Trumpan Church and the Interpretation of Images
There are many images of evil, and there are many images of goodness. Often, the two can be intertwined.
I recently sold a print of a photograph taken of the Trumpan Church, at Waternish, on the Isle of Skye. A question arose, about the horrid history of that church, and I have felt compelled to put the print into perspective.
A version of that photograph is shown below. It was one of dozens of digital images captured on a May evening, shortly before a sunset that arrived as a gift after Scottish rain. The print itself is more detailed, and printed with careful attention to textures, colour, exposure, sharpness, the balancing of tones, and choices of clarity. It was one of a dozen "door and doorway" images offered as fine art prints in a solo exhibit. The exhibit was a success, with six prints sold from the twelve on offer.
Without the benefit of history, "Trumpan Church, Isle of Skye, 2017" is a study in textures and light, with evocations of stark and simple paths between interior and exterior. Like most successful art prints, it can mean much more to those looking at it. Capturing that image on my Sony A7Rii, I saw strength in the wall of the ruins of the Trumpan Church, heard geese in the distance, and felt the blending of a cool ocean breeze with hopeful glimmers of late day sun. There is a wall, interrupted by a doorway. There is space beyond the door, interrupted by a lower stone fence. There are clouds, interrupted by sky.
And, yes, the reverie must be interrupted by the history of the Trumpan Church. The clans MacLeod and MacDonald were warring factions in the 16th century, not unlike many other clans of that era. Details of the story differ, but by most accounts we can believe that in 1577, members of the MacDonald clan murdered almost 400 MacLeods by setting fires at the doorways of this church, killing all but one of the worshippers who were trapped within (one escaped, but later died as a result of injuries from the fire). I have looked for a happy ending - for a tale of serendipitous reunion or salvation - but none can be found. There is no light-hearted equivalent of the "Alice's Restaurant Massacree" from the Trumpan Church massacre. It was not a peaceful time.
Visiting Scotland, we learned of numerous instances of battles, massacres, violence, and war. We also experienced friendly people, tantalizing scotches, comfortable lodgings, and awe-inspiring vistas throughout the Isle of Skye and elsewhere in Scotland. There would have been very few photos taken or brought home, if battlegrounds, fortified castles and other scenes of conflict were eliminated.
The history and reality of those ruins are not as essential as our view of them. To paraphrase Gandhi: whatever you see is insignificant, but it is very important that you see it. Grass, shadow, stones, sky and clouds; arcs, rectangles, and lines; greens, yellows, browns and blues: there is nothing more than that in the image itself. The significance of the image arises from what we see in it. Perhaps a long-lost lover preparing to appear at the other side of the door, or a child playing in the grass at the side of the doorway, or a door slamming shut, or a door just opened, or a slap-stick head-banging against the top of the archway, or the beginnings of a new home, or a super-hero landing from the sky onto the gravel between the wall and the stone fence, or an appreciation of the peace that has arisen from the war, or ambivalent wondering about the god that was worshipped in that church, or a continuation of an adventure. There is magic in the image, and the image is in you.