19 July 2012
Last updated at 08:49
At the weekend members of the public teed off at US tycoon Donald Trump's multi-million pound golf resort in Aberdeenshire for the first time. Photographers Alicia Bruce and Sophie Gerrard have both been documenting the changing landscape and lives of the residents of the Menie Estate, a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) where the development has led to confrontation.
Both photographers are passionate about the issue, yet despite similar approaches, aims and working methods, their final pieces are positioned for different markets.
Sophie Gerrard has focused on creating a piece for the editorial market, showing the changing landscape alongside portraits of residents who offer their views of the situation. She has also interviewed specialists in the field of conservation.
Alicia Bruce has also been collaborating with the residents of Menie, indeed this is very much a long term project for her, and one that looks to the wider art world for inspiration. By restaging compositions from celebrated paintings (the majority of them in the permanent collection of the local Aberdeen Art Gallery), her work moves beyond the surface struggle and the issues around the changing topography. Alica also photographed posts in the landscape during one day (above), which she says, "depict a scene of natural beauty with its lights going out."
Here's a selection of pictures from both projects with introductions by Sophie and Alicia.
The vast and majestic giant shifting dunes at Menie, on the Aberdeenshire coast were once among the few remaining examples of true wilderness in the UK.
The dunes were protected as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), the highest level of environmental protection in the UK. Despite this, Trump's development was deemed to be in the national economic interest and planning permission was granted by the Scottish government following a public enquiry in 2008.
Whilst some argue that it's only the destruction of a sand dune, and after all the development will bring investment and 1400 jobs to the local area, others speculate on just how much a coastline saturated with golf courses and a city with one of the lowest unemployment rates in the UK needs yet another links course.
Alongside the environmental impact, many of the local residents have also objected strongly to the development.
"The great importance of the sand dome was that it was mobile, it was a great shifting system, it wasn't fixed," says Jonathan Hughes of the Scottish Wildlife Trust. "So if you plant it, if you try and stabilise it you will ruin the very aspect which made it unique. If you halt the progression of these dunes by planting them, you're effectively sterilising the entire dynamic system."
"Bringing up children here, two little boys, they just had everything you could want growing up here. It was two minutes down to the beach, and it was the busiest house in the summer, full of kids, happy children all the time. So many happy memories and now that's come to a halt," says Susan Munro, Menie resident.
"The few remaining untouched wilderness areas of the UK are our equivalents of the Kalahari Desert, or the Amazonian rainforest," says Dr Jim Hansom, Geomorphologist at the University of Glasgow. "These are areas which other countries are designating national parks and yet we don't seem to have the legislative or political framework to protect ours and as a result we're losing them."
"The World War II pillboxes are still there in the dunes," says Michael Forbes who lives in Menie. "The army blew most of them up after the war but some remain. They used to sit on top of the dunes at one time, they've moved with the shifting sands. In some bad storms I've known them to be completely covered by the shifting sand and then reappear years later. It's always changing."
"Trump described my home as an eyesore, he didn't want his golfers to see it," says resident David Milne. "They came and planted Sitka spruce and Scots pine which blocked our view, but half of them are blown down or dying now."
Milne continues, "People say it's only a patch of sand, no it's not. It was a unique and valuable wilderness, valuable to Scotland, valuable to the UK and valuable to those of us who live here. This development is a tragedy."
I grew up in Aberdeen in the North-East of Scotland and spent my childhood summers playing on the beach. I began this project in summer 2010 as construction of the Trump International Golf Links Scotland began, with a focus on the people of Menie and the place, not the Trump development.
I spent several months getting to know the residents before making the photographs as I wanted to present a humane story of people and place. I chose to reference paintings in the portraits, as traditionally you would go into a gallery to see the great and the good on the wall and I want to give that same attention to the residents of Menie.
It's collaboration and an exchange. I view myself as the operator, bringing concept and technical expertise. I want these images to contain something both past and present. Each picture is accompanied by a statement by the resident.
The residents chose not to be complacent but to stand up for our heritage and some became reluctant celebrities who had been thrust into the media spotlight and I'd often turn up and find film crews and media on the residents' doorsteps. It would be naive for me to think I was the first one to want to tell this story.
In February 2011 the portraits of Mike, Sheila and Molly Forbes were acquired by the National Galleries of Scotland securing their place more firmly in our national and cultural imagination.
Originally Mike and Sheila Forbes had opted to collaborate on a re-staging of William Dyce's The Highland Ferryman but we couldn't get access to his boat on the day of the shoot as the developers had claimed the land it sat on. Walking back I took a photograph of them, both disappointed by what was happening. The expressions on their faces mirrored those of the oft parodied American Gothic by Grant Wood. I suggested the painting and the couple were immediately enthusiastic about being photographed in a reinterpretation and we agreed it would be a nod to the American developer.
This picture of Molly Forbes is based on James Guthrie's To Pastures New. Molly, now 88, moved back to Menie when she retired and named her chalet Paradise to echo the natural beauty of the area. I wanted Molly's portrait to mirror her optimism and idealism, a metaphor for the community in flux.
David Milne's picture is based on Arthur Hughes' The Mower. The Milnes have lived in their old coastguard's house in Menie for 20 years. David loves photography and telephoto lenses and I thought this image was very fitting, replacing the scythe with a telephoto lens. He looks, observes and shoots, but also covers his eyes with the camera. Moira arranged the flowers at her husband's feet and kindly held a brolly above the camera and me while I took the shot.
Thomas Faed's The Reaper inspired Moira Milne to replace the sickle with a watering can. Like Faed's reaper, her stance is strong and defiant. Her husband, David, is the figure in the background and the 18th hole of the new golf course is a stone's throw away. The watering can was used as a metaphor following the removal of a wood near their home. Trees have since been planted to hide their home from the golfers.
When I met John I was immediately struck how much he looked like the poet, George Mackay Brown, whose portrait by Erik Hoffman was used as the basis for the shoot. We decided to do the photograph in his garage and include little symbols that say something about him and the situation. In George Mackay Brown's allegorical tale, Men and Gold and Bread, Brown writes about a peat-cutter, who, after much labouring, finds a treasure chest. The peat-cutter's house goes to ruins but jewels and coins can be found embedded in the cracks.
All the families in Menie have strong links to the fishing industry so it seemed natural to choose a painting of a fisherwoman sitting on the dunes mending nets by Archibald Reid, entitled On the Bents. It shows a scene just north of Menie in the 19th Century. Susan Munro is always armed with a cigarette and a mobile phone, though she no longer has access to the sand dune shown in the image. We included the blood red tips of the boundary fence in the image as an indication of the territorial nature of the development.
You can see more of Sophie Gerrard and Alicia Bruce's work on their websites.