless gaze towards the camera,
dwarfed by the construction of huge buildings and machinery that surrounded them. I was lost in
the notion of living during that time – documenting the construction of this vast world. I started
to consider the idea of producing a body of work now, which could act as a kind of ‘time capsule’
and be something looked back through in 20 or 30 years time. I needed an industry that
remained relatively unchanged since its beginnings and was somehow cocooned from the social,
political and economic pressures exerted on more land based industries.
I was intrigued by the incongruous existence of the offshore Oil and Gas Installation – a collision
of industry and nature. I quickly established that the only way I was going to be able to produce a
body of photographic work offshore was to try and work out there.

 

October 2016
I worked for 2 years onboard a Drilling Rig in the North Sea, situated approximately 130 miles
east of Aberdeen. After about 5 months working on a 3:3 Rotation (3 weeks on/ 3 weeks off) and
having bedded myself in to the demands and culture of offshore life, I was granted permission to
start shooting on the rig. Initially, this was restricted to seascapes only. I shot the entire project
on 120 film, which aside from what Roger Ballen calls the ‘great alchemy of analogue’, meant that
I didn’t have to get a Permit to Work every time I wanted to shoot. This was a good thing. It gave
me relative freedom to work around my 12-hour daily shifts and I often worked at night, where
shooting opportunities often only presented themselves at 2 or 3am in the morning.

 

Starlings On Fire, ©Peter Iain Campbell, all rights reserved.
Starlings On Fire, © Peter Iain Campbell, all rights reserved.

 

Starlings On Fire, © Peter Iain Campbell, all rights reserved.
Starlings On Fire, © Peter Iain Campbell, all rights reserved.

 

The seascapes were more than just a photographic opportunity however. The entire process
became ritualistic and a means of escape, metaphorically speaking. This was my incentive and
motivation for getting through an arduous shift or trip. The magic hour (at both ends of the day)
became a period of reflective solitude, yet the perpetual humming of the rig always prevented the
experience from developing into something more spiritual.

 

Starlings On Fire, © Peter Iain Campbell, all rights reserved.
Starlings On Fire, © Peter Iain Campbell, all rights reserved.

 

Starlings On Fire, © Peter iain Campbell, all rights reserved.

 

A positive acknowledgement of my seascape work allowed me to extend the scope of the project.
I was granted unprecedented access to the entire rig and with the approval of the on-shift driller,
I could shoot in and around its fulcrum, the drill floor. I was constantly drawn to this area.
Between the driller’s digital control hub, ‘The Dog House’, and the machinery and workings on
the drill floor, I often thought it was like entering the combined fictional worlds of H.G.Wells and
William Gibson. I was a photographer documenting heavy industry in the late 1800’s, but in a
strange parallel universe where there had been a sudden spike in technological advancement.
I developed a strong relationship with the core and third party crews onboard, but I had an
almost equal interest in the architecture, machinery and layout of the rig. There’s an underlying
feeling of isolation, volatility and danger offshore. The confined physical environment can be
claustrophobic, the natural elements harsh and brutal. By combining the seascapes and the
portraits I wanted to convey these qualities, but maintain a certain level of distance and
anonymity between the crew and the viewer, referencing the archival industrial photographs
that had inspired me three years earlier.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

31st July 2016

“ Do you know where you’ll be redeployed when this contract is up? ”

“ Aye…..the dole queue.”

“Hah, really?!”

“Aye, I’m not fucking kidding. This is the third slump I’ve experienced and it’s definitely the

worst. I think the North Sea’s fucked. I don’t think it’ll ever recover………unless we get a good

old war……….. the good times are gone. The way I see it, if this is gonna be my last trip, then I

reckon this could be my last time offshore. If there are jobs out here, then the money’ll

probably be shite.”

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

 

Starlings On Fire, © Peter Iain Campbell, all rights reserved.
Starlings On Fire, © Peter Iain Campbell, all rights reserved.

 

 

Starlings On Fire, © Peter iain Campbell, all rights reserved.

