Nicholas J R White: Black Dots - MeanderApparel

October 08, 2021 6 min read

Nicholas J R White is a photographer based in Dartmoor. His photography projects examine the landscape and the ways in which we interact with our natural spaces. In 2017, Nicholas won the Lens Culture Emerging Talent award and he was awarded the The Royal Photographic Society Environmental Bursary for his project Black Dots. Black Dots is an exploration of mountain bothies and bothy culture throughout the United Kingdom. As well as being drawn by the impressive landscapes that surround the bothies, Nicholas was keen to investigate their human element, capturing the faces of those who trek for hours to temporarily inhabit these spaces. We caught up with him to talk bothy culture and about his journey across the UK taking pictures in the wild.

Strabeg, Northern Highlands, Scotland

Strabeg, Northern Highlands, Scotland

Taigh Thormoid Dhuibh, Raasay, Scotland

Taigh Thormoid Dhuibh, Raasay, Scotland

“Taking a camera on long walks seemed the obvious thing to do”

As a child, family holidays walking through the Dartmoor National Park instilled a love for the outdoors in Nicholas. He told us as he grew older, taking a camera out with him for these long walks became the obvious thing to do. Reaching his early 20s, Nicholas started to take his photography hobby a lot more seriously, enrolling to study a BTEC, which then led to a BA (Hons) in photography in Plymouth. After graduating, Nicholas took on a few roles in different professional studio environments until 2017, when it became clear that he wanted to focus on his own work. He still works for commercial clients occasionally and splits his time between that and his own personal book projects.

Sandy's Canoe at Peanmeanach, Ardnish Peninsula, Scotland

Sandy's Canoe at Peanmeanach, Ardnish Peninsula, Scotland

“Bothies lure you out of your comfort zone a little, and entice you into the more remote corners of the UK”

Over the span of three years, from 2015 to 2018, Nicholas worked on a project called ‘Black Dots’, photographing bothies around the UK. The project was a journey toward understanding why people hike so far to spend a night or two in one of the loneliest parts of the British Isles. At the time that his idea came to fruition, he had never travelled north of the Lake District as he’d never had the money to have a nice luxurious trip to the Highlands. Through researching the cheapest ways to stay and explore in Scotland, he came across these things called bothies. It was the obvious choice for Nicholas, and he was drawn to the concept of this free accommodation in the wilds of Scotland. It sounded much more unique than any hostel or campsite. He explained, “the 3 night max limit encourages you to keep moving. I’ve never really enjoyed going away somewhere and returning to the same place - be it a campsite or a hotel, for example - every night. Bothies lure you out of your comfort zone a little, and entice you into the more remote corners of the UK.”

Corrour Bothy and The Devil's Point, The Cairngorms, Scotland

Corrour Bothy and The Devil's Point, The Cairngorms, Scotland

Glendhu Bothy, Northern Highlands, Scotland

Glendhu Bothy, Northern Highlands, Scotland

“I selected locations that I felt were diverse enough and gave an accurate cross section of the bothy experience.”

Nicholas was still working his full time job when he decided to start his project. He decided, though, that if he photographed every single bothy there is in the UK it would make for a pretty boring book - there are over 100 bothies all over the UK. So a bit of prep work was needed before he could set off. Nicholas broke down his process of elimination for us: “ I selected locations that I felt were diverse enough and gave an accurate cross section of the bothy experience. These were then further divided by season – locations I felt lent themselves more to a winter photograph, etc.” For most of the project Nicholas worked alone. However, he was occasionally joined by his friend, photographer Andy Ford, who was photographing the behind the scenes of the project for Rab.

Adam at Camasunary, Isle of Skye, Scotland

Adam at Camasunary, Isle of Skye, Scotland

“Initially it was going to be a straight landscape project”

The project was initially meant to be a series of landscape images documenting the bothies in their stunning rural surroundings. However, looking through the early negatives, Nicholas realised something was missing - the human element. He described the human element as “the beating heart of the bothy world” which, of course, is essential to include in a project detailing bothy culture. Planning portraits when there was such a huge unknown about who he was going to meet and whether he would even meet anyone at all was pointless. So, Nicholas left them all to chance. “As a photographer you learn to read the room” he explained, “most people were relaxed and more than happy to have their picture taken.” There was the odd occasion though where it was obvious the bothy goers weren’t too keen on getting their portraits taken. A quick subject change by Nicholas usually worked to avoid any awkwardness, much to his relief as “bothy nights are long enough as it is.” During these long nights huddled in the bothies Nicholas began to realise what it is about these buildings that make them more than just simple shelters for most people. He told us, “there’s no single story as such, In fact, what was more interesting for me was finding out how much you had in common with these total strangers. Conversations develop organically in these places.”

Achnanclach, Northern Highlands, Scotland

Achnanclach, Northern Highlands, Scotland

Giles at Camasunary Bothy, Isle of Skye, Scotland

Giles at Camasunary Bothy, Isle of Skye, Scotland

“There’s something quite meditative about using this large, clunky object out in the landscape.”

Since 2012, when Nicholas first started his project work, a Large Format camera has been his camera of choice, which is what Black Dots was shot on. He detailed “there are many reasons why you wouldn't use this camera” but for him it has become “almost habitual” and without wanting to sound too pretentious it has become part of his “process of making work.” Nicholas’ working life finds him using a fully digital system, so he finds “something quite meditative about using this large, clunky object out in the landscape.”

“We’re drawn to shelter – it represents protection, warmth and safety.”

For a lot of hikers, finally seeing that bothy in the distance evokes a huge feeling of relief. Nicholas shot a lot of his images to elicit this feeling in his audience. He revealed, “a lot of the pictures are shot as if you've just caught sight of the bothy.” During his project, Nicholas also found that there “is something quite lonely” about the bothy. He told us, “there’s a lot of distance in the work: small shelters far away, dwarfed by the surrounding hills. You don’t plan to stay in one of these buildings for a lively night - usually it's to find a little bit of silence, sometimes with friends, sometimes with strangers, but often alone.” Another allure of the bothy is its mystery. You never know who you will find or what will be waiting for you when you arrive. This element of bothy culture is often romanticised. Nicholas explained that, indirectly, this theme runs through his project, “the bothies and the landscapes in which they sit do a lot of the hard work for you. We’re drawn to shelter - it represents protection, warmth and safety. The allure is emphasised when you place the shelter in an environment that is tough and imposing.” Seasoned hikers who visit bothies often find them just as recognisable as the outlines of our most well known hills.“They’re very much seen as part of the landscape – deeply rooted in the outdoor experience of the UK.”


A huge thanks to Nicholas J R White for joining us to chat about his amazing project. You can find out more about it on hiswebsite or Instagram, @nicholasjrwhite, and get your hands on a copy of his second edition throughAnother Place Press.


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