Background to the Seaboard Community Photography Project

The images and captions you see here were made over the course of a project developed in partnership with the Seaboard Centre as part of my PhD research with the University of the Highlands and Islands. My research focuses on the relationship between local communities and tourism around the North Coast 500. Since 2015 this highly popular touring route has dramatically increased traffic to the North Highlands, bringing much-needed economic activity but also raising worries over the scale and type of tourism and its effects on local communities.

Central to this issue is the question of how Highland places and people are seen by tourists. For many decades, this region has been marketed as a romantic and remote landscape in which to escape, relax and enjoy the views. And yet for the people who live here, this is also a living, working landscape full of stories and meanings. Local people’s accumulated knowledge, experiences, everyday routines and relationships all shape the way they see the natural and man-made spaces around them.

Against this backdrop, the project is aimed at sharing a local perspective on the Seaboard Villages. Over the course of several weeks in the spring of 2021, these six local residents used disposable film cameras to document their relationship with landscape, heritage and tourism as they went about their daily routines. After the film was developed and printed, we talked over the images and their meanings through interviews and group sessions. The participants then selected a set of pictures for display and wrote thoughtful captions which provide detail and insight for each image. 

The photographs take us through many different landscapes and spaces of the Seaboard: inside people’s homes and gardens, along the streets of the villages, across the fields and beaches and out to sea.

Some images capture the everyday rhythms of life here. Others touch on connections with the past which give meaning and richness to participants’ lives. They give an insight into childhood memories, family stories of fishing, farming and the Clearances, and reflections on social and cultural change. The participants’ pictures and captions also address some of the present-day tensions at work here today, including the recent decline and disappearance of the salmon net fishery, the challenge of supporting vital local services and infrastructure, and the impact of tourism. After all, Hilton, Balintore and Shandwick – like the rest of the Highlands – are not simply picturesque and unchanging postcard scenes. This is a complex and vibrant place.

This is how the Seaboard Villages look from the inside, through the eyes of people who live here and care deeply about this beautiful corner of the world. I am very grateful for the time, thought and care that these participants put into this project. Whether you are a born-and-bred local or a newcomer to the area, I hope that the vivid and multi-layered sense of place captured in these images changes the way you see the landscapes around you.

Julian Grant, University of the Highlands and Islands
PhD title: People, Place and the North Coast 500
This PhD studentship is supported by the European Social Fund.