 

Starlings On Fire, © Peter Iain Campbell, all rights reserved.

 

Starlings On Fire, © Peter iain Campbell, all rights reserved.

 

There are many areas within the Oil and Gas Industry that are deeply problematic and
controversial. The offshore installation almost acts as a provocative totem for the industry.
When I started this project in August 2014 the price of oil was approximately $110 per barrel
and there was much speculation that the industry in the North Sea would continue to thrive for
another 30 – 40 years.
By February 2016 the price of oil had slumped to an 11 year low of $28 per barrel. Oil companies,
suppliers and contractors started streamlining their operations, which lead to many people
across the industry losing their jobs. The North Sea was particularly hard hit. Its waters are
amongst the most expensive in the world for carrying out Oil and Gas exploration and
production. This year the Industry approved less than £1billion to spend on new projects,
compared to a typical £8billion per year in the last five years. According to Oil and Gas UK’s
Activity Survey, published in February 2016, if the price of oil were to remain at approx. $30 for
the remainder of 2016 then nearly half (43%) of all UKCS (UK Continental Shelf) oil fields would
likely be operating at a loss, deterring any further exploration and investment.

 

Starlings On Fire, © Peter Iain Campbell, all rights reserved.
Starlings On Fire, © Peter Iain Campbell, all rights reserved.

 

Starlings On Fire, © Peter Iain Campbell, all rights reserved.
Starlings On Fire, © Peter Iain Campbell, all rights reserved.

 

The number of Drilling Rigs operating in the North Sea plunged in September to 27, the lowest
number since records began in 1982. In the same month, the drilling contract for the Drilling Rig
I worked on expired. The vast majority of the crew onboard were served notice of redundancy
and the rig was towed into the shipyard, where it remains today.
Decommissioning in the North Sea is being viewed across sections of the industry as being the
major investment opportunity of the future.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

21st July 2016

“ Pink Floyd! Is that Pink Floyd?! ”

“ No. It’s Mogwai.”

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Starlings On Fire, © Peter Iain Campbell, all rights reserved.
Starlings On Fire, © Peter Iain Campbell, all rights reserved.

 

Starlings On Fire, © Peter Iain Campbell, all rights reserved.
Starlings On Fire, © Peter Iain Campbell, all rights reserved.

 

Many thanks to Peter Iain Campbell for allowing us to share his project.

Peter Iain Campbell photography website, and Peter Iain Campbell on Instagram.

North Sea Fishing – Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert

Back in the day I’d had an assignment from a Scottish newspaper to go out on a fishing boat which was taking part in a fisherman’s demonstration against EU regulations and quotas. It was only an overnight job, but it gave me a taste of being at sea.

“Can I come back and come out with you sometime when you go out fishing”” I asked the skipper Ronnie Hughes, of the seine net boat Mairead. When he’d stopped laughing he answered, “Aye, but if you’re sick, you’ll be sick for ten days and we’re not taking you back in.” I agreed to his terms.

It wasn’t too long after, not wishing to let the chance slip, that I boarded the boat in Aberdeen harbour and we set off into the North Sea for ten days of fishing for cod and herring. I didn’t even know the difference between a cod and a herring.

My sea legs appeared by magic, and soon I was scrambling all over that boat like an old sea dog. For the crew these trips can be exceedingly dull, monotonous and repetitive. I was probably light entertainment for them as they told me their stories, and explained their work.

 

Aboard the seine netter 'Argosy', on the North Sea, 1995. ©Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert, all rights reserved.
Aboard the seine netter ‘Argosy’, on the North Sea, 1995. ©Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert, all rights reserved.

 

Aboard the seine netter 'Argosy', on the North Sea, 1995. ©Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert, all rights reserved.
Aboard the seine netter ‘Argosy’, on the North Sea, 1995. ©Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert, all rights reserved.

 

Aboard the seine netter 'Argosy', on the North Sea, 1995. ©Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert, all rights reserved.
Aboard the seine netter ‘Argosy’, on the North Sea, 1995. ©Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert, all rights reserved.

