Thomson’s Scotland – Wester Ross Series

Loch Maree and the Slioch - Then and now

W.S. Thomson

Although W.S. Thomson never lived in Wester Ross and had no family ties, he was a frequent visitor. The area is pictured in the Scottish photographer’s work, as black-and-white and colour photographs, in his main books, a few of the Let’s See Series and as postcards, all published between the end of the 1940s and the mid-1960s.

Search on a map for his pictures in Wester Ross (regularly updated).

A deep dive

My first visit to Wester Ross was in October 2021, and I stayed for about a week in and around Gairloch to scout places, get in touch with people, record interviews and present the Travel in Time project at the Gairloch Museum. Since then, I stayed in touch. I gave a few talks (also online) and went back for more scouting.

In September 2023, I roamed Wester Ross for three weeks and travelled from Loch Carron to Loch Canard following the A896 from Lochcarron to Kinlochewe, the A832 to Braemore and the A835 to Ullapool/Ardmair, for more scoping, visits to the Applecross Heritage Centre, Gairloch Museum and Ullapool Museum and to meet more people.

Back home in Leicestershire, I started editing the remakes. Currently, I am working on a proposal to find some funding for the project, hopefully, to be submitted by one of the Wester Ross museums.

If funding is secured, I will return to Wester Ross. This is planned from March to June and September to November 2024, several times for about three weeks each. During every trip, I will present the project in the local communities, ask people to join me in search for the places where Thomson has taken his photos and plan to gather stories and interview people.

This will result in a travelling exhibition, a booklet, a series of articles published online and in a newspaper and a series of podcasts. All is planned to be presented in the first part of 2025.

About the series

About 70 years after Thomson took his photographs of Wester Ross, history researcher and photographer Estelle Slegers Helsen revisits the area to remake a selection of Thomson’s photographs. The old pictures and present-day remakes are visual cues to gather people’s recollections. These are then moulded into unique stories returned to local communities, residents, and visitors. The stories will highlight the past, present and future of the Wester Ross area.

During the preliminary scoping, local communities, organisations, and residents acknowledged their interest, support and willingness to cooperate to make the Wester Ross Series happen.

Project goals

  • Re-connecting and re-engaging with local people, also difficult to reach, post-pandemic
  • Connecting people of different ages and groups in one community: young, old, residents, semi-residents, tourists
  • Connecting local communities in the larger area
  • Finding out how the Scottish landscape changed in the past 70 years