Thursday, 19 August 2021

Thirty years an adult


Warm wishes to Scotland’s new Makar (National Poet) Kathleen Jamie. A brilliant and timely appointment. 
“Kathleen is a highly accomplished poet who is known for her works in English and Scots, and the meaningful connections her writing draws between our lives and the landscape around us.”  
Nicola Sturgeon, Scottish Poetry Library, August 18th 2021.
Twenty nine years ago, just fresh from graduating, I was commissioned by the Scottish National Portrait Gallery to photograph Kathleen at home in Fife, and later to write a piece to go alongside the portrait in ‘Light From The Darkroom’ at the Royal Scottish Academy. The full piece is re-printed below. It was a treat to photograph Kathleen, over the years since I have grown addicted to her beautiful poetry and exquisite prose. 

Kathleen Jamie :: 1992 

I was nervous of meeting Kathleen Jamie, doubly so as our first scheduled meeting fell through. I got half way to Fife before I turned back as there was still no answer to my phone calls. She phoned later that day to apologise - dinner with friends the night before had spilled over too far into today. Could we arrange another day ? Perhaps this is why she was so generous with her time when we did meet - I spent the best part of a day with her, thankfully as it was only right at the end of the day that I got my picture. When we met, there was a quiet strength and intensity about her that I knew it would difficult to convey in a portrait. I also felt her wariness of me. 
She took me on one of her regular walks, me tagging along burdened with camera bags as she politely answered my questions. She walked every day and I guessed she was slowing her pace for me as I frantically searched for the right place for our picture. Can we try a picture under this tree ... on this bridge ... in the park ... I hoped she couldn't sense the inner turmoil as I struggled to capture something of her on film. I had searched for clues in her work, clipped rhetoric where every line sang with a richness and love of language, but had decided I must go with what I felt when I met her. Now here I was, and I was toiling. I began to worry that she might sense this. She wondered aloud about photographers creating images of 'fey poets ... staring into the middle distance'. I felt warned off. Time for a break. 
After lunch, a roll from the corner shop, lacking any further inspiration, I showed her some of my pictures. I don't know if this changed something, but somehow I felt she let down her guard a bit. She showed me round her home, a Fife High Street house with tiny rooms. Her partner Phil was busy doing some serious renovations, and though the sitting room was furnished, I didn't see any writing desk. She had been evasive when I'd asked earlier where she wrote, but now it seemed that she felt she could trust me enough to let me into her secret. She lowered a trap door and a ladder slipped down. I followed her up to find a tiny space crammed with outdoor walking gear. Half hidden was a tiny door to her room beyond. 
Kathleen explained that the room was empty as she had just packed for a University post in Canada, and I tried to sound casual as I asked if she minded if I went back down for my camera bag. I left all the lighting and medium format gear I had carefully packed and hurried back up the stairs, my heart racing that perhaps I had it this time. I was just in time to catch the intense sheen from the shaft of light creeping through the window of her attic hideaway. The room was so tiny I had to use a wider lens than I would have liked, but I couldn't have hoped for more in the final picture. 
The clues are all in there, the typewriter, the dictionary, the postcard from her travels, but it is the inner strength of her pose, the searching self containment of her expression, the grace of those hands and the unearthly quality of light that make this one of the favourite pictures I've ever taken. For me the picture of Kathleen will always be about the processes of inspiration and creation, and the memories it holds of that whole day struggling to get a picture that only came once I stopped looking so hard.



Friday, 20 November 2020




Now available to pre-order from Another Place Press
Due for release Dec 2020

78 pp / 250 x 200mm
Perfect Bound
Fedrigoni papers:
350gsm Satin cover
170gsm Satin text
120gsm Materica endpapers
Edition TBC
ISBN 978-1-8383119-0-2

Also available as a Special Edition, limited to 30 copies - each with an A4 limited edition inkjet  signed & numbered print 



Tuesday, 17 November 2020

INNER SOUND : Robert Macfarlane

“There's something original and ambitious at work here; a shard-like hard-cutting between image and place and text. Sometimes it's bewildering -- but then that's true of the places Stewart is fascinated by as well. There's a winter-chill to the mountain photographs, and a storm-ferocity to the seascapes, that's born of somewhere between muteness and confusion.”

Robert Macfarlane

Monday, 9 November 2020

INNER SOUND : Alastair MacKay


When I first became aware of the photographs of Iain Stewart, the humanity bled through. Working on editorial jobs, he was quite unlike a news photographer. He was patient, unobtrusive, polite. Doing portraits, he didn’t impose. He illuminated. Iain created a series called Self Portrait, in which celebrities were asked to sketch their own likeness, and were then photographed with the cartoon. This was long before the smartphone selfie. It wasn’t about posing. It was an act of disarmament, and the results were startling. It didn’t matter whether the subject could draw. They were forced to make a decision about how they wanted to be seen. Mostly, the portraits acted as a two-way mirror. It was a playful interrogation, an act of consent. It was fun, not therapy. Though, on at least one occasion, the subject decided that not being seen at all was better than submitting to this casual confession. 
Years later, on a visit to the Photographers’ Gallery in London, I was shown a quite different side to Iain’s work. There, in an imposing folder, were some of his large format landscape photos. Actually, landscape isn’t right. These were seascapes. More accurately, they were horizons, photographed with such coolness and distance that the Earth became abstract; colour scarred by a line. But where were the people?
The lines are messier on Iain’s recent work, the focus less razored, but the photographer’s intentions remain. It may seem like a logical absurdity, but the storm-lashed landscapes of Innersound are as meditative and self-reflective as any self-portrait. There’s a painterly condensation in the images, a mizzle of Turner, a fret of Rothko, and maybe a musical echo or two. You might detect an element of masochism in the deteriorating conditions, as the photographer ventures through inhospitable landscapes to far flung coasts; or you might just accept the metaphorical logic and concede that life gets messy, and that there is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothes. The writer Robert Macfarlane observes: “There’s something original and ambitious at work here; a shard-like hard-cutting between image and place and text. Sometimes it’s bewildering - but then that’s true of the places Stewart is fascinated by as well. There’s a winter-chill to the mountain photographs, and a storm-ferocity to the seascapes, that’s born of somewhere between muteness and confusion.”
If biography helps, the pictures were the result of a painful reflection on the death of Stewart’s father, after a slow retreat into Alzheimer’s disease. As with any act of poetry, the purity of the artist’s intent points to something more universal. Death is the starkest part of that equation, and while there is no diluting its finality, there are comforts to be found in the swells and eddies of the tide, in the life cycles of rain and renewal, and the optimistic sense that a storm endured is a storm defeated. That experience can be savoured and passed on so that the journeys of others may feel less perilous. 
These pictures are storm warnings. But they also follow filmmaker Agnes Varda’s famous formulation. “The tool of every self-portrait is the mirror,” Varda said. “You see yourself in it. Turn it the other way, and you see the world.”

Alastair MacKay
Spring 2020

reproduced by kind permission of Studies In Photography

INNER SOUND - - in the ether

 coming soon...

Sunday, 8 November 2020



 A momentous day as the Scottish National Portrait Gallery re-opens after being closed for almost eight months due to Covid19. 

The opening exhibition is You Are Here | 2020 : Stories, Portraits, Visions

It's Joe!












Breathe the new day, baby, wild and free
As alive and fresh as it used to be
Spring wind blowing straight through the window
And a message tied to the breeze