Discovery of Glass Plate negatives offers glimpse of island life 100 years ago

From Dr Morrison's photos: the family of John MacKay, South Shawbost, circa 1900-1905
From Dr Morrison's photos: the family of John MacKay, South Shawbost, circa 1900-1905

A compelling documentary on BBC ALBA will explore the discovery of a set of glass plate negatives which offers a glimpse of what island life was like 100 years ago.

The hour long documentary, ‘Dìleab Thormoid / Smile Please’ tells the extraordinary story of historic photographs and their photographer, Dr Norman Morrison.

Over 100 years ago, Dr Norman Morrison began photographing people in his home village of Shawbost on the west side of the Isle of Lewis, yet his work and life story has until now remained unknown.

His remarkable set of glass plate negatives dating back to the early years of the twentieth century, when Dr Morrison would have been in his late 20s, was discovered recently in a barn on the death of a local resident, perfectly preserved and of pin-sharp quality.

The photographs are of individuals and families from the area and provide a fascinating insight into island life in the early 1900s.

Despite having only two years education in childhood, Norman went on to become a Dr of Science and Fellow of the Zoological Society of Scotland and an expert on the adder, becoming known locally as ‘The Adder King’.

Perhaps best known as the co-founder of the Scottish Police Federation, Dr Morrison was also the author of five books covering the island’s history, folklore, zoology and politics.

The discovery of his photographs has led to renewed interest in Norman’s life and work.

The Westside Historical Society has intellectual copyright over the negatives and a series of events in his home village was set up including wet Collodion glass plate photography workshops, a photographic exhibition and an intergenerational project, to ensure that his legacy is preserved for future generations.

The programme explores the photographic archive left by Dr Norman Morrison, his contribution to the development of herpetology in Scotland, and to the creation of the Scottish Police Federation.

‘Dìleab Thormoid / Smile Please’ was produced by Corcadal Productions for BBC ALBA and is being broadcast on Friday, 21st February, at 9pm.