Playhouse

April 30, 2012

One of the most creative uses of a building I’ve ever seen. Playhouse, Liberty Hall in Dublin, presented by daft.ie as part of Dublin’s theatre festival 2009.

Members of the public could contribute with their own animations, which were displayed on this giant TV screen / building once the sun went down. Here is a video of the event from playhouse.daft.ie.

 

 

 


A fullstop, for now

October 5, 2011

My Way Installation / Draíocht 2011

A quick post to show the installation of the exhibition at Draíocht in Blanchardstown. Lots of positive feedback in the visitors book, but alas no reviews. I might have to sleep with someone … no skip that.

The show ends on November 5th. Grab a nice (free) copy of the publication before they’re all gobbled up.

Eddie McG

Bettie S.

Anne F.

Where Do You Think You're Going (HD Video)

Monica A.D

Reflections

Bernadette G.

Deirdre & Fran O.

Vincent R.

My Way Installation

You may wonder why the green furniture? Donated by Dublin Auction Rooms, the purpose was to facilitate the continuation of conversations and personal feelings on growing older, that were abundant during the making of this work.

A process table has two books, one which is essentially a brief synopsis of the process and extracts from my visual notebook. A copy of the publication is also available.

Process Table

Process Table / My Way Publication

Process Table / My Way Publication

Process Table / My Way Publication

Process Table / My Way Publication

Process Table / My Way Publication

Process Table / My Way Publication

Process Table

 

In the absence of any review, I’d love to hear what you think. Feel free to leave a comment …

Thanks!

 


Today with PK

September 2, 2011

Paddy O’Gorman came out to the opening last night, with his dog, and talked about the show on Pat Kenny this morning.


Where Do You Think You’re Going?

September 1, 2011

Last Sunday morning I was making coffee when a piece of piano music came on the radio. It slowed me down to a standstill almost. After a quick Shazam I found it to be a guy called James Rhodes. I hadn’t thought of putting music to the video piece, until I heard the track. I looked him up, sent him an email, and he was delighted to be part of it, so thanks James. The album is called Bullets & Lullabies.

This is the video piece which is in the show My Way. If you’re seeing it out of context (as in not part of the show opening Sept 1st at Draíocht), let me know what you think. Hope it makes sense.

[vimeo 28409069]

‘Tis Hung

September 1, 2011

Not much more to do. The prints are Lambda prints, 665 x 500 mm in editions of 8, sillicon mounted. I wanted a rich glossy feel, that is entwined with most fashion photography, along with the whole idea of reflection. The process has been quite a reflective one …

Betty S. 2011

Michael T. 2011

Monica A.D. 2011

My Way, Draíocht

 

 


My Way Invite

August 25, 2011

‘Tis near. Am giving a talk in the downstairs gallery in Draíocht at 6:30pm on Sept 1st about the work, before the opening at 7:30pm. Then I’m going to bed for a week.

 


Nothing Like a Deadline …

August 18, 2011

Shot my last few images last week, finalising the publication which was designed by the fantastic Siobhan O’Carroll, images gone to print, process book made and ordered. Left to figure out how to play a HD movie on a flat screen TV with minimal equipment and cost, and that’s about it.

Nothing like a deadline to force a bit of closure on things.

All in all, I had ten participants work with me to the end, and bless their patience. Each person done a fashion recreation, along with two other photographs, video and audio interviews. The show itself will have ten of the fashion recreations, ten images of each person engaging with their own reflection in a mirror, a process table and a video piece – and a little place for conversation to bubble.

Opens Thursday Sept 1st at Draíocht in the downstairs gallery. I’m giving a talk at 6pm, the show opens at 7pm. All welcome.

Anne F. 2011

Eddie McG. 2011

Lilian H. 2011

Deirdre & Fran O. 2011

Michael T. 2011

Mary T. 2011

Bernadette G. 2011

Vincent O'R. 2011

Bettie S. 2011

Monica F. 2011

The exhibition continues until Saturday November 5th. What’s your favorite?

 


Lady in Red

July 29, 2011

This is the latest in the series of reconstructions. It was probably the most difficult, and if I had a hat I would take it off to Sorcha McClenaghan who made the dress for the shoot. Makeup was done by Celene O’Connor, styling by Sorcha and modeled by the Owens couple of 45+ years, Deirdre and Fran.

Lady in Red

That’s one killer look Deirdre.


