St Andrews Photography Festival: Valentine’s Scottish Islands

Thursday 17 August 2017

This is the first of three posts highlighting images from the Library’s photographic collections to be featured in the upcoming St Andrews Photography Festival, 1-30 September 2017.

The exhibition on show in the Richardson Research Library at Martyrs Kirk (during September 2017, 0930-1630 Monday to Friday, free admission) gives a flavour of how the postcard firm of Valentine & Sons depicted the Hebridean islands of Scotland during the period 1890 to 1960.

Valentine’s postcards and photographs were commercial creations, driven by what they thought would sell to the public. This led to a different depiction of the country to the tourist view we have today. Many of the images taken and made into postcards are of the towns and villages of the islands and of transport, as well as the more familiar, castles and ancient monuments. The images chosen for this exhibition thus reflect the commercial and social values of the time. The images served as souvenirs to send home, or as a photograph to show on returning home at a time when few people had cameras and when letters were the main means of communicating.

JV-A-19. Isle of Iona. Composite of five views, 1934.

Many of the postcards and prints produced are simple photographs of a place or are composites showing several views of the town or island (JV-A-19). Often these now have extra interest or value in that they show where and how people used to live and they have become a documentary record of past life (JV-11810)

JV-11810.B. Crofters Cottages, Skye, 1890.
JV-S-6-7. Spinning, St Kilda, 1925.

Valentine also produced small Snapshot albums, lettercards and collections of postcards, for the visitor to buy as souvenirs or to send ‘home’. These had up to 12 photographs of a town or an island and would give a good range of local views for the visitor to show to their friends and family. Sometimes these albums depicted a way of life that was only found in the islands (JV-S-6-7) and even then would have been a curiosity to visitors.

JV-D-3965. Beinn Nuis and Glen Rosa

The photographs were taken with an artist’s care – most of the landscape images of the islands show a careful composing of the view, balancing trees with distant mountains (JV-D-3965) or a ruined castle used as a focal point to draw the eye into the photograph. (JV-A-4738).

JV-A-4738. Castle Moil, Kyleakin, Skye, 1936.
JV-A-9466. Duart Castle, Isle of Mull, 1939.

In the late 1930s there was a phase of producing softer ‘art views’ of Britain and many of these portray a more romantic and picturesque view of the country. Often an old photograph would be given to the artist who then produced an art view almost identical to the photographic scene (JV-A-9466 & JV-Art-1772).

JV-Art-1772. Duart Castle, Mull, 1940.

By the 1950s the Valentine depictions of the islands often include the prosaic as well as the scenic.  Views of the hotels and guesthouses and even the transport to (and from) the islands appeared as postcards (JV-D-277).

JV-D-277. ‘Loch Seaforth’ leaving Kyle of Lochalsh, 1955.

This exhibition gives a glimpse into the complex and varied ways that Valentine made available images of the Hebrides, their landscape, people and way of life for the visiting tourist to buy, send and take away. This would encourage more people to visit the islands and, of course, buy a Valentine print or postcard for themselves.

Jane Campbell
Research Cataloguer and Database Administrator

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