Back Stories

Odin Stone: Plates 43-47

Plate 43: Afternoon, Ring of Brodgar, Orkney, 2004

Odin Stone: Plate 43 - Afternoon, Ring of Brodgar, Orkney, 2004 - Tillman Crane

Odin Stone: Plate 43 - Afternoon, Ring of Brodgar, Orkney, 2004 - Tillman Crane

Each standing stone in the Ring of Brodgar has a different character but to my knowledge none are officially (or unofficially) named. This stone almost looks like it is covered in skin. I saw the stones this day as sentinels, or soldiers on parade. I wanted to get as close as I could focus to the almost “human” like texture of the stone. Using a wide-angle lens I was able to get six other stones to stand at attention. The setting sun gently caressed this stone directly, while putting the others in soft shadow.

Plate 44: Graveyard, St. Mary’s Church, Rousay, Orkney, 2007

Odin Stone: Plate 44 - Graveyard, St. Mary’s Church, Rousay, Orkney, 2007 - Tillman Crane

Odin Stone: Plate 44 - Graveyard, St. Mary’s Church, Rousay, Orkney, 2007 - Tillman Crane

Rousay has so many Neolithic tombs and graves that it has been called the “Egypt of the North”. However, I was far more interested in the ruins to be found on the Westness Walk. This one-mile walk spans settlements from the first Stone Age settlers, the Pictish Iron Age, the Viking invaders, the period of the Earls and the troubled crafting times. The trail ends St. Mary’s Church. Here I found a small graveyard at the roofless church. The top of this granite tombstone echoed the iron arrowheads on top of the cast iron fence, both wearing away, reminding me that all things made by man are temporary.

Plate 45: Drying Fish, Corrigall Farm Museum, Harray, Orkney, 2007

Odin Stone: Plate 45 - Drying Fish, Corrigall Farm Museum, Harray, Orkney, 2007 - Tillman Crane

Odin Stone: Plate 45 - Drying Fish, Corrigall Farm Museum, Harray, Orkney, 2007 - Tillman Crane

At the Corrigal Farm Museum, Neal Leask tries to maintain the buildings as if the occupants just stepped out for a moment. Historically, drying and salting fish were a mainstay of Orcadian life. What more natural way to dry fish the hanging them from the ceiling near the constantly burning peat fire? When paired with the image on the next page (Plate 46) it set up a nice visual pattern with the hanging tapestry needles.

Plate 46: Tapestry, Carol Dunbar Studio, Buckquoy, Harray, Orkney, 2006

Odin Stone: Plate 46 - Tapestry, Carol Dunbar Studio, Buckquoy, Harray, Orkney, 2006 - Tillman Crane

Odin Stone: Plate 46 - Tapestry, Carol Dunbar Studio, Buckquoy, Harray, Orkney, 2006 - Tillman Crane

This tapestry, by Carol Dunbar, was a work in progress when I photographed it. Orkney has a long and well-known reputation for the woven arts using locally raised sheep. The Orkney Arts Council has made it possible for artists like Carol to remain on Orkney by using advertising, government grants and business training available. By bringing art tourism to the Orkneys artists are able to raise their families while producing their work as part of the community they grew up in. By staunching the flow of youth from the islands the Orkneys are growing as vibrant communities.

The bobbins hanging down in the front of the tapestry reminded me of musical notes. In the upper part of the print you can see through the warp threads to the cartoon of the design yet to be completed. Standing in front of the vertical loom I thought I could hear the plaintive notes of an old Orcadian tune.

