Book review: Islay Past and Present - A Century of Change

The Times they are a Changing: "The line it is drawn, the curse it is cast, the slow one now will later be fast, as the present now will later be past". Most of us will remember these historical lyrics from Bob Dylan about the changing times. Everyone feels to a certain extent that times are changing, for some faster than others, for some welcomed and by others feared. The pace of these changes is going up which makes it even more important to record as much as possible of the days and scenes gone by. As a non-Ileach I always envy the Isle of Islay and its people for its most enjoyable and relaxed pace of life. I always get the impression that these changing times don’t apply to this lovely island. Where I am based, the Netherlands, changes are so much more visible and have an almost suffocating pace compared to Islay.

Mark Unsworth from Islay Studios at Bruichladdich has published his first book of Islay, comparing century old views from all over the island with the present ones. The title is “Islay Past and Present, a century of change.” The hard-cover book is printed on high quality paper with more than hundred staggering and razor sharp quality pictures inside. The introduction explains how Mark managed to retrieve the century old pictures, mostly taken by Archibald Cameron in the beginning of the 1900s, using the original glass plate negatives now carefully stored at the Museum of Islay Life.

This book pairs the old black and white photographs with the new ones, also black and white, taken from the identical spot where possible. Browsing through this book I found this to be a fascinating and nostalgic journey back in time and discovered that my initial feelings about the changes on Islay were not entirely right. Things have changed, perhaps more than you think, although not so dramatic, and a lot of buildings pictured in this book are now serving another purpose but still look more or less the same. That’s the advantage of keeping the old instead of tearing buildings down to build new ones in their place. One small point of criticism though, the captions below the pictures are rather short, never more than one line, and give an accurate description of the changes. More than once however the caption is written as a question to which I would love to hear the answer, which unfortunately cannot be found in the book.

Islay managed to keep most of its authenticity in the last century and Mark captured the perfect atmosphere for a most enjoyable trip to memory lane. If you have a hunger for facts and answers you might be better off with a regular history book, but if you have an appetite for nostalgia, and lets be honest who doesn’t, this unique book is an absolute must have for both locals and visitors alike! Mark’s book will be officially released on wed 14 November and will be publicly launched at C&E Roy in Bowmore on Saturday 17 November at a cost of fifteen pounds. For enquiries contact Islay Studios Bruichladdich through his website: www.islaystudios.co.uk or by email at mark@islaystudios.co.uk. This book is now for sale in the Islay Shop.

This book review will also be published in the Ileach, issue 35-01 November 10

Comments are closed

Bruce

Sunday, 11 November 2007
Ron, you don't make it clear exactly how much text is in the book... is it purely captions to the photos or is there more? If it is just the captions then I'm afraid that would be enough to put me off this book no matter how good the photos are! I do like the "then and now" type books, but I prefer some text to tell me a bit more than just a few brief captions, especially those that ask me questions instead of providing answers!

tglover

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Bruce, the captions are sufficient as far as I'm concerned and explain very clearly the past and present of the pictures shown. You always have to read the caption in the context of the place name or area it is shown in. As often, changes and particularly the time when they occured, are not always clear. The author is trying to get answers from his readers when certain facts are not known, which is not often the case.

The captions shouldn't be a reason to put you off, on the contrary, they explain a lot of what you see and the changes that have occured. The questions are only occasional. This book is worth buying when you have an interest for the island and is in fact the largest collection of black and white Islay photography brought together in one book!

For me as an Islay enthusiast I enjoyed every minute and every picture and will do so for a very long time, so hurry to the shop Bruce :-)

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www.islayinfo.com

Bruce

Sunday, 11 November 2007
Ron, I should have said could instead of would when I said that would be enough to put me off this book... obviously I would base my final decision on a bit more than that!

Anonymous

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Having just received my own personal copy I have to agree with Ron: While the captions are very short (typically one sentence) I think they are perfectly sufficient. For me they actually invite me to a journey of discovery. They take me to look at the pictures and discover the changes myself which have taken place over the years (or not for that matter, as sometimes there is little change). Exactly what I'm looking for in a book like this.

As Ron writes it is not a book for people wanting to read about the history, I think that shouldn't be the goal of a book like this. I feel it would be distracting from the pictures. A little knowledge of Islay and its as well as general history certainly helps to enjoy and understand the book, but then I think that applies to any book or project like it

I've done a similar project myself last year (for Swindon) and know how much work this can be, finding the information and then trying to find the same viewpoint as in the old picture. Mark has done a great job here.

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Gruss,
Armin
www.islayblog.com
www.armin-grewe.com/islay/

Anonymous

Wednesday, 14 November 2007
Just to add: A few of my colleagues have now looked through the book and they were quite impressed, even though they've never seen more of Islay than at best the pictures on my blog/websites.

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Gruss,
Armin
www.islayblog.com
www.armin-grewe.com/islay/