Ronan Martin, Breakish, Skye. Alastair MacDonald Jackson
Ronan Martin, Breakish, Skye. Alastair MacDonald Jackson

Scotland Through A Lens: Alastair MacDonald Jackson

After nearly two years exploring Scotland’s remotest areas, Alastair MacDonald Jackson has captured the essence of island life.


I’ve been taking photographs fairly seriously for the last 15 years now. It kind of happened by accident. I was a keen hillwalker, even to the extent of climbing 90 Munros (but I decided that clocking up numbers wasn’t for me), but had barely taken a picture. So, my original intention was to capture some of the walks I was doing, and I ended up getting hooked. Ironically, I’ve done far fewer hillwalks since then!

I grew up and lived on Skye until I was 21, and moved to London, for work and marriage. Since then, I’ve been fortunate enough to have travelled all over the place, ending up on the North Ayrshire coast for the past 16 years. It’s a good place as I can get access easily to Arran, Cumbrae, Bute – great for photography & camping trips. I’ve always been back to Skye several times a year to visit family and friends. It will always be ‘home’, I guess. Out of all any place, I’ve probably got more images of Skye than anywhere else. There’s such a variety of scenery and light to practice on over the three seasons.

Sunrise over Castlebay, Barra. Credit Alastair MacDonald Jackson

Island transport can be a bit different sometimes… Credit Alastair MacDonald Jackson

The islands are definitely inspirational for me as a photographer. Again, the variety up and down the coast is exceptional, and for me it’s that combination of coast and sky that is special. Despite growing up on an island, I’m afraid to say that I had been to very few before I embarked on this project, so it was definitely a bit of an adventure travelling to various islands. Although I had done a fair bit of research, I didn’t always know what to expect, and of course the Scottish weather can present its own challenges.

My new book, Scottish West Coast Coast Islands in Photographs features around 130 images from the islands. I’ve grouped them into Seasons, Life and Places. So, I’m hoping that it will give a rounded picture of the islands, and hopefully encourage photographers and non-photographers alike to explore the islands and their culture. I was very pleased that the BBC’s Paul Murton agreed to write the foreword to the book. Paul is a great advocate for the islands and Scotland in general

I travelled to 42 islands over the course of around 18 months. I mainly camped out, which although could be a bit hair-raising at times, really got me in tune with the landscape. My tent gave up the ghost on Mull, so I treated myself to a hotel on Tiree for my last island. Essentially, I tried to travel to all the inhabited islands off the west coast. I fell short of a few, but I think that I discovered the essence of the islands, plus it was brilliant to do.

Three Chimneys Restaurant, Colbost, Skye. Credit Alastair MacDonald Jackson

Cold Winter afternoon on Lismore. Credit Alastair MacDonald Jackson

Dawn at Claggan Bay, Islay. Credit Alastair MacDonald Jackson

I made an effort to speak to people wherever I visited, and even spoke some (shaky) Gaelic in a garage in Lewis. In general, folk were more than happy to chat, and have their photograph taken, although I have to say, that is outside my own comfort zone. I’m happier making images of cliffs and beaches, so it was good for me to push myself. I agreed with the publisher that the book wouldn’t just be pretty pictures, and they definitely allowed me an element of showing island life. Life in Skye has changed massively with the building of the bridge, although that has brought its own set of challenges with ‘over tourism’. On some of the smaller islands land ownership and getting a permanent house is an issue. Eigg and Gigha have pointed the way forward there with their community buy-outs. Ferries, or lack of, are a problem everywhere. I’m just back from Eigg, and a replacement passenger ferry was on, but that means no work vans, cars etc. So, islands are like everywhere else, in that people live and work and go to school there, but they experience different challenges to those on the mainland. The bottom line is that everybody I spoke to enjoys living where they do, and were please that I was trying to tell a story of place with my photographs.

Fish Farm Manager, Ali Maclennan, Sconser, Skye. Credit Alastair MacDonald Jackson

Island highlights

Islay – Fantastic empty beaches and friendly folk.
Gigha – The best fish and chips.
Skye – Obviously. For too many reasons to list.
Eigg – A perfect size. And it has its own record label and music festival. I’ve been three times now.
Tiree – Perfect surf, and when I was there, the sunniest place in the UK.
Barra – When I visited, the light was exceptional, and it felt really like quite a unique corner of the world.

You can find out more about Alastair’s books here.

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