Evoking Orkney

image: Gunnie Moberg D135-1-396

Today we came across another beautiful image. Gunnie marked this slide ‘Stew. C cover’.  Knowing that Gunnie had photographed writer Stewart Conn, we went rushing to his canon and found  Distances: A personal evocation of people and places published in 2001. The image chosen for the cover is indeed an evocation of place. Somehow, this simple, almost monochrome photograph is the essence of Orkney.

The cover of Stewart Conn's book called Distances. It show the image of Gunnie's with dark brooding sky and solo hanging cloud above a shimmering sea.

The image above has balance and energy, a sense of calm, a sense of storm. The blackboard of an Orkney sky smudged with a chalky cloud above the sharp bright line of the sea, you can almost taste the electric, metallic charge in the air. There is time etched into this image, time Gunnie has spent waiting for the cloud to do something fantastic. Looking at the other slides Gunnie has kept and stored in the same sleeve marked ‘Seascapes’, we can trace how that photograph emerged. There are other images made at the same time but in this one the elements come together and sing.

One of the wonderful aspects of an archive of an artist’s work, is the ability to explore some of their art practice, the way they approach their work. We make sure we record which slide came from which sleeve, and how the sleeve was marked,  before we digitise the slide and store it in new archival sleeves. This is done to allow someone in the future to see how the artist worked, what images Gunnie kept together and how she catalogued them.

dark sjy with cloud mass forming over bright sea dark sky cut across by  abright shimmer sea  Cloud takes shape in a dark sky hung over a bright sea

images: Gunnie Moberg

In the book, in his chapter ‘Music and Muse’ on his memories of George Mackay Brown,  Stewart Conn writes:

‘My first Orkney trip was to tape a feature to be presented by the artist Stanley Cursiter – piqued at the Radio Times having called him Queen’s limmer (rather than limner) in Scotland. George was there on the pier to welcome me. He was to introduce me to his dearly trusted (and enduringly hospitable) friends Elizabeth and Archie Bevan; to painter Sylvia Wishart, poet Charlie Senior, sonneteer and naturalist Robert Rendall with his store of religious tomes and grottiebuckies, and a swarm of resident writers and artists. Later I’d get to know Gunnie Moberg and Tam MacPhail, themselves so close to and supportive of George, especially in his later years’.

Later in the chapter he writes of the ‘grace and intimacy’ of George Mackay Brown’s poems in the book Pictures and Poems ‘inspired during his last illness, by Gunnie Moberg’s haunting Orkney photographs with their at times almost abstract beauty’.

image: Gunnie Moberg George Mackay Brown and Stewart Conn in conversation outside the Pier Arts Centre, St Magnus Festival 1988

Quotes taken from Stewart Conn Distances 2001 published by Scottish Cultural Press. A reference copy is available in The Orkney Room at Orkney Library & Archive.

Thank you to the poet and publisher.

2 thoughts on “Evoking Orkney

  1. Beautiful pic. Haven’t seen that one before. Well, I might have seen the Stewart Conn book, but the cropping diminishes the power of the photo considerably, so it’s great to see the original.

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