Plate 47: Bus Stop, Finstown, Orkney, 2007

Odin Stone: Plate 47 - Bus Stop, Finstown, Orkney, 2007 - Tillman Crane

Odin Stone: Plate 47 - Bus Stop, Finstown, Orkney, 2007 - Tillman Crane

On any project that lasts as long as Odin Stone, there are ups and downs, twists and turns. In my travels I saw these modern Plexiglas bus stops all over Orkney. In fact, on many a rainy day I had photographed within their confines looking out over the landscape or trying to capture the water running down the windows. On this particular morning I was heading into Kirkwall to catch a very early ferry out to one of the northern islands. I left Ramsquoy before sunrise, but as I was driving through Finstown, the sun broke over the horizon. As I passed this bus stop the light seemed to explode through its walls. I stopped, parked in the bus stop, and grabbed my camera with a very wide-angle lens. I had only a few minutes to work. I think I got three or four sheets of film exposed before the sun moved from behind schedule board that was blocking it. On an earlier trip to Orkney I had made an image of the sun setting behind a standing stone in Stenness and I felt this bus stop was a modern equivalent of a 5000 year old standing stone. Who knows what archeologists will make of the plastic roadside structures 5000 years from now. They may be as big a mystery in the future as the standing stones are to us.

Odin Stone: Plates 39-42

Plate 39: Barley Field, Stenness, Orkney, Orkney, 2007

Odin Stone: Plate 39 - Barley Field, Stenness, Orkney, Orkney, 2007 - Tillman Crane

Odin Stone: Plate 39 - Barley Field, Stenness, Orkney, Orkney, 2007 - Tillman Crane

Bere (pronounced “bear” barley, cultivated primarily on Orkney is thought to be the oldest cereal in continuous commercial cultivation in the British Isles. It is adapted to growing on the poor, acidic soils and in the short summer growing season of this northern latitude. Up to the early 20th century this grain was used for milling flour, malting, and straw for thatching, animal bedding as well as the weaving of Orkney chairs. Bere also provided a large portion of a tenant’s rent and a valuable commodity for trade with northern Europe. In the 20th century Bere was replaced by higher yielding barley grains and by the 1990’s very little Bere was being grown in Orkney, the Shetlands and Caithness islands. It’s cultivation survives today in thanks to Barony Mills, a 19th century watermill, who purchases the grain to produce beremeal, used locally in bread, biscuits and the traditional beremeal bannock. The Agronomy Institute at Orkney College (UHI, Scotland) has a program began a program in 2002 aimed at developing new markets for the crop and better practices for growing it more easily and with better yield. From this have come marketable commodities, which include an Islay whisky, a bere-based microbrew and bere biscuit found in many Scottish restaurants.

I tried on many occasions to capture the flowing nature of a barley field and none of the photographs felt quite right. On this particular morning I was heading into Kirkwall on a back road from Ramsquoy and as I crested the hill I saw this “glowing” field of barley. I pulled over and began to photograph. The land falls gently to the north with Loch Harray in the distance and the hills above Finstown at the edge of the horizon. This field glowed in the summer light and the wind provided the movement, making it feel alive.

Plate 40: Churchill Barriers, Scapa Flow, Orkney, 2007

Odin Stone: Plate 40 - Churchill Barriers, Scapa Flow, Orkney, 2007 - Tillman Crane

Odin Stone: Plate 40 - Churchill Barriers, Scapa Flow, Orkney, 2007 - Tillman Crane

Scapa Flow is a large body of water, bordered by mainland Orkney to the north, Hoy to the south and east and the four small barrier islands of Lamb Holm, Glimps Holm, Burray, and South Ronaldsay. It is the traditional home waters for the British fleet. For several centuries the British fleet would rendezvous in Scapa Flow before heading west or anchor in the protected waters that rarely froze in the winter.

It was also the gathering place for the British fleet in the early days of World War II. On October 14, 1939, the German u-boat U47 entered Scapa Flow, between the barrier islands, and sank the HMS Royal Oak, killing 833 of the crew. The sub entered Scapa Flow at night on a high tide between two of the barrier islands and slipped out the same way. After the sinking, Winston Churchill visited the area and demanded that a barrier be built between the islands to prevent any further German subs entering Scapa Flow. Thirteen hundred captured Italian prisoners were employed to build the barriers, which took five years. The prisoners agreed to work on the project not because it was a defensive barrier but because it would provide a causeway linking the five islands together. The barrier was competed in May 1945, just in time for the end of the war. Since then the barriers have provided an essential economic link between mainland Orkney and the four southern islands.

