Weather: It has been a bitterly cold spring – wet and windy. The wind has been extremely cold blowing mostly from the north and east. Just recently we have had the odd day where we have been able to sit out with croissants and coffee – a truly Brexit breakfast! We live in hope for the forthcoming warmer months bringing in some good weather.
It hardly seems possible that we are now at the end of our photographic project ‘In This Day and Age’. When we first arrived in North Uist, on February 19 2019, we had planned a relatively short stay of 4 – 6 months. Things have turned out very differently – and in a completely unexpected way. There have been several world events that have impacted us all since the beginning of this project – Brexit happened, the pandemic and now on 24th February 2022, the invasion of the Ukraine by Russia. The pandemic effected everybody, everywhere and took us all by surprise. It necessitated a complete rethink of our project plans as it became impossible to photograph individuals and even to move around, and we were isolated during the various lockdowns (whilst already being already effectively isolated on the island). The months slowly became years, our housing situation changed, and we eventually, amidst much upheaval, moved twice before settling in a more permanent way in our current Croft house which is located on the edge of a loch.
At this particular moment in history, to be making and thinking about art and photography seems particularly inadequate. Under the shadow of Russia’s imperialism and aggression in Ukraine and the emergence of a new world – order the enormity of our task seems futile, and we can only hope against hope that some kind of sanity might eventually prevail. We all have much re-thinking to do. Meanwhile we do what we are committed to, on a scale and stage that we believe in. We are privileged to work in this unique situation and thank our friends and all of those we have been associated with.
The events of time, however profound do not seem to interfere with inherent character of existence. The herons that fly past at the end of our Croft house, over Loch Blashaval to the nearby woods where they have built their nests, continue to do so.
Every year that we have been here a cuckoo appears, having travelled from North Africa. The cuckoo for us has become the sound of summer chirping its infamous onomatopoeic ‘cuckoo’ at 5am till about 8am – and yes, a very good alarm clock too. The wonderful summer light does provide more energy and early waking has become very pleasurable – with beautiful sunrises streaming through our Loch view windows. There are over 30 seals that sit out on the rocks in the Loch at the back of our Croft. When the weather is good here everybody celebrates. On March 27th, there was this one really warm day – where we even went swimming in the sea. The Lochs, are still a little too cold, except for the very hardy cold water swimmers.
The start of the warmer months in Uist also indicate the lambing season, this is a much talked about , anticipated and very busy time of year here. Already there have been a number of new – born lambs taken by the sea eagles. This has (unbelievably) called for some, including ‘our man in Westminster’ Angus MacNeil MP, to cull their numbers.
Reestablishing Sea Eagles in the Western Isles was a feat of great vision. They have survived and thrived, and are truly a wonder to behold as they go about their lives in the way that they are entitled to do. We consider ourselves most fortunate that they, together with the Golden Eagles continue to grace us with their presence and that the good that they do, far outweighs any difficulties that they might create.
Our crofting neighbour Ian, has been nursing a lamb that was savaged by a dog. In these parts this is a serious offence as sheep are the ‘raison d’etre’ of the majority of crofters and they frequently roam happily unfenced. It is also nice to see them on the roads unhurriedly moving away from the traffic, letting everybody know who is in charge. Even if their eventual fate is that they are destined for the meat trade. Dogs that have been raised in cities occasionally show a previously un – expressed passion for worrying sheep which can sometimes be problematic.
We Believe that the Outer Hebrides are one of the few places in the UK that remain relatively unspoiled and that it is possible, with sensitive management to live in harmony with other creatures and the natural world. This view is not universally shared however, and there are those who wish to exploit whatever resources might be available for short – term financial gain of the most superficial kind. The consideration by the Western Isles Council of its own planning application to develop a Spaceport on North Uist is one such example of insensitive opportunism.
Local elections are currently being held to appoint councilors to represent North Uist. Of the 3 (male) candidates, not one even mentioned in their ‘policy’ statements in the local paper ‘Am Paipear’ the proposed industrialization of their island by developing a Spaceport. Such is local politics on these islands. Long after the ‘owners’ of these places have passed away, our legacy to the next generations will be apparent and they will grieve at the scale of the environmental damage left to them as they try to pick up the pieces. As mere custodians of the world we hold a grave responsibility for its preservation and should not take a wrecking ball to it. Our efforts on behalf of the ‘Friends of Scolpaig’ were focused on considerations for the future and are committed and sincerely meant, regardless of the outcome of the compromised planning procedures, which we await in June.
We have all experienced a change in the ways that events has affected our lives.. It has been an extraordinary time to witness this period in history from our particular vantage point. Our project has spanned the period of time immediately prior to lockdown and developed during the spread of the disease. The Islands were little affected by the first variants of Covid and the mass immunisation process was a logistical feat that was successfully administered in Balinvanich in Benbecula. The latest variation ‘Omicron’ has been far more widespread but thankfully appears to be less dangerous. Only now are the controls are being relaxed, and it would be good to think that we have all moved on. Sadly, the situation regarding hospital waiting times for non Covid patients has been disastrous and this is the inevitable result of years of privatisation and the systematic underfunding and resourcing of the NHS.
At the time of writing we are consolidating the outcomes of our project. A large part of these are reflected in our engagement with the people in this place. This blog has been central to our time here and key to our relationships both within and outwith the Island. We are grateful to all of those who have engaged with our project and to all of those who have participated and supported us throughout. We were proud to have conceived of, and to have developed the international symposium (in partnership with others) ‘Imagining an Island’ that was held at Taigh Chearsabagh in North Uist and shared virtually by many across the World. We are grateful to all of those who contributed.
We have recently contributed to the ‘Sunderland Culture’ blog
and we will be exhibiting our Audio – Visual presentation in the Collection space at the National Glass Centre in Sunderland, opening on the 7th May to the public. Our blog will continue to be available for reference purposes for the indefinite future. On May the 20th at the Northern Gallery of Contemporary Art will present the exhibition ‘Island’. Our framed photographic piece ‘In this DAY and AGE will be a central component of this exhibition, which also comprises work from the Arts Council Collection. This exhibition will run until September 11th.
The book publication ‘In this Day and Age’ with photographs and essay by ourselves together with writings from those individuals that we have made portraits of, and an introduction written by Alistair Robinson will be published by Kerber in Berlin and will be available from around mid June. All of those people represented within our book have become friends and we feel a connection to them. We are grateful to them for their contribution to our project.
We continue to enjoy our time here as do our two cats. Maxwell, who is almost a year old now, can be seen hunkered down and flows, with a sinuous motion like a snake in pursuit of a pair of oyster – catchers on the foreshore. For every inch that he moves towards them they in turn, their beady eyes forever fixed on him, move an inch further away. All are aware of the game in hand. Maxwell has little to apologise for in this respect. Beautiful, elegant siamese Alice, very much a house cat, edges cautiously outside and preens herself on the newly built sunlit path to the rear of the house before lending her presence to the house and gracefully assuming her window seat inside.
Life in the Outer Hebrides goes on…