Research: Documentary Photographers

Follow up from the feedback suggested by Moira, I have started to look further at the suggested points of research through photo journalism and started to think about visual approaches and other potential audiences.

From these, I have focused the examples I found to be the most influential, starting with Sophie Gerrard.

Sophie Gerrard (Scottish, b.1978) is an award winning documentary photographer specialising in contemporary environmental and social issues.

Sophie began her career in environmental sciences before studying photograophy at Edinburgh College of Art and completing an MA Photojournalism and Documentary Photography at The London College of Communication in 2006.

Sophie’s first major project E-Wasteland won a Jerwood Photography Award, a Magenta Award for emerging artists and was exhibited and published widely in the UK and overseas. Since then Sophie has spent a great deal of time working and photographing in India for NGOs, editorial clients and on personal projects.

Currently based in the UK, Sophie’s work has been published by clients including The Telegraph Saturday Magazine, The Guardian Weekend Magazine, The Independent on Sunday, Portfolio Magazine, Foto8, Greenpeace International, Scotland on Sunday and Geographical Magazine. Sophie’s work has been exhibited internationally, and is now held in the Sir Elton John Photography Collection.

Sophie is represented by The Photographers’ Gallery and Eyevine in London.

I then decided to focus upon her first major project, E-wasteland. I hoped this would prove to be a successful starting point in gaining a greater understanding of her approach and purpose for an environmental narrative.

E-wasteland – The growing problem of e-waste in India

“It is vital that we prevent India from becoming the e-waste dustbin for the West”
Vinuta Gopal, Greenpeace India, 2006

20 – 50 million tons of electronic waste, known  as “e-waste” is generated annually worldwide. In Europe and the US, an old computer is thrown away, on average, every 2 years. In the US for every new computer bought, an old one is thrown away.

Each year, thousands of tons of old computers, mobile phones, batteries, cables, old cameras and other e-waste are dumped in landfill or burned. Thousands more are shipped, illegally, from Europe, the UK and the USA to India and other developing countries for ‘recycling’.  Some is sent as scrap, some as charity donations.

India has become one of the world’s largest dumping grounds for e–waste. E-waste is highly toxic. It contains lead, cadmium, mercury, tin, gold, copper, PVC and brominated, chlorinated and phosphorus based flame retardants. Many of these heavy metals and contaminants are extremely harmful to humans as well as to animals and plants.

The Basel Convention, of which the UK and India are signatories, bans the transportation of hazardous or toxic waste from the developed world to developing countries.

This illegal toxic trade is, therefore, in direct violation.

Throughout this body of work, the focus is often directly upon the scale and effect of technological waste and how it pollutes and distorts the surrounding environment. The impact of this is often quite dramatic and truly reinforces the significance of the topic in question.

This is then reinforced further through the perspective people who live and work in these conditions, offering another layer to the narrative and allowing to bring a human element into the overall theme.

The juxtaposition of text and image is very influential to the emotional impact of this body of work, reaffirming the importance of context and research when producing a successful documentary story.

Another consistent element is the use of 8×10 format, an approach adopted by numerous other respectable documentary photographers.

Finally, one aspect of this I felt was visually appealing was the application of colour, the contrast of greens and rusted oranges often creates an uneasy feeling of ill health and corruption which again reaffirms the significant of consumerism and waste production.

Acid pollution, Mandoli, Delhi, India, 2006

Acid is used to soak computer parts in order to recover valuable metals. When the process is over, the used acid is poured onto streets and into rivers and waterways by the yard workers causing pollution on a massive scale.

Mandoli, Delhi, India, 2006

A boy looks out over a pool of polluted water at a pile of discarded circuit boards.

Bangalore, India, 2006

Bangalore is the IT capital of India, and like many of India’s cities, is generating thousands of tons of domestic e-waste every year.

Zayek, 12, Anup Vihar, Delhi, India, 2006

“The fumes are bad at night, sometimes it’s hard to breathe. A girl died here last year, she had asthma, the fumes were so bad, she suffocated. Villagers fight with workshop owners, they’ve been to the police but the police are bribed so nothing changes.”

Maya Puri, Delhi, India, 2006

“Maybe it is a little dangerous, but we’re used to it, I’ve been working with acid for many years.”

