From my home on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland, I can see the wide expanse of the North Atlantic Ocean. I had always been curious about the Faroe Islands, our nearest neighbours, which lie just a few hundred miles north just over the horizon. In 2015 I decided to finally make the journey North, and decided to spend a month working as an artist across the islands, learning about the culture, people and landscapes which in many respects seemed so similar to our own.
What I found however was something that I was not quite prepared for, as in almost every aspect I was overwhelmed by the warmth of the Faroese people, and the at times austere, brooding, menacing, and then sublime mountains and seascapes of the island archipelago. I made my initial journey around the islands on the old fishing sloop Johanna, a 132 year old boat which connects our two cultures, originally built in the South of England for the vibrant fishing trade.
From the decks of Johanna, I had the chance to live and work with a Faroese crew, learning stories about each place we visited, seeing the land from a new perspective, and slowly getting to know the people who welcomed us with great enthusiasm in each place we docked. Reluctantly at the end of the trip I returned home to Scotland, however I couldn't get the images and experiences of the Faroe Islands out of my head, from dawn breaking in Nolsoy, to the swirling mists both revealing and concealing the Beinesfjord, to the vibrant nightlife of Torshavn.
The following year I resolved to return, however this time I would try and share my experiences with a wider community. Working with the team at the Faroese publisher Sprotin, I planned to make an ambitious new body of photographic work which explored the islands and its people, documenting life in the islands as it is today. Returning in Summer 2016 and basing myself in Vestmanna, I spent a month travelling across the islands, documenting the characters and places I visited, meeting many inspiring people along the way while trying to learn more about the issues facing the islands today, and trying to explore life outside of the one apsect that has made the islands known to a wider community, The Grind (the hunting of pilot whales). To undertake such a project felt daunting at first. I poured over maps of the islands and endlessly deliberated. How on earth can you create a portrait of something as complicated as Faroese society? What do you turn your lens to? Who are the people that should be caught in the ground glass of my old medium format camera? Should I focus on certain skills, trades, traditions, cultural figures, or well known and well loved locations? At what point does photography cross into anthropology? These questions did not offer any immediate answers, but they kept my mind and my eyes searching - curious to learn more, to see more, to create a body of work which explored what seemed so familiar about Faroese life, and also what seemed completely unique to the islands.
I decided then to look at how my own culture have been documented, to try to learn lessons from home. I looked at how my own village in the Gaelic speaking heart of Scotland had been documented by an outsider, the English photographer Gus Wylie who created the landmark book The Hebrides. Wylie had followed in the footsteps of an American, the giant of documentary photography Paul Strand who had himself travelled to the Outer Hebrides in the 1960s and in his book drew similarities between there and the Faroe Islands. The two had conversed once, and Strand gave a piece of advice to the young photographer which I in turn could learn from; get to know someone local, and from there you will be able to start to experience how people really live. In my time in the Faroe Islands I quickly realised what made the place so special and so unique: the people.
I was privledged enough to get to know several local people fairly well, to spend time in their homes, getting to know their lives, and the things which mattered to them. In Vestmanna in particular I was welcomed by the Jacobsen family, and that of the journalist Bjørg Á Rógvi, who not only taught me a great deal about Faroese society, but also introduced me to elements of Faroese life that normally are not accessible to outsiders. Through Amanda Gulaksen in Klakvik I learned about the mountains and landscapes of the islands, and slowly a plan came together. To orientate myself I made my way north to the slopes of Slaettaratindur, the mountain which dominates the North of Eysturoy, and is the highest point in the islands. Having pulled myself to a summit shrouded in clouds, the skies finally cleared, the land revealed itself, and from my vantage point the islands spread out before me to the distant horizon beyond. In that moment of calm I started to mentally and visually map out the peaks, villages, towns and places that I would try to see and photograph, and began an intensive four week process of travelling, hiking and meeting people.
From Suduroy in the South to Mykines in the far Noth-West, to the island of Fugloy in the east I made portraits, stopping people at gas stations, in the hills, as they repaired boats, in the streets of towns and in their homes. I met international figures such as the artist and explorer Tróndur Patursson, the artists Zacaharias Heinessen and two of the Olsen brothers, even being privileged enough to photograph Marius Olsen as he posed on a crucific as his brother Tjorborn painted one of his celebrated alterpieces.
I visited the places which mean a great deal to the Faroese, such as the beautiful village of Gjogv,
or walked through the eerie sea mists of the lagoon at Saksun. Equally I visited the places where
the Faroese work and live, visiting factories and heavy industry, or the car graveyards of Fugloy,
which reminded me of my own island home. Scottish influences are of course everywhere, from
the military remains on Vagur from the occupation in the Second World War, to the sons and
daughters of Scottish soldiers, to the Tunnocks products which the Faroese have embraced with
It is a vibrant community, which like Scotland is on the edge of Europe, and has many of the same
drives and passions, and with the same determinations to stand apart. The old Scottish name for
the islands is The Land of Maybe, from the familiar Faroese expression Kanska, however the
islands are changing, and today they stand at a crossroads. Kanska today means something else –
as the Faroe Islands embraces the wider world, embrace tourism, and new visitors, perhaps even
self determination, they are a Land of Endless Opportunity.