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FAR FROM THE CENTRE OF THINGS

"I was better with the sounds of the sea, than with the voices of men, and in desolate and desert places, I found myself again. For the whole of the world came from these, and he who returns to the source, may gauge the worth of the outcome, and approve and perhaps reinforce, or disapprove and perhaps change its course"

Hugh MacDiarmid, from The Stony Limits and other poems Volume

 

In 1933 Christopher Grieve (known as the Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid) embarked on a journey north from London to the Shetland Islands. Arriving first into Lerwick and then heading to the northeast island of Whalsay, MacDiarmid was on a journey of recovery, after several years of personal and professional disappointment.

MacDiarmid, his second wife Valda and his son Michael moved into an abandoned fisherman’s cottage at Sodom. Over time, due to his inability to find work and his struggle to connect with the local community, MacDiarmid increasingly drew into himself. Feeling cut off by the geographical isolation of Whalsay, he would spend months on end walking alone around the island. During the 9 years MacDiarmid spent on Whalsay, despite an unstable mental state and living in near poverty, he managed to write more than half of his entire life’s work. Inspired by the isolation he felt on the island, just 5 miles long and 2 miles wide, MacDiarmid wrote the volume Stony Limits and other Poems, containing one of his most revered poems On a raised beach, said to have been composed whilst spending the night observing the stars on the uninhabited island of West Linga. Most of what he wrote during his Shetland years was driven by his experience of his surroundings, the relentless North Sea, stony beaches, treeless views and vast open skies. Whalsay became the centre of his imaginative universe and his writing reveals the introspections of a solitary man contemplating his place in the world.

In 2018, 6 photographers from the MAP6 collective spent 6 days exploring the Shetland islands. During the visit I made photographs that were Inspired by MacDiarmid’s time in Shetland, and the resulting series is a depiction of my journey north to the remote archipelago. The narrative follows in the footsteps of MacDiarmid’s journey, heading first to Lerwick, then to his cottage on Whalsay, before tracing a circular path around the island on foot. The series is an exploration of the places that inspired MacDiramid’s Shetland writing, but is also intended to be a response to aloneness, and the clarity that can found when contemplating vast, sublime landscapes.