The environmental implications of illegal e-waste recycling are severe.  The release of toxic metals into the ground, air and water causes massive damage to human and aquatic life

Acid pollution in the streets, Mandoli, Delhi, India, 2006

“The irony is that these products are created using the most sophisticated, cutting edge, up to the minute technology in the world. Yet their means of diposal is by pre-historic methods.”

My second example is Document Scotland.


Scotland has a long and pioneering tradition in documentary photography, indeed some might argue that we invented the genre.

Set against many of the great historical events of the age, Scotland has a rich tradition of producing outstanding work by a multitude of committed, passionate and skilful photographers. Reflecting society as a whole, Scottish photographers have been part of the great global waves of exploration and emigration which has defined Scottish life over the last two centuries. In addition, Scotland has provided a canvas for many celebrated international photographers who have used the country as a backdrop to make their own work.

It is with this sense of a place and history that we have established Document Scotland. Colin McPherson, Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert, Sophie Gerrard and Stephen McLaren are four Scots-born photographers, each exponents of documentary photography in our own individual ways. We have lived and worked extensively both at home and abroad. Our work has been published in the pages of some of the most important international magazines, we have won numerous awards and exhibited internationally. We are passionate about documentary photography and we are committed to photographing Scotland.

Now, in a sense, Caledonia is calling.

In the period during which all four of us have been working, Scotland has undergone great change. The monolithic industrial age is behind us. We have moved into the realm of devolved Government with a Scottish Parliament established to represent an increasingly diverse and multicultural nation. Photography too has changed, historically photography has always been a means of communicating ideas, now, with vast technological advances, our visual culture can be disseminated instantly and democratically to a globally audience. We are excited to be documentary photographers making work in Scotland at this pivotal and dynamic time.

Scotland today stands at a decisive moment in its history. Events over the next few years will shape how we relate to neighbours and to the wider world. Document Scotland believe that photography can and should play a central part in documenting this epoch. Our aspiration is to make work and engage in a discourse which will form a vital component of the history and conversation of our nation tomorrow. We hope to leave a visual document, a testimony to the extraordinary times we are living in.

The result of this project has proved to be a huge critical success and what I found quite appealing about this in particular was the sheer variation of ideas, opinions, topics, creative approaches and narrative resulted from simple origins.

From this, I started to search the featured portfolio’s for bodies of photographic work that I found to be inspirational aesthetically and/or contextually.

The Last Stand, by Marc Wilson

“Whilst Wilson utilises the language of the landscape photograph, The Last Stand is far removed from the genre in the traditional sense, firmly placing him within a small group of contemporary photographers whose work — whilst landscape in nature — has more in common with that of the documentary photographer.” –Wayne Ford, former art director of The Observer’s award winning colour magazine & Design Director of Haymarket Business Media.

“Since 2010 I have been photographing the images that make up The Last Stand, that aims to reflect the histories, stories and memories of military conflict.
The series is currently made up of 43 images and is documenting some of the physical remnants of the Second World War on the coastlines of the British Isles and northern Europe, focusing on military defence structures that remain and their place in the shifting landscape that surrounds them.” – Marc Wilson, photographer.

Findhorn, Moray, Scotland, 2011. ©Marc Wilson 2011, all rights reserved. In 1943 four Norwegian sailors working at the nearby shipyard drowned in Findhorn Bay. Part of the Norwegian resistance, they were members of the ‘Shetland Bus’- a Special Operations group. Using volunteer Norwegian crews it ferried agents and equipment from the Shetland Islands into Nazi-occupied Norway, maintaining contact with resistance groups.

Loch Ewe, North West Highlands, Scotland, 2012. ©Marc Wilson 2012, all rights reserved. A secret naval base, from 1942 Loch Ewe also became an assembly point for the Arctic convoys that carried vital supplies and munitions to the USSR. Over 3,000 seamen serving on these convoys, which were attacked by enemy submarines and aircraft, lost their lives in the icy waters and raging storms.

Document Scotland – Can you tell us Marc, how your Last Stand project began? From where did your initial interest come?
Marc Wilson – The roots of the project lie in a piece of work I made about 8 years ago. Called ‘Abandoned’ it was my attempt to look at locations that had a cultural, social or historical significance that had now been abandoned. I’m not certain I was quite ready to embark on what could have been a project of huge scale and ended up feeling a bit limited, producing a set of just 18 images. Within those were some locations of military significance, and then just over three years ago, looking back at this previous work, I realised the importance of this subject matter and started to look into it in further detail, and out of these thoughts came The Last Stand.

