on landscape The online magazine for landscape photographers

The Rain in my Blood

An exhibition // a record // the best years of my life

Somhairle MacDonald

I am an Invernesian living in Glasgow, Scotland and I make pictures. I am a photographer, graphic design, illustrator, videographer and artist. I have been working as a professional image maker since 2001 and my experience is broad and wide ranging. My love of pictures started in early childhood and I was lucky to have a Mother and Grandpa who were exceptionally talented artists and nurtured and encouraged my talent. My Father was a keen film photographer and I learnt the technical facets of photography from him.


I would like to preface this article by saying that in August of this year my life turned a sharp and precipitous corner. A sea-change in my personal life forced me to re-evaluate both the worth and meaning of my landscape photography; it's emotional power, it's a link between memory and experience: my ancestry and my future.

The adventures that spawned these images put simply were some of the best years of my life. That era of my life is now behind me and this exhibition made me face that reality, to move on, to keep the memories and experiences as they were; happy, beautiful and fulfilling. Through this process, I may have become a poet.

A 'Chreag Ruaidh

There is a weight on the rain.
Viscous and oppressive.

There's this one red rock.
Abhainn Comhann.
I know where it is.
She found it.

The illustrious triangle looks down on me.
I do not return its glower.
I left her in Acharacle.
Something was wrong.

But this rock!
Not here to be found.

And wet to my soul.
The rain in my blood.
I stumble, I fall.

The road is too close.
I want it to evaporate.
The struggle is in this river.

I pace the curve
Hidden, that same ditch trips me.
Over and Over.
Careless, single minded.

How can something so big.
Something so important
Just disappear?

Now I am no Norman MacCaig or Somhairle Maclean. But they have given me great strength to face my new outlook. Of all the poets these two men describe the landscape of the highlands far better than I or my photographs will ever be able to.

You see landscapes are not something unto themselves. They transcend human notions of time and scale.
You see landscapes are not something unto themselves. They transcend human notions of time and scale. They are connected to the universe in such profound and unfathomable ways that although humans have become very adept at controlling them, understanding them and capturing them. They can never be ours. They ground our homes, our history, our love, our failings, our dead. We project on to them: not the other way round. They don’t care for us.

I named this exhibition 'The rain in my blood' as a nod to my own family history. Both my parents are from Lochaber. My mother from Caol and my father from Achriabhach in Glen Nevis. His father was a shepherd and walked the land between Stob Bàn and Sqùrr a’ Mhàim most of his adult life. He originated from Alligin in Torridon, which in those days was particularly isolated. Angus MacDonald was a man of few words; he died when I was 10. I can’t say I knew him well. I remember his coarse hands, the way his fingers hung round a cigarette, his tweeds, the smell of him. I remember how he breathed the word ‘aye’. Lochaber and Torridon to me are spiritual centres, in these places, my life comes into focus, the reality is often stark, the affinity strong and not always comfortable. I can stake an ancestral claim in these lands but I could never possess them. No one ever could.

Skye to me now - A Memorial - This is the last photo I took on Skye and I’m not sure when or if I will ever go back.

Through my time as a serious landscape photographer – about 3 years. I have built up strong affinities with many other areas of Highland Scotland. Skye in particular. I was in a long-term relationship with a girl from Kingsburgh (north-end). I think it is obvious that she and her family; indeed the island she comes from mean a great deal to me. Many of the images in this exhibition are from Skye. The sharp and precipitous turn I refer to at the beginning of the article was the dissolution of this relationship.

There is one poem by Norman MacCaig called ‘Memorial'. It is particularly hard hitting. In fact when I read it first it took me half an hour or so to come to terms with it all. It gave me butterflies and my emotions boiled over. It is an exquisitely brutal piece of work. Although Norman’s poem is about actual death, the death of a relationship follows a similar process of grief and at that time his words hit me like a sledgehammer. 

Although Norman’s poem is about actual death, the death of a relationship follows a similar process of grief and at that time his words hit me like a sledgehammer.

Taken on the same night pointing towards Rum. It’s mad to think I’ve never been to Rum when so many of my photos are of it. I will be visiting Rum and Eigg as soon as I can and maybe on the small isles I can rediscover my muse.

Of all the photos and memories tied up in the last 5 years, this is perhaps my favourite. The image and the caption (although slightly cryptic) captured a weekend, no: an entire era of my life, which I will always remember with great fondness and love. Despite the heartbreak and the grief, having to work these images into high quality prints, to frame them, to hang them, to live with those memories day in day out was difficult. Like rubbing salt in an open wound. But now with a little distance and time, I am happy to be proud of this work, not to treat it with wilful disdain or to ignore it as was my instinct in the beginning. I confronted it all and it was cathartic.

You know life is hard, that’s why no one survives. No one knows what is in the future. You can know your past, where you come from and you should embrace it all, the failures and the success. Embrace it all!

An Camus Darach.
A place of great peace, of welcoming shelter and acres of golden sand.
I took this one whilst on holiday in Mallaig. We had ventured up for Fèis na Mara, for the craic, for the ' Federation of a disco pimp! We experienced this odd all day sunset whilst walking off a hangover. It was beautiful, peaceful and I felt at home. Deeply in love with my Girlfriend, my friends, with music and my country.
You know lots of people go to spain of greece for their holidays but if you ask me... I'd recommend Mallaig.

The last image I want to show is called ‘I spoke to my mother here’. This picture was taken right at the zenith of emotional breakdown. It was a stunning clear summers evening in Sutherland and there was enough wind to keep the midges off you. I wandered the shore of Loch Assynt for hours not even sure what, why or how to do anything remotely approaching photography. I eventually found this big square rock, my back to the sunset. I sat there in the shadow and I spoke to my Mother. 

I eventually found this big square rock, my back to the sunset. I sat there in the shadow and I spoke to my Mother. 

'Bhruidhinn mi ri mo mhàthair an seo' - Loch Assynt

My Mother; Jean Patricia Scott MacDonald died of a brain tumour in 2012. I wear her chain round my neck and often clasp it in my teeth as a comfort. I was at a low ebb and my Mother was still there for me on the shore of Loch Assynt. She told me what to do and I am still trying to do that. If it had not been for my Mothers enduring encouragement and talent I would never have pursued the arts like I have and I most certainly would not have the strength to feel comfortable in expressing myself as I have in this article. Gràdh Sìorruidh!

Out of the collection of photos, which constitute the exhibition, I have also produced a 2018 calendar. This is my first foray into mass-producing my images and I’m happy to report that thus far it seems to be going well. I sold quite a lot of prints last year and this seemed like the next logical step in getting images on peoples walls. I consider it an honour in this digital age that people buy calendars and prints. That they will live with your work day in day out and hopefully glean some happiness from what you have created. Sure the photos mean so much more to me than they ever could to a ‘customer’ but like all good art they should mean something to everyone. And that is my aim, to convey some meaning of my own so someone else can create a meaning unto themselves.

The Rain in my Blood – will run at The Ceilidh Place in Ullapool till the 1st of January at which point the band, croft no five - in which I play bass - will raise the roof and probably auction off what’s left of the exhibition in a drunken melee. It will be a monumental and pivotal moment in this new chapter of life.

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