 

A while later I decided to venture out again, this time with the Argosy from Peterhead. Another ten days off out to sea, over near Norway somewhere. Same routine, throw the net overboard, wait an hour and half, circle the boat round, play dice games, drink more tea, read the Daily Mirror for the 276th time, pull in the net, retrieve the fish, gut the fish, stow the fish, chuck the net overboard, make more tea, read the Daily Mirror again…

Looking back on these images recently as I edited them for a new Café Royal Books publication, North Sea Fishing, they brought back so many memories for me. I could see each ship clearly in my mind, remembering the moments; of eating Angel Delight for desert and fried cod roe for breakfast, of the crew member who read his bible every morning and evening, of watching Kim Basinger in The Getaway, of hearing of the boat that pulled up their nets to find a car in them, of hearing of large waves which buckled metal, and of the deaths of loved ones swept overboard.

As one skipper said to me, “the North Sea is a cruel mistress. You love her and want to be with her, but she’s hard.” Ever since those North Sea trips I’ve ventured out on many oceanic assignments, from the North Sea to the Pacific, the Sea of China to the South Atlantic, the Irish Sea to the Southern Ocean. And all the time I remained standing in force 12 storms, stalwart on the bridge looking out the window loving every peak and trough that shuddered the metal of the ship and the bones of my body. And every time I’m there I think back to the Mairead and Argosy, and the hospitality and education those boats and crew gave me. – Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert

 

Aboard the seine netter 'Argosy', on the North Sea, 1995. ©Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert, all rights reserved.
Aboard the seine netter ‘Argosy’, on the North Sea, 1995. ©Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert, all rights reserved.

 

Aboard the seine netter 'Mairead', on the North Sea, 1993. ©Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert, all rights reserved.
Aboard the seine netter ‘Mairead’, on the North Sea, 1993. ©Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert, all rights reserved.

 

Aboard the seine netter 'Argosy', on the North Sea, 1995. ©Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert, all rights reserved.
Aboard the seine netter ‘Argosy’, on the North Sea, 1995. ©Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert, all rights reserved.

 

Aboard the seine netter 'Argosy', on the North Sea, 1995. ©Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert, all rights reserved.
Aboard the seine netter ‘Argosy’, on the North Sea, 1995. ©Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert, all rights reserved.

 

Aboard the seine netter 'Argosy', on the North Sea, 1995. ©Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert, all rights reserved.
Aboard the seine netter ‘Argosy’, on the North Sea, 1995. ©Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert, all rights reserved.

 

With thanks to Ronnie Hughes and the crews of the Mairead and the Argosy.

Some of the above images appear in a new 32-page Café Royal Books publication, North Sea Fishing, published in a limited edition of 150, in October 2015.

 

24 Bobbins to Ballalan

 

24 Bobbins to Ballalan
The Tweed Mills of the Outer Hebrides, by Robin Mitchell.

In the autumn of 2009 I was entering my final year of study for a degree in Documentary Photography at Newport in South Wales. Not long before that I had made my first visit to the Outer Hebrides and I was looking for an excuse to go back. That year the BBC ran a documentary series about the state of the Harris Tweed industry and the role of the tweed mills within the island community. The combination of tradition, craft, industrial turmoil and the wild and beautiful landscape convinced me to travel to Lewis to make work there.

Harris Tweed is a hard-wearing, woven fabric made from sheep’s wool in the Outer Hebrides. The brand is protected by Act of Parliament and in order to be stamped with the famous Harris Tweed Orb trade mark the fabric must be woven at the home of the weaver using a treadle loom without electricity. This much is common knowledge, but the 3 tweed mills on the island of Lewis play a big part in the manufacturing process. They generate the bulk of the orders, wash and dye the wool, make the yarn and send it out to the weavers. The mill vans travel round the island dropping off yarn and collecting in the woven fabric, while workers in the mills darn broken or loose threads and wash, press and package the orders. I wanted to find out more about the work of the mills and the people employed there, but also about the relationship between the mills, the community and the landscape.

