Craig Mackay
The island of the saint who never was: A journey to St Kilda
1 April - 1 May 2003
Front Room


It has never been said that the remote isles of St. Kilda have been kind to people. The isles have a rugged beauty which makes it easy to put aside that there are few more hostile environments in which to live than here, and yet they continue to draw people to them: artists, archaeologists, naturists, anthropologists as well as tourists. Although technically uninhabited since 1930 people do stay there during the summer months.

Craig Mackay's haunting photographs explore the isles from land and sea. Even though Mackay has a personal interest here (he is directly descended from the isles' earlier inhabitants) there is nothing nostalgic about these images. Rather the opposite as they are oddly disquieting. It was a closed, tightly knit community and the evidence of their lives is still clearly visible.

The Island of the Saint who never was! Strangely there was no St. Kilda (the name possibly evolves from an old Norse word 'skildir' meaning 'shield' ­ perhaps a reference to the way the islands rise from the sea?) and there is no one island by that name ­ it is an archipelago of islands which have their own names. But Saint or no it was a society which lived with a most severe form of Calvinist presbyterianism, far stricter than anything experienced elsewhere. While the external world changed St. Kilda's community and economy did not, leading to breakdown and the island's eventual evacuation.

Craig Mackay is widely recognised as one of Scotland's foremost fine art
photographers. He has shown his work extensively in solo and joint exhibitions in the UK, Europe and the USA. His photographs can be evocative, often disturbing expressions of Highland themes that are recognisable on the world stage. Images illustrate hierarchy and indoctrination, religion and ceremony, life and death while also reflecting on historical or contemporary problems that pertain to family, community and identity.

Mackay travelled to St. Kilda with the award winning poet Ian Stephen whose words that accompany the photographs form a poetic log of their journey. Stephen's poems and short stories are published in many countries. He was the winner of the RLS Award in 1995 and Creative Scotland Award in 2001. He has been selected for the Venice Biennale in 2003.