DS – Do you have a deep interest in World War 2 history, or of the architecture of war?
MW – When I began the work no not at all. I had no specific interest in military history as such, but it was more the emotions, histories and stories that these locations could contain that drew me in. Like many though I do have a family connection with the war, with one of my family being lost whilst flying with the RAF over the Scottish borders.

DS – We see from your folio of Last Stand images that you’ve been photographing in many locations, can you tell us where and how you choose
which to visit? How many have locations have you visited so far, and how many more do you envisage visiting and photographing? Are they easily
MW – Perhaps I can answer this and the next question together if that is ok? I am not working using any particular methodological approach as for me the work is not necessarily about specific structure types as such but more about the emotions and memories that these structures and surrounding landscapes contain. It is the stories and histories that I wish to convey. So although the locations do have some very specific histories, which I am having researched, and make fascinating reading, the locations and therefore images can be seen as representational for the many other defences around these coastlines.
So far I have visited over 100 locations to make up the current set of 43 images, travelling over 11,000 miles. In terms of what I hope to still visit and photograph there are approximately 32 locations based around the coasts of The Northern Isles, Norway, Denmark and The west coast of France, as well as 3 still to photograph in England and Wales.

DS – Is there even a database listing these locations and defences? How difficult are they to research and how much of your time is spent on this as opposed to on the road photographing?
MW – there are various onlie resources which I have tried to make use of for location research which have of course been really helpful as starting points but for many of the places visited it can not be until I see the locations, made up of both object and landscape, to decide wether it is right for the work. The in-depth research, which I am very lucky to be having done for me, is undertaken only once I know an image has made the final edit into the main body of work. In fact my researcher spoke to me today telling me she had started the overall research into Norway and Denmark and was already unearthing fascinating and incredibly moving histories.

DS – You’ve been working on The Last Stand for a while now, is the end in sight? Or perhaps now that some of these structures are crumbling with age and the passing of time, or as happened in France recently when a structure was dismantled and removed, how long do you think you have left in order to complete your aims and project?
MW – Yes and no…I am hoping to complete my work on The Last Stand in Northern Europe over the next six months but this is dependant on funding.
There is then talk of me photographing the work in another region but this is just under initial discussion at the moment so… After that, whilst I can see the work being made in other continents I would have to see if the ‘need’ for the work is there first in these regions. Whilst the idea of having a ‘decade long’ project to work on is quite enticing there are other factors to consider! How much time I have to complete the work I just can’t tell. The natural process of coastal erosion works at one speed, the influence of man at another. With the recent events in Wissant I do certainly feel a sense of urgency to continue and complete the work and would love to be able to set off tomorrow and come back in 3 months with the complete body…but of course practical considerations come into play…light, weather, commercial commitments, funding, famly, etc, etc (those were in no particular order of course!)

DS – The images we show here are all from the Scottish coastline, are there many such locations in Scotland? Have you photographed them all or will you be back to shoot more here?
MW – Ah there are countless more defences dotted around the coastline but as I mentioned before my aim is not to catalogue them all. That said I will be adding to the 7 Scottish locations that currently form part of the body of work (I visited about 15 to get these 7 images) and do still need to photograph in locations on both Orkney and Shetland and with funding aim to be doing so in the next 2 to 3 months.

Lossiemouth, Moray, Scotland, 2011. © Marc Wilson 2011, all rights reserved. During 1938, German aircraft were seen photographing the north-east coast of Scotland, believing its sandy beaches and good communications would make it ideal for invasion. By 1940 a series of defences along the Moray coastline were constructed to slow down a beach landing and possible invasion from Norway.

DS – There is quite a haunted, quiet and subdued feel to the images. All of them show only the landscape, and the structures, with no people, no other tangible signs of humans. Can you explain your reason for photographing them as such? Are you spending a while at each location photographing them extensively, or are you quite selective on your viewpoint and how many sheets of 5×4 film you expose? What are your thoughts whilst in the
locations, apart from watching the light, and taking your exposure readings?
MW – The images are to me very much about the memories and stories of these structures and landscapes. They are about the histories of 70 years ago
and also the intervening years in terms of the shifting and changing landscape. To me the images are in effect full to the brim with the signs of
human life but in what is left, what has happened and just as importantly what is missing. The histories are so full of emotion and of course huge and frightening loss of life that I have to photograph these locations in this subdued and I hope subtle manner. There is, to me, no need for any added ‘glamour’ to these locations and histories. My images are there, I hope, to allow the viewer to reflect on these pasts and present locations, and take these stories away with them to dwell on. In terms of the process, these sites demand the considered approach so I try to shoot either one of two viewpoints only, after spending some time walking around and amongst a site, often just the single sheet of film. Some locations do though have more than one structure that I choose to photograph. My thoughts are very much split into pre and post exposure. Pre exposure it is all about the set up, the light, the consideration of the visual, the waiting for the perfect combination of light, tides and feeling and then after the shutter is released, and the darkslide removed from the camera and put safely away into my bag, then the stories I know of these locations start to flood into me…so I’m usually a mixture of being excited about the image but feeling quite, for want of a better word, reflective about the subject….and, in some cases, the thousands of lives lost at these locations.

