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Scotland's Far North

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Scotland's Far North
Chick Chalmers; Tom Kidd; Glyn Satterley

Street Level Photoworks, 24 Jun - 27 Aug

These three bodies of work from the late 1970s provide a unique insight into Scotlandʼs remote landscape, islands and people. Glyn Satterleyʼs series presents a document of life in the neglected area of Caithness and Sutherland at a time when the myth was much banded about that the oil industry brought wealth and prosperity to the whole of Scotland. Chick Chalmers ʻOrkneyʼ project and Tom Kiddʼs ʻShetlandʼ both present fascinating photographic insights of these island archipelago's at a time of change with the effects of the oil industry on the traditional life of these cultures. Candid and sympathetic, the images show that Scotlandʼs Far North managed to take its place in the modern world without losing too many of the customs and traditions which give these places their special character and ethos.

All three bodies of work appeared in a series by Paul Harris Publishing, an enterprising photography publisher based in Edinburgh at the time. These were Chick Chalmers 'Life in the Orkney Islands' (1979), Tom Kidd 'Life in Shetland' (1980), and Glyn Satterley 'Life in Caithness and Sutherland' (1983). It is from that basis that Street Level has revisited these projects to re-evaluate those times and places from the vantage point of the present. For the project, we have worked with Tom and Glyn in scanning and editing the original negs, and producing the prints in the exhibition. The works of Chick Chalmers in the exhibition are the original vintage prints made by the photographer and applying his distinct and detailed approach to the printing process.

Chick Chalmers (1948-98) was born in Edinburgh and educated at George Heriot's School. He has close links with Orkney. His grandmother, on his mother's side, was a Shearer; and on his father's side he is descended from the Chalmers family of Kirkwall. He spent three months in the islands during the winter of 1974/5, taking many of these photographs and returned in the early summer of 1976 with the aid of a Greater London Arts Association Visual Arts Award.

Chick was a graduate in photography from the Polytechnic of Central London, specialising in documentary photography. In his final year he made a body of work on Orkney which was toured as an exhibition by the London photography collective Camerawork. In 1980 he was awarded a Scottish Arts Council grant as part of an exchange to go to the States to photograph, touring almost every state in an ancient VW camper van. He returned with a remarkable body of work which was exhibited at Stills gallery in 1982. He began teaching at what is now Napier University, Edinburgh in 1979 and also taught at Stevenson College in the last two years of his life.

Tom Kidd was born in Edinburgh in1953 and studied photography at Polytechnic Central London and Napier (College) Edinburgh. He was awarded a Kodak Bursary to take photos in Shetland and worked as a labourer on building sites and as a removal van driver in Shetland to keep making the work at the time. He was encouraged, helped and inspired by Richard Hough, Mike Edwards, David Pashley of Stills Gallery and Napier, Lesley Greene and Lindsay Gordon of the Scottish Arts Council, and his close friend Chick Chalmers. This resulted in the book 'Life in Shetland' in 1980.

Since the late seventies he has variously been a community photographer in Craigmillar, a part-time lecturer at Napier, photographer in residence at Aberlour House School (circa 1978), and served on the Board at Stills in Edinburgh in the mid-80s. He has worked as a newspaper photographer for 25 years and is now a helicopter pilot living in Dunbar. 

The Shetland photographs were resurrected in the late 90s by Bonhoga Gallery in the Shetlands and in the co-authored book with Tom Morton ‘Black Gold Tide – 25 Years of Oil in Shetland’ in 2004. This work was more recently featured on Document Scotland’s website and presented in one of their Salon events in 2013. Previous exhibitions at Stills have included a joint show with Karl Blossfeldt and his photographs from Aberlour House School, both in the 80s. His work was acquired for the collections of the Scottish Arts Council and the V&A.

Brought up in Kent, Glyn Satterley is best known for his books on ‘Scottish Sporting Estates, and his evocative and sometimes quirky images of landscape and people. ‘Life in Caithness and Sutherland’ preceded this work, and he considers the two years spent commuting from Kent by caravanette as his photographic apprenticeship. It was a welcome release after a Fine Art degree in painting, and his unique style developed during this period.

A long and successful career as an editorial freelance followed, working throughout the UK and abroad, but he has an on-going love affair with the Scottish Highlands. Some of his most memorable images come from working situations there - if the light is right, or a figure within it works its magic within his frame. These are the ones that excite him; the ones he hopes others will want to share. His prints are in private collections, Scotland's National Collection and Strathclyde University.


Banner Image: © Chick Chalmers
Left Image: © Tom Kidd