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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, more commonly known as the Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid, embarked on a journey 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 wife Valda and his son Michael moved into an abandoned fisherman’s cottage at Sodom. Over time he began to feel cut off by the geographical isolation of Whalsay, and 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 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 On a raised beach, which is 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 wide 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. Inspired by MacDiarmid’s time in Shetland, I traveled to Whalsay where I stayed alone in a small, isolated cabin. From their I visited MacDiarmid’s now abandoned cottage, before making a circular walk around the island photographing those that I met along the way. The resulting series explores the places that influenced MacDiramid’s Shetland writing, but is also a response to aloneness, and the clarity that can found amidst vast landscapes.