That's why Scotland's Doors Open Days festival keeps drawing more people - 75,000 last year - to take a wander inside walls that have made them wonder. Ahead of this year's festival, the allure of some of the 1000 intriguing buildings preparing to open their doors to the public has been captured on camera. Landscape photographer Damian Shields travelled to far-flung corners of Scotland, documenting some of the startling hidden gems that dot this country as part of a Homecoming project designed to expand the reach of the event, both at home and internationally. His photographs form a showcase of some of the most startling of the open days venues.
Shields, group multimedia journalist with Newsquest (Herald & Times), publishers of the Sunday Herald, has a feel not just for buildings, but the places and spaces from which they are created: the landscapes they sit in, the skies above, the wildlife that inhabits them and the rain and wind that weather their walls.
Doors Open Day national co-ordinator Pauline McCloy-Turtle says Shields's photographs deliver "a snapshot of Scotland": one that allows us to "see the buildings through that landscape photographer's eye". Ahead of an exhibition of the works, he talks about the creative processes involved in creating these unforgettable images.
Doors Open Day is co-ordinated by the Scottish Civic Trust and takes place on weekends throughout September www.doorsopendays.org.uk
Damian Shields's photographs will be exhibited at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum from August 26 till September 21.
See more of Damian's stunning images online: www.damianshields.com
Anchor Mill, Paisley
I've seen countless shots of this former thread mill, which has been converted into offices and housing. A striking, iconic building, it's a favourite subject among local landscape photographers. When I arrived, little pieces of foam created by the churning of the water at the base of the waterfalls, were moving slowly downstream. Photographing these on a long exposure creates the visual effect of trails or threads: a kind of metaphor for the building's history as a thread mill. Photographers tend to avoid complete symmetry where the horizon is along the centre of the image, but I quite liked that with this photograph. Giving over the same amount of space to the building and its reflection gave the impression of weightiness.
Carbeth Huts, Stirling
Carbeth is a wonderful place, it's huge, with around 90 acres and more than 140 huts; some in little rows, some falling to bits and each one like its own fingerprint - no two are alike. When I arrived, there weren't many people around, so I had the feeling I was trespassing. One of the hutters took me on a mini tour and showed me a hut that was made out of an old railway carriage, and the oldest one on the site, which was about 98 years old. But I preferred this scene, which had the feeling of discovery and of just going for a childish wander through the woods and happening upon something: I loved that "secret garden" feel.
Whitelee wind farm, East Renfrewshire
I've never had a strong opinion for or against wind farms, and this was my first visit to one, the first time I've been up close moving amongst the turbines. There was no-one else about: just the hypnotic woosh, woosh of the turbines and a driving mist that was almost like a haar, obscuring everything. I must have been there a couple of hours before it started to lift. Then finally, I decided to have a go at taking something. I had wondered how to make these wind turbines photographically interesting, because normally the blades would be either static as you're using high shutter speeds to freeze them, or, if you use a long exposure, come out as just wee sticks. But I remembered that my Nikon camera D800 had a mechanism that could compose a shot that is a composite of between two and 10 frames within the camera. Getting the timing right was tricky: I did that through experimentation. The result was an organic-looking image, almost like daisies sprouting out of the ground. I hope people might look at that and readdress their relationship to wind farms. They can be beautiful, sculptural things, almost organic in their design.
Skelmorlie Aisle, Largs
This is the quintessential hidden gem. The only remaining part of a church that was demolished in 1802, the aisle is wedged between the backs of shops and a little cafe in Largs. You just don't expect it, and then when you get in you marvel at it. When I arrived I was met by a woman who told me some of the history: a compelling story about Sir Robert Montgomerie and his wife, Dame Margaret Douglas, from Skelmorlie Castle. They had this structure constructed to inter their remains on their death. It's quite a tight space but it was a beautiful almost Italianate structure, carved from a piece of stone, and it immediately reminded me of Rosslyn chapel. It's oozing with symbolism - signs of the zodiac, Masonic symbolism, Biblical scenes and paintings of local landscapes.
Old and New Pitsligo Church, Aberdeenshire
This was the last stop on one of my day's shooting and the sun was rapidly disappearing when I arrived. It was overcast and I spent a lot of time wandering around the graveyards, and praying that the sky would split. It did, right above my head, it was almost circular in shape and it was amazing. Then the swallows emerged from the trees and cottages behind me where they must have been roosting, and began swooping and diving around the old kirk where there must have been a lot of flies. They were almost starling-esque the way they were darting about in a cloud. I thought of how swallows are symbolic of the ocean - sailors often sport tattoos of them to signify their experience at sea. This seemed relevant given this is a fishing area. I love the fact that because the building is open at the top it almost looks like the swallows are blackbirds breaking out of a pie. I worked on the composition for quite a long time, trying to get the position of the new kirk to the old kirk so it looked like the new kirk was bursting through the body of the old, as if giving birth. I also wanted to make the connection through the window of the old church to the window of the new church, almost like an eye looking through.Old Penicuik House, Midlothian
Old Penicuik House, Midlothian
This is a beautiful location, an old stately home now in ruin, but with the main facade still intact. It was gutted by fire in 1899. The problem when I was shooting this location was the sky which was bright and blazing. It was around midday, blue and cloudless. I was frustrated with that and the fact that when I arrived there was work going on, scaffolding around - there is some restoration being done. This meant I wasn't satisifed with the look of the exteriors. But I noticed there was a car outside and there was a little side office so I just nosied in there and asked the ranger if I could get access to the interior. Once inside, I walked through the ruin and looked up and in the central portion of the building were these remains of the grand staircase. It immediately spoke to me. So I lay down on my back in the dirt and shot straight up. But when I did that, it revealed the shape of the keyhole. And of course the Doors Open Day site had already used the keyhole symbol too. That made the picture for me.
Maggie's Centre, Aberdeen
The Maggie's Centre is a beautiful structure, designed by Norwegian architects, Snøhetta. I arrived on a wet, grey Aberdonian day: in the picture, you can see the rain streaks down the side of the building. The centre is like a little oasis. The curve of it creates an impression of cupped hands cradling what's inside. It had a feeling of sanctuary and security to it. And it seemed to me that it was like a boat or ship. So I wanted to give the idea that it's like the prow of a boat just sitting floating on the gravel, this place of respite.
Covesea Lighthouse, Lossiemouth
The lighthouse was easy to find. It sticks out so much so there was no way I was going to miss it. I The structure is very beautiful and symmetrical. You can rent out this building and there was a party of people there. So that was my first problem: cars parked round the side of the building and people hovering about. I went for a wander and began to form the idea that the way through these rocks might look like a channel, in which your eye could travel through avoiding the perils. It seemed important to see the building in its setting, in order to convey something about its functionality. have the reflection of the lighthouse in the water there. It was important with this one to see the building its setting and to say something about its functionality with a bit of visual play.