Back Stories

Odin Stone: Plates 28 – 31

Tillman Crane - Odin Stone Plate 28: Bank Lane, Stromness, Orkney, 2006

Odin Stone Plate 28: Bank Lane, Stromness, Orkney, 2006

Plate 28: Bank Lane, Stromness, Orkney, 2006

It is relatively easy to show the passage of time by photographing things that are centuries old. When I stand in front of a standing stone it is easy to recognize the passage of time and acknowledge how things have changed. These two phone booths stand as silent sentinels, witnesses to Orkney’s place in the modern world. And yet they are also rapidly becoming symbols of times past. Notice the signs that indicate one takes change as well as credit cards. In the few years since this image further changes have taken place and most of the pay phones on Orkney no longer take change. As more and more people use cell phones, the need for a local neighborhood pay phone dwindles. The iconic red phone booth of Scotland may soon disappear from the landscape altogether, not unlike the standing stones and the few that remain will be monoliths to another century.

Tillman Crane - Eday Ferry, Eday, Orkney, 2007

Odin Stone Plate 29: Eday Ferry, Eday, Orkney, 2007

Plate 29: Eday Ferry, Eday, Orkney, 2007

The island of Eday lies 15 miles north of Mainland Orkney and is the ninth largest island in the archipelago. My intention for visiting this island was to photograph the Stone of Setter (Eday’s major standing stone), the chambered Cairns of Vinquoy, Breaside and Huntersquoy as well as the beaches and landscape. Visiting a new island was always exciting for me because although I almost always had specific locations in mind, I never knew how I would relate to the island and its environment so the images I returned with were often a surprise. The islands are all reached by ferry, some an hour’s ride, others a full day’s, some on a daily schedule, while others were on a twice monthly one. Enjoying ferry travel and with an hour to Eday I decided to incorporate this ferry ride into the project. I thought a pinhole image might provide a different look and feel for my Orkney work and set the camera down on the bench in the corner of the cabin on the ferry.  I let the exposure go for the entire trip to Eday and it turned out to be a good exposure, with people moving in and out of the cabin and leaving only a ghostly vision. The tilt of the table provides the feeling of a sea going adventure, and by using the pinhole I was able to make a photograph that is completely different than one I would have made with a lens camera.

Tillman Crane - Odin Stone Plate 30: Betty Corrigall’s Grave, Hoy, Orkney, 2005

Odin Stone Plate 30: Betty Corrigall’s Grave, Hoy, Orkney, 2005

Plate 30: Betty Corrigall’s Grave, Hoy, Orkney, 2005

This has been called the loneliest grave in Britain. On the boundary of Hoy and North Walls parishes on the island of Hoy (second largest island in Orkney) lays the grave of Betty Corrigall. Corrigall was a young woman living at Greenairs Cottage who fell in love and became pregnant. The young man left for sea leaving Betty alone and, like Hester Prynne, shunned by her neighbors. Twice she tried to kill herself, succeeding in hanging herself on the second attempt. Because she committed suicide she was denied burial in consecrated ground in any of the local churchyards and so was buried in unconsecrated ground on the border between the two parishes. She lay in an unmarked grave from the 1770’s until 1933 when two men digging peat dug up her coffin. Curious, they opened the coffin and discovered that the acid from the peat had preserved her corpse. They reburied the coffin and forgot about her, but during World War II her coffin was again discovered by soldiers digging peat and again she was reinterred. Unfortunately, word spread and repeated exhumations by curious visitors caused her remains to begin to deteriorate rapidly. Finally the local police took steps to stop the practice and she was reburied with a concrete slab placed over the coffin. The grave remained unmarked until 1976 when Mr. Henry Berry erected a small fiberglass headstone during a belated burial service.

On each visit to Hoy I stopped to photograph this lonely grave. Its quiet hillside isolation spoke to me. On several occasions the wind howled and the camera was nearly blown off the tripod but I was finally able to capture an image the carried the sense of isolation I felt standing there and looking at this grave. Over the years a small fence has been erected around the grave and a wooden walkway leads visitors to the gravesite. What is it about our society that we will shun someone who makes a mistake but years or decades later forgive the sin and revere the person who was cast out? There her grave stands on the border between two parishes on Hoy, with a white stone and white fence protecting her dignity. I see it as a constant reminder to our imperfect humanity.

