Ahead of its opening night on Friday 5 February, the Hebridean Dark Skies Festival is today showcasing the five winning entries in its 2021 Photography Competition. The five striking night-time images – by Chris Murray, Derek MacKinnon, Grant Anderson, Alejandro Basterrechea, and Gordon Macdonald – were all taken in the Hebrides and will be on show at An Lanntair on Lewis from 6 February until 27 March.
The festival is running a programme of online events from 5 February to 20 February, while An Lanntair will also host the first ever Scottish show by Lumen, a London-based artist collective that has curated or co-curated over 70 exhibitions.
The Hebridean Dark Skies Festival takes place against some of most extraordinary dark skies in the whole of the UK, with breath-taking scenery to match. In winter, in particular, many astronomical sights can be seen through the naked eye including the Orion Nebula (over 1,500 light years away), the Milky Way Galaxy, and one of the Milky Way’s companion galaxies the Great Andromeda Galaxy. The Northern Lights, Aurora Borealis, can also be seen from the islands, one of the very best spots in the UK for watching this incredible phenomenon.
Below, the photographers describe their winning entries in their own words:
Aurora over Bragar shore, Isle of Lewis, by Derek MacKinnon
Derek says: ‘I wanted to try and get as far on the west side of the island so I wouldn’t have anything to block the view of the aurora. I spotted it from Sandwick and decided to drive over, past midnight, to see if it would still be visible. Thankfully it was and had a lovely arc to it.’
Dun Carloway, Isle of Lewis, at winter moonrise, by Chris Murray
Chris says: ‘It seemed the perfect evening for a trip to the west side so I navigated my way to the Carloway Broch and set up my camera gear along with the help of a little artificial lighting the scene was set . I didn’t have to wait long before the moon settled itself briefly above the ancient walls to catch the moment forever with this long exposure shot and I must admit I find it quite haunting.’
Bun-A-Mhullin, Eriskay, by Alejandro Basterrechea
Alejandro says: ‘This image was taken during a New Year’s holiday in Eriskay, from the Bun-A-Mhullin area during a beautiful clear night. It was the only clear night I managed to capture during my stay on the island. The moment was perfect as there was enough available night to capture the house, the car and the incredibly starry, clear and crispy sky that this part of the world offers. Influences and inspiration come from various art forms such as painting and film. In this case, Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh is one of them. I wanted to capture the essence of what a clear and clean night represents, the interaction with the human transformed landscape and the pureness and nature of the Hebrides.’
Aurora Spiking above Maraig and Loch Seaforth, North Harris, by Gordon Macdonald
Gordon says: ‘This was a very lively display of the northern lights in September 2020, with regular bursts of intense activity visible to the naked eye, but the almost full moon created difficult shooting conditions and a slightly surreal landscape of contrasting highlights and shadows.’
100 Thousand Million Star Hostel (Gearrannan, Isle of Lewis), by Grant Anderson
Grant says: ‘This image was taken at Gearrannan Blackhouse village. We’d had a particularly energetic crossing from the mainland as we chased the waves from a large surge from the Atlantic. I have never been happier to be on dry land than I was that day. We were lucky, as the main body of the storm passed the weather cleared to offer up a dizzyingly clear autumn night sky and a faint aurora in the distance. We enjoyed the show for a few hours and with a bottle of island malt to keep us warm.’
The Hebridean Dark Skies Festival is now in its third year; previous guests have ranged from singer-songwriter Karine Polwart to BBC Sky at Night presenter Chris Lintott. This year’s festival will run from Friday 5 February to Saturday 20 February, with an online programme including talks by TV presenter Dallas Campbell, climate scientist Tamsin Edwards and astronomer Stephen Mackintosh (Highland Astronomy), plus workshops by the Lumen artist collective and Lewis-based artist Mairi Gillies, and a newly commissioned piece of music by sound artist Renzo Spiteri.
In addition to the Dark Skies Photography Exhibition, this year’s festival will also have a presence at An Lanntair itself with the first ever Scottish exhibition by Lumen, a London-based artist collective brought together by a shared interest in darkness and astronomy. Launched in December 2014 by artists Louise Beer, Melanie King and Rebecca Huxley, Lumen have curated or co-curated over 70 exhibitions and been commissioned to create work by the British Science Association and the Green Man Festival. They have also hosted residencies in Cornwall and Atina, Italy.
Festival programmer Andrew Eaton-Lewis said: “While we hoped that lockdown rules would have eased by February, we always had contingency plans in place in case a festival of live events proved to be impossible. While we’ve had to postpone some key live events, we’re delighted to be presenting a significant online programme that you can experience from anywhere. We’re also thankful that, thanks to the Isle of Lewis being in tier 3, we can still present two really strong exhibitions at An Lanntair and we hope lots of people will be able to come and visit and experience the festival in person.”
For further information visit www.lanntair.com/darkskies. To request interviews or images, please contact Andrew Eaton-Lewis at An Lanntair on email@example.com.