“In the Malaficia project, London based photographer Craig Ritchie delves into a Scottish area that was once a central location for witch trials and executions. This gruesome piece of history is not what first meets the eye when browsing through Ritchie’s images of East Neuk: the elegant houses, the forests, elderly people and other moments of daily lives. However, as Ritchie indicates in his website, “It took very little to be considered a witch; a ruined crop field, a petty argument over money, a spurned lover, or maybe the fisherman’s catch was poor.”
This indication may remind the viewer the unforeseeable storms that lie beneath the mundane surface. After all, “What better way to gain the upper hand over another person or family than to accuse them of witchcraft?” Ritchie, so it seems, uncovers how the Malaficia, the hammer of the witches, can be found in every corner of a geographical grid – whether imagined or painfully concrete. The first phase of the project is a photobook that can be viewed and purchased through Ritchie’s website. Currently, the work is also on view in a number of galleries. And here’s a little more about the motivation, future and aims of the project:
How did you find yourself haunted by witches?
The work emanated from an arts residency I undertook in The East Neuk of Fife, Scotland. The remit of the residency was to produce work that was connected to the East Neuk, an area of fishing villages situated between Edinburgh and St Andrews on the East Coast. Prior research of the area revealed that the place was at one point a hotspot of European witch trials and murders which seemed like an interesting subject matter to tackle, not least because the events occurred hundreds of years ago which presents obvious challenges.
What did you find when you arrived to East Neuk? How was the project received
The East Neuk is a bit of a hotbead for artists and in fact the Pittenweem Arts Festival, which this year celebrated its 30th edition, is one of the most popular in Scotland. The locals are therefore used to visitors from afar and in that regard my presence there raised few eyebrows. Intriguingly though, there appear to be a kind of collective anxiety about their witch past, with people almost reluctant to engage too deeply in discussions around the local witch history.
It’s more than just my imagination as well – there are no monuments to the damned (surprising in terms of the amount of murders we’re actually talking about); it’s difficult to locally find much in the way of literature, and unlike in most places with such a past there is no real tourism centered on the witches. I did find one local who offered witch tours a few times a year, but when I phoned him it transpired he lived in Crouch End in London!
In terms of the locals in the project, I simply asked people who I thought looked interesting, who either fitted my loose narratives or who I thought were interesting enough in their appearance to consider building narratives around. This emerged out of my day-to-day encounters with the place – I didn’t actively seek out locals as such.”
Excerpt of an interview by Rotem Rozental. Continue reading here (no longer active)
More of Craig’s work here