Thursday I got nothing

Hello everyone, it’s Tom here.

I’m dropping by to tell you all about my latest photographic project – Thursday I got nothing: a collection of images inspired by George Mackay Brown’s poem, Beachcomber. Together, these images ask the question, as photographers, if we look closely, do we ever get nothing?

George Mackay Brown was one of Scotland’s great poets. Definitively an islander, Brown spent most of his life in the Orkney Islands and his specific sense of place is one of the defining features of his work. A shy and modest man, he largely ignored the literary fashions of his time with a determination to go his own way. Much of his work is a celebration of the physical world and its links to basic human rituals and existence. Beachcomber, first published in 1971, is typical. Using his familiar “seven” motif, the elements, mortality and the passing of time are told in the objects the beachcomber finds over the course of a week. On Thursday, our beachcomber gets nothing (except seaweed, a whale bone, wet feet and a loud cough).

Beachcomber speaks to me about looking closely at the ordinary things in the places we find ourselves – an idea I find stimulating as a photographer. So, for this collection I took Brown’s “looking closely” ethos as a creative prompt, deriving inspiration from the ostensibly uninspiring and reading the stories of the objects I encountered whilst stravaigin’ (wandering) along Hebridean beaches.

A frayed rope forms an arrow directing my eyes toward a previously unseen bright blue crab carapace. . . .

Luminous green filaments sit against vibrant red seaweed – an abstract study in classic colour theory. . .

Vibrant pink tendrils emerge from the dark pool calling me closer so that I can observe the miniature solar system of barnacles. . .

The intimate and ordinary details of a landscape develop a narrative about the passing of time.

In practical terms, these images make heavy use of the chiaroscuro technique. The literal translation of chiaroscuro is light-dark… think of works by Rembrandt or Caravaggio, and you’ll have a good idea of the look I was striving for in these images. By exposing for the highlights, areas of shadow fall into deep black, with the result that the subjects emerge like jewels from the dark pools. But this is not all pensive meditation. Much like the wry, humorous tone of Brown’s poem, I find there are things that are funny about these images too. Molluscs wobble in and out of focus like drunken sailors . . .

. . . bloated fleshy seaweed mouths “oooh!” at us with its single ominous orifice.

Making the images in this collection has been enormous fun, and if you’d like to explore them as a group, I’ve uploaded the whole set to my online gallery. I’ve also put together a mini-postcard portfolio featuring 10 of my favourite images (the postcard collection does not feature the ominous fleshy orifice, I’m sure you are pleased to hear).

The postcard portfolio also includes a printed copy of Brown’s Beachcomber poem (reproduced under license with permission from his literary estate). This signed, strictly limited edition portfolio is available from our shop. (limited to 50 copies).

Next time you are out about, why not try looking closely and see if you get nothing?

Thanks for reading