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Documentary on Lewis photographs

FASCINATING photographs offering a glimpse of life on the Isle of Lewis a century ago will be aired on television tomorrow night.

The old photographs are fascinating for Dr Finlay MacLeod and Murdo MacLeod.
The old photographs are fascinating for Dr Finlay MacLeod and Murdo MacLeod.

An hour-long BBC Alba documentary will tell the remarkable story of the photographs and of the man who took them, Dr Norman Morrison.

He began photographing people in his home village of Shawbost on the west side of the Isle of Lewis.

But his astonishing set of glass plate negatives, dating back to the early years of the last century when he would have been in his late 20s, were only discovered in a barn following the death of a local resident.

Perfectly preserved and with pin-sharp quality, the pictures show individuals and families from the area.

He may only have had two years of education throughout his childhood, but Dr Morrison nevertheless went on to become a Doctor of Science, a Fellow of the Zoological Society of Scotland and an internationally recognised expert on the adder and its venom.

He was a Glasgow police constable, rose to the position of sergeant with the Argyll force and was also a co-founder of the Scottish Police Federation.

He also wrote five books covering the Isle of Lewis's history, folklore, zoology and politics. He died in Campbeltown in April, 1949, aged 79.

The discovery of his photographs has led to renewed interest in his life and work.

A series of events in his home village was set up, including a photographic exhibition and an intergenerational project, to ensure that his legacy was preserved for future generations.

Freelance photographer Murdo Macleod, who was born on Lewis and was involved in the project to show the pictures, said: "The pictures are amazing: in terms of the kind of thing they are, they are rare, if not unique.

"There are approximately 30 plates in all. It became known about 10 years ago they were in a barn, though it took longer than that to rescue them. We don't know many of the facts about how they were actually taken, though there is lots of conjecture.

"They were found in a tin box and were unprotected and dirty. Ironically, I'm told, this wasn't as bad as it sounds, as they were probably kept somewhere where temperatures would be lower.

"Had they been stored in a damp, warm house, there would have been a much greater danger of the images being destroyed by fungus or mould.

"If there's an ironic benefit to the way they were actually stored, that might have helped in their preservation."

l Dìleab Thormoid/Smile Please, BBC Alba, Friday. 9pm

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