The McDonald Collection - Wick photo exhibition
22nd July 2019
HUNDREDS of photographs of Wick life spanning more than half a century are to go on show during the town's gala week.
They will form an exhibition called The McDonald Collection being held at the St Fergus Church Hall for one day only on Wednesday, 31st July 2019.
On display will be more than 450 prints from the archives of McDonald Photographers, the family business in Shore Lane run for many years by Janet McDonald and her late husband Ian.
There will be a mix of black-and-white and colour photographs taken at community events, special occasions and other assignments covered by the McDonalds in Wick and district from around 1950 until the early 2000s.
Janet (80) came up with the idea of an exhibition as a way of raising money for Church of Scotland Guild funds. She is on the leadership team of Wick St Fergus Church Guild, as well as being project co-ordinator for Caithness.
"We find it difficult now to have fundraisers to raise the money for this kind of thing because coffee mornings and afternoon teas are not as popular as they used to be," she said.
“I was up at the top of the house over the New Year holidays, thinking that I must get rid of some of this stuff - all these photographs up there. I started going through them and I realised, ‘Oh my, I’ve got enough here to put on an exhibition.’
“I’ve never done a big exhibition like this but I thought this is something I can do, and it’s something for the Guild.”
Over the past few months Janet has been selecting and captioning prints and arranging them on display boards.
“I didn’t realise it would be such hard work,” she admitted. “I’ve been doing this for months, thinking about it since January. It was decided we would have it in gala week so that it might give visitors or exiles home on holiday something to come in and see, which I hope they will.
“Over 450 photographs will be on display, chosen at random – there is no rhyme or reason or system! These are just prints that happened to be kicking around, but they’ve all been captioned to say what they are.
“It’s general, it’s life in Wick and district – annual events, press events that we covered, all aspects of life as caught on our cameras over the years. A photograph is a moment in time for eternity.
“I didn’t go out to look for anything specific. There are babes in arms right through to the old folk’s treat, the whole spectrum of life in this town over 50 years plus.”
Visits to the county by the Queen, the Queen Mother and other royals feature among the collection. “There’s a smattering of royal family photographs as they were part and parcel of life in Caithness,” Janet added.
McDonald Photographers began life in Wick’s Harbour Terrace and moved to Shore Lane in 1968.
The timing of the exhibition is appropriate, as for generations of Wickers the McDonalds played a special part in gala week. After the traditional opening night, featuring the crowning of the gala queen and the procession of decorated floats, Janet and Ian would stay up as late as 5am processing, printing and numbering photos and putting them on display in the shop window, filling the entire space from top to bottom.
In that pre-digital age, townsfolk would turn out in great numbers on the Sunday and over the following days to see the full set of gala procession photos and relive the fun of the occasion.
“It was part of the gala weekend to come round here and look at the photographs,” Janet said.
“I still get people coming in and asking if there are any gala photos to put in the window, or people will say they loved coming round looking because they were on floats and they didn’t see anything else.
“Now they’ve got phones and cameras and they can photograph anything, and it’s all on Facebook. Modern technology has taken over, which is good.”
Ian died in 2004 and Janet retired from photography around five years ago. The business is now run by their son Ian jnr and focuses mainly on framing.
Janet said: “I don’t go out with a camera now and I miss it terribly – meeting people and knowing what’s going on in the town, which the camera allowed me to.”
The McDonald Collection, under the auspices of Wick St Fergus Church Guild, runs from 11am to 7pm on July 31 in the St Fergus Church Hall. Admission is £3 which includes tea or coffee and biscuits.
The likelihood is that many of those popping in to the exhibition will notice themselves in at least one of the photos, such is the multitude of faces on show.
“If they’re not in it themselves, they’re bound to see somebody they know,” Janet said. “It’s worth coming along just to see – maybe bring a friend and then have a cup of tea and a biscuit. They are more than welcome.
“I’ll be delighted to see as many people as possible. Hopefully they will enjoy having a wee trip down memory lane and go out with a smile on their faces.”
Janet McDonald preparing some of the prints for the one-day exhibition.