If you aren’t from the northern reaches of the UK, chances are you’ve never heard of a bothy. Almost socialist in concept, they are small, remote accommodations that are free to use for any traveler who stumbles upon them, typically found in the scenic reaches of the British, Welsh, and Scottish wilderness. Over a period of two years, photographer and general adventurer Nicholas JR White extensively documented bothy culture for a breathtaking body of work he calls Black Dots.
Armed with a large format camera, a slow and difficult but rewarding photographic tool, White was something of an outsider to the bothy lifestyle at first. “Prior to shooting Black Dots, I’d never spent a night in a bothy. I discovered them online and instantly became fascinated and intrigued; what are these places and who’s using them? This project was a way of satisfying my own curiosity and answers to these questions,” the photographer tells Creators.
White’s images certainly reflect his immersive engagement with the subject and the frequency of his trips to the wilderness. Different landscape images from snowy, craggy mountains to pastoral plains show a breadth of exploration. The different interiors of his bothy photographs also reflect this, from tidy huts with serendipitous views that could easily be mistaken for a bed and breakfast to much eerier and dark, moss-covered spaces.
White came across many fellow travelers embarking on the bothy quest, seeking out the small lodgings in the remote British wilderness. With slight deviations, the bothy demographic in White’s pictures heavily skew towards middle-aged men, indicating that the culture is perhaps something UK residents are drawn to in their twilight years.
Finding and photographing the bothy travelers was one of White’s goals from the get-go. “From the very start of the work, I knew I wanted to include portraits. The bothies are there to serve the people, so they become an integral part of the story and essentially shape the whole network,” he explains. “I spent many evenings alone, which is an experience in itself, albeit slightly frustrating when I wanted to make portraits.”
“With that said, it was never a surprise to find someone else out in the hills — it’s an incredibly popular pastime in the UK with hundreds making full use of the wild spaces the British Isles has to offer. The visitor log books in each bothy are a testament to this,” he adds.
Though the notion of encountering strangers in remote wilderness huts may seem a bit sketchy, White says this wasn’t the case at all. “The process of photographing the people I met was usually pretty smooth. After you’ve shared shelter, fire, whisky, and food with someone, your relationship quickly shifts from stranger to friend, and the photographic process feels more natural.”