Photographer and filmmaker who documented Iraq, Afghanistan and the Titanic turns focus onto Scotland

His 40-year career behind the camera has taken him all over the world, from war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan to wilderness landscapes in South America and South Africa, and the wreck of the Titanic.

But when his first major exhibition of work is unveiled next week it will be Scottish photographer and filmmaker Alexander Lindsay’s home country which takes centre stage.

And he will also be staging one of Scotland’s biggest celebrations of photography in his native Fife – encompassing his own visits to some of the world’s most spectacular deserts and mountain ranges, the evolution of photography since the 19th century, and the latest advances in technology.

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After decades travelling the world, Lindsay has shifted his focus to the unspoiled landscapes of Scotland, creating a new body of work using a digital “mosaic” technique.

Alexander Lindsay's fortcoming exhibition includes work captured in St Kilda.Alexander Lindsay's fortcoming exhibition includes work captured in St Kilda.
Alexander Lindsay's fortcoming exhibition includes work captured in St Kilda.

His ultra-high resolution works of art - created with “cinematic composition” on prints up to eight metres wide - will be transforming Bowhouse, the indoor market building in St Monans, in the East Neuk of Fife, into a temporary gallery for three weeks next month.

On display will be monumental depictions of the Outer Hebrides, St Kilda, the Small Isles, Knoydart, Glen Affric and Glen Lyon.

The exhibition will be accompanied by special events tackling everything space exploration, the latest imagery being captured via drones, priceless photography archives held in Scotland’s national collections and images of Lindsay’s own ancestors, whose roots at the Balcarres estate can be traced back to the 16th century.

Lindsay, whose exhibition is at Bowhouse from 15 July-7 August, said: “The camera has always been a sort of catalyst for me to pursue the wonder of this world.

A view of the Small Isles views from Beinn Sgrithealle. Picture: Alexander LindsayA view of the Small Isles views from Beinn Sgrithealle. Picture: Alexander Lindsay
A view of the Small Isles views from Beinn Sgrithealle. Picture: Alexander Lindsay

"I decided I wanted to really experiment with photography, which I had put aside when I was making documentarie and was a bit of a regret.

"The technique I use to create each image in the exhibition is a bit like making a mosaic – using digital stitching to bring all the pieces together. The idea is to completely immerse people.

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“Half of me always wanted to be an artist photographer. I think I’ve found a way to bring the journalist and the artist together – I would describe the images as documentary art.

"What really excites me about photography is that it’s all about a specific time and a specific place.

St Kilda. Picture: Alexander LindsaySt Kilda. Picture: Alexander Lindsay
St Kilda. Picture: Alexander Lindsay

“I felt very luck to be able to get to St Kilda. I’ve tried about seven times and everything was cancelled the week before I went earlier this year.

"Everything was difficult with the wind, the rain and sea birds everywhere. I’ve never seen anything more spectacular than St Kilda, but it was full-on going there."

Lindsay is best known for his award-winning documentary work in Afghanistan and Iraq.

He said: “I knew I wanted to be a photographer from the age of 16.

Glen Affric in the Highlands. Picture: Alexander LindsayGlen Affric in the Highlands. Picture: Alexander Lindsay
Glen Affric in the Highlands. Picture: Alexander Lindsay

"I met a photographer for National Geographic who was passing through Fife and became her assistant, carrying her cameras around.

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“My first ever job after leaving Rochester was in Tanzania (in East Africa), where I lived with a Maasai tribe for six months. I was right in at the deep end.

"I was then offered a job as a cameraman in Afghanistan, a few years after the Soviet invasion, to do news footage. I was pretty much on my own with a Super 8 Camera and a bag of cartridges.

"I came back and went to the BBC. They stumped up some money for me to go back and work on a Panorama programme.

"I ended up filming for around five years in Afghanistan, working for the BBC and Channel 4, which had just started in the mid-1980s and took huge risks on young filmmakers. They didn’t interfere at all or give you advice until you came back with the footage.

Lindsay collaborated for years with the American filmmaker and war correspondent Jeff Harmon.

Knoydart in Lochaber. Picture: Alexander LindsayKnoydart in Lochaber. Picture: Alexander Lindsay
Knoydart in Lochaber. Picture: Alexander Lindsay

He said: “Jeff was quite a maverick. He really got on with people largely by making them laugh. The Afghans really trusted us and took us into Kandahar, which was completely unvisited by Westerners.

“We were embedded with the Russian army for six months for another documentary just as they were leaving Afghanistan.

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"A general we were introduced to by a translator asked us to write down a list of everything we wanted to film. We wrote down a ridiculous list, gave it to him the next day, he looked at it for a long time and said: ‘Make it all happen’."

Lindsay and Harmon joined forces again when they spent six months in Baghdad following Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

Lindsay said: “We got into a crowd of the intelligentsia in Baghdad – artists, architects, painters and poets. The film became about the nature of the dictatorship and his pyramid of terror. It was about fear and where it can lead you.

"I had really wanted to be a photographer, and was very interested in reality, but at that time magazines were all going and television was really taking off. It was a bit of a golden age for documentary making and the British were very good at it.

“But eventually I just felt that enough of my pals had been killed. It was beginning to feel a bit repetitive and it was terrifying. I’m not particularly brave.”

Lindsay’s Titanic work came about after being approached by American writer Charles Pellegrino in the early 1990s over a potential feature film about the disaster.

But he ended up making his own documentary, released the year before James Cameron’s Oscar-winning blockbuster, taking two journeys in a submarine 13,000 ft below the North Atlantic.

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Lindsay recalled: "To see the Titanic with my own eyes was an epiphany. It was the most extraordinary thing I’d ever seen and it left me speechless. I was dumbstruck with wonder. It was incredible exploration to go down to the Titanic, but fantastically difficult to photograph.”



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