Highlands & Islands

Photographer Margaret Fay Shaw remembered in new film

Margaret Fay Shaw Image copyright NTS
Image caption Margaret Fay Shaw came to Scotland from Pennsylvania in the US

A new film celebrating the life and work of one of the world's first female photographers and cinematographers is to be given its premiere next month.

Called Solas, it uses footage made by Margaret Fay Shaw, who died in 2004 at the age of 101.

From Pennsylvania in the US, Shaw was orphaned at a young age.

When she was a teenager, her relatives sent her to Scotland, the home of her ancestors, to "sort her out", according to the National Trust for Scotland.

Shaw, who later lived on the Isle of Canna with her Gaelic folklorist husband Dr John Lorne Campbell, was a pupil at St Bride's school in Helensburgh in Argyll.

Previously unseen film

During a school recital, Shaw heard Gaelic for the first time when it was sung by Marjory Kennedy Fraser, a Scottish folk singer and collector of Hebridean songs.

According to the National Trust for Scotland (NTS), whose archivist Fiona J Mackenzie created the new short film, the recital inspired in Shaw a passion for Gaelic culture and the Highlands and Islands.

Between 1925 and 1935, she lived in North Glendale in South Uist and documented Hebridean life through film and photography.

Image copyright NTS
Image caption Shaw spent her life documenting life in the Hebrides

In 1938, she and her husband bought Canna in the Small Isles.

Together they created a nationally important archive of Gaelic culture and language at the island's Canna House.

Campbell, who was from Argyll and died in 1996, and Shaw donated the island to NTS in the 1980s.

Shaw's film collection has now been re-digitised by the trust in an effort to better preserve it.

In the course of this work, Canna House archivist Ms Mackenzie uncovered some previously unseen film, including footage of the first plane landing at what is today the Isle of Barra's beach airport in 1936.

'Loved Uist'

Solas, which is a Gaelic word for "light", includes material from two BBC broadcasts that Shaw made in the 1950s, and also features sounds recorded in the Hebrides in the 1930s and 40s by Campbell.

The film will be given its premiere on 3 May in South Uist during the island's Moladh Uibhist weekend.

Image copyright NTS
Image caption Shaw's work in the Hebrides helped to make her one of the world's leading female photographers of her time

Ms Mackenzie said: "I am delighted that we have been able to produce this lovely piece of work, to profile the work of an incredible woman who had the foresight to save for the world today, a piece of Scottish lifestyle which would have otherwise disappeared.

"It is only right that the film is premiered in the middle of the community which took Margaret to their hearts and were so generous with their time, language, love and culture.

"Margaret said that Uist was the place 'where she was loved the best' and we hope that this will be evident in the film."

She added: "South Uist was where I personally first studied the songs collected by the Campbells and I am pleased to be able to give a voice and vision to Margaret's work."

The National Trust for Scotland USA Foundation helped to fund the film.