Tillman Crane - Odin Stone Plate 31: A964, Stenness, Orkney, 2005

Odin Stone Plate 31: A964, Stenness, Orkney, 2005

Plate 31: A964, Stenness, Orkney, 2005

Two icons of the British Nation stand side by side on the road in Stenness, a mail drop box built into a stonewall and a red phone booth. These red phone booths are leaving the British as well as the Orkney landscape. During my travels around Scotland I noticed that many of the traditional red Royal Post mailboxes are decorated with a coat of arms. Curious, I sought out the meaning and this tradition began during the reign of Queen Victoria. It was decided to place mailboxes at locations other than the post office and several designs were created, among them the free-standing mail box column and the type built into a wall. Queen Victoria insisted that her royal crest be included in the design. Each successive monarch continued the trend, placing new mailboxes around the countryside. Because of this tradition, it is possible to date the placement of the mailbox by the royal crest found on the face of the mailbox. This one in Stenness was put in place during the reign of King George V. I wonder how long it will be before these local community mailboxes become symbols of bygone times, unusual curiosities like the standing stones in the landscape.

Odin Stone: Plates 24 – 27

Tillman Crane - Odin Stone Plate 24: St Nicholas Round Kirk, Orphir, Orkney, 2003

Odin Stone Plate 24: St Nicholas Round Kirk, Orphir, Orkney, 2003

Plate 24: St Nicholas Round Kirk, Orphir, Orkney, 2003

St Nicolas Round Kirk is related to the image in Plate 20 (Bell Pull, St. Magnus Church, Birsay). The story of Earl Magnus the Martyr is told in the Orkneyinga Saga, and relays the story of the murder of Earl Magnus by Earl Hakon so that Hakon could consolidate control of Orkney under his Earldom. Legend has it that Hakon began to feel guilty about the murder of Magnus and went on a crusade in order to do his penitence for the murder. After he returned form his crusade, he built this round kirk on his property.

St. Nicholas Kirk is the only round church in Scotland to survive that era. The development of round kirks throughout northern Europe was a direct response to the Crusades. The Round Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem inspired the returning knights.  St Nicolas Kirk was once twenty feet in diameter with a small apse. Today, only the small apse and sections of the nearby wall continue to stand. St. Nicholas remained intact until the 18th century when much of it was pulled down and the stones used to build a local kirk. This local kirk no longer exists but the surrounding graveyard speaks to its presence. On every trip I’ve made to Orkney I revisited this monument. The round wall reminds me of a catcher’s mitt catching the afternoon sun’s brilliance.

Tillman Crane - Odin Stone Plate 25: Transept, St. Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, Orkney, 2005

Odin Stone Plate 25: Transept, St. Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, Orkney, 2005

Plate 25: Transept, St. Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, Orkney, 2005

Continuing the connection of my images to the St Magnus story, Plate 25 was made in the transept of St. Magnus Cathedral. Magnus the Martyr was canonized on April 16, 1135. Construction of the cathedral was begun in 1137, with the promise of dedicating the building to St. Magnus, interring his bones within, and moving the bishops seat from Birsay to Kirkwall. It is believed that this Cathedral was built by the same masons who completed the Durham Cathedral in England. They used red sandstone quarried near Kirkwall and yellow sandstone quarried on Eday. It has served the citizens of Orkney and Kirkwall for over 850 years.

My inspiration for wanting to photograph in the Cathedral was Fredrick Evans. The images he made in the English cathedrals were the first to teach me that photographs could go beyond the simple recording of facts and his cathedral work continues to inspire me to this day. The opportunity to photograph in this 12th century cathedral was too much for me to pass by. Almost every visit to Orkney I took time to photograph in this space. Cathedrals were built to inspire, to raise ones thoughts. Each visit I see new things, new relationships between shapes and light and dark. Each visit I am trying to make photographs that go beyond record making and raise the bar to inspiration.

Tillman Crane - Odin Stone Plate 26: Ramsquoy Peat Allotment, Stenness, Orkney, 2005

Odin Stone Plate 26: Ramsquoy Peat Allotment, Stenness, Orkney, 2005

Plate 26: Ramsquoy Peat Allotment, Stenness, Orkney, 2005

One afternoon Mona Swannie, the landlady of the Orkney Bed & Breakfast where I stay, handed me an old, almost crumbling, piece of paper that had been folded many times over the years. It was a map of the original peat allotments for the farms in Stenness. Although not used much for heat any more Ramsquoy still has a claim to its peat allotment on the uphill side of its fields. I borrowed Jim’s truck and drove up to the back of Ramsquoy seeking the peat allotment and a beautiful view out over Scapa Flow. My intention that day was to photograph the sunset but instead I found the life cycle of peat there in front of me. Peat starts as heather, dies, turns white, and is then covered by the next growth of heather. Eventually it turns into a rich black, almost mud-like substance. Cut and dried it has been used to heat homes for millennia on Orkney and all across Scotland. In this image you can see the living heather, the dead heather turning white, and the rich black peat that lies beneath.

