Ahead of his 'PhotoPoetry' reading at St Andrews Photography Festival on 15 September, Brian Johnstone shares work inspired by the celebrated Scottish landscape photographer Robert Moyes Adam.
Adam on Mingulay
after the photographs of Robert Moyes Adam
You took the half-plate
where its like had turned a blind eye,
uncapped the lens before the scene lost meaning
you persuaded to a print,
the paper wanting skies you’d capture
in the future, burn in to what we’d have forgotten
but for an eye like yours
that framed this group of dwellings
harried by the sand Minch winds were drifting in
since all the fires went out.
But still, two decades on, the vestige
of a room and byre remained, mere heaps of stones
where one great rock stood out,
the upright by the door that took you in,
a young man in your century’s first flush, but fit,
content to bothy on the floor
and capture that last gasp of life so close
to its collapse, quite gone for good in later prints,
though that same rock endured,
upper courses slipping to the ground,
the thatch a thing of memories, the hearths all cold;
save one last fire you fixed,
a long exposure in the fug of an interior,
bannocks rising slowly by your record of the flame.
Robert Moyes Adam (1885-1967) was Scotland’s foremost landscape photographer of the 1930s and ’40s. His love of nature took him to remote areas of the Highlands where he produced some of his most significant work. Many of his images have additional importance as historical records of vanishing lifestyles, particularly of the north and west of Scotland. The photographs of his early visit to the remote Hebridean island of Mingulay in 1905, three years before its evacuation, are remarkable. They are rendered particularly poignant by the images taken on his return visit to the by-now deserted island in 1922.
Children outside house, Mingulay 1905 / image reference no. RMA-S-153
Dwellings, Mingulay, 1905 / image reference no. RMA-S-141
Interior of cottage, Mingulay, 1905 / image reference no. RMA-S-143
Ruined dwellings, Mingulay, 1922 / image reference no. RMA -H-1088
All © Lawrence Levy Photographic Collection. All rights reserved. Images courtesy of the University of St Andrews Library.
Brian Johnstone is a poet, writer and performer whose work has appeared throughout Scotland, elsewhere in the UK, in North America and across Europe. He has published six collections, most recently Dry Stone Work (Arc, 2014). His poems have been translated into over a dozen languages. In 2015 his work was selected to appear on the Poetry Archive website. His memoir Double Exposure was published by Saraband in February 2017. A founder and former Director of StAnza: Scotland’s International Poetry Festival, he has appeared at various poetry festivals, from Macedonia to Nicaragua, and at numerous venues across the UK.