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A rare collection of panoramic images of Lochaber has been made available for public viewing online for the first time, writes Kirsteen Bell.
Fort William photographer Andy Paton created the pioneering landscapes in the 1970s using a special rotating lens that created sweeping images of Fort William and the surrounding areas, providing a unique perspective on Lochaber.
Mr Paton’s 1975 photographic tour Highland Panorama, which was displayed at the Masonic Hall in Fort William, was described by then journalist R A Daw as ‘one of the most exciting visual experiences’.
Though wide-screen images are commonplace to the present-day reader, in the mid-1970s Mr Paton’s panoramic images, projected to a width of 20 feet, were breathtaking.
Images by his contemporaries were typically produced in standard 35mm, so were a third of the size. Mr Daw wrote that the audience’s wonder came from Mr Paton’s ability to ‘flood the hall with the forests of Loch Lochy’.
Today the images are equally captivating. Lochaber Local History Society was recently gifted photographic prints of some of Mr Paton’s panoramas.
Bill Cameron from the society created digital images and made them available to everyone on its Facebook page.
Images include Loch Leven and the ferry, Ben Nevis and the pulp mill, demolished in 2008, Ardgour and the Corran Narrows, a train crossing the Glenfinnan viaduct and Loch Linnhe from the still new houses at the Plantation.
Mr Paton was no stranger to panoramic mountain views. He spent his summers working as a mountain guide for the Holiday Fellowship in Ballachulish where he met his wife, Grace Paton, who worked as the Fort William and district correpondent for The Oban Times.
The couple lived for a while on the shorefront at Caol, where neighbours were sometimes surprised to find images appearing on their bedroom walls as Mr Paton tested his projector, capable of producing 64-foot-wide images, on the exterior walls of the houses.
The collection of Mr Paton’s panoramic slides was gifted to the West Highland Museum in 2015 by Ian Paton, Mr Paton’s son, along with other material including Mr Paton’s writing on the Highland landscape for The Scots Magazine.
Cataloguing of the museum’s collection has begun and it hopes that, once complete, there may be slides that can be shared with other museums whose landscapes also feature in Mr Paton’s extensive work.
However, the most recent volunteers have finished for the season and Museum Curator Vanessa Martin said that they would be keen to hear from anyone who would like to help continue the work. ‘You don’t need a degree in history to volunteer, just an interest is great. Local people usually know the area very well so their input can be invaluable,’ she told us.
Speaking about the photographic prints currently held by the History Society, Mr Cameron added: ‘There are a number of recognisable Lochaber landscapes, but there are also some more unusual views that take some pinpointing, such as the one taken in Glenachulish’.
Mr Cameron said the society hopes to eventually unite the images with the collection of slides held at the museum, ensuring future generations can continue to enjoy these exceptional records of Lochaber’s changing landscape.
All photographs are from the Andy Paton Collection gifted to Lochaber Local History Society.
Loch Leven and the ferry. Photograph: From the Andy Paton Collection gifted to the Lochaber Local History Society.
NO F45 Loch Leven and the ferry