How photography is helping one Scottish island emerge from lockdown

An island’s story of lockdown and beyond - and how its people are connecting again after the pandemic – is being told through a series of deeply personal photographs.

The people of Colonsay in the Inner Hebrides, which is is home to around 130 people, have shared an insight into everyday life on the island through a project as it emerges from Covid.

Photo collective Document Scotland arrived on the island in early May for Show Us Colonsay, with professional photographers working alongside residents to capture island life and produce work for an exhibition in the village hall.

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Islander Jen MacNeill, 39, who runs Colonsay Bikes and Boards, said the project helped islanders connect again following the pandemic while encouraging them to document life beyond the picture postcard image of their home.

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For the project, which was funded by Creative Scotland, Jen drew on the daily sea swims which have allowed her to deeply connect with her environment after being diagnosed with bi-polar during the pandemic.

She said: “The diagnosis was shocking... but the swims are such a lovely part of the day. I wasn’t particularly keen on accepting the diagnosis but the swimming meant I wasn’t stuck in the house surrounded by my thoughts, I was able to be out thinking things through.”

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With her smartphone, which is sometimes fitted with a waterproof case, Jen enters the water at the same spot every day.

She added: “I just love the way the water is different every time. It never, ever looks the same. When I get stuck in my head, I go to my spot and see how everything changes. I got really interested in taking photographs and capturing this.”

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Jen MacNeill, one of the islanders who took part in the project with Document Scotland photography collective this month. Her adventures in sea swimming and photographing her ever-changing environment have helped her come to terms with a diagnosis of bi-polar. PIC: Jen MacNeill.

The collective element of the project was also curative, particularly after the additional solitude presented by the pandemic.

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Jen said: “It was just really lovely to do things with other people, rather than individually. Seeing other people’s work also made me realise the innovation and diversity of what people are doing here. That is something to be really proud of.

“The project has also made it more apparent how important it is to capture people and place now, for the future.”

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Jan Binnie, who has lived on the island for 12 years, has retired from her professional life and taken on a croft. Her photos were taken over lambing season, with the camera allowing her to pause and take in special moments, such as when the ewes bond with their young for the first time.

Matt Green, a 36-year old crofter with pigs he rears for his Port Mor Pork meat business on Colonsay. He was captured by Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert of Document Scotland.
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"Having the camera reopened my eyes, it reawakened something,” she added.

The arrival of Show us Colonsay on the island was a welcome one following lockdown, Jan added.

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“I went to the first meeting as it was something where we were allowed to get together. It felt like a celebration of being able to socialise again. After the exhibition there was a buzz in the room and we started to think about what we could do next.”

Colin McPherson, founder member of Document Scotland, said: “We wanted to sow the seeds of what photography can do in terms of creating a narrative around their life and to get the island thinking about how they would like Colonsay to be viewed by a wider audience. It was a massive success.”

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Archie McConnell, crofter and retired island policeman, with his beloved dog Bubbles on Colonsay, as photographed by Craig Easton, a photographer with Document Scotland.
Islander Jan Binnie captured the lambing season on her croft for the Show Us Colonsay project.
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Islander Lindsey Walker used her smartphone camera to document the work of Colonsay Knitting Group, the alpacas they get their wool from and the garments they make.
Robbie the Postie, on the Strand between the islands of Colonsay and Oransay, taken by Craig Easton, a photographer with Document Scotland who took part in the island project.
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Jen MacNeill and one of her images from her sea swimming sessions which have helped her meet the challenges of being diagnosed with bi-polar. PIC: Jen MacNeill.
Another morning on the shore for sea swimmer Jen MacNeill.

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