Stromness Museum blog

Through the fresnel lens: A study of Orkney Lighthouses

The story of Orkney is intrinsically linked to the seas, maritime lore and sailing. One of the most enduring symbols of this maritime heritage is the mighty lighthouse. From Dennis Head Old Beacon, dating back to 1789 to the Hoxa Head lighthouse that was built in 1996, lighthouses share the landscape and traditions of the northern isles. 


photograph of a tower/defensive structure.  This photograph has a border of geometric design
Hackness Martello Tower, Hoy. Credit: Tomas Hermoso


When first approached by the Stromness Museum to reinterpret part of their exhibition I was immediately drawn to the lighthouse exhibition they have there. As a photographer I’ve always been attracted to architecture that eschews the landscape that surrounds it, eludes pretension but still has an enduring aesthetic quality and functionality. All of these traits I have already explored when photographing many modernist and brutalist buildings in Glasgow and London. 


photograph of a skyline with a water tower to the left
Garthamlock Water Tower, Glasgow. Credit: Tomas Hermoso

Another attribute that drew me into lighthouses was the idea of projection and memories. My day job as a photography technician in a photo lab has meant I’ve scanned and restored thousands of 35mm slides. From family collections to glass slides from the 1800s, each and every one a small part of someone’s history, being brought out at christmas by parents and grandparents to show, now forgotten in an attic but still possessing the potential to revive memories. Lighthouses stand as a link between the seafaring past and the modern tourist facet of Orcadian living. Somehow ageless and ancient at the same time. 


photograph of a street, the sky is blue and there is a pyramid shaped bulding in the centre of the image, surrounded by other building. People and cars can be seen in the foreground on the street.
Transamerica Pyramid, San Francisco. Credit: Tomas Hermoso


With all of this in mind I decided to make a slide show of various Orkney Lighthouses shot on 35mm slide film. I experimented with using an audiovisual medium by making some field recordings of the various lighthouse locations around Orkney, however I decided to not include these as I am still practicing this method but it’s something I’d love to learn more about. I’m still in the process of going to the north isles; capturing North Ronaldsay and Sanday lighthouses during the winter with low iso film is a challenge to say the least. I’m looking forward to seeing what the rest of the Moti artists are working on too, it’s bound to be an amazing exhibition.


About the author

Tomas Hermoso
Guest blogger - Móti Collective