My problem was how to photograph this stone causeway. I wanted to emphasis the size of the concrete blocks and imply their power for holding back the tides. In this image the causeway runs in shadow on the top left of the image and one of the massive concrete blocks fills the frame. On the left you can see the hills of Lambs Holm and Glimps Holm and the waters of the North Sea.

Plate 41: Sunrise, Stromness, Orkney, 2006

Odin Stone: Plate 41 - Sunrise, Stromness, Orkney, 2006 - Tillman Crane

Odin Stone: Plate 41 - Sunrise, Stromness, Orkney, 2006 - Tillman Crane

Stromness is the second major town of the Orkneys. It is located on the western end of Scapa Flow and is either the first or last site a boat sees as they enter the waterway. As towns go it is not as old or as large as Kirkwall, but it has its own charm of narrow winding streets, stone houses right on the harbor and a sense of history that is filled with a past of commerce, ships and sea. Many a Hudson Bay ship left for the new world from Stromness with Orcadian men aboard. This image was made early on a March morning, with the sun coming up over Scapa Flow and the light bouncing off the water to illuminate the stone houses on the waterfront. The hill behind Stromness is known as Brinkie’s Brae. It is easy to imagine the town; its buildings huddled together, protected from the storms coming in from the west by the hill behind. In fact you can see from the clouds that a front was moving in on the area.

Plate 42: Happy Valley, Orkney, 2007

Odin Stone: Plate 42 - Happy Valley, Orkney, 2007 - Tillman Crane

Odin Stone: Plate 42 - Happy Valley, Orkney, 2007 - Tillman Crane

This burn (Scots for brook) runs through an area known locally as Happy Valley. It is a forest and garden created by Edwin Harold. Mr. Harold moved into the croft on the property in the late forties and for the next 50 years devoted his life to turning this plot of land into a tree-filled garden area. Trees and woodlands are rare in Orkney, and he spent untold hours caring for this area. When he was in his 90’s he had to move out of the croft and he died in 2005. Today the Orkney Islands Council and the Friends of Happy Valley are maintaining the garden. I found this burn to be a peaceful place to pass a few delightful hours making photographs. The flowing stream creates a wisp of white surrounding a tiny island of mud. The light coming through the trees creates bright dancing reflections on the water. Perhaps this is my homage to Ansel Adams and John Sexton and the others who have made so many beautiful images of the natural landscape and running water, though on a much smaller scale.

Odin Stone: Plates 36-38

Plate 36: Mona’s Kitchen, Ramsquoy Farm, Stenness, Orkney, 2006

Odin Stone: Plate 36 - Mona’s Kitchen, Ramsquoy Farm, Stenness, Orkney, 2006 - Tillman Crane

Odin Stone: Plate 36 - Mona’s Kitchen, Ramsquoy Farm, Stenness, Orkney, 2006 - Tillman Crane

The center of most homes is the kitchen and little has changed over the centuries. At the Scara Brae site in Orkney, archeologists have reassembled homes from the long buried ruins of 5000 years ago. Walking into one of these structures you first notice the centrally located stone hearth in the floor. Beds formed from stone slabs line the walls left and right of the fire pit and at one end of the room there is a stone table with shelves above. At the Kirbuster Farm Museum, a maintained black house (hearth without chimney, hole in the roof to let the smoke out) with a history dating back four centuries, the hearth is once again the center of the home, surrounded by wooden box beds and woven Orkney chairs (Plate 17). In Plate 19 you see the centrally located peat fire burning below the hanging kettle.

At Ramsquoy Farm, Mona’s kitchen is still the center of the home. The couch pictured here is worn and comfortable, the cushions reminding me of leaning standing stones. The hearth today, a large stove providing heat for both hot water and cooking, is located to the left just out of the image. My back is against the sink. A TV is on the counter next to the sink, under which is the dishwasher. A large table and refrigerator are to my right. This kitchen is “home”, where Mona rules and visitors to the B & B rarely enter. On my first solo visit to Orkney, I arrived at Ramsquoy exhausted and jet-lagged. Mona brought me into this warm kitchen and filled me with hot tea. I felt at home in Orkney from these first few minutes. In may ways this Orcadian kitchen is not so far removed from the hearth at the center of the house found at Scara Brae, or the hearth-centered black houses.

