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