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Indepth Arts News:

"Photographs of Scotland"
1999-11-19 until 1999-12-03
Fraser Gallery
Washington, DC, USA United States of America

Almost 1,400 years ago, on the 20th of May of the year 685, a naked man, his muscular body and face covered in blue elaborate tattoos, urged his small Highland pony forward and studied the scene visible on the valley below him. He was close enough not only to count silently the tents and fires of the huge army assembled below, but he could also hear the guttural sounds of the Teutonic language spoken by the hated Anglian invader who had occupied the southern part of his ancestral land for almost 30 years.

The mounted naked warrior looked behind him and examined his own smaller army, made up of both men and women tattooed in designs and symbols like the ones on his scarred body. His name was Bridei and he was the King of the Northern Picts, the most ancient of all Britannic races, who predated the Celtic immigrants from Ireland and the Teutonic invader from Angle land. On that Easter day he could hear the Latin chants of the Christian priests who accompanied the Anglian king, and he knew that his own Pictish army was not only outnumbered five to one, but also that so far the Angles had been invincible against the once Roman Britons in the south.

He raised his hand and for an instant, the future of the land called Albion by the Picts, Caledonia by the Romans and known as Scotland today, hung in the air. He brought his hand down, unsheathed his sword and charged down the hill.

On Easter Day of 685 history records that King Bridei of the Picts destroyed the largest invading Army ever to set foot in Scotland. The battle which followed, called the Battle of Nechtansmere by the English and Dunnichen by the Picts, remains one of the most significant turning points in ancient history and had Bridei lost that great battle, the Scotland of today would not exist and all of Britain would have been English. When it was over, the King ordered a stone to be carved and stood in the Angus valley to commemorate the great victory.

It is stones such as this which make the core of the subjects of British photographer Catriona Fraser's body of works. Her photography concentrates exclusively on the historical subjects of Scotland. Pictish stones, ancient ruins, mythical landscapes, megalithic stone circles, medieval fortresses and forgotten cemeteries all recorded in the brooding, ethereal media of B&W infrared film make up a project begun in 1992 to record the astounding history of the Scottish countryside.

Photographs of Scotland opened on November 19, 1999 for two weeks at the Fraser Gallery with a reception for the photographer and gallery owner. The opening also marks the gallery's third anniversary and the beginning of its fourth year.

Catriona Trafford Fraser's photographic career began at the age of fifteen, when she was hired as an Assistant Photographer trainee and Darkroom Assistant by the Reading Evening Post newspaper in Reading, England. One year later she became the youngest student ever admitted to the prestigious Plymouth College of Arts and Design's photography Diploma course. In 1991 she founded Cairn Photography, her own fine arts photography business in Fettercairn, Scotland under the auspices of the Aberdeen Enterprise Trust. Soon after that, she began using black and white infrared film to document some of the lesser known Pictish standing stones and stone circles, ruins and cemeteries which are a nearly forgotten legacy of northern Britain's pre-Scottish past.

Infrared film seems to be able to record these ancient landscapes in a way which almost captures the historical essence of the subject, she says. It is much more difficult to work with, and requires a lot more concentration and effort in the darkroom, she adds, but the final result is well-worth the extra work. My own work is a lifelong project to document the landscapes and visual history of the Seven Celtic Nations. Being British of a Scottish father, I naturally started by photographing Scotland commencing in 1992.

Her photographs have been exhibited widely in many galleries in Europe, Latin America and the United States. Additionally, her work has been exhibited in the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, the Otero Museum in Colorado, the Museu de Brusque in Brazil and the Rufino Tamayo Museum of Contemporary Art in Mexico City. She has been honored a variety of awards and in 1996 she opened the Fraser Gallery, becoming (at 24) the youngest gallery owner in Washington.

Many of these stones have been destroyed or removed over the years, she claims, and these days, car parks, fences and cities are slowly engulfing the remaining stones. That's why it is important to me to record them in their original settings, before they are all moved to museums.

The Fraser Gallery is one of the eight Canal Square galleries in Georgetown, and is located at 1054 31st Street, NW, off M Street.

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