I found a derelict cottage on the island of Scalpay and, like many other photographers who travel to the Outer Hebrides, I was drawn to make images of it – but why?
Of course, there are multiple reasons, from pure documentation of the scene through to voyeuristic attempts to spy into someone else’s former life. Personally, I am not a documentary photographer. I am not interested in reporting or politicising the scenes I photograph. My interests lie in evoking stories, capturing the moods and emotions I feel when I am making the image. This places me more towards the voyeuristic and I do certainly feel a frisson of excitement whenever I am privileged to see into such buildings and start to imagine its former occupants. However, that excitement only exists for the duration of my time at the location and the resulting images have little, long term, interest for me.
Considering 3 more images taken of this Scalpay cottage I now realise I can have several different and unconnected motivations for making images at a single time and place.
This first image, below, is of the “voyeuristic” kind. I think I can safely presume others have been into this room since the original owners or tenants departed. I can’t imagine the residents would have left drawers open or a shoe on top of the cupboard. However, the placement of the chair looks as if its former occupant might have just got up and left the room. At the time of making it is this kind of story (albeit, far-fetched) that interests me most. Where have they gone? Did they know they would not return?
This second image is entirely different. It is not about the people who lived there. This photograph is about the loneliness and abandonment of the cottage itself, as if the cottage was sentient and able to look into the distance, to wish for company and a better life.
The third image could be read as a story of decay. Yet, at the time, I saw this as a graphical image of shapes and colours. Is wasn’t about the decay as such but the arrangement of squares and rectangles and blues and reds. I was particularly drawn to the shapes of the tattered curtains echoing the rust of the corrugated steel sheets. It is an image of design, not narrative. Design and form have long been key attractants for my photographic imagination.
So, in the ten minutes I was at this location, I managed to take 4 images, each of which has come from a different motivation and or emotional connection to the subject. I was aware, at the time, of why I took each image but not of the differences in why each was made.
Perhaps, if I was the kind of photographer who knows exactly why they want to photograph at a location, maybe has a plan of what they want to achieve, or even can pre-visualise the final images, I might be more consistent. However, I am not. I arrive at a scene and then I respond to the scene, the conditions and my mood. Consequently, the resulting images are more about me than the subject. I make (landscape) photographs to record my own responses to the time and place. The landscape itself is merely a very good catalyst for my imagination and emotions.