Fort museum teams up to bring glimpses of Lochaber’s past bang up to date

W.S. Thomson's photograph of Ballachulish taken in 1920 and Estelle's recent remake of the same view. NO F20 Ballachulish 1920 and now

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The West Highland Museum in Fort William, and photographer and history researcher Estelle Slegers Helsen have teamed up to collect Lochaber residents’ recollections and memories.

Old photographs taken by Scottish photographer William S Thomson in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, and present-day remakes are being used as visual cues to help interview residents.

From this Saturday, Estelle will wander around Lochaber for four weeks, walking in Thomson’s footsteps and talking to local people.

In the autumn, the results of the endeavour will be given back to the local communities, highlighting the past, present and perhaps even indicating something of the future for the Lochaber area.

W. S. Thomson (1906-1967) worked and lived from 1945 to 1961 in Fort William and Corpach and is still recalled in the the memories of the post Second World War generation.

As a landscape photographer, he roamed around Scotland and produced two pictorial books, 20 booklets in his Let’s See series, other publications, calendars and many postcards.

His photographs reveal a distinctive representation of the characteristic Scottish landscape and rural features in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.

 

W.S. Thomson’s 1920 photograph of Loch Shiel and the 1745 Monument at Glenfinnan and Estelle’s recent remake of the same view today. 

Estelle will cover the whole area, give talks in the local communities and record residents’ stories and recollections.

As a result, the interviews will be added to the West Highland Museum Oral History Archive.

In the autumn, Estelle will give another series of talks in the communities, which will all receive a set of banners with pictures and stories for future display in village halls, community centres, libraries, museums and local shops.

The stories will also be shared on websites, printed in the Lochaber Times, made into podcasts in collaboration with Nevis Radio and published in a booklet with then and now photographs.

At the end of the year, an event in the Highland Cinema in Fort William will conclude the project.

More information and dates and places for the local talks can be found on the websites www.westhighlandmuseum.org.uk and www.travelintime.uk.

This project has been supported by the Year of Stories 2022 Community Stories Fund. This fund is being delivered in partnership between VisitScotland and Museums Galleries Scotland with support from National Lottery Heritage Fund thanks to National Lottery players.

Leicestershire-based Estelle explained a bit more about the project to the Lochaber Times: ‘For the past months, I have been preparing a detailed plan to come back to the broader Lochaber area in May and June to make remakes, collect stories, and present the results in September to the different communities from Ardnamurchan to Glencoe and from Brae Lochaber to Mallaig.

‘The stories will be presented as a talk and as banners/displays shown in public places until the end of the year, as a travelling exhibition. I will probably create between 15 to 20 stories with an excellent geographical distribution in the Lochaber.’

West Highland Museum curator/manager Vanessa Martin said: ‘We are really pleased to be supporting this project with Estelle and hopefully it will raise the profile of a somewhat unrecognised photographer and bring him some due recognition in the 21st century.’