on landscape The online magazine for landscape photographers

Danielle Macleod

Featured Photographer

Danielle Macleod

Danielle Macleod

Danielle Macleod is a mask maker and photographer based in the Isle of Lewis. Her photography draws on traditional Hebridean culture, local stories and her upbringing there. Her practice involves creating wearable sculptures from foraged and discovered natural materials. When these masks are photographed in the natural environment they bring to life creatures that exist in an other-world, demonstrating the artist’s connection to her culture, tradition and place.

daniellemacleodphoto.com



Michéla Griffith

In 2012 I paused by my local river and everything changed. I’ve moved away from what many expect photographs to be: my images deconstruct the literal and reimagine the subjective, reflecting the curiosity that water has inspired in my practice. Water has been my conduit: it has sharpened my vision, given me permission to experiment and continues to introduce me to new ways of seeing.

michelagriffith.com



Place can call to us at any stage of life or career. Leaving art school early mid-pandemic turned out to be an unexpected opportunity for Danielle. Returning to the Isle of Lewis and its abundance of natural materials helped to spark her creativity, and a mentorship through An Lanntair's Artist Support Scheme provided the confidence needed to develop a personal practice outside of art school.

Through making in conjunction with photography, Danielle has learned to be playful, experiment, and notice the details of the landscape through the seasons. She is drawn to explore local crafts, experiences and folklore in her projects and embraces analogue photography for its timeless quality and discipline.

Ailinn

Ailinn

Would you like to start by telling readers a little about yourself – where you grew up, what your early interests were and what you went on to study?

I grew up in a small coastal village called Gress in the Isle of Lewis, in the Western Isles. I lived in a spacious, diverse natural landscape right beside the beach, machair and moorland, and spent much of my childhood and adolescence playing and walking in these areas. After school I worked for the family business for a year, and later moved to Glasgow to study Psychology. One year in I realised the course wasn’t for me. During that period of study, my favourite project was one where we had to make a poster about a health condition, which I threw myself into creatively, incorporating collage into my final poster - that was when I realised that I really wanted to go to art school.

I grew up in a small coastal village called Gress in the Isle of Lewis, in the Western Isles. I lived in a spacious, diverse natural landscape right beside the beach, machair and moorland, and spent much of my childhood and adolescence playing and walking in these areas.
So my next steps were doing a foundation course at Cardonald College in Glasgow, and later I got into a course called Communication Design at Glasgow School of Art.

How did you become interested in photography, and what kind of images did you initially set out to make? Had you had any previous exposure to photography or other art forms?

I bought my first camera when I was in high school and enjoyed taking photos of moments spent with my friends, but I didn’t twig then that I enjoyed photography or that it was something I could pursue. I think the reason I initially studied psychology was that I wasn’t aware of any routes to a career in the creative industries. Throughout my studies at Glasgow School of Art, I found myself being very narrative-driven in all of my projects. I would get really excited about a concept and make work in a way that I thought communicated that narrative best. My uni briefs were often very open ended about the format of your final work, so I experimented with all sorts of making: video, sculpture, print making, book binding. Looking back on my early art school work, a lot of my most successful pieces were sculptural works which I would then photograph with a model.

I specialised in photography in my third year of Art school (the first two years were very open). In my course, we had the option to specialise in photography, illustration, or graphic design. My tutors suggested that I would be best suited to photography, as I really didn’t know what area I would excel in most—I enjoyed trying out everything. So, even though I specialised in photography, I didn’t feel like a photographer, and I didn’t really know anything about photography.

It wasn’t until much later in my art school journey that I had some clarity that the images I enjoyed making most were ones where I created characters, covering models in materials such as wool to help tell a story, or creating outfits for them.

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Bean Nighe

Circumstances meant that you left Art School early, without completing your final project. Did what may have seemed at the time as something detrimental in fact turn out to be an opportunity to re-evaluate and find a personal practice?

I think that leaving Art School early and returning to the Isle of Lewis over the Covid period was the best thing that could have happened to my creative practice. It took a while to process the stress of not completing my final year’s work and moving back home, but when I began to make new work on the island, I felt like I came alive creatively. I think that’s because I was constantly surrounded by an abundance of natural materials that inspired me - I come across things that inspire me more often here, whereas in Glasgow, in an urban environment, I didn’t have that; I felt more claustrophobic.

Looking back I realised that I actually found it quite difficult to make work in Glasgow - maybe I was a bit homesick throughout my studies. The work I made in Glasgow was often about my home in some way, so I would try and go back there as often as I could. After moving to Lewis, these frustrations and barriers were lifted. There was an abundance of natural materials around me which I was intrigued by. That’s when I started making masks, and there were incredible and diverse environments to shoot them in - not having access to a studio wasn’t a problem

Looking back I realised that I actually found it quite difficult to make work in Glasgow - maybe I was a bit homesick throughout my studies. The work I made in Glasgow was often about my home in some way, so I would try and go back there as often as I could.

