The Sightseers is an Observers' Walk made by artist James N Hutchinson and the Lothian Blind Ramblers. It forms part of James’ wider long-term research project, Rumours of a New Planet, which investigates some of the alternative historic narratives and figures connected to Calton Hill.
James’ initial research centred around astronomers associated with Calton Hill but he quickly became interested in the asides or footnotes of the astronomer’s stories rather than the dominant, popular narratives. The Sightseers was inspired by the stories of Thomas Henderson (1789-1844) and Thomas Anderson (1853-1932), both astronomers who made significant discoveries despite having visual impairments and James Gall, (1784–1874) an astronomer, publisher and advocate of accessible mapping for blind people.
Henderson and Anderson’s stories raise questions about what it means to observe when sight isn’t the primary sense and how this could enable us to reimagine or rediscover a place. To explore this, James worked with members of the Lothian Blind Ramblers, who he met through Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) based at the bottom of Calton Hill. The group walked and talked on Calton Hill and considered how description can become an active practice for the walker and guide.
Field recordings were made from each walking pair round a pre-determined route on Calton Hill. James created a script from by transcribing the recordings, editing and added stories of Henderson, Anderson and Gall. The script was then performed and recorded live on Calton Hill by actors Eliza Langland and Simon Tait to ensure the ambient sounds and feel of Calton Hill was captured.
Observers' Walks are a series of downloadable audio guides commissioned by Collective and created by artists specifically to be listened to on Calton Hill.