Walking towards a photograph

This piece of writing lay incomplete, seeking its correct form, after its beginnings on my one-week residency at Sweeney’s Bothy, Isle of Eigg in November 2016. In December 2018, I was invited by The Bothy Project, the residency host, to speak about my research on early photographer M.E.M Donaldson, and the series of photographs she had made on Eigg. I completed this text to open the presentation, endeavouring to lead myself and the audience to the point that Donaldson takes a photograph at Laig Bay, of a woman who walks along the beach. I had experienced her photography as ‘a journey into’ a landscape, so ‘Walking towards a photograph’ echoes my aims for the residency, which were to locate the exact spots on the island, where Donaldson had taken her series of images, in order to understand more about her methods. A number of her photographs of Eigg illustrate her travel book ‘Wanderings in the Western Highlands and Islands’ [Published by Paisley: Alexander Gardner Ltd, 1920].

 

The sound shifts where there is something for the air to engage with,

Flowing through the dry, florescent leaves of a cottage copse,

or carried from source at Beinn Bhuide.

The dancing water follows the gravitational pull,

slicing under the tarmac of the main road to Cleadale,

to stalk the farm road down to Laig Bay.

 

Here stranded at the the farm road’s mouth

lies a Toyota jeep with half a registration plate L878,

A blue sticker on its pushed in side window declares– YES!

Last night’s rain follows a snaking tributary down a shallow gulley,

past a Castrol Oil drum, caught in the first curve.

 

Look up!

This juncture provides an excellent platform

To see Laig Farm in the distance,

nestled by foothills then the cliffs that

surround the top of the bay.

Continuing on, the track continues to dip,

And the sea disappears

As the vegetation grows high.

 

Black and red rosehips compete with brambles

that grow through and over the orange bracken,

reaching up to trace along the lowest tree branches,

then twist across the stream

which declares itself by sound only.

 

In fact, three different sounds of water can be heard:

Behind – the louder water from the cliffs of Beinn Bhuidhe;

Beside – the small stream now lost in yellow rushes

Ahead -the distant sea waves.

 

A singular fence post, with its wire haphazard and low to the ground,

halts to demarcate nothing.

A fat rainbow sprouts up to the left of the white church

With its green wooden window frames and door.

 

My wrists are cold.

I can feel the larger gray stones under my boots.

I and my shadow circumnavigate the larger puddles,

Avoiding the soaked heads of long grass.

 

The peat brown stream as it nears the beach, flows high and deep.

An inconsequential log fords it, to connect

With the small grassy verge, lined with sheep tracks,

That disperse into the low dunes.

 

The stream, now a tributary, reflects Rùm,

cutting the beach in two, to run into the sea.

Black brain coral lies beyond

these untrustworthy depths.

 

Instead, as I am not the protagonist,

I retreat to the rise before the beach,

to locate where she once stood,

as she observed the woman who walked along Laig Bay.

 

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