Guys n Dolls

July 22, 2011

Almost done now. September 1st is looming.

I had hoped the catalogue would be something that documented the entire project, participation, dialogue and interaction that’s happened over the past year and a half. Budgets are tight so I’m praying for a kind printer. I’ve had so many cups of tea, home made treats, sandwiches, chats and laughs in my many meetings with the ten participants that stuck with me to the end. Here are some more of the recreated fashion shoots.

Bettie S.

This is a shoot we done way back in February, but it’s only getting aired now. I don’t have any shots of the lovely Bettie getting dolled up. Make-up was by Audrey Corrigan and Emma Moffat from IADT. Styling was done by Niamh Hogan.

 

Betty S.

Eddie McG.

The first man to don the make-up. Eddie’s a pro and didn’t flinch. We were going for a James Dean look. Thanks to the guys in Jamestown Studios, Denise Murray who done make-up, Sorcha McClenaghan for the styling and Eddie the man for being the first male guinea pig.

Eddie McG.

Mary T.

There were wigs for everyone in this shoot. Thanks to the lovely lady in Hairspray on Wicklow St, to Liam at the Transport Museum in Howth, to Ciara Kerins who done make-up, Sorcha McClenaghan for styling and to the lovely Mary for accommodating us.

Mary T.

I’ve always relied on the kindess of strangers – Tennessee Williams, thanks all.


Poem in the Post

July 6, 2011

Today, I received a poem in the post.

Garvan, I drove away with this permit … enclosed piece I wrote a while back – Interested? I’m not clear about what you have in mind. Enjoyed the ‘shoot’. Somewhat of a hoot! But everyone was so professional. Will you give me a buzz? Regards to Freddy & Kevin. Monica A.

MY WAY

Now in Autumn Years
Such a good time to glance back –
Relive those moments of joy, pain, tears, laughter
Each day a precious gift –
Full of wonder and gentle surprises –
To be savoured so much more fully
Because of my own maturing.
No need to rush –
To fill each hour with sixty new experiences –
A true appreciation of ‘ordinary’ things – familiar situations.
Wines: sipped not gulped – less frequent – more fine.
Food: ‘Less’ being really ‘more’.
Friends: so valued – rarer – pure gold
Love: Everlasting …

Would I turn back the clock?
Childhood? Adolescence?
The dizzy merry-go-round of my 20’s?
The challenges of my 30s, 40s, 50s –
My more reflective 60s?

Never!

Now, being 70-something
I have come home to myself.
A new starting-point
To continue the adventure of Life’s Journey
On different levels –
within the heart of the now ‘me’
In the vastness of the universe and its tantalising mystery
The one the more immense, mysterious,
The other even more profound
Oh! How glad I am to still have the passion
To Reach for the Stars …

© Monica-Ann Dunne

Poem in the Post


Just Monica

July 4, 2011

We had fun with Monica, but I’m guessing most people do. She was a bit shocked at seeing her face in 1920’s make-up, done by Michael Ryan and Ailbhe Fitzpatrick from the LA Academy. Her reaction noted below.

          

Styling was done by Sorcha McClenaghan. Wonder if there were any anti-fur activists around in the twenties?

A very elegant Monica.

Just Monica


Ms. Dietrich

June 20, 2011

       

This shoot with Lillian happened a few months ago on Valentines day. Shot on the main stage in Draíocht. Hair and make-up by Aoife O Sullivan and Leslie Ann Daly. Styling by Niamh Hogan.

Ms. Dietrich


A Reflection

June 20, 2011

“In the West the dominant trope for aging has been the decay and decline of the body. Time or age, we will say, writes itself on the body. For the most part we fear what will be written there. We repress the subject of aging. We relegate aging to others. We do not recognize it in ourselves.” — Kathleen Woodward

Lillian - Reflection

My father told me recently he got his last 10-year driving license. After someone reaches 70, an application is required every few years. It’s strange to think of them as actually getting older, of being 70. My parents are married 40 years this year. I clearly remember my grandparent’s 40th wedding anniversary. My father then was the same age I am now. The mind boggles. Only recently I was given the first indication of my own aging self when my physiotherapist said that the resistance in one of my muscles might just be a thing I have to live with. Really?

One of the threads which has been spun off from my conversations with older people in Blanchardstown is that of our aging reflection. I’ve never really given it much consideration. My laughter lines are only beginning.