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Bheurra

Who (photographers, artists or individuals) or what has most inspired you or driven you forward in your own development?

I came across Charles Freger’s photobook Wilder Mann at Art School, and that was the first time I saw images that instantly really made me excited. I loved these portraits, which were half man and half wild creature; the models were transformed, costumed from head to toe in furs, grasses, and other materials. I loved how he played with the shape and scale of the model using these materials. I just loved the otherworldliness and wildness of it all. I really connected with the work from this project.

I was later introduced to photographer and folklorist Margeret Fay Shaw. In 1932, she photographed children from South Uist dressed up for Halloween. These children transformed themselves using materials which they could find around them such as sheepskins and rope. When I saw these images for the first time, I was amazed by the creativity in the costume making, and I was so thrilled that this way of using costume to express yourself was something my own culture had. Seeing them, I felt like it almost gave me permission to play in this kind of way and start making masks.

Also, throughout my practice, artists I keep looking back at are Karoline Hjorth and Ritta Ikonen (Eyes As Big As Plates).

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Bradan

How important was the Mentorship through An Lanntair’s Artist Support Scheme as a bridge between college and studio, and what did you gain through this?

An Lanntair’s artist support scheme was absolutely vital in giving me the confidence to continue with any kind of artistic practice outside of art school. I’d left art school feeling like I still hadn’t found any kind of visual language or identity. I didn’t know what my ‘thing’ was; what kind of work I actually enjoyed making and wanted to keep making. In hindsight, now, I can see links between my uni work and my recent work, but I couldn’t at the time.

The artist support scheme gave me the confidence to know how to go about making work on an island which doesn’t have the same facilities as I was used to in uni. The structure of it also helped with the transition out of uni.
The artist support scheme gave me the confidence to know how to go about making work on an island which doesn’t have the same facilities as I was used to in uni. The structure of it also helped with the transition out of uni.

I had my first solo exhibition through the mentoring scheme at Island Darkroom which felt like the degree show that I never had. Through doing the artist support scheme and immersion in the place that I had longed for whilst, at uni, I was afforded the space to discover my own visual language. Being in the island environment and having artist support gave me a huge boost in creative inspiration and motivation to discover what I actually liked to make.

Would you like to choose 2 or 3 favourite photographs from your own portfolio and tell us a little about why they are special to you, or your experience of making them?

The Pentland Guardian

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Pentland Guardian

The Pentland Guardian from the Guardians series is the first one that springs to mind. It was the first mask that I made that when I put it on the model (aka my husband), made me excited about the potential of the photograph and about the creature that materialised before me. That shoot was the first where I felt like I was watching this otherworldly being become animated in an outdoor space. It was the first time I made a mask out of found materials, which added a new dimension of problem solving and excitement. It was the poster image for my first solo exhibition as well, so it’s special to me for a few reasons.

Dawn from the ‘Na Boireannaich’ series

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Dawn

The second image is Dawn from the ‘Na Boireannaich’ series. The whole journey of how this photograph came to be felt special.

The whole journey of how this photograph came to be felt special. For the project I wanted to make a mask which was inspired by the Hebridean creel, so I took part in a one to one workshop with a basket-maker, Dawn, who lives in Great Bernera.
For the project I wanted to make a mask which was inspired by the Hebridean creel, so I took part in a one to one workshop with a basket-maker, Dawn, who lives in Great Bernera. During the workshop, she taught me how to make a creel using willow grown from her garden. I was then given extra willow to take home and create my own headpiece inspired by the creel using the skills I’d just learned.

Dawn agreed to model my mask for my final image. So we met up a week or so later and did a photoshoot together on her peat bank in Bernera with her wearing the mask I’d made and carrying the creel we’d made together on her back. Making this image felt like such a multi-faceted collaboration; having Dawn be in the image itself felt so important to making it a complete experience, and I named the image after her.

Can you give readers an insight into your practice and approach? Which stages in your workflow especially interest you, and where do you feel you can make the most difference to the resulting body of work?

I really enjoy the journey I go on when I make a piece of work, though it can be quite a lengthy process. It often seems to follow a similar cycle. Quite often, I’ll have a story to reference or a general theme as a starting point, and often, that story will make me think of a particular material I could use to help communicate that story - whether it be wool, wings, fish skins or shells etc. After I’ve sourced my main material, the rest of the mask making process becomes very intuitive, and I feel like I’m just trying to put the right pieces of the puzzle together until the mask lets me know it’s complete. Even before the camera comes into the equation, the mask already feels like it has a life of its own. Then, I’ll source a location and model, and we'll plan a shoot. The photographic element of my practice adds a whole new depth of life to these masks. Capturing them in the landscape gives them a sense of belonging and identity to their surrounding environment. It gives them realness, makes them believable, or at least makes me want to believe in them and the story they tell.

