A wee story about my inspirations and motivations for photographing abandoned Aberdeenshire. James Dyas Davidson

When my wife and I moved into our old (1851) farm cottage and steading in rural Aberdeenshire near Tarland over 20 years ago, I became interested in the local history of the area and joined the Cromar History Group. With this wonderful and active group, I discovered abandoned communities and glens which today appear empty but once had schools, churches, markets, tradesmen and many ‘reekin’ lums. Religion, agricultural and technical advances, population increases, famine and the attractions of cities and the ‘new world’ saw a steady decline in these remote glens. I was left quite emotional by the experience. To stand at the kitchen window of an abandoned cottage and consider the joys, the hardships, the sadness and the life of the folk who once lived there motivated me to try to find out more and keep their memories alive.

I read books by Marjory Harper, Tom Devine, John Prebble and TC Smout on ‘clearances’ and migration. But it was local books such as Hills of Home by Amy Stewart Fraser, In the Shadow of Lochnagar by Ian Murray and Land of the Lost by Robert Smith that got me pulling out my Ordinance Survey Maps, hillwalking boots, rucksack and camera. I wanted to visit as many abandoned places as I could. Photographing them wasn’t initially the main purpose. Digital photography was in its infancy at this time and I had neglected my photography for many years previous to this time due to studying, career changes and generally dealing with day to day stuff.

Photography came back into my life when my wife and I were in Barcelona and, through chance really, we walked into a major exhibition by Diane Arbus. Her images stopped me dead in my tracks and there and then I decided that I wasn’t going to neglect my photography any longer.

If you were to look through my Flickr photostream (www.flickr.com/photos/slackeratslack), which I kind of use as a ‘sketch pad’, you’ll see that I was taking photos of what everyone else took photos of. I suppose I was trying to interest others initially as well as just getting back into photography. The ‘abandoned communities’ images were really the images that interested me and gave me the most satisfaction. To my amazement they have become the images that have gained to most praise from fellow photographers and the public. I had no idea at the time that there is groups all around the world who do similar urban and rural explorations!

I find it hard to articulate any deep meaningful purpose or message to my images. My empathy is strongly felt when I take the photographs. I experience the isolation, the remoteness, the silence and the sense of abandonment and decay. The photographers I admire tend to be portrait photographers such as Arbus and August Sander but in a way they too captured people living on the margins of civilisation, on the cusp of change that would sweep away a way of life. Photographer James Ravillious beautifully captured rural life in Devon just as it was about to disappear. Ravillious could still capture the people of rural Devon working the land but I am recording the next stage of rural decay and abandonment where now, all the people have gone. Their history can still be seen in the buildings, the dry stone walls, their midden, the messages writing on walls of barns, the flowering of the gean tree they planted and the daffodils that still pop up in spring in the same rectangular formation the bulbs were planted in.

It’s the silence I can’t capture in my images.

If you are interested in purchasing or using any of my images please feel free to contact me at jamesdyasdavidson@googlemail.com

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