Translation Scottish Gaelic to English: Land of the Bendy Grass
Strand was an American modernist photographer that spent 3 months in South Uist, off the west coast of Scotland where the body of this photo book was created. It is pitched as having a Marxist approach, presenting aesthetically pleasing landscapes and portraits, with a deep underlying meaning.
Strand arrived in South Uist as a secret survey of the island as a possible testing range for America’s new nuclear missile was taking place, therefore Tir A Mhurain is suggested to be a protest against the development of the area becoming in the range. The images present a relationship between the landscape and the labour of the Hebrideans, which concentrates on the local traditions and people who truly present the area. It became an ethnographic project, with a political meaning. Unfortunately, by the time the book was finished, the rocket range had been confirmed and the worlds first nuclear missile was soaring towards St Kilda, a fellow island, so the photos now remain as a reminder of the lives and landscapes that lived under the shadow of the bomb.
Interestingly, Strand had a strict way of printing his negatives. He would only allow them to be printed in Leipzig, East Germany with a reasoning of they had a special print process that was only available there, which meant the US banned the book instead it had an obvious stamp of ‘Printed in Germany, USSR occupied, which to Strand wouldn’t consent.
He focused on the dark in his images, he didn’t use gloss, nor would matt paper convey the dark depth he wanted. So he used semi-matte paper, and personally layered varnishes or waxes until it conveyed the blackness. He only made them the size of the original negative, which of 9 have been purchased by the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. He knew producing them in vast books wouldn’t do the pictures the justice he wanted, which is why he personally made the original prints.
What strikes me about the images is the lack of highlights. The images are purposely exposed and printed to create a low mood, focusing on the black details and shadows. I think it is really beautiful how the mid greys to black glide across the image. It really conveys an emotion of being under the shadow of the bomb, although the images are there to celebrate the landscape, it is obvious that there is a deeper meaning, though aesthetically pleasing.
The portraits go hand in hand with the landscapes, with many addressing the camera, they present the locals which have a deep connection with the land. The people look natural, and again the detail in their faces, and their emotions, is really eye-catching.
Together they force you to think about the lives, which I think is mainly down to how they have been printed with such deep tones. I definitely feel a sense of community through these images, not from the people, but the connection with the landscape. With the deeper context, you can understand why the project has been made. It is a reminder of the people’s opinions that don’t get noted, with America, strands home, being a bigger force on them and their homes.