 

Sentinel (Carloway, Lewis, 2009), ©Robin MItchell, All rights reserved.
Sentinel (Carloway, Lewis, 2009),  ©Robin Mitchell, All rights reserved.

 

Pens (Rhenigidale, Harris, 2009) Many island crofters lost their land to the sheep during The Clearances of the 18th and 19th Centuries, but wool became indispensible to the local economy with the growth of the tweed industry from 1840 onwards. ©Robin Mitchell, all rights reserved.
Pens (Rhenigidale, Harris, 2009) Many island crofters lost their land to the sheep during The Clearances of the 18th and 19th Centuries, but wool became indispensible to the local economy with the growth of the tweed industry from 1840 onwards. ©Robin Mitchell, all rights reserved.

 

Carding Corridor (Harris Tweed Hebrides, Shawbost, Lewis, 2009), ©Robin MItchell, All rights reserved.
Carding Corridor (Harris Tweed Hebrides, Shawbost, Lewis, 2009), ©Robin Mitchell, All rights reserved.

 

It is a cliché (and a marketing strategy) to say that the colours of the Harris Tweeds reflects the landscapes from which the fabric comes. In the past this was more literally true, when the yarn came from local sheep and the dyes were made by hand from lichen, seaweeds and other plants and minerals found locally. While these practices have changed, there is nonetheless a clear correlation. Each tweed is made from a number of different colours of yarn, but each yarn also contains a minimum of 3 different coloured wools, carefully weighed out and mixed so that each strand is flecked with different colours. Earth colours predominate – greens, browns and greys – but bright yellows and pinks, emeralds and scarlet also find their way in and the possible combination of colours and patterns is limitless. Like the landscape, the tweed reveals more beauty the closer you look.

 

Wool Sacks (Harris Tweed Hebrides, Shawbost, Lewis, 2009) In the past the weavers worked with the wool from their own sheep.  Today the wool is bought in large quantities from the wool market in Bradford.  It is not impossible, however,  that the consignment contains wool from local island sheep. ©Robin Mitchell, all rights reserved.
Wool Sacks (Harris Tweed Hebrides, Shawbost, Lewis, 2009) In the past the weavers worked with the wool from their own sheep. Today the wool is bought in large quantities from the wool market in Bradford. It is not impossible, however, that the consignment contains wool from local island sheep. ©Robin Mitchell, all rights reserved.

 

Dyed in the Wool (Harris Tweed Textiles, Carloway, Lewis, 2009) The mills work with dozens of basic wool shades.  As many as six of these colours may be combined in one yarn.  Donald 'D.K.' Macleod washes the dyed wools at the mill in Carloway. ©Robin Mitchell, all rights reserved.
Dyed in the Wool (Harris Tweed Textiles, Carloway, Lewis, 2009) The mills work with dozens of basic wool shades. As many as six of these colours may be combined in one yarn. Donald ‘D.K.’ Macleod washes the dyed wools at the mill in Carloway. ©Robin Mitchell, all rights reserved.

 

Kelly Jenkins (Harris Tweed Hebrides, Shawbost, Lewis, 2009) Kelly Jenkins' job includes ensuring the right colours and quantities of yarns are sent out with each order.  She works alongside her father, Harris Tweed Hebrides' pattern designer Ken Kennedy. ©Robin Mitchell, all rights reserved.
Kelly Jenkins (Harris Tweed Hebrides, Shawbost, Lewis, 2009) Kelly Jenkins’ job includes ensuring the right colours and quantities of yarns are sent out with each order. She works alongside her father, Harris Tweed Hebrides’ pattern designer Ken Kennedy. ©Robin Mitchell, all rights reserved.