A woman in her 60’s brought this up a few months back, which caused me to write something down in my notebook. Her thing was that she started to notice a new face at 40, and at 50 she started to see her mother looking back at her. Now in her 60’s she has to get used to another face, which will change again in her 70’s. I talked to another lady today, a former model in her 20’s, and she told me that when she looks in the mirror, she knows what to expect. It’s when she’s accidentally confronted by her own full-length reflection from a shop window that she sometimes gets a shock. Another woman said she didn’t like looking at photographs. By doing so, she sees herself as others see her.

Ernest Jones, in his biography of Freud, wrote about Freud’s elderly mother Amalia. Upon being given a beautiful shawl, she refused to wear it because “it would make her look too old”[1]. Amelia was in her 90’s. Commenting on a photo of her in a newspaper, she said that it made her look a hundred, that it was a “bad reproduction”.

Everyone has stories that mirror this observation. In the course of this project, a participant told me her mother would go along to senior citizen events, she a senior citizen herself, and would serve tea but would not sit down with the other senior citizens. Not doing so allowed her to be feel younger than the group she helped out with, even though their ages were the same. We all will carry our youthful self with us till the end, and as Woodward so eliquently puts it, old age is something that is relegated to others and not recognized in ourselves.

As part of this project, I photographed each participant engaging with their own reflection in their own mirror, and got their views about aging with their mirrors.

Anne - Reflection

Deirdre - Reflection

Vincent - Reflection

Bernadette - Reflection

Eddie - Reflection

Mick - Reflection

Monica-Ann - Reflection

Betty - Refleciton


[1] Woodward, Kathleen, Aging and its Discontents: Freud and other Fictions, 1991, p.3


This is Me – My Fashion

June 20, 2011

Pick a location that is relevant to you. Wear something you would wear to a special occasion.

The locations chosen were mostly related to events in the participant’s youth. Monica Anne Dunne, who used to model in her 20’s chose an area right next to the house she grew up in down in Co.Kildare. The jacket is an old one and one that required a re-mortgage, but she loves it. Mary Toole chose St.Stephens Green as she went to school just across the road and then went to work in the hospital that was right beside it. Betty Shanahan lives in the Pheonix Park, one of the lucky few who can. This was on her doorstep. Deirdre Owens also chose the Phenoix Park, in particular this pathway that she used to walk to meet her father in the Garda HQ. He died when she was twelve. Bernadette Gallagher chose the beach in Donabate. It’s a place she enjoys coming to. The others are already mentioned in my previous blog entry This is Me.

Each person talked about their own experience with fashion and growing older in a video interview, which is an unedited (but interesting) pile as of yet.

Monica Anne Dunne

Mary Toole

Betty Shanahan

Deirdre Owens

Bernadette Gallagher

Eddie McGinley

Anne Flanagan

Vincent Reilly

Lillian Harris


Earliest Memories Pinhole Exhibition

May 24, 2011
8-second pinhole portraits along with participant’s workbooks are the first thing you are confronted with in Earliest Memories Through a Pinhole Camera at Draíocht.

8-second Pinhole Portraits

Group Portrait

Each participant made their own camera using a matchbox and other household items, reconstructed their earliest memory, photographed it, printed it in the darkroom and framed it. A beautiful full-colour catalogue compliments the exhibition.

Draíocht Upstairs Gallery

The images were presented floating in a frame, with a one-line extract from their memory which was recorded in full in the catalogue.

I had never broken anything before

Black cloths were strewn over all the pictures and mirrors

I don't know why I was in a hospital

Black pudding tastes nice


Bealtaine 2011

May 13, 2011

The Clyne Gallery / Bealtaine 2011

I was delighted to be part of this year’s Bealtaine, Ireland’s festival celebrating creativity in older age. I was given the opportunity to exhibit Wearing Purple in the Clyne Gallery on Upper Exchange St in Dublin’s Temple Bar. For this exhibition, I wanted to take some of the work that has so far been confined to a one-off book that I made a few years ago, and put it onto the wall. The book was made up of the participant’s photographs, made on disposable cameras along with my own field notes. The only direction I gave them was to take photos of their everyday lives, no matter how boring the shot seemed. The contrast between the portraits I made in their homes and the normal snapshots of their daily routines provided a balance to the work that I was really happy with.

Thanks to Patricia Clyne-Kelly at the Clyne for generously providing the space, and to Dominic Campbell, Bealtaine’s artistic director, for wanting the show to happen.

