A triangle of steel contains red licking flames, the image is construcetd with the black traingle at the bottom of the frame, red yellow dancing flames central and the top of the frame is filled with grey smoke.

Flotta Flare

above image: Gunnie Moberg, Flotta oil terminal fire training exercise

Gunnie Moberg arrived in Orkney setting things alight. When she moved here with her family in 1976, she had chosen an interesting time to settle in Orkney. One of the changes she documented was the arrival of an oil terminal to the island of Flotta. The Piper oil field had been discovered in 1973 and Flotta was chosen for a terminal site. Sixty years or so earlier the Grand Fleet had anchored in Scapa Flow and now Flotta was chosen again for the deep and protected anchorage in the waters around the island.

This span of activity is reflected in the event happening in Flotta this Thursday. Orkney Library & Archive has teamed up with Shetland Library to generate a programme taking place on 24 islands in 24 hours. Find out more here. The Flotta event teams up war heritage through the medium of knitting (local author Elizabeth Lovick on WW1 patterns and their history) and the arrival of oil through readings from Willick and the Black Black Oil accompanied by Gunnie Moberg’s images of the early days of the oil terminal.

aerial image of the shapes, circles and lines, that make up the developing Flotta oil terminal.
image:Gunnie Moberg Flotta oil terminal dated by the artist December 1976

This black & white image of construction of the oil terminal is interuppted by the white flash of the lit flare.
image:Gunnie Moberg Flotta oil terminal dated by the artist March 1977


In her book with Liv Kjorsvik Schei The Islands of Orkney (2000), there is mention of the character ‘Willick o Pirliebraes’ who inhabits the dialect tales of local author David Sinclair. Willick is fairly bemused by the arrival of oil to Flotta but attracted by the prospects that big industry on a small island might bring to a crafty crofter.

We will also be showing some of Gunnie’s photographs exploring the surprising beauty to be found in fire training exercises at the terminal. Grey smoke like a Blue Persian cat’s coat.

An evening of Flotta in Print. Thursday 11 September 7:30pm. Flotta Community Centre.

Travellers from mainland will be able to board the Flotta Lass at Houton (launch slip) at 6:15 with a return sailing at 10pm. The event is free.
images below: Gunnie Moberg

Grey smoke billows and folds into rumbling clouds.

A curve of fire contained by a rim of steel lights a cloud of white smoke amongst the black. The white foam used in fighting the fire gives a texture to the lower part of the frame and picks up on the white patch of smoke top left.

Water forms a pattern on an oil tank like ice gently warming on a loch.

The image above of an oil tank is published in Orkney Pictures & Poems (1996). In this book poet George Mackay Brown wrote to the photographs, propping a picture up until a poem came. Gunnie Moberg wrote that her photographs of Flotta oil terminal challenged the artist:

We had worked together before on books but it was always me illustrating George’s text (apart from the book Stone where we worked on a subject together), now he was writing about my pictures.  I used to worry about the more abstract ones but no,  ‘what is it my dear?’ and once I had explained, no problem.

The only picture George objected to was inside of an oil tank, ‘I don’t think I have anything to say about that’.

The image is paired with one of a peat bank followed on the next page by an image of two figures emerging from the smoke. The fire fighters echo Tom Kent’s kelp workers swirled around by reek. Opposite sits the poem George wrote about Flotta ‘New Fires, Old Fires..’




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