 

24 Bobbins (Harris Tweed Textiles, Carloway, Lewis 2009) Whether the weavers source their own clients or work to order from the mills, they depend on the mills for the supply of coloured yarns.  The yarn for the warp (the strands that run the length of the fabric) is supplied on large spools, or 'beams' while the yarn for the weft (the strands the run across the width of the fabric) is delivered on bobbins. ©Robin Mitchell, all rights reserved.
24 Bobbins (Harris Tweed Textiles, Carloway, Lewis 2009) Whether the weavers source their own clients or work to order from the mills, they depend on the mills for the supply of coloured yarns. The yarn for the warp (the strands that run the length of the fabric) is supplied on large spools, or ‘beams’ while the yarn for the weft (the strands the run across the width of the fabric) is delivered on bobbins. ©Robin Mitchell, all rights reserved.

 

In November and December 2009 I made two trips to the island, staying ten days each time. I stayed in independent hostels and traveled to the two active tweed mills by service bus. I hired a car for a couple of days to travel round and photograph the island, looking for that connection between the rocky landscapes of Harris and the moorlands of Lewis and the tweed that was being created in the loom sheds and mills dotted about the place. The connection was clear, not only in the colours of the fabric but in the lives of the overall-clad workers, many of whom had been fishermen or farmers or weavers and perhaps still were spending part of their year outside, working the land. And while the mills could not be termed ‘family businesses’, many of the people I met were working alongside other family members or working with tweeds created by friends and relatives.

 

Looking to the Loch (Harris Tweed Hebrides, Shawbost, Lewis, 2009, ©Robin MItchell, all rights reserved.
Looking to the Loch (Harris Tweed Hebrides, Shawbost, Lewis, 2009, ©Robin MItchell, all rights reserved.

 

Darning the Tweed 3 (Harris Tweed Hebrides, Shawbost, Lewis, 2009). At Harris Tweed Hebrides the darners sling the tweeds over a bar and run it past a strip light to identify any flaws needing darned. ©Robin Mitchell, all rights reserved.
Darning the Tweed 3 (Harris Tweed Hebrides, Shawbost, Lewis, 2009). At Harris Tweed Hebrides the darners sling the tweeds over a bar and run it past a strip light to identify any flaws needing darned. ©Robin Mitchell, all rights reserved.

 

Clearly a life as a weaver is no easy option – particularly when working with electric looms is not permissible – but the island people take pride in its creation and work hard to retain and build on its reputation and to protect the integrity of the brand that is so important to the island economy. After lean times in the 1970s, 80s and 90s when modern, man-made fabrics seriously threatened the future of the brand, the market for Harris Tweed is growing and diversifying.

During my trips I photographed at the smallest of the mills, Harris Tweed Textiles at Carloway and the newly established Harris Tweed Hebrides at Shawbost. The biggest of the mills, Harris Tweed Scotland in Stornoway was not operating at the time. My thanks to everyone in the mills and to the Harris Tweed Authority for their help with this project.

 

Tweed emerging from the loom. Lewis, 2009. The subtle pattern of the tweed being woven in Alexander Smith's loom shed in Carloway contains a myriad of colours. ©Robin Mitchell, all rights reserved.
Tweed emerging from the loom. Lewis, 2009. The subtle pattern of the tweed being woven in Alexander Smith’s loom shed in Carloway contains a myriad of colours. ©Robin Mitchell, all rights reserved.

 

Machine Pressing at Harris Tweed Hebrides, 2009. At Harris Tweed Hebrides finished tweeds are run through the presses before being packaged up and sent out to clients. ©Robin MItchell, all rights reserved.
Machine Pressing at Harris Tweed Hebrides, 2009. At Harris Tweed Hebrides finished tweeds are run through the presses before being packaged up and sent out to clients. ©Robin Mitchell, all rights reserved.

 

Bus Shelter (Harris Tweed Textiles, Carloway, Lewis, 2009) . The tweed mill at Carloway, on the west side of the island, is some way off the main island route.  While not heavily used, the service bus provides an important link with the rest of the island. ©Robin Mitchell, all rights reserved.
Bus Shelter (Harris Tweed Textiles, Carloway, Lewis, 2009) . The tweed mill at Carloway, on the west side of the island, is some way off the main island route. While not heavily used, the service bus provides an important link with the rest of the island. ©Robin Mitchell, all rights reserved.