DS – The Last Stand has quite a list of exhibitions planned, can we look forward to the work being shown in Scotland? Is there a book planned for the work?
MW – The work is currently on show near Portsmouth and yes, after further shows in London and Leeds the work heads to Scotland for an exhibition at
Peacock Visual Arts in Aberdeen next year. I am also hoping to exhibit the work at more venues of course. A book of the work has always been one of my aims and I am meeting with a couple of publishers next month to discuss what can be done so yes, I am hopeful that a book will be made of the work…but like most things in the creative world…until it’s in print…

DS – Some of the work shot so far was financed by crowd funding we believe, and at the moment you’re in the midst of a second round of crowd funding in order to help you complete the next stage of the photography, how is that going? What have you learnt from crowd funding in relation to working on a large project, does the interaction with the supporters change how you approach the project, or the work? Are there limitations placed upon you, or is it the opposite, are your freed up and encouraged, by accepting funding from supporters?
MW – Yes the current crowdfunding campaign is running on Emphasis. Having the financial backing that a crowdfunding campaign can in theory bring
is the only way to produce a project such as this in a realistic time scale. The production costs of the shooting stage alone for this second stage are over £4000 so the help is needed. For me the interaction you get with your backers and supporters can only be a good thing. People back a project not so they can form and control it but because they believe in it as it is and want to see it made, and be a part of that. So the backing places no limitations but in fact provides the opposite, the means with which to make a work. As well as this of course it is immensely encouraging and each backer and supporter allows me to believe in the work more each day. You are building your core audience.
The campaign has just over 10 days to run and is currently just over $4000 towards it’s target of $6738. It’s a 100% or nothing campaign so unless it reaches the full amount needed to make the work, all contributions are returned, I receive nothing and the potential investment is lost…and that may have to be the end of the road for The Last Stand…so I dearly hope it does not fall short…it’s odd but a $10 contribution can in effect make the difference between over $6500 of investment and nothing!

DS – Thank you Marc from graciously allowing us to show your work, and for taking the time to let answer questions giving us more insight into your project and working ways. It’s much appreciated.  (A crowd funding campaign for Marc Wilson’s The Last Stand is currently running on to gather funding for the second stage of this work. Please visit this link to view the video about the project, see rewards available and help Marc complete this important work.)

Lossiemouth, Moray, Scotland, 2011. ©Marc Wilson 2011, all rights reserved. Some defences were constructed by a Polish Army Engineer Corps stationed in Scotland: ‘First we used wood to make the mould for the large concrete blocks, then a combination of corrugated iron and wood…mixing the concrete with a shovel…’. Once construction finished, many Polish troops remained to man the guns.

The following is an extract from the research by Marc for his project:

“In the summer of 1940, in order to obstruct German troops in the event of a possible invasion from Norway, a line of defences was constructed in the north-east of Scotland along the Moray coast, between Cullen Bay and Findhorn Bay. The defences went through the Lossie and Roseisle Forests.

Concrete anti-tank blocks ran the full length of this part of the coast; square and hexagonal shaped pillboxes zigzagged in a line. The long-range guns stationed at the coastal battery protected Lossiemouth from attack by sea.

In 1941, two men recruited by the German Military Intelligence (Abwehr) in Norway, were flown across the North Sea in a Luftwaffe flying boat, which landed in the Moray Firth. They rowed ashore in a rubber dinghy and after reaching the shore gave themselves up to the authorities, as German spies.