Plate 37: Scapa Beach, Scapa, Orkney, 2007

Odin Stone: Plate 37 - Scapa Beach, Scapa, Orkney, 2007

Odin Stone: Plate 37 - Scapa Beach, Scapa, Orkney, 2007 - Tillman Crane

Mainland Orkney narrows at its center and is stopped from becoming two separate islands by a neck of land approximately one mile wide. On the northern part of this neck of land sits Kirkwall with its busy harbors. On the southern side of the neck sits Scapa Beach. It is a lovely half-mile long white sand beach looking out on the Scapa Flow. Highland Park Distillery sits on the hills along the northeast side of the beach and Scapa Distillery on the southern cliffs. It is one of many beautiful beaches in Orkney and my question to myself was how to photograph this landscape in a way that spoke to their uniqueness?

After using traditional lenses, I hit upon using the 5×12 pinhole camera. One of the advantages of a pinhole camera is there is no expensive lens to worry about. A pinhole lens has no point of focus but an infinite depth of field so everything, both close to the lens and far away, appears equally sharp. A disadvantage is that you also have no idea exactly what you are going to get because you can’t see through the lens. For this image I put the camera right on the sand, braced it with a small rock. I was hoping to get this white shell in the image but had no idea what in the background would come into play. I wanted to create an icon for all the beaches in Orkney by portraying none of them specifically. The lens was high enough above the sand to capture not only the shell but also the water in the background and well and the ominous clouds in the sky. I was delighted when I saw this negative come out of the darkroom. It succeeded beyond my wildest expectations.

Plate 38: Dounby Click Mill, Dounby, Orkney, 2007

Odin Stone: Plate 38 - Dounby Click Mill, Dounby, Orkney, 2007 - Tillman Crane

Odin Stone: Plate 38 - Dounby Click Mill, Dounby, Orkney, 2007 - Tillman Crane

The Dounby Click Mill is a restored Viking era mill using a horizontal grinding stone. It would have been used to produce meal for the few local families living in the area at the time. This is the last remaining horizontal mill in Orkney. It is housed in a dry stone building rebuilt several years ago. It is a very modest structure to say the least. It sits about 100 yards off the road, marked by a small historic Scotland sign. On my last visit to the mill I wanted to make a different sort of image than I had on previous trips so I brought along my soft focus lens.

Inside the mill is a tight space. It is also a very high contrast situation, with a skylight in the roof and the open door providing the only light. This extreme contrast makes working in this space difficult. Although the light is very harsh the feeling inside is one of quiet solitude. By using a soft focus lens I was able to reduce the over all sense of contrast in the building and soften both the feeling of light and the hardness of the rock. The 305 mm soft focus lens is a “normal” focal length lens for the 5×12 camera, which renders objects in the same near/far relationship as seen with the normal eye. The soft focus nature of this particular lens creates a spectral flare in highlight areas, creating a glow. The glow highlighting the grinding stone and off the tilted wooden hopper recreates the sense of light I felt inside this small building.