 

24 Bobbins to Ballalan
The Tweed Mills of the Outer Hebrides

All photographs © Robin Mitchell 2009
This text © Robin Mitchell 2014

Robin Mitchell’s photography on his website.

Black Gold Tide

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…).

 

Cowboy hat on the St. Clare, Shetland, Scotland. ©Tom Kidd, 2013, all rights reserved.

 

Shetland, Scotland. ©Tom Kidd, 2013, all rights reserved.

 

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.

 

John and Jeanie with pet lamb, North Nesting, Shetland, Scotland. ©Tom Kidd, 2013, all rights reserved.

 

Canteen glances, Shetland, Scotland. ©Tom Kidd, 2013, all rights reserved.

 

In the co-op, Shetland, Scotland. ©Tom Kidd, 2013, all rights reserved.

 

Tying knots, Shetland, Scotland. ©Tom Kidd, 2013, all rights reserved.

 

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- Did the work get exhibited?
TK- Not at the time. The Bonhoga Gallery in Shetland showed some of the pictures about 10 years ago.

 

Shetland, Scotland. ©Tom Kidd, 2013, all rights reserved.

 

Firemen, Shetland, Scotland. ©Tom Kidd, 2013, all rights reserved.

 

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.

Cunningsburgh show, Shetland, Scotland. ©Tom Kidd, 2013, all rights reserved.

 

Shetland, Scotland. ©Tom Kidd, 2013, all rights reserved.

 

Arm wrestling, Shetland, Scotland. ©Tom Kidd, 2013, all rights reserved.

 

Barmaid at Magnus Bay Hotel, friday night, Shetland, Scotland. ©Tom Kidd, 2013, all rights reserved.

 

Trouble in the Jubilee Bar, Lerwick, Shetland, Scotland. ©Tom Kidd, 2013, all rights reserved.

 

All images are of course Copyright © Tom Kidd 1975-2013, all rights reserved. Tom Kidd can be contacted via his Black Gold Tide website page.

Working Way Out West

“I’ve been fortunate to spend much of my working life as a photographer on Scotland’s long and rugged west coast. Often described inaccurately as ‘remote’ (from where?) or a ‘wilderness’ the country’s western fringes have always drawn photographers from across the globe, fascinated by the dramatic scenery, the ever-changing weather and the relationship between land and sea. From Paul Strand to Werner Kissling, photographers have endeavoured to capture the essence of the landscape and the people who live and work way out west. The photographs I have selected here represent a snapshot from many projects and commissions over the last 20 years. Sadly some of those featured are no longer alive, but maybe through the images something of their working lives have been preserved forever.”

Colin McPherson

Crofter Alistair Macleod standing outside his house at Midfield, Melness on the Kyle of Tongue, Sutherland.
Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2012, all rights reserved.
Crofters Alastair Johnston and Ron Wyvill cutting seaweed at Loch Portain on the Outer Hebridean island of North Uist.
Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2012, all rights reserved.
One of the lighthouse keepers on Hyskeir, eight miles from Rum in the Inner Hebrides, checks equipment during the last days before the light was automated by the Northern Lighthouse Board.
Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2012, all rights reserved.
Ferryman Ian ‘Ting’ MacFarlane guides his vessel across the sound from Ellenabeich to the island of Easdale, Argyll.
Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2012, all rights reserved.
Men cutting peat on a Summer’s morning on Lewis.
Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2012, all rights reserved.
Postman John Cormack delivering the mail at Laig Bay on the Hebridean island of Eigg.
Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2012, all rights reserved.
Fisherman John Macgregor, aboard the boat he part-owns named My Amber, hauls a creel onto the ship’s deck, off the west coast near Rona.
Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2012, all rights reserved.
Melness crofter Frank Gordon in his field with his flock of North Country Cheviots, overlooked by Ben Loyal, Sutherland.
Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2012, all rights reserved.
Men cutting peat on a Summer’s morning on Lewis.
Photograph © Colin McPherson, 2012, all rights reserved.

 

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