Monday, 20 June 2016

Laura Hudson Mackay - Finding Silence in Dumfries and Galloway’s Thin Places

Dumfries and Galloway is a special region and full of what I like to call ’Thin’ places. Listening to the silence in the Galloway forest, embracing the stillness on the Solway Coast or spending time beholding standing stones, the revelation of thin places can be experienced with an open mind and heart.

The Celts understood thin places, areas where the silence is tangible, those rare spaces where the distance between heaven and earth is reduced. Nexus points, where barriers seem to melt away and another dimension seems close enough to touch. Sometimes these places may have a religious significance but more often they do not.

Having visited the region regularly from 2006 and since moving here in 2013, I have discovered many thin places throughout Dumfries and Galloway which have significantly influenced my photographic journey. Photographing a place which in some way feels sacred cannot be rushed, so initially I spend time soaking up its spirit.

Trying to describe such places in words is more difficult. Explanations of thin places aren’t merely useless, they get in the way; the experience of a thin place is special because words fail, leaving only stunned silence.

My home in Dumfries and Galloway was originally built by the last Abbot of nearby Sweetheart Abbey, in New Abbey. An Abbot, (monk) is an edge dweller, tending and gracing the borders of the in-between, he sees the hidden worlds between worlds and dares to imagine new possibilities that are not yet fully formed. As artists, we too are called to listen to the new thing being created right in this moment. We are called to slow down and see the world more deeply. Since living in this space, understanding ancient ways of seeing, feeling the silence and slowing down are becoming a way of life.

A most famous modern monk, Thomas Merton had begun his first serious exploration of photography in January 1962 when he visited a Shaker village near his monastery; "Marvellous, silent, vast spaces around the old buildings. Cold pure light, some grand trees. So cold my finger could no longer feel the shutter release. Some marvellous subjects. How the blank side of a frame house can be so completely beautiful I cannot imagine. A completely miraculous achievement of forms."

Silence is never merely the cessation of words…Rather it is the pause that holds together – indeed it makes sense of – all the words, both spoken and unspoken. Silence is the glue that connects our attitudes and our actions. Silence is the fullness, not emptiness; it is not absence, but the awareness of a presence. - John Chryssavgis

Laura Hudson MacKay

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