They were John Moe and Tor Glad. They had joined the Abwehr in order to reach Britain and to make contact with the Norwegian forces in exile. Recruited by MI5, they became double-agents, under the code name Mutt and Jeff, and were involved in numerous deception schemes, passing misleading information to the German Intelligence about invasion preparations during the build-up for the Normandy landings. One of them, Operation Fortitude North, was intended to mislead the Germans into expecting an invasion of Norway from Scotland. A fictitious army – the British Fourth Army- had been created, with its headquarters in Edinburgh Castle.

Roseisle Beach, which stretches six miles along the Moray Firth from Findhorn to Burghead, was used- among other coastal locations- by US and Canadian military, for training for the D-Day landings in June 1944. During the training, 8 amphibious Valentine tanks sank, despite their having been built for their ability to land on beaches from landing craft offshore.

On Easter Sunday 1943, four Norwegian sailors, billeted at Burghead and working at the shipyard at Buckie, drowned in Findhorn Bay, where they had gone to retrieve an old boat. The four sailors, who were working for the Norwegian resistance, were members of the ‘Shetland Bus’- the name given to a clandestine Special Operations group which, using volunteer Norwegian crews, ferried agents and equipment from the Shetland Islands, north of the Scottish mainland, into Nazi-occupied Norway, helping to maintain contact with resistance groups.

The ‘Shetland Bus’ was originally operated by a large number of small converted fishing boats, armed with light machine guns concealed inside fish-barrels on deck. The crossings, mostly made during the winter under the cover of darkness when daylight was very short, were under constant threat from German aircraft and patrol boats. Several fishing boats were lost during the early operations, but when, later, fast and well-armed American-built submarine-chasers were added, no more were lost.

On the return trip from Norway, the Shetland Bus boats also evacuated civilians who were facing arrest by the occupying Germans.

After Dunkirk in June 1940, in order to keep fighting and to harass the enemy in occupied Europe, Winston Churchill had ordered that a special force should be trained for raids and sabotage missions on enemy-occupied territory. With its rugged mountain terrain, its sea lochs and its challenging weather, the Scottish Highlands played an important role in the development of commandos. Remote properties were turned into special training centres. One of these, the Commando Basic Training Centre, was at Achnacarry where, as well as British commandos, others, including American, French, Belgian, Dutch, Norwegian, Polish and Jewish refugees from Germany were trained.

One iconic Scottish commando commander was Lord Lovat- whose No 4 Commando had taken part in the Dieppe Raid in 1942. His first mission, in 1941, had been the successful Lofoten Island raid, off the Norwegian coast, just north of the Article Circle.

In 1944, as commander of 1 Commando Brigade on D-Day, he marched onto Sword Beach with his personal piper, Billy Millin ‘the Mad Piper’, at his elbow, who played, under heavy gunfire, ‘Highland Laddie’, then ‘The Road to the Isles’.

Playing bagpipes into battle had been banned during the Second World War because of the high casualty-rate suffered by pipers during the First World War. But Lovat ignored the order from the War Office in London. “You and I are both Scots”, he said, “so that doesn’t apply!”. – Marc Wilson.

Newburgh, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, 2012. ©Marc Wilson 2012, all rights reserved. In Newburgh cemetery is the grave of GA Mitchell, the region’s Chief Royal Engineer. A veteran of the First World War, in 1940 Mitchell was made responsible for the coastal defences in north-east Scotland. Within a few months he organised the construction of beach defences including concrete anti-tanks blocks.

Newburgh, Aberdeenshire, Scotland 2012. ©Marc Wilson 2012, all rights reserved. In Newburgh cemetery is the grave of GA Mitchell, the region’s Chief Royal Engineer. A veteran of the First World War, in 1940 Mitchell was made responsible for the coastal defences in north-east Scotland. Within a few months he organised the construction of beach defences including concrete anti-tanks blocks, pillboxes, observation towers and large, tubular-steel scaffolding poles, as well as barbed-wire entanglements, mine-fields and gun-emplacements. The entire local population was asked to help with anti-invasion preparations.  Long, wooden poles prevented enemy gliders from landing behind defence lines.

North Ronaldsay

On a brilliantly bright, icy cold, winter Sunday afternoon recently I caught up with Giulietta Verdon Roe over coffee and cake.

I knew that Giulietta had made several visits to the remote Scottish island of North Ronaldsay over a number of years to create a documentary photographic project of the population and character of the island. I was really interested to hear how her photographic project As You Are had begun and why, and what it had been like making the work. The relationships she established with the island inhabitants over time culminated in a body of work which has been exhibited in numerous locations in the UK including The Manse House on the island itself. In an ex-Royal Mail van, Giulietta drove the exhibition from London to Orkney and, due to a storm preventing the ferry taking her work to the island from the mainland, had to freight plane the entire show to the island.