Tillman Crane - Odin Stone Plate 27: Fence Line, Finstown, Orkney, 2007

Odin Stone Plate 27: Fence Line, Finstown, Orkney, 2007

Plate 27: Fence Line, Finstown, Orkney, 2007

Stonewalls. Orkney is filled with stonewalls etching the landscape, defining farms, providing wind breaks and a place to stack stones out of the fields. This wall divides two small sections of land all the way down to the sea and with the dark shoreline provides an arrow pointing out towards the islands to the north. These small plots of land are on the north side of the A965 between Finstown and Stromness at a small car pull-off. It is a place to pull over make a phone call, eat lunch or let faster cars pass you by. I used it on many occasions and was fascinated by the wall leading to the sea. For me, this image visually explains much of Orkney to me, farms leading down to the sea, farmers with boats and fishermen with farms.

Odin Stone: Plates 20 – 23

Tillman Crane - Odin Stone Plate 20: Bell Pull, St. Magnus Church, Birsay, Orkney, 2003

Odin Stone Plate 20: Bell Pull, St. Magnus Church, Birsay, Orkney, 2003

Plate 20: Bell Pull, St. Magnus Church, Birsay, Orkney, 2003

This church stands on the site of, what was most likely, the first cathedral in Orkney. Built in 1064 by Earl Thorifinn, it was the “Bishop’s Cathedral” and therefore, the religious center of the Orkney Islands. During this time, Orkney was growing as a strategic center between Norway, Denmark and Britain and the Norwegian King felt threatened by the growing power of the Orkney earls. In 1098 the King of Norway invaded Orkney and the earls (Erlend and Paul) were killed and their sons (Magnus Erlendson and Hakon Paulson) taken to Norway to serve the king. At eighteen, Magnus became famous for refusing to fight in battle when the Norwegian king attacked Anglesey, England. Forced into exile until the King died, he returned to Orkney to claim his inheritance of half of the Orkney Islands. An uneasy joint rule lasted only a few years with his cousin before Magnus was attacked and killed in 1117 on Hakon’s orders. Magnus’ body was taken to the Bishop’s Cathedral at Birsay and buried. Soon after Magnus was buried, miracles began to be witnessed in the area and pilgrims traveled to the church for healing and absolution. Magnus was canonized in 1135, and a few years later his remains were moved to the new Cathedral in Kirkwall, which still stands today. His bones were found interred in a column during early 20th century restoration of the Cathedral. St. Magnus became the patron saint of Orkney and his name graces many locations throughout the archipelago.

The small St. Magnus Church is under the care of St. Magnus Church Birsay Trust. This bell pull is in the alcove and I photographed it many times over several years. I loved its simplicity and elegance. The light coming in from the window to its right gives the image a sense of dimension with a turning edge on the handle. For me it is one of those simply beautiful and beautifully simple images.

Tillman Crane - Odin Stone Plate 21: Orkney Library and Archive, Kirkwall, Orkney, 2006

Odin Stone Plate 21: Orkney Library and Archive, Kirkwall, Orkney, 2006

Plate 21: Orkney Library and Archive, Kirkwall, Orkney, 2006

The Orkney Library and Archive is home to both the central library for the Orkney Islands and the Orkney Archive, which is on the second floor. The library was founded in 1683 and moved into this latest building in 2003. The library holds 80,000 items, Internet connections as well as all the services of any modern library. The Archive on the second floor houses a photographic archive, family history materials, local history materials as well as an extensive sound and film collection. It is the place to go to when studying the history or the Orkney Islands.

This new, modern building was being completed during my first visit to Orkney in 2002. Over the following years I became a member of the library, using its services for Internet and research. (I still carry my Orkney Library card in my wallet in anticipation of my next trip.) I wonder about the thoughts about these “stones” as they are clearly concrete fabrications but remind me of round stones washed up on a beach. Their presence makes the plaza in front of the library purely pedestrian and gives a quirky presence to the front of the library. When I paired this image with Plate 22 the two images made a visual sense to me though separately they are very different from each other.