Odin Stone: Plates 32 – 35

Tillman Crane - Caravan, Deerness, Orkney, 2006

Odin Stone Plate 32: Caravan, Deerness, Orkney, 2006

Plate 32: Caravan, Deerness, Orkney, 2006

In the spring of 2006 I went to Scotland with my friend, Peter Goss. He was available to travel during his spring break from the University of Utah and I wanted to photograph Scotland in a season I hadn’t yet experienced so we took a chance on going during March. When we arrived in Orkney the snow was melting from the largest snowfall in many years and there were still traces in ditches and shaded areas around the islands. As is true in the US, the March weather in Scotland changes rapidly from warming sun to stormy, gale force winds. We worked every moment we were able in my favorite locations and when the weather kept us from photographing we drove around and explored the more of the countryside. On a very cold and blustery day we drove to Deerness and ended up at this beach. The wind was, as they say in Scotland, “blowin’ a howlie” so we didn’t take out our camera equipment. However, just past the parking area, I saw this holiday caravan sitting isolated, tied down and waiting out the storm. We returned to the car where I retrieved my “Hobo” 5×12 camera and tripod. The wind was blowing so hard that Peter had to hold down the tripod while I (tried to) steady the camera and put the film holder in it. I made two exposures and while we waited while our faces were sand blasted by the airborne sand. I think of this image as a visible example of the Orcadian spirit of determination – and optimism for the beautiful spring weather to soon arrive.

Tillman Crane - Odin Stone Plate 33: Bailey’s Stone, Ring of Brodgar, Orkney, 2005

Odin Stone Plate 33: Bailey’s Stone, Ring of Brodgar, Orkney, 2005

Plate 33: Bailey’s Stone, Ring of Brodgar, Orkney, 2005

The Ring of Brodgar is over one hundred yards in diameter. The stones average about six feet in height. Originally it is estimated that there were approximately 64 stones in the circle. Today, half remain. I have photographed these stones many times, making individual “portraits” of each stone as well as trying to figure out the alignment and relationships between them. This image gives some sense of scale to the ring and its stones. For me it is an infinitely variable puzzle. From this vantage point I am looking North-northeast, across the Loch of Harray towards the hills surrounding Finstown. To my knowledge none of the stones are specifically named. My brother Bailey, on an earlier trip had brought a small stone from his yard in Hazel Green, Alabama, to Scotland and he left this touchstone in the split of the stone closest to the camera. Two years later, when I made this photograph, it was still there. I hope someday Bailey will be able to return with me to the Ring of Brodgar and revisit these touchstones left behind.

Tillman Crane - Odin Stone Plate 34: Croft Interior, Rackwick Bay, Hoy, Orkney, 2005

Odin Stone Plate 34: Croft Interior, Rackwick Bay, Hoy, Orkney, 2005

Plate 34: Croft Interior, Rackwick Bay, Hoy, Orkney, 2005

On the island of Hoy sits the crofting village of Ratwick, in a valley surrounded by foothills that are six hundred feet high. It has a crescent beach filled with round stones of all sizes and it is one of the most famous beaches in Orkney. The village is nestled in a valley carved by geological time with its beach facing into the North Atlantic. I went to Hoy on a beautiful day hoping to photograph the round stones on the beach. As I crossed the island and came down into this valley I could see a storm blowing in off the Atlantic. I drove down into the valley anyway to take my chances. I parked my car in the visitors lot and carried my camera gear down the beach as the wind and surf were picking up. On the beach sits a croft that serves as a shelter to any who wish to stay there.  There is no charge, only the admonition to keep the place clean for the next visitor. I decided to wait out the storm in the croft and photographed inside while I did so. The storm raged on and after six hours it was time to make a decision – either stay the night or catch my ferry back to Mainland Orkney. I opted for the latter and a hot dinner. However, though

Mother Nature thwarted my photographic intention perhaps I got the better photograph in the croft than on the beach.

Tillman Crane - Odin Stone Plate 35: Waiting Room, Egilsay, Orkney, 2007

Odin Stone Plate 35: Waiting Room, Egilsay, Orkney, 2007

Plate 35: Waiting Room, Egilsay, Orkney, 2007

Egilsay is a small island north of mainland Orkney that supports a farming community and is home to the ruins of one of St. Magnus’ churches. Attached to this roofless ruin is a round tower, much like the Irish round towers. The purpose of this trip was to photograph the church and tower, which I did. After completing this self-imposed assignment I returned to the ferry terminal to await the return ferry home. While sitting I noticed this community bulletin board. This board is a clear example of how island communities keep its members posted of news. Everyone has to take the ferry to get off island and what better place to post a notice than in the ferry waiting room. Some of the notices are official and some unofficial, but all are important to the life on the island community.