 


The Hidden Garden (short)

April 17, 2011

I finally made time to make a 12 minute version of the documentary I made last year. My nice slow digger scenes had to get the chop as did a lot of my other babies, but I think it’s a pretty good summary of the film. See here for more info on The Hidden Garden and what it’s all about.

You can of course watch it in HD. If you’re interested in buying a DVD of the 46 minute edit, contact me. Only €10 plus postage.


Earliest Memories Through a Pinhole Camera

March 25, 2011

We had never heard a wireless before

This exhibition launches on Thursday April 8th at Draíocht, Blanchardstown.

My residency with Draíocht required me to work with a youth group in Dublin 15, so I thought it fitting and appropriate to work with an intergenerational group instead, given that my other project is looking at the invisibility of older people. Along with contributing towards an exhibition, it was hoped that the group would also function on some social level, which I believe it did.

On the first day of November last, fourteen strangers from various backgrounds and age profiles assembled in the Draíocht foyer. Some had prior experience with photography, some only an interest, while others came equipped with a mild curiosity. Five months later, the group lost only two people. We met every Tuesday morning in Draíocht and got to grips with both the technical and creative aspects of photography.

The technical aspects involved understanding the basic principles of how images form, regardless of the size or cost of the camera. The creative lay in the process of looking and discussing other photographers work, on brainstorming the theme of the project and in teamwork concerning every aspect of this show. Most signifantly, each participant made their own pinhole camera from a matchbox and other household items, along with printing their final image in the darkroom.

The theme of the exhibition was decided around Christmas, which was based around the individual’s first memory. Each participant, ranging in ages from 14 to 82 would reconstruct their first memory from a concise verbal description, and photograph that construction with their pinhole camera. Each matchbox was individually cut by each participant, thus each image has a unique frame surrounding it.

What’s that sound Jack?

Black pudding tastes nice

Black cloths were strewn over all the pictures and mirrors

I had never broken anything before

It was my 4th birthday

My mother in the wings

I want to steal her bottle of milk

That was the first time I tasted wine

My dad left his drill lying on the floor

I don't know why I was in a hospital

A pile of fresh clay smelled damp

The very nature of pinhole images with their fuzzy out of focus aesthetic, matched the concept in its entirety. Are our own memories our own? Did they even happen, or did they form in our consciousness from a story or photo? Our first memory is also a fuzzy, personal and delicate thing. Something that is generally not aired to the public, yet always are fascinating to hear about. The first permanent photograph in our young minds, fixed forever. In the memories that were reconstructed for this exhibition, it seems that the earliest memory seems something that is brushed with fear, panic, excitement or just extreme curiosity.

The approach used on this project stripped photography back to its very bare essentials – a black light-tight box and a tiny aperture. As the water eventually washes away the chemicals used to process the film, it’s difficult not to experience a sense of amazement that such a thing could produce images. Digital cameras have largely removed the method of investigation from taking photographs. A photograph instantly viewed on the back of a camera is immediately judged as being acceptable or not. Where it fails, a new one is taken and repeated until the photograph is satisfactory. Pinhole photography puts the thinking caps back on. There is one chance with a roll of film. It works or it doesn’t. Somewhere therein lies the magic.

Earliest Memories Through a Pinhole Camera opens on Thursday April 8th at Draíocht and runs until May 28th 2011


Suitcases & Drama

February 12, 2011

Second shoot was with Bernadette Gallagher who chose a 1930’s look, a gal with a lot of moving to do. Stylist was Niamh Hogan, make up team were Paula and Lauren from IADT. Suitcases from the reliable Historic Interiors.


Gubu & The Travellers

February 6, 2011

Gubu & The Travellers

Sometimes when doing a project, images are made that don’t quite fit into the context of the work, whether it is shown in an online gallery or in the real world. As such, they generally never see the light of day. This is one such image that I was reminded of yesterday. It was taken by my fine assistant on the day Clive Moloney.

