The Shetland Project | Paul Walsh

Far From the Centre of Things


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"I was better with the sounds of the sea, than with the voices of men, and in desolate and desert places, I found myself again."

Hugh MacDiarmid, from The Stony Limits and other poems volume

In 1933 the poet Hugh MacDiarmid headed north from London to Whalsay, a small, remote island situated east of the Shetland mainland. He was on a journey of recovery, after several years of personal and professional disappointment. MacDiarmid would spend 9 years living on Whalsay where, despite poor mental health and living in borderline poverty, he wrote more than half of his entire life’s work. His writing was driven by his experience of his surroundings, the geographical isolation, stony beaches, treeless views and wide open skies. Near to his home, on the neighboring island of West Linga, he is said to have composed his poem “On a raised beach”, whilst spending the night contemplating the stars. The island of Whalsay became the center of his imaginative universe and his writing reveals the introspections of a solitary man contemplating his place in the world.

Inspired by the poets journey, Paul Walsh traveled to Whalsay where he stayed alone in a small, isolated cabin. From their he visited MacDiarmid’s now abandoned cottage, before making a circular walk around the island photographing those that he met along the way. The resulting series explores the places that influenced MacDiramid’s Shetland writing, but is also a response to aloneness, and the clarity that can found amidst vast landscapes.