Tillman Crane - Wall, Broch of Burroughston, Shapinsay, Orkney, 2007

Odin Stone Plate 22: Wall, Broch of Burroughston, Shapinsay, Orkney, 2007

Plate 22: Wall, Broch of Burroughston, Shapinsay, Orkney, 2007

broch (rhymes with loch) is a type of wide round stone tower, dating from the Iron Age, which was large enough to serve as a fortified home. Similar ruins can be seen in various places throughout the Orkney Islands. This   broch in Shapinsay (one of the inner islands of the archipelago) was excavated in 1862 and had fallen into ruin but has since been repaired and cleaned up. This typical broch site faces the sea and is surrounded by good agricultural land. The doorway and interior of this site are well preserved with an interior set up similar to that of the more famous Mine Howe site on Mainland Orkney. The round wall of the broch survives to a height of approximately four feet and in some places the wall is almost four feet thick. My question was “Who put this round stone in the wall and why?” Was it the Iron Age occupant of the site adding mystery and protective symbolism to the walls of their home?  Was it placed between the rectangles by the first team of archeologists who uncovered the ruins and rebuilt the site in the mid-19th century or perhaps simply a touch of artistic whimsy when the site was later restored in the latter part of the 20th century? Although I have no idea “why” the rock is there, I love that it is and played with the serendipity of its placement with the pinhole camera. When I paired this image with the image from the front of the Orkney Library, the shared geometry made them good choices to play off of each other.

Tillman Crane - Odin Stone Plate 23: Yellowbird Studio, Chocolate Cottage, Birsay, Orkney, 2005

Odin Stone Plate 23: Yellowbird Studio, Chocolate Cottage, Birsay, Orkney, 2005

Plate 23: Yellowbird Studio, Chocolate Cottage, Birsay, Orkney, 2005

Yellowbird Studio is home to two artists, Jon Thompson and Leslie Murdock. In my travels I had noticed Jon painting in several places around mainland Orkney. My friends, Donald and Janet Stewart, convinced me a stop by the studio would be photographically worthwhile. After meeting with Jon and Leslie (both painters) I was given the run of their gallery and studio space for several hours. When Jon took me out back to his “portable” painting studio I knew I had found my image.   Jon had built an A-frame building on wheels that can be towed anywhere his car can go. This day it was is sitting behind the gallery and looking out over the wet Birsay headland. For me this image summed up being an artist in Orkney, figuring out a way to work with wonderful daylight, while keeping dry. In the Orkneys, if you waited for the weather you would never get any work done. On their website Lesley says that she “enjoys the challenge of trying to capture the magical Orkney light especially when the wind is blowing and changing the mood from minute to minute. Even what might feel the dullest of days Orkney always has some subtle interplay of light to inspire me.” I couldn’t have explained my feelings about photographing on Orkney any better.

Odin Stone: Plates 16 – 19

Plate 16: Staircase, Hall of Clestrain, Orphir, Orkney, 2007

Odin Stone: Plate 16 - Staircase, Hall of Clestrain, Orphir, Orkney, 2007

Odin Stone: Plate 16 – Staircase, Hall of Clestrain, Orphir, Orkney, 2007

The Hall of Clestrain was once a magnificent Georgian House that is today in near ruin. Built in 1769 by Patrick Honeyman of Graemsay, the house was left in the care of the estate manager, John Rae, when the family fortune grew and the Honeymans relocated to central Scotland. The fourth son of John Rae, Dr. John Rae, was born there in 1813. Dr. John Rae worked for the Hudson Bay Company and was an artic explorer. He discovered the last link in the Northwest Passage and he is also infamous for discovering that the better-known Franklin Expedition died en route and the last survivors turned to cannibalism in their attempt to survive. For this revelation Dr. Rae was brutally condemned in the British press and never received the recognition he deserved.

Built on the shore of Scapa Flow and poorly designed for the site and the weather of Orkney, the house has fallen into disrepair and been used for several different purposes including a byre. The one outstanding feature still remaining inside is this wonderful staircase. I visited the house on several occasions and each time searched for a different way to photograph the staircase. On my last visit I placed my camera vertically in the widow sill to the right of the staircase. Using a very wide-angle lens and the camera sitting on the windowsill I could not see the exact composition on the ground glass. I thought I knew what I was getting and it turned out the image was almost exactly what I hoped it would be. Looking at the image I feel as if I am inside a nautilus shell with this glorious curve coming right past me.

