Tuesday 5 August 2014

The North Uist Solargraph Experiment

Back in March of this year (2014) I took a 4-pack of Guinness, a box of 5 x 7 photographic paper, a pin, some gaffer tape and a few sheets of black card out to the Isle of North Uist in the Outer Hebrides.
The trip itself was something quite amazing during which some rather nasty weather caused a whole series of wonderful events to unfold. Our intended itinerary had to be thrown out as we became stranded on the Isle of Skye waiting for the Uig to Loch Maddy ferry to sail. After two rather wonderful and unexpected days of being holed up in a hostel in Portree, the storm finally broke and we were able to get over to Uist.

Uist seemed to me to be what I would describe as a 'thin' place. A place where the veil between life and death is quite ..well - thin. It is a place where nature encroaches a great deal into the life of the place, a place where ferocious storms can rip your home to pieces and where the mighty Atlantic Ocean can flood into fields and destroy agriculture for years. It is also a place where the power goes off and entire families and flocks of sheep are washed out to sea. It seems to be about 50% water with a road and a few pieces of boggy land leading up to modest mountains dotted with neolithic stones and barrows here and there. But it is also a magical place where the tenuous thread of existence can be seen for what it is.

And so it was that our group sat around playing music, drinking and fashioning 4 pinhole cameras or should I say 'solargraph machines' according to the technique prescribed by Justin Quinnell on his wonderfully informative pinholephotography.org website. These cameras are designed to stay outside for 6 months or more and the images they etch onto the photo paper require no chemical development, you just take them out and scan them - no dark rooms or safelights required for any part of this process.

When my friend Laura who lives on Uist returned them to me in August I found that many of the cans were crushed and deformed, and also leaking with water in them. They had, after all been thrashed by the elements for nearly half a year as they hung bravely on - tethered as they were to various fence posts and boulders.

And so it was with some trepidation that I opened the tins and pulled the sodden photo paper out and onto the scanner. Amazingly there were images there! Ghostly dreamlike things that brought back memories of that strange and magical trip.

Suspension bridge leading to North Uist's very own camera obscura.

Mysterious poly-tunnel appeared sometime after this camera was mounted

Really messed up but I like the little angel lights at the top of this one.

See how the trace of the sun climbs daily higher in the sky during the onset of summer.