With freezing hands that afternoon we looked through her box of prints and chatted about what had attracted her to the project in the first place.

John O ‘ Westness, The only fisherman on North Ronaldsay, doesn’t have a working boat, Bay of Ryasgeo, North Ronaldsay.
Photograph © Giulietta Verdon-Roe 2008 all rights reserved.

GVR: “I’d been living and working in New York for three years and in 2007 I found myself unexpectedly back in the UK. Maps have always fascinated me, I’ve always been drawn to the romance of of far away places and after living in NYC I’d found myself looking, this time, to those out of the way places which were a little closer to home.

It appealed to me that for this project I would be constrained to a specific location when making the work. I began researching remote places in the UK, and my attention was drawn again and again to Orkney and to North Ronaldsay in particular. Being the furthest most northernly island in the UK, it was its isolation which first fascinated me, that and the fact that it is home to both to the tallest land based lighthouse in the UK and had unique seaweed eating sheep. I bought a tent and booked my flight.

In 2008 I set off. Arriving on the island alone, I didn’t know what to expect.  the first thing that struck me was that island life is utterly dependent on the weather. By the time I’d pitched my tent that first night in North Ronaldsay in September it was cold, windy and dark and I was wondering what on earth I was doing.

I’d romanticised the idea perhaps, an island adventure, far away. My photographic process took quite a few days to begin, and it was almost 2 weeks before I made any pictures, I was interested in the stories and so I walked, and I met people and I talked to them, eventually borrowing an old bike to get around.

The conversations were what came first, with the photographs coming relatively late in the process. I was interested in understanding the everyday life of the island, of understanding how things worked there, I wanted to explore the past, present and future of the island and its community. The locals were used to ornithologists visiting, but not so used to people like me, someone who wanted to know about them and the land. It took time for a mutual understanding and confidence to start to become established.”

GVR “The entire island is dependent on the weather, wholly. Island life is all about the weather. You are at the mercy of it. I felt very aware of my size in relation to the elements, the vulnerability of everything. I felt that I couldn’t make portraits without shooting the elements. The people are so much part of the landscape, I didn’t want to photograph the people without photographing the land.”

Jennie O’ Scottigar, The oldest lady on the island when this was taken, bringing in her washing, North Ronaldsay.
Photograph © Giulietta Verdon-Roe 2010 all rights reserved.

GVR “One interesting aspect of community life on North Ronaldsay is that people adopt the names of their homes as their family names. Jenny’s house was O’Scottigar, and then that became her second name. We spent a lot of time talking, We talked about the war, she remembers walking to school with her gas mask on. She was born on the island.”

Point of Twingness, Seaweed eating sheep, North Ronaldsay.
Photograph © Giulietta Verdon-Roe 2010 all rights reserved.

GVR “The seaweed eating sheep are unique to North Ronaldsay, they are kept out to shore by a 12 mile long dry stone dyke that surrounds the island. There are about 3000 of them and they’re quite beautiful creatures, nearly everyone has sheep. Twice a year, there is an event that I have yet to see, it’s called Punding. The whole community help round up the sheep into pens.”

(Heather O’ Twingness), Nouster Bay, North Ronaldsay.
Photograph © Giulietta Verdon-Roe 2010 all rights reserved.

GVR “Heather was the youngest female on the island when I photographed her in 2010. She is the daughter of the island doctor and the owner of the islands Bird Observatory. Heather commutes to mainland Orkney to go to school.”

The population of North Ronaldsay when I first arrived in 2008 was 63, just 2 years later in 2010 when I re-visited the project the population had dropped to 50. In a small community like this, this was a big change and the school was left temporarily without any children to teach despite being kept open. The orkney island council built two new houses on the island in response to the situation and launched a promotion to select two new families to move to the island, which was a great boost to the community and resulted in putting children back into the school.”

The Manse, North Ronaldsay, 2010.

“I exhibited the ‘As You Are’ exhibition in this house in 2010. At that time it was un-lived in and had been empty for 40 years, but since then the islands school teacher has moved in and there is now new life in the building, it’s been brought back into habitation again. There’s been so much change. It’s also an important place for me as the exhibition was shown here. By seeing the exhibition, I’d hoped the islanders could really understand the project. It’s one thing to see the work online or as small images but to see yourself in a 30″x30″ print is a very different thing.”

