Island Moments is the headline title of Catherine Wilson’s latest book for Ailsapress. Its full title is: Island Moments. Taken by surprise in the Hebrides.
It is a title that subtly captures the impact of Cathy Wilson’s openness to the experience of new places in a genre of landscape that somehow touches her soul.
‘Taken’ means just that. She has been taken – possessed by and possessed of these places.
‘Taken by surprise’ – because it is the surprise (and the ability to be surprised) that is the possessing force. It is the gasp of the unutterable that cements a indestructible relationship.
In a way this book is a love poem in images as well as some telling words, not just to specific places but to love of place itself.
How many of us do not feel the prick of tears at the back of the eye in listening to an emigrant’s yearning for place, for home, for the one place, even if it is born in memory – where oneness, belonging, largeness, infinity even, felt within reach?
It doesn’t matter how banal that expression can be, the profundity, the authenticity of the emotion which we instinctively recognise, of a riven unity, is irreducible.
Names are important in this. Almost every such song of longing is redolent with names, an aural mapping, a way of keeping open the vital arterial connections with a place apart. And so, in Island Moments, it has been important for Cathy Wilson to record the names of the places whose presence is caught in her photographs.
This is ‘for auld lang syne’: Sanaig Cliffs, Toe Head, Lossit Bay, Loch an Duin, Beinn Raah, Killinallan. It is the repetition of the names that carries the power of the places themselves.
The photography is unforgettable – in tune with the ultimate unknowability of place – familiar and yet too immense quite to grasp.
The book speaks through a series of double page spreads, two juxtaposed images, each pair with a single set of words weaving the relationship between them.
Two limpets wait
The homing rush of ocean
- in a pool in a rock any ceramicist would fantasise about creating.
In another spread the low remains of a stone croft lie in a heather bog on a hill above a loch with mist covered hills in the distance.
Facing them is a close up of the fallen lintel, looking like the entrance to a chambered burial cairn. It is just that, of course – the door to lives gone.
Their only claim the stones
And peace of conscience
There are seaweeds effortlessly held in the tide and seen through impossibly pure water, showing yet another world in this complex place we inhabit for the time being.
If you never thought you could love a caterpillar, you will – but see it for yourself in the book.
The photographer’s eye drifts through a series of enticing curiosities, like a ‘rock map’, noting traces of people carved in stone, shocking with the sudden physical presence of real people – now, here.
There are one or two photographs that don’t seem to earn their place – like a shoreside landscape in the north west of Islay which, however mysterious, somehow does not arrest the eye.
But the right hand photograph of the last pair is so compelling you have to keep coming back to it.
Cause for wonder
We seek understanding
The left hand image is of friend and sometimes co-author, Ruth MacLean, facing away from the camera and pointing towards something with a just visible softening of the jawline that indicates pleasure.
On the right are three young people, late teens to early twenties, identified later only by their first names, Marco, Sasha and Nene.
They are caught in a moment of profound silence, just looking, taking in – what?
It doesn’t matter what.
This is a glimpse into a rare abdication of selfhood, an abandonment to the immensity of an unspoiled place.
To see this capacity in the young is testimony both to where they are – on Islay’s Sanaig cliffs and to a youth which need never be callow, given half a chance.
It is places like this that give people more than half a chance.
Island Moments is more than it claims.
For Argyll’s feature on Ailsapress, here, was published yesterday – 11th May 2012.
All the images above are © Ailsapress
NOTE: Island Moments (ISBN: 9780955565649) – a book to own and to give, is available direct from Ailsapress (www.ailsapress.com) at £10.99. For Bookshops, the distributor is Bookspeed.