Contributing editor Jim Richardson is a photojournalist recognized for his explorations of small-town life. His photos appear frequently in National Geographic magazine.
Mangersta is no more than five miles (eight kilometers) from Uig Bay, both on the west coast of the Isle of Lewis. But these two places have little else in common.
If Uig is serene, Mangersta is ruthless. It was there I found frame 5,744 for the "Edge of the World" story about the Hebrides.
Gaelic-speakers call it Mangurstadh. This spelling catches more of the primordial character of the murderous rocks than the English version, don't you think? Tucked into a cove along a dead-end road, Mangersta is battered remorselessly by Atlantic waves regardless of season. For such a powerful landscape, Mangersta is reclusive. Just driving down the road, you would never see it hidden beyond the machair.
How did I find Mangersta? With more than good luck, I can assure you. The Hebrides are riddled with jagged shores and secret coves. No one can hope to know this place entirely. Certainly I could not hope to photograph the islands adequately without some sort of guide, and I found a good one: photographer James Smith.
As I was doing research for the Hebrides story, I made it a point to review photographs that already had been taken of the area. I found that the most stunning panorama photographs of the islands all seemed to have the same credit line: James Smith. So I dialed up James, told him what I was doing, and asked if I could visit. He graciously agreed. We met in his gallery—called Oiseval near the town of Barvas on Lewis—and on a pleasant morning discussed places to photograph in the Hebrides that James knows so well.
Much of what I needed for my Hebrides story I had already seen or known about from earlier trips. But I wanted to make sure I wasn't missing something special. Although I had earlier worked a couple of the Hebrides's signature craggy seascapes elsewhere in the islands, I needed to find the best. My question to James was direct: Is there any other shore that I should be considering for that rugged look? Or is Mangersta the one? James's reply was equally direct: That's the one.
Over tea he told me how he had come to be a gallery owner on the remote west coast of Lewis. Long before he retired from his job as a production manager for the company that makes Kit Kat bars, he had become an amateur photographer. Quickly he moved up the ranks of landscape photographers in the very active system of club photography in the United Kingdom. When James retired, he and his wife found this gallery for sale. So he's now based near Barvas, where he travels Lewis making stunning photographs and works out how to make a living at it. (As a gallery owner myself, I can sympathize with this challenge.)
I tell this tale because the common perception is that the world of photography is competitive—some would say cutthroat. Maybe. But over and over I have found my fellow photographers to be generous. Perhaps it comes from the shared uncertainty and insecurity of trying to do what we do. Whatever the reason, most of the photographers I run onto are quite willing to share what they know.
Such was the case with James Smith. He added several key pieces to my coverage, and I hope sometime I get a chance to return the favor—or at least to sit down over tea again. In the meantime, if you long for a wider taste of the Hebrides, James has just about seen it all. (You can find his images here.)