Turas Troimh Alba: A Photographic Journey Through Scotland, photographed and written by T.R. Gordon, Wanderings and Wonderings, 515 Woodland Hills, Carthage MS 39051, Tel: 601-267-9358. $29.95, plus $3 shipping and handling, hardback.
There are hundreds of picture books of Great Britain on the market, many of them large, glossy, coffee-table affairs, lavishly illustrated with full-colour photographs and descriptive captions. Of the many that have crossed my desk, Turas Troimh Alba: A Photographic Journey Through Scotland, photographed and written by T.R. Gordon, stands out from the rest. Like the other books, Gordon’s is filled with evocative photographs of the idyllic countryside and picturesque villages and narrated by insightful text. But what sets his book apart is the personal element he lends to his work. The passion he feels for the Scottish country and people is evident; Turas Troimh Alba is a testimony of one American’s love affair with Scotland.
Gordon first encountered Scotland in 1983 when he was stationed at RAF Edzell on a two-year assignment with the U.S. Marine Corps. In what little free time he had, he often took off into the countryside on a motorcycle. In the short period he was there he explored as much of the area surrounding Edzell as he could, eventually coming to know the backroads “better than the locals.”
After his enlistment was finished, Gordon returned to America but his heart, as he readily admits, was still in Scotland. After several years of longing to return, he managed to arrange a permanent stint in Scotland: he took a job leading summer bicycle tours through the Dumfries and Galloway region. Exploring Scotland by bike, Gordon says, was even more satisfying than on motorcycle. He spent May through October touring the region and sharing his passion and knowledge with others.
This intimacy with the land and its people further distinguishes Gordon’s book. He is not simply a professional photographer on assignment in a country of beautiful landscapes. Gordon treats each of his subjects, both with the lens and with his pen, with a loving familiarity that only comes from knowing them as well as you do your own home.
Throughout his travels Gordon encountered and photographed countless scenes throughout the country. But in addition to recording the glens and castles, he also took the time to meet the people. The book is peppered with quintessentially Scottish characters such as Bert Rowan, the bagpipe maker; Harry, the postcard vendor, and “The Birdman of Princes Street Gardens”. One of my favourite photographs and accompanying stories is of Walter Blakey, “The Mole Catcher”, a portrait you are unlikely to see in any of the other picture books of Scotland.
One of the most remarkable distinctions between Turas Troimh Alba and other glossy picture books is the fact that in addition to writing and photographing the book, T.R. Gordon published it himself–a refreshing rarity in today’s corporate-dominated market. If this book is any indication of future projects, I look forward to anything else that crosses my desk from his “Wanderings and Wonderings”.
Leigh Ann Berry