The project Gubu was done as part of a 4-week residency with Limerick City Gallery in the summer of 2009, and born out of my own frustrations with the Irish Economy and our fine government. Myself and Clive went and done a recce on a Friday to this place in Silvermines about an half hours drive from Limerick city. The place suited the theme of a destructive landscape, so we said we would come back on Monday, by which time some travellers had moved in. Given that I was going to be dressing up as a clown and wandering around this place, I thought I should introduce myself. I chatted to what I assume was one of the parents. She said she would keep the kids away. Makeup on, Gubu’s clothes on, we began to work. The daddy’s came back at some stage and upon seeing a gobshite clown in the field they had to screetch to a halt and ask me to come up to the kids when I was done, which I did. This photo was taken as we were introduced.

Gubu may well be dying out as we begin February 2011, but if history is anything to go by, he’ll be back before long. More images and video can be found on my website.

If you’ve never heard of the term GUBU, see here.


Urban Chic

February 1, 2011

First shoot was Monday last, Jan 31st. Anne Flanagan was the model who chose to do an urban chic look circa 1970. Hair & Make up done by Emma and Ciara from IADT, styled by Niamh Hogan.

Urban Chic


How to dissolve a parliament

January 28, 2011

Now that’s what I’m talking about …


This is Me

January 26, 2011

Eddie McGinley

In meeting with older people in Dublin 15 about participating in my fashion project, a view that was consistent with each person was that they be photographed first of all as themselves, in their own fashion styles. A fashion image is never a true representation of the model. They are like actors performing a role. I asked each participants to pick a location that is somehow relevant to them, and to dress as though they were dressing for a special occasion – putting their best side forward as it were.

The locations chosen thus far have often been related to the participant’s own youth, such as the photograph of Eddie McGinley above. Eddie chose his old school, in particular the very spot where someone took a photo of him aged ten on his confirmation day in Marino. He talks about this in his video interview, along with his own views on fashion, and his very expensive jacket that is the most expensive item of clothing he has. A jacket he loves but one he fails to understand how he bought, given its price tag. He blamed his wife.

Eddie McGinley

Anne Flanagan is a delightful woman in her 70’s, not afraid to say what she thinks. As it turns out, she will be the first person to take part in the fashion element, which will happen this coming Monday. She has gone for a look in the 70’s with lots of fur, very urban and chic. Hair, Makeup and stylist are on hand to make it work. January weather may well dictate an indoor location as opposed to the preferred outdoor urban setting. Time will tell.

For her own photo however, I photographed Anne in two locations. The first was in her own house, as it was the beginning of the bitterly cold spell and she is well known (so she says) for wearing three of everything. She comprimised for this shot and presented herself in some nice evening wear. Gok would have more appropriate words, I’m sure. The mask was one she made and hangs in her house.

Anne Flanagan

Anne Flanagan

Anne wanted to be photographed in front of the house that used to belong to her grandparents in Lucan. Fields of vegetables used to occupy the space where she stands. Her grandparents house is visible in the background.

Anne Flanagan

The only other male participant is Vincent Reilly. Vincent chose to be photographed outside the house in which he was born, which is in Arbour Hill. A couple of local kids passed by and asked me “who’s your man?”. I pretended he was famous and was shocked that they didn’t know who he was. They left intrigued.

Vincent Reilly

Vincent Reilly

Lillian Harris is what people would call a ‘strong woman’, a woman of strong and honest beliefs and does a mountain of community work.

Lillian Harris

Lillian chose the weir in Lucan as it was exactly half way from where she was born and where her grandparent’s house was, a trek she would make regularly as a child. Lucan is now her home. She used to wear long skirts but threw that out the window. What she wears now is not governed by her age. She likes who she is and dresses the way she wants to but still finds it difficult to buy clothes.

Lillian Harris

If you know someone over 50, I would appreciate it if you could get them to answer ten simple quick questions online. I have a questionnaire that will help in my research with this project.

 


What’s your first memory?

January 14, 2011

First Memory

Everyone’s got one. Mine was standing in a cot looking out into the room which would later become my room. It was dark, except it wasn’t dark outside. I had a feeling of someone’s imminent arrival to lift me out. It was quiet. I knew how to get out, but I was too small to try. So I waited. It seemed to be in this period of anxious waiting that a snapshot formed that would become my first memory.

The intergenerational group I’m working with at Draíocht have decided that this will be the theme of their exhibition. First memories flooded forth covering funerals, accidents, strong women, frightening stories, hospitals, birth’s, wakes and first achievements. Each participant has made their own 35mm pinhole camera and will re-create a scene that will be reminiscent of their own memory. Some of the photographs will be taken from the perspective of the child that had the memory, some will photograph the thing that symbolizes the memory.

