Euan Myles’ love of photography – matched only by his love of fishing – began as a boy, as he captured the countryside around his childhood home in Nottingham with a second-hand Yashica Twin Lens Reflex Camera.
A graduate of Newcastle Art College, Euan moved to Edinburgh some 35 years ago, setting up his own studio. Since then, he has worked across Scotland, the UK and Europe with some of the world’s leading brands. As both a photographer and a keen fisherman, Euan has spent plenty of time in Orkney over the years. No stranger to working with Highland Park in the past, his shoot to celebrate the launch of 54 Year Old, our oldest and rarest whisky to date, is his first shoot with us for some time. How did he find revisiting the Orkney he knows so well through a fresh Highland Park lens?
How well do you know Orkney? What impressions have you formed of these islands?
When I’m not travelling around Scotland taking photographs, I’m travelling around Scotland fishing – and there’s amazing fishing in Orkney, so I’ve been there many, many times over the last 35 years or so. I know Scotland so well now I don’t need a map – but Orkney is somewhere I go back to and go back to; it’s one of those places that’s eternally interesting, you always discover something you hadn’t discovered before.
It’s such a rich place – nourishing and fertile and green. You’ve got the birdlife and the wildlife you see when you’re fishing and out drifting on a boat, and then there’s the perpetual light in the summer months. But there’s also a raw visceral quality to Orkney, the feeling of being on the edge of the world with nothing but the North Sea and Atlantic ahead of you. When you look down from Yesnaby to the Old Man of Hoy, it gives you a sense of drama and expanse. You’re not in Scotland, you’re not in the Western Isles, you’re in Orkney, and that’s unique – it’s definitely a place apart, and it’s completely different to anywhere else in the world.
You’ve got the archaeology and the architecture, and you’ve also got the culture and the community and the Orcadian identity – you get a sense of that whole continuous strata of human endeavour in Orkney. It’s all still there and you feel the heartbeat of it.
What did you enjoy most about coming to Orkney on a photo shoot for Highland Park?
Time – the best part was definitely being given enough time to wait for the right light and the right weather to capture the right images. It’s always such a gift to be able to go and explore somewhere further, to get to know it better, and I discovered lots that I’d never seen before. I did some epic walks – from the back of Stromness right up to Yesnaby – and I had the luxury of the time to do that. I walked so far that I was hobbling by the end of the trip! I was in Orkney for nine days and I got four beautiful ones… with a lot of rain and wind in between!
What was your brief and how did you go about interpreting it?
The brief was to reflect the brightness and richness and greenery of Orkney, and the big, big skies. But it was also to focus on places like the Brough of Birsay, the Cliffs of Yesnaby and the Ring of Brodgar – to look out from the western seaboard side and capture how wild and elemental it is, how the strata of the rocks has been built over the millennia, and how that inspired the design of the decanter and presentation case for the 54 Year Old. I was after uplifting, vibrant and rich images.
When you’re photographing Orkney, you can’t help going for the dark, brooding shots so this really was a different approach. I did quite a lot of long lens work, shooting through the long grasses to Loch Harray and looking at the fertile lands in the middle of Orkney’s Mainland. Lots of Orkney is quite flat, so it’s interesting to get low down – looking at angles of roads disappearing – and to capture the vernacular of the architecture, the mills and farms and farm buildings that are all still intact. It doesn’t take much imagination to know what it must have been like when they were all working. I went to Yesnaby several times, hunting out coastal shots and ancient rock formations but I also wanted to capture colour and light, the golden fields and expanses of sky. And I explored places I’d never been to before – The Gloop, an inland beach with neolithic caves right up in the north, Sunside Beach which is as far east as you can go – beautiful yet bleak and in contrast to places I know well like Boardhouse or Swannay. I also took photographs of the hills of Rousay, with what’s left of the Broch echoing their shape.
During the last couple of days of the shoot, I did some drone work – it’s great for getting a different perspective, even just 10 or 15 feet up. I flew the drone right down the Cliffs of Yesnaby and got great shots of Yesnaby Castle that otherwise I’d never have got without abseiling… and I’m terrified of heights!
What are the challenges of photographing in Orkney?
The weather! It can be a nightmare… I was up at dawn each morning and set off with about five different apps on my phone to tell me what the projected winds and rain fall would be – as each day went on, I’d know if there were going be pockets of opportunity or if I should just pack up and go home. If it’s really windy, even just holding the tripod steady is tricky! Light can be the other challenge, but one of the plus points about the shoot taking place in October, which was later than we originally intended, is that you get the best light. To be honest, this goes for Scotland generally – October is my favourite month for shooting because of the light – the seasons are changing and everything’s turning and you get this wonderful contrast of colours.
Although you weren’t shooting at the Distillery, did you feel a connection between Orkney and Highland Park whisky?
To me, Highland Park is special because of the continuity in the way that the whisky is made, the craft that goes into it, the buildings that have been maintained over the decades, and the way the people at the Distillery work. There’s no show, no bravado, it’s the real deal. And the same goes for Orkney – it’s all about absolute authenticity.