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


40 thoughts on “Thursday I got nothing

  1. Well, it is Wednesday, and I got something: My order from Ootlier and Tom. Sigh…it is far lovelier than ever I expected. Thank you Tom! And, best wishes to all at KDD and Co, especially Kate.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for sharing your amazing pictures and encouraging us to take a new look at the every day. I’m so glad to be back reading KDD blog posts – this blog is one of my happy inspiring places and you and Jane are doing Kate proud.


  3. I so appreciate your sharing this project. In particular, your comments on creative process stoke thoughts and sparks initiated by Knitting Season. Lovely to see activity on the blog. All my best wishes for you all and Kate. I’m reading her book Handywoman. I read each page multiple times. Her writing is so precise and engaging. The book is so significant on many levels. As someone who’s had one hell of a year in cancer treatment, surgery, recovery what she has shared of her experience is incredibly impactful. As someone who cares for others for a living, her experience is wrenching and also impactful. It’s early out here in the Pacific Northwest. I fail to express accurately the importance of what you all are up to over there in your corner of the world. Thank you. You’re making a difference. Hope to see much more.


  4. Hi Tom,

    My photo package arrived today – first, how elegantly packaged and second, the images are just as beautiful as they appear on the website and lovely quality card – bought as a present – perfect.


  5. Your images are gorgeous and thought provoking, Tom. And the postcard set looks so beautifully presented. Thank you for sharing them.


  6. Thanks for the lovely images, (inspiring to this artist!) and the introduction to an author I have not had the pleasure of reading. Keep up your great work, and best to you and Kate.


  7. hank you for the introduction to george mckay brown. in thanks for the many books kate has introduced me to, may i recommend *Plankton*?

    i also thought you and kate should know the heavy metal knitting world championships are coming up in finland.
    and i hope y’all will cover this event.


  8. This made me think of the Japanese theory of Ikebana which as I understand it is the space between being as important as the objects. As others have said – lovely to see KDD pop up in my in-box.


  9. Yes, the ordinary is the most extraordinary!! beautiful colours and I love Caravaggio. Hadn’t thought of him in awhile so thanks for the reminder!


  10. Stunning photography Tom. The detail one sees on an ocean side walk you have captured . Just beautiful Warm regards Patricia


  11. Very intriguing…thanks,Tom! I could not resist ordering. And, I just might go for a stroll this morning on our shore here in Port Townsend, WA to see what I can find.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Wow! Such beauty in “nothing” . It takes a brilliant photographer to see it and then capture it. Tom, you are that person.


  13. Inspiring images Tom and a special link back to Orkney and one of it’s acknowledged great writers & poets.
    Especially enjoyable for me as an amateur photographer, regular visitor to Orkney (arrived back in Yorkshire from Orkney only a few hours ago), and a fan of GMB. Wish I was back, walking the coast line & searching for the groatie buckie!(European Cowry shell).


  14. Haha! School days English lessons I thought were sooooo boring – George Mackay Brown’s new and modern poems which at the time I couldn’t make sense of. Now, many years later, and having dived a lot off the coast of Scotland, I couldn’t be more delighted to see the words at last come to life in your shots. A great job Tom, and for me a fond memento of fun diving days – English lessons not so much!


  15. Tom,
    I love how you put the set together. The dark\light theme is cohesive and allows the drama of the subjects to stand out in the visual story. The masters would be proud of you. Well done.

    Please give an extra healing hug to Kate for all of us.



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