'Traditional' photographic images of people in the Scottish islands represent them as marginal and romantic, determined survivors become quaint curiosities. The discourse of modernity has produced a dichotomy between contemporary society and a pre-industrial Arcadia that is vividly reflected in the emphasis on the anthropological 'otherness' of island ways of life. Yet whilst such stereotypes are evident from the archival record, the specific uses made of photographs by local communities suggests that these pictures also provide a resource for cultural accounting. Like the 'reckoning of kin' or the cataloguing of place names and archaeological sites, photographs constitute a shared basis for establishing awareness of an authentic, distinctive and continuous self-identity. The view constructed by outsiders may thus be contrasted with a competing indigenous appropriation: the one stresses the schisms rent by transformed relations of production; the other counters modernisation theory in its celebration of continuity. Although the malleability of photographs as sources renders any final assessment difficult, a methodology for intertextual reading is suggested.