How a local artist captured Cnoc Soilleir in photographs

The photographs of Michael Faint, as well as the poetry of Niall Campbell, are exhibited in the recently opened Cnoc Soilleir building in South Uist.

Opened earlier this month, Cnoc Soiller looks set to breathe new life into the Hebridean Gaelic art scene.

But her story didn’t begin when Deputy Prime Minister John Swinney cut the ribbon.

During the opening, Cnoc Soilleir president Mairi T MacInnes said it was “a day for us to breathe” at the end of a long and complicated journey.

And it was a journey that was documented every step of the way by a local photographer.

‘Sunrise at Cnoc Soilleir’, the photo that gave rise to the commission. Photo: Michael Faint

Michael Faint lives in Lochboisdale, where he separates his photograph with work as one of the owners of popular local business Skydancer Coffee.

Like many locals, he was struck by the emerging structure of Cnoc Soilleir.

One morning, he took a photo of the building’s framework and a crane, touched by a sunrise.

He caught the eye of Catherine Yeatman of Cnoc Soilleir. For her, she says, Mr. Faint is “the best photographer in Uist within a mile”.

Cnoc Soilleir found funds to entrust him, alongside the poet Niall Campbell, with the production of photographs and poems documenting the construction project.

“We exchanged words and images”

They “exchanged words and images as the construction progressed”, Mr. Faint “able to draw more inspiration from [Mr Campbell’s] poems”.

These were shared on social media, leading to Cnoc Soilleir’s first gallery exhibition.

“I knew what Mike would come out with at the end wouldn’t be what everyone expected,” Ms. Yeatman says.

A tool kit hangs on an unfinished wall.
The photographs aim to capture the beauty of the most seemingly mundane objects. Photo: Michael Faint

Thanks to local builders MacInnes Bros, he got “free access” to the site.

He described his time there, putting together the finer details of the construction, like “photo-sketches”.

“I was able to show people who didn’t have access I had what was going on inside the build.”

A measuring tool.
A measuring tool used in the construction of Cnoc Soilleir, South Uist. Provided by Michael Faint

The photographs bring to light everyday objects most people wouldn’t expect to see in an art exhibition – from dusty tools to a waiting bottle of Irn Bru.

They also capture what these objects represent: a slow but steady labor of love.

Mr Faint launched the project in 2020, and he captures a project that has faced numerous delays due to “COVID and Brexit complications”.

The building took “a lot longer to come to fruition than we thought,” says Ms Yeatman.

‘A new start’

But the project also looks to the future.

Mr Faint “sought opportunities to represent how the building would be used in the future”.

He wanted the photographs to “celebrate a new beginning at ‘the bright hill'”.

In addition to documentary photographs of building materials, the commission asked Mr. Faint to respond to Gaelic music and readings from Cnoc Soilleir.

An abstract image of harplike lines.
Clarsach (Harp), one of the most abstract photographs taken by Michael Faint for the Cnoc Soilleir exhibition. Photo: Michael Faint

Challenged to represent sound in a visual medium, he produced “more abstract” images that “depict a musical journey that begins with people, culture and place”.

He was inspired by the “landscape around Cnoc Soilleir with the nearby hills, sea and machair”.

“From this beginning, the voices and the instruments come together to produce a crescendo which should continue for a long time to come at Cnoc Soilleir.

Sunset light on a building on a hill.
With “Sunset at Cnoc Soilleir”, Michael Faint has come full circle on the project. Photo: Michael Faint

Alongside the abstract photographs, however, two more traditional photographs: sunrise and sunset, depicting the start of Cnoc Soilleir and the end result.

For Ms. Yeatman, it was enough to include them.

“I felt like they told the whole story,” she said.

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