The photographic element of my practice adds a whole new depth of life to these masks. Capturing them in the landscape gives them a sense of belonging and identity to their surrounding environment. It gives them realness, makes them believable, or at least makes me want to believe in them and the story they tell.

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Bride

How crucial has the choice to shoot analogue been, and do you feel you have to make any compromises as a result of your decision to use medium format?

I really enjoy shooting in analogue. I feel like the texture that film gives my images help give them a certain timelessness, which is very important for my work. Another thing I love about it is the limited number of exposures of film; it means that I doubt myself less during a shoot and prevents me from overthinking.

The majority of your work is in black and white, and I recall that you've previously commented that keeping to black and white gives consistency within a series. However, you've included one colour image, and I am wondering if colour may come into your work, perhaps as a way of emphasising seasonality, as with the gorse?

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Untitled

Yes, of course, I’ll expand a bit more on that photograph. I wanted to make an image inspired by the sun, and I felt that gorse would be a great material to use as a headpiece.

I wanted to make an image inspired by the sun, and I felt that gorse would be a great material to use as a headpiece. As it was the bright yellow of the gorse that drew me to using that material I felt that I had to shoot in colour, and colour would probably be important to bring a feeling of sunshine to the image.
As it was the bright yellow of the gorse that drew me to using that material I felt that I had to shoot in colour, and colour would probably be important to bring a feeling of sunshine to the image. I actually ended up shooting this image in digital because my film camera ran out of battery on the shoot! I did enjoy making this image, and it was nice to explore colour, but I’m not sure if I could see myself doing a full series in colour yet - I still prefer the feeling of my black and white images.

What have you discovered about yourself through photography and what difference has it made to your view of the world? For example, do you ‘see’ things differently by virtue of having been away? Your earlier projects (Cianalas, Nuair a Leig i Tharais Thu) carry the themes of departure and return.

I think what I’ve learned through my photography practice is that it’s an opportunity to be playful, experiment and try new things. Every single mask I have made has relied on learning a new skill to make it happen, like learning to make rope from heather or learning how to preserve birds’ wings. Because of my artistic practice, I feel more in tune with the landscape; I look out for what plant life crops up over certain seasons, and I’ll notice parts of the landscape that catch my eye and think about how they can be interacted with.

I think the most important thing I’ve learned through my photographic practice is that when something ‘catches your eye’, go with it! It’s allowed me to follow these moments of curiosity that crop up, not yet understanding the why or what it could lead to.

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Christina

You are increasingly drawing on local materials, experience and folklore. Do you have any particular projects or ambitions for the future, or themes that you would like to explore?

I have a couple of ideas for new work but no concrete plans as of yet. After the experience of making the image ‘Dawn’, I am drawn to the idea of creating more headpieces and images inspired by crafts people of various disciplines, using the materials they use.

I have a couple of ideas for new work but no concrete plans as of yet. After the experience of making the image ‘Dawn’, I am drawn to the idea of creating more headpieces and images inspired by crafts people of various disciplines, using the materials they use.
I enjoyed the collaborative aspect of making this image so much that I think it would be really fun to make more work in this way.

A lot the time I’ve dedicated to my own practice recently has been around how I go about printing my work. I’ve been experimenting with cyanotypes and botanical toning on digital negatives, with the hope that that is how I would print future work. I love the hands on nature of this process and the scope for experimentation. I really like having the option and potential of being able to make final images in my home. And I just need to go for a short walk outside to find materials to tone my images with. It is really rewarding being able to make an image to the very end stage rather than having to send it away to a printer.

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Feamainn

If you had to take a break from all things photographic for a week, what would you end up doing? What other hobbies or interests do you have?

I’m really fortunate that my jobs allow me to be creative - I work as an art facilitator and I work at a photo gallery and textiles studio. Being an arts facilitator, I learn new skills and making methods all the time to teach to children, and learning these various techniques can inspire my own practice too. When I’m not doing something creative, I’m walking my dog and having foraging on my walks. During the winter months when the dark nights come in early and it’s blowing a gale outside I like to indulge in trash reality TV cosied up on the sofa.

Finally, is there someone whose photography you enjoy—perhaps someone we may not have encountered —and whose work you think we should feature in a future issue? They can be amateur or professional. Please include a link to their website or social media, as appropriate.

I recently took part in a cultural exchange where one of the participating artists was Oana Stanciu. I was really inspired by her photography and how she uses her body to interact with objects to create very surreal and striking portraits. www.oanastanciu.com and https://www.instagram.com/oana.asta/

Thank you Danielle. I’ve no doubt that you will have challenged readers to consider what else a landscape photography practice might comprise.

The images titled Bheurra, Brìde, and Jealous Sister were created in collaboration with printmaker Alice Macmillan, who created the backdrops, textiles, and costumes for Danielle’s photoshoots.

If you’ve been inspired by reading this, you can see more of Danielle’s work on her website. https://www.daniellemacleodphoto.com. You’ll also find her on Instagram. https://www.instagram.com/danielle_mac_leod.



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