Scottish life and the Sound of Harris by Olivia Arthur

Olivia Arthur is a London-based photographer, who has worked on documenting and photographing the cultural divide between the Western and Eastern societies. Additionally, as Magnum Photo’s youngest member, she worked specifically on a project called The Sound of Harris, exploring life in the outskirts of Scotland. We asked her a few questions about her experience with the Leica M ( Typ 240), as well as the outcome of the project.

Scotland. Isle of Harris, Outer Hebrides. The northern lights. 2015

How would you describe your photography and who can you say has been an influence for your photography?

Simple, quiet. I would like to think that I take thoughtful images that people can come back to. I have had many different influences, of course many Magnum photographers as well as several Indian photographers as I began my career in India.

How did you become interested in Leica cameras and the process in becoming a Magnum Photographer?

Leica cameras are of course very famous, this was actually my first time using one though. I normally shoot on medium format. I have in fact always used a little Leica flash that I love because it is very portable but also very good. Being part of Magnum is a tough process but it also keeps you on your toes and constantly thinking about what you are doing.

What genre are your photos? How would you describe this project?

I would use the term documentary though I think that terms are often confusing. This work is about a place and the people that live there but it is also inspired by the stories that have grown out of the land and is an attempt to capture why the place has had such a rich tradition of storytelling. We are talking about the real world but also hope that the work might trigger people’s imaginations.

Please tell us more about the background for this project.

These remote islands – and the harsh conditions in which people eek out a living – have inspired stories and a tradition of storytelling that is as rich as the islands are barren. Taking the stories as our starting point we have explored the islands, meeting people who continue to make their living at sea, on the land or in the small villages, as well as those who come to escape or in search of loneliness. We felt the influence of the weather, the power of the sea and saw faces in the mountains and monster-like shapes emerge from the seaweed as the tide receded.

Scotland. Isle of Harris, Outer Hebrides. Starry night. 2015

This image shows a beautiful starry dusk scenery with blacks and greens. How was this image achieved (any post production or ISO settings that helped)? 

Those are the Northern Lights in the Sky! Of course it is a longish exposure but the colour really comes from the lights in the sky.

The set of portraits you have depict in a way the lifestyle of the community in this region, how do they live in this community?

It is a simple life and the villages are very remote. I had the feeling that people who live there enjoy the solitude and quietness of the place. It is incredibly beautiful and peaceful but of course a different pace of life. The shops are over an hour’s drive away and the bus only goes a couple of times a day. But we also found people to be very much at peace with themselves which is a beautiful thing.

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The image with the stone-bricked structure has a haunting feel to it. What is this place and what was the intention behind photographing it?

There are many many abandoned buildings on the islands. In part I am sure this is because people have left. But you also do see places where a building has started to fall down and the owners seem to just build a new one next to it. Perhaps it is cheaper than restoring the old ones. As a result you have these ruined houses which sit often in remote places and do have quite an eerie feel to them, on many occasions they evoked the atmosphere of the stories we had heard.

How do you see your photography evolving in the following years? Would you like to explore more in depth this genre? 

I often feel like I am only just beginning, that I have a lot of work, experimenting and discovery are still in front of me. I think it would be boring otherwise and I love the idea that I can keep doing new things and challenging myself. I do have several ongoing projects that I will continue but I am also starting to try out something on a large format camera too. Not something that I will be showing any time soon, but it has been a busy period for me recently and so I feel that I can take some time to play around and experiment a bit before putting new work out.

To connect with Olivia Arthur, please visit her website or copy this link http://www.oliviaarthur.com.

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