At the beginning of this month I found myself aboard a small vessel heading to the Isle of May. The isle is an hours boat ride off the coast of Fife in Scotland, only one mile long and is uninhabited except for the summer months when researchers base themselves there to study the breeding seabirds. I’ve been going to Fife for photography related stuff for a few years now, and always found myself staring out to the island with intrigue, with its spooky deserted buildings silhouetted against the sun sets every night, I always wondered what went on there. My intrigue was heightened greatly after hearing from a Fife local that some nights they have “burn nights”, which being Scotland I assumed she meant Robert Burns night, but no “burn nights, where they just burn things!”. Right I thought I must go. After a few emails and a couple of calls to the island warden he surprisingly agreed to let me stay and start a photo project on the island. So this month was my first trip up. A few days before I left I started discussing the project with a fellow photographer who then set off some worrying thoughts in my head, “So let me get this right” he said “your going to a deserted island, where you can’t leave it you need to, to stay with a man you met on the internet” put like that it did sound like the beginning of a bad horror movie. As I approached the isle on the boat crossing from Anstruther harbour, my friends thoughts nagging in my head swiftly disappeared and a sense of both calm and extreme excitement elevated inside me. The island, only one mile long and without any signs of human life, started coming into focus, it felt rather dreamlike, like I had been here before, like I knew it already, it was a strange sensation. After a bumpy landing we made it in the tiny harbour where I could see silhouettes of the people awaiting our arrival. I was greeted from the boat and shown around by Dave the Scottish National Heritage island warden, AKA the ‘man i had met on the internet’, luckily everyone here seemed normal, and very friendly.
I spent a week on the island just getting used to life in this environment, which involved amongst others things lots of being outdoors all day (bliss), watching birds (though I never really knew what I was looking at), sea air, crashing waves, early mornings, passing ships, submarines, boat arrivals, cancelled boats, high winds, storms, bits of rain, using binoculars, puffin counts, missing puffins, puffin watching, bird nets, bird ringing, bird talk (again didn’t really know what was going on here), drift wood, burning drift wood (though this took place in the fireplace as apparently the ‘burns nights’ do not exist), shower bans, water shortages, listening to Jeremy’s jokes and singing, Will-I-am impersonations, Whiskey nights and good banter. Oh yer and some photography, forgot about that. Though I find it very hard to say exactly what I’m doing photography wise on the island, though I always find it hard to describe my photography approach. It’s not straight documentary, though it’s also not art photography, maybe somewhere in the middle, maybe not. I’m just interested in spending time on the island and documenting island life in someway in all it’s many different details. I’ve uploaded some images, so maybe someone else can see what I mean. The day I left the island a deep sense of sadness came over me, this island is its own world, you really have no connection to the outside one and that means you leave all your normal life crap on the mainland. The isle was not just isolated physically but mentally too, it cleared out the crap that was in my head and I felt some peace. Ever since my mum died, when I go off like this and am away from home, I always suffer quite deep depressive thoughts, and a real sense of loneliness, so I worried about coming to such an isolated place, but in fact it was quite the opposite. I didn’t feel any of that. I spent many hours a day just wandering around the island, not planning what I was going to shot, hours could go by sitting on a rock, but then you’ll come round a corner and discover someone building a bird hide and you get to muck in with them. The island has the great ability to allow you to experience isolation and to be solitary, but then paired with having amazingly friendly and welcoming people around you that you bump into throughout the day, stop for a cup of tea and a chat, and share a whiskey with in the evening. I miss the island and it’s frame of mind, and I’m looking forward to my next visit in a few weeks.