Memory and Photography. One could write a book and many have. Most people had only a single snapshot in their memory that constituted their first memory. Black and white photography, and black and white pinhole photography seems a very apt aesthetic to apply to this idea, the fuzziness of the image somewhat aligning with the fuzziness of our own memories. An older member of the group had her first memory being on stage. The snapshot was of her mother, waiting in the wings, for her to finish her part. Her feeling was one of being overwhelmed, nervous and anxious to be with her mother again.

The show will be exhibited in April at Draíocht.

What’s your first memory? Comment below.


A State of Indifference

December 10, 2010

Budget Protests, Dublin 2010

Scrolling through my daily morning Facebook trail, I stop at a poll that asked “should the bankers get their bonuses, or should they be told to take a hike?”. As I read it, the first thing I wanted to do was to shout at the person for asking such a stupid question, and it occurred to me that this actually is the level of protest that exists in this country. This is all the Irish people are capable of doing. That and bitching to each other about how bad it is, how bad the government is and just how bad it’s actually going to get.

I thought about the 100,000 people that marched to the GPO on a cold snowy Saturday at the end of November. I thought about the 500 protestors (which was more like 1500 from where I was standing) outside the Dáil the night the budget was commended to the house. Then I thought about what it would take to get the rest of the people out of their comfy chairs and their heated houses and take part in what is now beyond necessary to help fix the situation that our Fianna Fail Government has left us with. On the march with the other 100,000 people, it just wasn’t enough. Where were the other 900,000 people? That march left me with a numb sense of gloom and utter hopelessness. I was witnessing a funeral, not the beginning of a revolution.

On the morning of the march, someone had posted on their facebook profile that it was too cold to go out, and besides, she had two new computer games to play with. Let me contrast this with a story that’s happening to the North West of us in Iceland. On the same day as we marched to the GPO, Iceland were holding a referendum to elect 25 ordinary men and women, to be part of an assembly that will change their constitution. Banking savagery too led to the total collapse of Iceland’s economy. Their anger spilled onto the streets with pots and pans outside their houses of parliment. The night of our budget only brought only 1500 people. Iceland, like Ireland was steeped in corruption. A newly drafted constitution made by the people and for the people would restore the public’s faith in their government. That’s their plan anyway, and I salute them for that. Now, 25 people with professions like ‘University Professor of Economics’, ‘Physician’, ‘Mathematician’, ‘Farmer’, ‘Journalist’, ‘Pastor’, ‘Theatre Director’ and ‘Consumer Spokesperson’ hold the job of being temporarily elected for the purpose of amending their constitution for a fairer and better society. Their job is an admirable one, their will, even greater.

Fintan O’Toole has many progressive and radical reform ideas. He is a well respected and intelligent person, and if the cheers he got on his podium that Saturday afternoon outside the GPO was anything to go by, he would be a sure favorite of someone who could lead us out of this muck. For that is what people need right now, a leader, someone to say ‘follow me’. No one has made any serious noise of stepping into that role, and if you think about it, why would they if they don’t have the majority of people behind them.

There are so many things that need changing, our political system being top of the list. The number of members elected to our Dáil, their wages and perks. Our ‘local’ way of doing things should be completely abolished so that the immoral and selfish acts of our fine Independent TD’s Michael Lowry and Jackie Healy Rae should be something that the Irish people should ever again have to witness.

Emigration is an Irish problem once more. I grew up in a time where people wrote songs about Emigration. ‘Flight of the Earls’ was a song my father recorded from a record onto a casette tape – the entire casette tape. A tape he would play over and over again in our gold Toyota Hiace Van, simply because he liked it, and probably because it resonated with his generation. I often think about an article Fintan O’Toole wrote about a year ago. It was about emigration and why Irish people shouldn’t abandon their country. I agreed with him then. I no longer do. If the people of this country cannot get past the bitching and moaning from the safety of their own couch and computer, and not take to the streets to protest and revolt like the Icelandic people did, then why should you ask someone who cares deeply for their country to stay and fight? It’s unfortunately a hopeless and futile exercise. Right now, we have the potential to hold the biggest power, as a people. We can change things. We can do all the things that Iceland did and more. We can bring those bankers to justice and the people in charge who brought us here. We can change the laws and make up new ones. We now have the need to change the rules. We have the people in this country to make those changes. But above all, we have a responsibility to get out, get off our asses and fix this, because the argument of ‘shur, someone else will do it’ is no longer an argument.