Jimmie O’Lochend on his roof of Lochend, fixing his chimney. North Ronaldsay.
Photograph © Giulietta Verdon-Roe 2010 all rights reserved.

Gavin O’Twingness). The youngest islander when this was taken, in a bird catching cage in order to ring and monitor birds.
He has just put out some North Ronadlsay Mutton Bones down to attract the birds.
Photograph © Giulietta Verdon-Roe 2010 all rights reserved.

Lighthouse and Moon, the UK’s Tallest Land Based Lighthouse. North Ronaldsay.
Photograph © Giulietta Verdon-Roe 2008 all rights reserved.

Jen in the Wool Mill processing some of the islands native sheep wool. Many islanders have multiple jobs, Jen worked at the Bird Observatory, was an ornithologist and also work part-time at the islands yarn mill. North Ronaldsay.
Photograph © Giulietta Verdon-Roe 2010 all rights reserved.

Byre, North Ronaldsay, 2010. A native North Ronaldsay sheep whose lamb has died ‘not taking’ to a non-native orphaned lamb. North Ronaldsay.
Photograph © Giulietta Verdon-Roe 2010 all rights reserved.

GVR: “Whenever I met people they would always ask where I wanted to take their portrait and if they should get dressed up or how they should be posed. So in a way the project named itself as I always explained I want to photograph you the way you are, just as you are.

I loved working in Scotland, it really became a huge part of my life and one that was important to me. It has meant that I have gone on to do other projects in other areas of Scotland and I am also planning future ones too. I now for example cannot watch a weather forecast without looking at Orkney. Just as the environment is so wild and changeable, so can my feelings and emotions be when I am there. Sometimes I loved it, and sometimes I just couldn’t place what on earth I was doing, but more importantly I’ve been left with a powerful relationship with the area.”

My next example is Alicia Bruce.


Alicia Bruce, Arthur’s Seat by Andrew Rafferty

Alicia Bruce’s award winning photographs have been presented on an international platform and won several artists’ residencies and bursaries. Her images have featured in national press including The TimesThe Scotsman, and STV News, and are represented in several public and private collections including the National Galleries of Scotland photography collection.

Her commercial portfolio features an impressive list of high profile clients including the National Galleries of Scotland and Cashback for Creativity.

“Alicia Bruce’s photographic practice comprises compassionate, figurative compositions based on well-known works of art. Often the source paintings or sculptures which she uses can be found in local collections. By photographically recasting and artistically reinterpreting such work, Bruce brings the history of art into the present. In doing so, her scenes offer a contemporary socio-political dimension.

In the history of photography, one can find others who have worked with such visual intertextuality (for instance Cindy Sherman and Dina Goldstein), but Bruce’s work functions in a distinctly Scottish context. The overall aesthetic seems more reminiscent of the work of William Eggleston with its intense colour and matt finish. Bruce believes in her medium as craft – she firmly subscribes to tangible film and print and prefers her work to be accessed in person. Close-up, the work is strikingly hyper-realistic with its sharp attention to detail. At large, they are powerful, transformative texts which employ strategies of of quotation to make pertinent statements about society. Alicia Bruce captures those subtle flickers of idiosyncrasy which make for truly individual portraits.”

– Catriona McAra (University of Glasgow)

From this, I then highlighted a series of her work which I found to be significant and defined within its narrative structure. Overall, although the series itself is reasonably simplistic in its choice of framing and subject matter, the subtle nuances act as a reminder of the conflict between humanities desire for growth and its desire to preserve and protect land.

Menie: Trumped

An ongoing series which began in 2010 documenting the controversial destruction of the landscape of Menie, an area of outstanding natural beauty on the Aberdeenshire coast. The landscape and the locals have gained international attention as the area is ‘Trumped’ to create what is claimed by Donald Trump, to be ‘The World’s Greatest Golf Course’. Menie was previously renowned for it’s dynamic dune system. The area has now lost it’s accreditation as an SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest). It has become an area of conflict. The locals have fought back. The Trump organisation have offended the First Minister. Will nature fight back too?

To conclude, I have found this area of research to be very productive in generating visual ideas and approaches to documentary photo stories, especially when considering the visual dynamic and dialogue of environments (and possibly characters) that shape contemporary visual culture.


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