Photo Essay: Black Dots, Nicholas J R White

Hardy stone dwellings, rooted in the soil of Scotland’s most remote landscapes, bothies have sheltered travellers from the elements for centuries. Journeying to the UK’s wildest corners, Nicholas J R White documents bothy culture in his photographic series Black Dots.

Far from civilisation and mostly accessible only by foot, bothies are secluded mountain shelters scattered across the British Isles and tirelessly maintained by volunteers from the Mountain Bothies Association. Unlocked and free to use, they provide a refuge from the vast terrain that surrounds them and have become an iconic feature of the British landscape over the past fifty years. Bothies are synonymous with the outdoor experience in the UK and from day trippers to mountaineers, the growing community of bothy-users is hugely diverse.

‘Black Dots’ is the result of almost three years spent traversing our most remote landscapes in an attempt to better understand what these buildings are, where they’re located and the culture that surrounds them. Drawn not only by the primitive beauty of the bothies and the landscapes they sit within, the work also investigates the human element to the bothy story, capturing the faces of those who trek for hours to temporarily inhabit these spaces, many miles from the nearest settlements.

All images © Nicholas J R White / INSTITUTE 

Five Questions with Nicholas J R White

What first drew you to bothies and bothy culture?

I discovered bothies almost accidentally while researching walking holidays in Scotland. Initially, I was drawn to them purely on a visual level. But the more I studied them, the more I became fascinated by what these small buildings stood for. I felt as though they represented our desire to escape and to be distant. They encouraged groups of strangers to gather with a common interest to enjoy our last remaining wild spaces, on a very primitive level.

What did three years exploring the UK’s most remote locations teach you?

On a personal level, it was beautiful to be reminded just how accessible these landscapes are. I was working a full-time job in a windowless studio for the duration of ‘Black Dots’. I’d leave work and drive to Scotland, and be walking a mountain pass in the Cairngorms the next morning. Every time I’d say to myself, “I should do this more often, it’s so easy” – but life gets in the way of that freedom to some extent. Still, it’s refreshing to know those places are there and within relatively easy reach.

Is there any one location you felt particularly connected to?

I don’t think so. All of the locations have their similarities, but they’re all unique. Corrour Bothy in the Cairngorms stands out as a particular favourite though. Not so much the bothy itself, but the experience of being there for a few days in the middle of winter was pretty special.

Where else in the world has your work taken you? 

After completing Black Dots, I jumped straight into a new project in Romania. I’ve spent the last 18 months working on a project in the Southern Carpathians documenting the formation of a European Wilderness Reserve. It still talks about our relationship to the land, but approached from a much more environmental angle.

Is there anywhere on your travel wish list?

There are countless places I’d love to visit. However, I find that I’m usually inspired less by the destination and more by the stories that take place there. I’ll pursue something if it captures my imagination. That could take me to the other side of the world or just as easily to the edge of my village. The best things aren’t necessarily that far away!

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