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Floortje sees islands in a different light

| Written by Neil Riddell

Self-taught photographer Floortje Robertson with her exhibited work in the Peerie Shop this week. Photo: Shetnews/Neil Riddell Self-taught photographer Floortje Robertson with her exhibited work in the Peerie Shop this week. Photo: Shetnews/Neil Riddell A HIGHLY accomplished exhibition featuring striking images of the coastal landscape in Shetland, the Western Isles and Fuerteventura by self-taught photographer Floortje Robertson has gone on show at the Peerie Shop Café until the end of May.

Simply titled Islands, the display – consisting of photos taken over the past two years or so – opened with a very well-attended launch in Lerwick last Saturday (18 April) evening.

It is the first time 32 year old Floortje, who grew up on Shetland’s west side, has put an exhibition together.

Indeed she only picked up a camera properly for the first time in around 2011 – initially doing a photo-a-day challenge on social media site Tumblr, after which she developed a close interest in the mechanics of taking pictures.

And when – in spring 2013 – she moved back to the Gruting and Selivoe area where she’d been raised by her Dutch mother Charlotte Scholtz and father, architect and SIC councillor Frank Robertson, she suddenly found herself rediscovering Shetland and seeing it in a different light.

“The nights were getting longer. I was living with my parents around land that I thought I knew really well,” she told Shetland News. “Even on the drive into Lerwick, I would have to stop every time I took the drive.

“Then I realised I was trying to capture the quality of the light – a kind of golden, hazy quality – and really enjoying being back near the sea, and kind of revelling in it.”

Re-evaluating the place you grew up in is something many people go through, and also something artists working in many different forms draw upon. One of the standout images from Floortje's debut exhibition. One of the standout images from Floortje's debut exhibition.

For Floortje, the move home was the first time her interest in photographing landscapes was really stimulated. Prior to that she had mostly been taking pictures of people.

She and her boyfriend, sound engineer Tim Matthew, have also spent time with his family in Mull and Fuerteventura over the past two years. While those islands came into focus partly through circumstance, Floortje also began to notice parallels between the three atolls.

“They are all in the Atlantic, are of similar size, and although you’d think they’re very different, I’ve found strong similarities in culture as well as the physical features of the islands.

“What I was enjoying was something meeting something else: the edges of hills meeting the sky, cliffs meeting the sea, sand meeting the waves. Very kind of elemental, and particularly interesting when you can hardly see that – when the horizon is a haze between the sea and the sky.”

Among the exhibition’s highlights are an image of flat, goat-rearing plains in Fuerteventura, and a shot of a beach in the Canary island showing people silhouetted against the sea and sand. Though the beach is very different to those you’d find on these shores, there is an unquestionable likeness in the cliffs that stretch out in the background.

Floortje also picked up on how, like Shetland, Fuerteventura has virtually no trees and a “make do and mend” propensity for DIY. There are ‘creepies’ – peerie wooden stools – with “exactly the same design as you’d get at home”.

The scale of the warmer climes' tourist economy is the main difference, but “the first thing they are speaking about, even though I don’t know the language, is the weather, how so and so’s cousin is getting on… children have had to move away to go to university – it’s all very familiar".

“I think with all of these pictures I’ve let it happen, and only looking at them afterwards I can see that there’s the same narrative running through all of them. The things I enjoy, the things I feel are really important, the things I missed when I was away from it.”

She was thrilled with how last Saturday’s launch went. There were some “lovely conversations” with people about the images, prompting her to think about some of them in a different way.

Mist creating an eerie scene over the cliffs at Silwick on Shetland's west side. Mist creating an eerie scene over the cliffs at Silwick on Shetland's west side. Having studied contemporary theatre practice at the Royal Conservatoire in Glasgow after leaving school, she worked full time in the city doing shows and workshops for children, but for many years “not making anything for myself”.

Other photography projects Floortje has undertaken of late include work for Shetland Jewellery on its Mirrie Dancers range, numerous portraits, and promotional shots for musicians including Inge Thomson and Kris Drever.

Floortje has also obtained funding from Shetland Arts and Creative Scotland for a project called Haa – documenting a year in the life of two local halls close to home, in Walls and Skeld, which she hopes to exhibit in summer 2016.

“The public hall is such an important part of the way we function as small communities, and the way communities relate to each other. It’ll be a new challenge – going back to taking pictures of people, but capturing them whilst they are engaged and whatever they do in their own environment.”

That’s certainly something to look forward to. In the meantime, make sure and get along to the Peerie Shop to see the fruits of this very talented lady’s behind-the-lens handiwork. You won’t regret it.

  • Islands by Floortje Robertson is showing at the Peerie Shop Café until Sunday 31 May. To find out more and view some of her other work, visit www.floortjerobertson.com

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