Old Shetland, by Guthrie Hutton. Published by Stenlake, £13.95.
Douglas Smith, who died in January, was a Lerwick boy through and through, although he lived and worked a long time in the south. One of his hobbies was collecting old photographs and postcards of Shetland, and his brother Brian told me Douglas used to go to photographic fairs all over Scotland, adding to his collection. Many dealers got to know Douglas and would reserve photographs for him. In this way a great number of Shetland images that would otherwise never have been seen here have been saved to return home, for the bulk of Douglas Smith’s collection has been left to Shetland Museum.
Before he died Douglas collaborated with publisher Guthrie Hutton to produce a book, now in the bookshops, entitled simply Old Shetland. Old is relative to a reader’s age, I suppose; the latest images are probably from the 1950s, so my first reaction to them was “They’re not very old!” I counted 217 photographs in 96 pages, a veritable Shetland feast that starts in Fair Isle, finishes in Unst and misses out very few places in between.
There are many old friends among the images, but a surprising and satisfying selection of “new” ones – to my eyes at any rate. Included in this category are the Roesound bridge under construction, the Bressay launch Brenda and a David Howarth boat – possibly the Enterprise – under construction at Scalloway.
Old Shetland is a worthy addition to the range of photographic publications on Shetland, of which many are sadly out of print. I have two gripes, however. I grant you this publication is marketed Scotland-wide, but I think most local readers will agree when I state that many of the captions would have been much the better of a local overview before publication, for there’s a lot of information that should have been included.
For example, I don’t think our friends in Fair Isle will enjoy learning that “most of the population lives in scattered communities”. Lerwick newsagent, stationer, town councillor and provost William K Conochie deserves to have been named along with his new car PS 1105. Then, I picked out Bobby Geddes and Peter Black right away in the splendid group photograph on page 37; I’m sure it wouldn’t have been impossible to include the names of nearly all the people depicted.
My other gripe with the book is that hardly any of our talented old local photographers of the black-and-white era receives so much as a mention, and only one an acknowledgement. I’ll do it here; without J D Rattar, Robert Williamson, Clement Williamson, Ramsay, Abernethy, Peterson and others, the book would have been a slim volume indeed.