Shetland December 2014

After rather too long a gap, I did finally get to spend a little bit of time taking pictures on Shetland before the Christmas holidays kicked in.

As you might expect at this time of year Shetland provided every sort of weather.

From snow at the start of the week, just enough to make the wee roads slithery.

Snow at Hays Dock, Lerwick

Big waves mid-week, big enough to make the bays look interesting but not enough to scare the planes.

Sunshine and Waves at Scat Ness
Waves breaking over Runway 09 at Sumburgh Airport
And lots of heavy rain showers later in the week, with the added bonus of lots of rainbows (even some doubles)

Waves and Rainbows - Quendale Bay
Shetland also provided not-much in the way of daylight.  In late December, on Shetland, sunrise is a bit after 9:00 AM, and sunset a bit before 3:00 PM.  Fitting in a morning walk and an afternoon walk (with lunch in between) becomes a bit of a challenge particularly if you’re trying to avoid wandering back along the beach in the afternoon darkness.  One of the bonuses is that in lighting terms (at least between 9 and 3, between the showers), it's always the 'golden hour', the sun never gets far above the horizon so the sunlight is always at a lovely low angle.

Low sunlight on Ocean Endeavour - Victoria Pier, Lerwick
The weather did do a bit to add some variety to the travel schedules.  On a couple of days the north-bound boat from Aberdeen only made it as far as Orkney, and some big thunderstorms (combined with snow – makes the lightning flashes even more dramatic) made landings at Sumburgh Airport a little bit entertaining.  My arriving plane did the fairly normal for Shetland (but still slightly unsettling) sideways approach down the runway, before turning straight just before touchdown to the accompaniment of lightning flashes.  Another plane coming in from Aberdeen was hit by lighting as it approached Sumburgh, and opted to turn round and head back to Aberdeen rather than trying again. This year at least the disruption to the boats wasn’t enough to force the supermarkets to charter cargo flights to provide emergency sprouts and turkeys for the folks of Shetland as has happened in the past.

The one climate-enabled spectacle that didn't put in an appearance while I was there were the Merrie Dancers (the Northern Lights). They did appear 24 hours after I left – maybe I’ll get to see them next month.

There are a few more pictures from this visit to Shetland on Flickr.

What's the Back Story?

One of the talks I give is a 'lottery lecture'.  I ask members of the audience to pick a tag from a bag which corresponds to one of the photographs I have with me.  I then spend a few minutes talking about the image they have picked, and particularly telling the back story of the picture.  In some cases it's about the subject of the picture, or what was involved in taking the picture or getting to the location. In other cases it's about the geography or history of the place, or (given that many of my images are from cold remote places) how those places are changing as the climate changes.

On lots of occasions these back stories are what people seem to take away from the presentation - and the stories do regularly provoke interesting questions and discussions.  One of the reasons that I am so enthusiastic about this sort of presentation is probably related to the fact that the backstory is what I look for when I'm looking at someone else's pictures.

Over the last few days I've had the chance to look at two parts of a fantastic exhibition of the work of Don McCullin, best known as a war photographer.  Before I go any further, I'm absolutely not putting myself anywhere near this league of photographer.  However, as I looked around the images on show in Fallen, I did start to wonder what the back story was to some of the images, and particularly some of the people in the images that McCullin had taken. I found it nearly impossible not to try and speculate about what had happened to the shell-shocked US soldiers in Vietnam or to the Cypriot villagers in the 1960s or (closer to home) the stone-throwing kids in Londonderry/Derry in the early 1970s.   Perhaps that's the power of a really strong people-picture.  It makes you think about what happened to the people both before and after the moment when the shutter was pressed.

If you happen to be on Shetland anytime before 22 February, do find time to get to either the Museum in Lerwick and/or the Bonhoga Gallery at Weisdale where the two parts of the exhibition Fallen are on show.  There's a huge amount to think about.

At the moment I'm trying capture the backstories that go with some of the images I've taken over the last five years. It won't be finished for this Christmas, but it might make it into print for next year.

If you'd like to invite me to give one of my 'Lottery Lectures', do get in touch

Still too Soon?

Oxford - 19th December a few years ago.
So when does Christmas start?

The retailers seem to think it’s shortly after the August Bank Holiday.  In any case, the shops and streets are dripping with Festival Cheer™ from far too early, and I have serious doubts about the ability of even the most heavily genetically-modified pine tree to retain its needles from 1st of December until the 25th.

I know  (my other half has told me)  that throughout December it’s really Advent, which is why we have those calendars with 24 little fragments of chocolate, and that Christmas really starts on the 25th. And I do thoroughly approve of the Danish tradition of putting up the Christmas tree on the 24th and celebrating from then.

However, the reality is that in the UK if you try and wait until the 24th to do the Christmas stuff, there won’t be a tree, mince pie or Brussels sprout  to be found anywhere.  So my suggestion is that we adopt another Scandinavian model  - the Icelandic one – and salute the arrival of the Yule Lads as our Heralds of Christmas.  They start to turn up on 12th December, which seems like a decent compromise.

Until then you can take your Christmas cards and Festive Cheer™ - and stick them up a chimney somewhere.

Humbug. But only until the 12th when I'll be happy to welcome Stekkjarstaur and his pals.