Today there is a serious on going effort to save and restore the Hall of Clestrain. It has been featured on the BBC program Restoration. It didn’t win the competition but did receive favorable publicity. A local group, Friends of Orkney Boat Museum, has formed to restore the house to it original condition and build an Orkney boat museum nearby.

Plate 17: Orkney Chairs, Kirbuster Museum, Birsay, Orkney, 2003

Odin Stone: Plate 17 - Orkney Chairs, Kirbuster Museum, Birsay, Orkney, 2003 - Tillman Crane

Odin Stone: Plate 17 – Orkney Chairs, Kirbuster Museum, Birsay, Orkney, 2003 – Tillman Crane

These Orkney chairs are located in the Kirbuster Farm Museum in Birsay Parrish, Orkney. Orkney Chairs are an original Orcadian design. Because Orkney had very few trees and no lumbering industry to speak of, the wooden seat and arms are usually built out of driftwood found on the shore. The backs are traditionally woven barley straw like the chair on the right. The design appears to go back a couple of hundred years but no one knows exactly when the first “Orkney Chair” was made. These Orkney chairs embrace the person sitting in them. The back comes up to neck level and the side come around and form almost a cocoon around the sitter. I am sure the design of the chairs were created to keep the draft off the back of the person sitting in front of the traditional open hearth fire located in the center of the house.  In these chairs you sit back, encased and warm, a good place to share stories or listen to epic adventure tales on long cold winter nights.

Plate 18: Town Park, Finstown, Orkney, 2005

Odin Stone: Plate 18 - Town Park, Finstown, Orkney, 2005 - Tillman Crane

Odin Stone: Plate 18 – Town Park, Finstown, Orkney, 2005 – Tillman Crane

Finstown sits between Stromness and Kirkwall at the junction of the A965 and the A966. It was grew up around a pub called the Toddy Hole in the 1820’s. Today it is a lovely village of stone houses and the Bay of Firth provides shelter for pleasure craft and small fishing vessels. It took several years of driving through Finstown before I took the time to look behind the main drag through town. I “discovered” this park behind the main road through Finstown. I say discovered because I didn’t know it was there so it was a wonderful discovery for me. It wasn’t listed in many books nor noticed on many maps. It sits behind the Firth Church in downtown Finstown I should have realized that behind the busy intersection of the A965 and the A966 there would be a place where the residents could go for a quiet chat and to enjoy the last light of a summer evening. And this park is surely it. Although no one was there it felt like a place where stories could be told in comfort.

It looks like a friendly informal arrangement to me. One bench in anchored, and one is made of stone. I feel as if neighbors brought out the other benches to share a good sit down, and just left them there for others to use. It is almost as if can hear the conversations hanging in the air. The setting sun brings warmth to this neighborhood gathering. The well-worn center tells of its frequent use. Orkney is changing so fast that when I returned to this park in Finstown a year after making this image, it was being redeveloped into a park that no longer included the one suggested by these six benches. I hope the new park is every bit as friendly and inviting as the old one.

Plate 19: Hearth, Kirbuster Museum, Birsay, Orkney, 2007

Odin Stone: Plate 19 - Hearth, Kirbuster Museum, Birsay, Orkney, 2007 - Tillman Crane

Odin Stone: Plate 19 – Hearth, Kirbuster Museum, Birsay, Orkney, 2007 – Tillman Crane

The Kirbuster Farm Museum is an Orcadian blackhouse that has been in continuous habitation since the16th century. Tax records tell the story of all the families who lived in it over centuries. This house was only slightly modified over all that time. I was told that when the last owner died, the surviving relatives deeded the property to the Orkney Council. The council decided to turn it into a living history museum in order to preserve a history of this quickly passing way of life. The interior stonewalls were at some point wallpapered over but nothing else had been done to them. By stripping off the wallpaper this central room was returned to the way it had appeared for centuries. The centrally located hearth contains a traditional peat fire. Early croft houses had no chimney, merely a hole in the roof to vent smoke, so the peat smoke blackens the walls. I loved the smell of being in this room. It became one of my favorite locations in Orkney.  On a cold wet blustery day, it was very inviting to be in a room warmed by a wonderful smelling peat fire. On each visit I would photograph throughout the house but each time my interest returned to this central room. I made many photographs where I tried to capture the feel and smell of the room. This one comes the closest. It was a long exposure, 25 minutes or so. The fire glows and the smoke fills the air and no one enters the room during the entire exposure. I had it all to my self. And I smelled of peat the rest of the day.