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Eilean, Burnt Ice, Interventions & The Floating Islands

Mhairi Law

Scotland-based Mhairi Law is originally from the Scottish borders, and she moved to Edinburgh where she studied photography and film at university. She now lives between Edinburgh and the Isle of Lewis in Scotland’s magnificent Outer Hebrides.

Many photographers, ourselves included, dream of living in or having easy access to the sublime landscape; the airy mountains, the lush woodlands, yellow coasts looking out on to tumultuous or calm waters… For Law, this is a reality. It’s the places she has lived in, that she lives in now or visits that continually inform her practice and her inspirations, looking at the landscape and the human presence in it.

It’s a perspective that we are interested in sharing; Law has an understanding of the landscape which comes from growing up in it — something so many of us dream of and desire. So, today we’re featuring Law’s beautiful work, looking at several of her projects. Read on below:

There was always a camera about while I was growing up, and I was continually encouraged by my parents to learn and experiment in all forms of art and image-making.

My family has been a solid inspiration and supporters of everything I do. I became more seriously interested in photography in my last year of school, and my dad gave me his 35mm Nikon camera. I enrolled on a course in film and photography at college which helped me build a great foundation of knowledge and skills to get me to university.

What piqued my interest in photography itself was the realisation that it can be used to create meaning within a moment or place or person, a moment that might otherwise have gone unnoticed.

From family snapshots to the old masters, my fascination with photography didn’t come from any specific artist or image, and it would be impossible to pin down to one from such a complex medium.

You mention that your work focuses on the relationship between people and the land. What is it about this relationship that intrigues you and draws you in?

Much of my work focuses on relationships between people and the land. I think this interest has come from, when I was growing up, being taught to appreciate the land — not just as an onlooker, but from within the landscape itself.

Human intervention is everywhere, but it is not always a negative or ugly thing. Growing up in a rural area, and learning to do things like sailing on the west coast with my family has no doubt given me a deeper understanding and respect for our landscape and environment.

This understanding affects how we as people interact with our natural world. This is a major element of what I try and communicate through my photography.

In your work, the human presence is very minimal and always far away. Is this a conscious decision?

I prefer to communicate human presence, or intervention, through the landscape itself. I call them my “land portraits”.

I seek to find what a landscape can tell us about the people who live there or pass through it. In a broad sense, I find that reading the lines, structures and etchings of a landscape can sometimes speak more powerfully about a culture or a community than portraits of individuals ever could.

They may require a second look, but for me leaving faces out of the story widens our outlook to the bigger picture; communicating personalities of the culture, not just individuals.

You also say that you shoot in medium format. Why did you choose this particular set up?

I choose to shoot in medium format, finding it easier to make images with beautifully clear sharpness and, with the particular analogue film I use, the ability to create subtle colours and tones.

For me it’s the perfect balance of that unique gorgeous analogue quality and of a size that gives me freedom of movement, even with its considerable weight. It’s taken me to amazing places; it’s been up mountains and masts with me, in my rucksack across continents and seas, and back again.

What are you currently working on?

My project The Floating Islands, shot in the Faroe Islands in 2016, is currently being exhibited alongside the work of artist David James Grinly, in conjunction with Stills Gallery, the centre of photography in Edinburgh.

This project continues to look at concepts of human intervention and relationships with the land. Exploring the fast-paced development of this far-flung archipelago, my images observe a country embracing the advantages of modern technology and industry, whilst maintaining its own strong sense of cultural identity — often intrinsically tied to the land.

Tell us about an artist who inspires you.

There are many artists that have inspired the work I create, and how I make it. I find new names and artworks through online platforms just like of the land & us, for example The Island Review and Self Publish, Be Happy.

There are also so many fantastic zines and magazines available such as Source Photographic Review, SSHoP (The Scottish Society of the History of Photography) and British Journal of Photography.

My university tutor and noted Scottish Photographer, Robin Gillanders, gave my photographic education a firm grounding in names such as Paul Strand and Fay Godwin.

Irish Photographer, Paul Seawright, taught me that to speak about people does not necessarily mean to show them, and an image can be all the more powerful for it.

Figures like Patti Smith who lives and breathes through her art as a musician, writer and visual artist continues to inspire me as a person and as a photographer.

But, ultimately, the images I make are shaped and honed by the places that have hold of my heart, like the Outer Hebrides of Scotland, which I am lucky enough to call a home away from home.

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