How photographing a Scottish island is helping to get out of lockdown

The people of Colonsay in the Inner Hebrides, where around 130 people live, have shared a glimpse of everyday life on the island as it emerges from Covid through a project.

Photography collective Document Scotland arrived on the island in early May for Show Us Colonsay. Professional photographers worked with residents to capture island life and produce work for an exhibition at the community center.

Register to our daily newsletter

Islander Jen MacNeill, 39, who runs Colonsay Bikes and Boards, said the project has helped Islanders reconnect after the pandemic and encouraged them to document life beyond the postcard image of their homeland.

For the Creative Scotland funded project, Jen took advantage of daily sea swims, which has allowed her to connect deeply with her surroundings after being diagnosed with bipolar during the pandemic.

She said: “The diagnosis was shocking… but swimming is such a beautiful part of the day. I wasn’t particularly keen on accepting the diagnosis, but the swim meant I wasn’t stuck indoors surrounded by my thoughts, but was able to think things through.”

With her smartphone, which sometimes comes with a waterproof case, Jen enters the water in the same place every day.

She added: “I just love how the water is different every time. It never, ever looks the same. When I’m stuck in my head, I go to my seat and see everything change. I got really interested in taking photos and capturing that.”

Jen MacNeill, one of the islanders who took part in the project with photographers collective Document Scotland this month. Her adventures swimming in the ocean and photographing her ever-changing surroundings helped her come to terms with a bipolar diagnosis. Image: Jen MacNeill.

The collective element of the project was also healing, especially after the added loneliness brought on by the pandemic.

Jen said: “It was just really nice to be able to do things with other people instead of individually. Seeing other people’s work also made me see the innovation and diversity of what people do here. You can really be proud of that.

“The project also made it clearer how important it is to capture people and places now for the future.”

Jan Binnie, who has lived on the island for 12 years, has retired and taken over a farm. Her photos were taken during lambing season, with the camera allowing her to pause and capture special moments, such as when the ewes bond with their young for the first time.

Matt Green, a 36-year-old crofter with pigs he raises for his pork business in Port Mor, Colonsay. He was captured by Document Scotland’s Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert.

“Having the camera open my eyes again brought something back,” she added.

Show us Colonsay’s arrival on the island after lockdown was a welcome one, Jan added.

“I went to the first meeting because it was something we could get together. It felt like a celebration to be able to socialize again. After the exhibition there was a lot of activity in the room and we started thinking about what we could do next.”

Colin McPherson, founding member of Document Scotland, said: “We wanted to sow the seeds of what photography can do to create a narrative about their lives and get the island thinking about how Colonsay should be seen by a wider audience Audience. It was a huge success.”

Archie McConnell, crofter and retired island police officer, with his beloved dog Bubbles on Colonsay, photographed by Craig Easton, a photographer at Document Scotland.
Islander Jan Binnie has been capturing lambing season at her farm for the Show Us Colonsay project.
Islander Lindsey Walker used her smartphone camera to document the work of the Colonsay Knitting Group, the alpacas they source their wool from and the garments they make.
Robbie the Postie, on the beach between the islands of Colonsay and Oransay, photographed by Craig Easton, a Document Scotland photographer who took part in the island project.
Jen MacNeill and one of her pictures from her ocean swim sessions that helped her overcome the challenges of being diagnosed with Bipolar. Image: Jen MacNeill.
Another morning on the shore for ocean swimmer Jen MacNeill.

Leave a Comment