Dereliction photography on location: The Outer Hebrides of Scotland

The islands of the Outer Hebrides provide a number of locations for dereliction photographers and were the destination of choice for this purpose – supplemented with some stunning landscape photography locations. This article describes the visit and experience.

The islands of Harris, Lewis and Scalpay, although somewhat remote, have truly magnificent scenery and are a popular destination with many visitors from European countries touring by camper truck. A number of the abandoned crofts lie undisturbed for many years before eventually succumbing to the ravages of the fierce elements in this area. (A croft in Scotland is a Highland house often associated with farmland where sheep are raised.) Why are so many of these crofts abandoned? Many are rented and presumably owners may sadly not have the cash to repair and maintain the buildings once they are empty.

Locating the crofts is pretty much by chance however web sites, photographs and Google Earth provide some clues, but remember the buildings will have decayed further since the shots were taken. Access was generally good with only the odd building secured. I make a point not to break into these buildings by forcing entry and try to disturb the buildings as little as possible. Occasionally you will get a neighbour that will be unhappy with your presence. (Remember also, it unwise to check out these sites alone as it easy to fall through a floor or have some other accident).

half-buried fireplaceAs you might expect, the crofts visited were in variable states of decay. Once the doors and windows are breached, sheep and other animals seek shelter and one croft had over a foot (30cm) of animal droppings on the floor which seems incredible when you are standing there, but does pose a problem if you wish to put your camera bag down as well as providing a soft base for camera tripods!

The contents of the crofts visited were fascinating – nothing of value, but more of a general nature; bibles in the local Gaelic language, old vacuum cleaners, bathroom cabinets still stocked, fireside trappings, kitchen cupboards still full of crockery and old clocks. The decor is mostly 70’s and 80’s which adds to the charm of the buildings. All in a time warp from bygone days like some sort of museum. In terms of decay, some rooms had enormous flakes of paint that hung down in foot length strands like giant stalactites and wallpapers in wacky orange, brown and yellow colours all in bold patterns adorning the walls with random strips missing. Doors and other paintwork had flaking paint in vivid orange, turquoise and yellow colours. Moving between most of the rooms was generally safe but at times it was a bit like a game of ‘Twister’, balancing and stretching across floor joists that were vaguely strong enough to support your weight with holes where the carpet had disappeared into a void.

changing comfortsThe images that were taken contain some of my favourite dereliction shots to date, probably because of the quirky detail contained within. This old armchair has already started to disappear through the floor and is swamped in a ‘sea’ of assorted debris.

bible passageThe shot of the open bible on the window ledge is a powerful image. The text is in the Gaelic language and lies open as if left at a particular passage highlighting something of importance or giving a message. The soggy pages droop over the edge of the bible and have already started to turn green with algae and other stains leaching into the pages. A partly detached cover connects the two bibles together and the gritty surface of the window ledge adds to the scene. I just can’t help thinking there is some sort of a story here.

kitchen cupboardThe kitchen cupboard provides so much detail that your eyes cannot rest in a particular part – from the rusty old toast rack to the broken cup neatly stacked on a saucer.

junk in the atticThe attic shot was a bonus. I climbed up the narrow staircase which was sound and balanced on the bannister at the top of the stairs. With the camera at arm’s length and using the screen to view round the corner…produced what amounted to a pot-luck shot. It was clearly not safe to walk upstairs. The lovely ethereal lighting and random arrangement of the items was a pleasant surprise; an old film projector, framed picture and assorted drawer contents completed the shot.

In dereliction photography no two buildings are the same. Every location tells a story and it is like looking into the past being a time detective. The most interesting challenge is composing a photograph that makes sense of the chaos. Finding these little time capsules is much harder these days as economic pressures and safety regulations result in early demolition depriving us of these dereliction opportunities. I suppose, when we do find a good location it makes it all the sweeter and finding so many locations to explore within a few days was just paradise.

To see more dereliction images check out my dereliction gallery.

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