A survey of the rich photographic history of Orkney - asking the question 'did photographers see what they wanted to see?'

Orkney is a place rich in photographic history, not only is there a wealth of Orkney based photographers stretching back to the early days of photography, and a remarkable photographic archive held at Orkney Library & Archive, many well-known photographers have come to the islands to make work.

Magnum photographers have been here: Eve Arnold came in the 1970’s, Fay Godwin visited several times and her Orkney work appears in her books, Martin Parr's Orkney photographs formed part of his recent 'Think of Scotland' series, Elliot Erwitt, known for his New York street images, swapped urban for rural when in Orkney on assignment for Macallan Whisky.

What did these world travelled photographers see when they came to Orkney? This talk will ask if they saw what they wanted to see. Marr explains, ‘the camera as a machine cannot make aesthetic judgements, it cannot decide where to point the lens or when to fire the shutter, photographs are seen in the mind first, then through the lens. We ‘see’ a photograph then lift the camera to make the photograph. In this way these remarkable artists have responded to the Orkney that speaks to them - Elliot Erwitt is drawn to the humour of a mock wedding in Harray, Martin Parr sees the punchy colourful possibilities of the Agricultural Shows, and Fay Godwin stands at the edge of land and sea.’

Is there a particular affinity between Orkney and photography Marr wonders. Gunnie Moberg fully turned her artistic intentions to photography after arriving in Orkney, ‘it was like she was hungrily devouring what she saw, processing it through the lens’ says Rebecca, who worked with the Gunnie Moberg Archive. ‘Her book ‘Stone Built’ book remains one of my favourite photography books.

Gunnie Moberg sits in a trajectory of photographers from, or settling in, Orkney. Perhaps the one most familiar in Orkney is Tom Kent. Marr intends to show some of the less well know Tom Kent images and underline his important contribution.

Two other books that have influenced Rebecca will feature in the talk. Chick Chalmers 1979 ‘Life in the Orkney Islands’ and Keith Allardyce’s 1992 ‘Sea Haven’, both significant bodies of photographs that operate on a social history level as well as an artistic one.

Bringing the timeline of ‘Orkney Photographica’ up to now, Marr will include work of Frances Scott, Ingrid Budge and recent graduate Sarah Wylie, as well as others.

Image Caption

© Tom Kent