The Selkie’s Lair

(© Ian Plant) Ancient Scottish lore tells of a creature called the selkie, a seal that could shed its skin and assume human form. Tales speak of farmers wandering the coast coming across beautiful female selkies, stealing their skins and forcing them into unhappy marriages. After two weeks of photographing the Scottish coast, I can see why such myths emerged. There is something mystical and haunting about Scotland’s rocky shores, wild and wind-swept and lonely as they are. One immediately feels as if they have crossed some invisible boundary between the real and the faerie world of myth and legend, shrouded in mystery and dreams.

Scotland’s coast is in some places soaring and iconic, in others understated and intimate. Although I was drawn to its dramatic cliffs, arches, and sea stacks, I also enjoyed photographing the subtle locations, places that defy recognition and encourage one to study the ever-changing convergences of rock, water, and sky. One evening while scouting for a suitable spot for sunset, I found a small tidal pool stranded behind a sandy beach by the receding tide, sheltered by enclosing rocks. It seemed as if I had stumbled into one of the ancient myths, and I half-expected to see a beautiful selkie, basking in human form in the warmth of the sun, her shed seal-skin nearby to tempt the unscrupulous.

Myths emerge from the land, their character and temper shaped by the contours of the terrain. A photographer should seek to draw inspiration from the same source, rather than simply trying to impose his or her will upon the scene; each landscape has its own story, and it is the photographer’s task to attune to it. You do not need to steal its skin and take what does not belong to you; rather, if you observe patiently, and listen to the rhythm of wind and waves, the landscape will give its story to you, freely and without reserve.

As for me, I did not find any selkies, nor any kelpies or sea serpents or faeries or other creatures of Scottish myth. I did, however, walk for a time in the land that spawned such magical tales, and on occasion, alone on the wild shore, bewitched by the sound of angry seas crashing upon enduring rock, I felt as if I had drifted into the ancient world of eldritch imagination. I can’t wait to go back. Maybe next time I’ll find that elusive selkie.

You can see more of my images from Scotland on the Recent Work page of my website.

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