Without realising, I’ve been dashing around Scotland for the last 20 years with my head wedged firmly between my buttocks (too much detail?). I’ve not intended to be blind to the landscape in front of me but rather than look, see and ‘feel’, I’ve rather tended to simply consume. Recently however, I’ve forced myself to explore the Scottish landscape afresh; to put it in a wider perspective; to understand and appreciate it better, or more fully.
SCOTLAND: The Big Picture has a few lofty aims but one is to showcase Scotland like never before. That’s quite an aspiration, bordering on arrogance perhaps. There have been many great photographers before me who could all lay claim to have ‘reinvented’ the Scottish landscape with their cameras. So what’s different now? Well technology is different for one thing. The means by which the landscape can be recorded and then reproduced is at new heights. More importantly however, The Big Picture has a narrative, which is beginning to guide not only what I photograph but how and why.
Against this backdrop I recently spent time in both Torridon and Sutherland, two areas with half a foot halfway through a half sized door leading to a single-track road to Rewilding – the mass restoration of living systems. Sandwood Bay on the northwestern edge of mainland Scotland is a place on this road. Owned by The John Muir Trust, a Scottish charity which champions wild land, this spectacular beach is remote and, in the true sense of the word, wild. It is my hope it will get even wilder in the years to come.
It was pitch black and with sleet hammering on the windscreen, a five-mile trek across open moorland and wet bog was about as appetising as a jobbie sandwich for breakfast. I looked at my long-suffering photographic buddy, Mark Hamblin, and despite our unspoken reservations, we knew that Sandwood Bay wasn’t going to get any closer just thinking about it. We set off with head torches ablaze and after an hour or so, the rain eased as the darkness slowly lifted. The wind continued to howl however, as we arrived at the head of the beach in less than promising light and already longing for comforts that were still many hours away.
I was really only after one shot – the shot that shouted ‘wildness’ at the top of its voice; the shot that captured the quintessence of this remote edge; the shot that just ‘did it’. That shot needed light and it wasn’t until very late in the day that the conditions shaped up. Between continual squalls eliciting endless expletives as I tried to keep the rain off the lens, there was light: sublime light, the light that only north Scotland in winter can deliver.
We shot until there was nothing left. By early evening the sky was a clear, deep blue bereft of cloud and the tide too full to better what we already had. It had been a long day and now, in the dark, we needed to negotiate a tidal outflow, which had kindly filled my boots once already today, and the return walk in driving sleet. Despite the pain and frustration, I was reasonably content in the knowledge that I’d come somewhere close to capturing the rawness of Sandwood at its best: a truly spectacular part of The Big Picture.
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