The apathy of the Irish is always something that confuses everyone, even the Irish. Why the apathy? Where did it come from? Why aren’t we angry? Maybe being angry is uncool. Perhaps the only time we will see real anger on our streets, when 100,000 is replaced by one million is when our ATM’s stop working, when we have a new currency, when unemployment is out of control. When everyone is really hurting.


Pinhole Magic

December 9, 2010

Pinhole 1 / 8th December 2010

I started work with an Intergenerational group in Draíocht a few weeks ago. Part of my residency must engage with a youth group in the Dublin 15 area. Eight older people and 6 transition year students from various schools come together every Tuesday and will work towards making a set of photographs to be exhibited in Draíocht next April. The exact theme of the project is still being teased out. These past few weeks however have been very much about getting back to basics with photography making and using pinhole cameras. The magic of this process never fails to amaze me. How a beautiful image can be formed with a box as small as a matchbox and a tiny almost invisible opening made from a pinhole.

After messing with boxes that took black and white paper as the negative, I decided to make cameras that took 35mm film instead. They give you more than one shot and you can take it directly to a lab if you wanted, eliminating the need for a darkroom. I made mine with a matchbox and some 400 ISO black and white film (Ilford HP5). After an initial test, it was clear that a tripod was very necessary and before the big thaw arrived, I decided to capture some snow. These were taken with an f-stop of 90 and a 1 second exposure each.

Pinhole 2 / 8th December 2010

Pinhole 3 / 8th December 2010

Pinhole 4 / 8th December 2010

Pinhole 4 / 8th December 2010

Pinhole 5 / 8th December 2010

 
Digital cameras have largely removed the method of investigation from taking photographs. A photograph instantly viewed on the back of a camera is immediately judged as being acceptable or not. Where it fails, a new one is taken and repeated until the photograph is satisfactory. Pinhole photography puts the thinking caps back on. There is one chance with a roll of film. It works or it doesn’t. Somewhere therein lies the magic.

Pinhole Camera

The following are images taken from my digital camera prior to the pinholes.


Our so-called Leaders

November 22, 2010

First there was Charlie, who raped a poor and depressed Irish nation in the 1980’s. We got over that. We then voted for Bertie, a self-proclaimed socialist, who was well mentored by the aforementioned Charlie. Charlie died, Bertie made a nice speech, all the time preparing his bed along with another Charlie, fluffing his pillows with cash while taking the credit for a booming economy driven by hype and brown envelopes. Bertie too raped the nation, and before anyone actually knew what was happening, his sneaky shadow was gone taking the credit for the peace process and Ireland’s new found wealth.

I voted for Bertie, not because my father voted for his party, but because I believed he would give Ireland a new hope, a new confidence. I was a hopeful twenty-something that trusted him. He wasn’t like Charlie. He was different. He was not.

Now we have Brian and Brian. Their inept and arrogant party have never once apologized, never taken responsibility, have constantly lied and are still, unbelievably,  doing so. The tragic reason being that they would rather save their own pathetic party than do what’s right for the millions of people in this country. For the women and men whose lives would be changed by getting two measly hours help a week with their ailing spouses who have MS or dementia. Fianna Fáil doesn’t care about them. They only care about themselves and people who have money. They care about bankers. They will never change.

Think about this the next time you vote. Tell it to the people you know who vote Fianna Fáil only because their father votes for them and their grandfather voted for them. Tell it to the people who say they don’t understand politics (never bothering to actually think about it). This party deserves the respect they show the poor and weakest in this country. Hopefully in a few weeks we can all show them that.


Day 1

October 13, 2010

After a very quiet summer on this project, I had my first constructive meeting with a group of over 50’s in the Dublin 15 area that will be my first models in my new project. The summer is a quiet time for schools and senior groups, so it all kicked off in September. I had enough to be getting on with however, as in September we screened my debut film The Hidden Garden as part of ABSOLUT Fringe, which was an amazing and beautiful thing. For more information on this, see here.

Today, eleven people called into me at Draíocht. I had met some before briefly when I went to pitch the project to them. Most of them had heard about me and the project from the local newspapers, or through an very proactive and helpful lady called Lillian Harris who has taken a great interest in the project. We started with tea and biscuits which consisted of jam rings – a new unhealthy favorite of mine. I rabbited on about what the project is about and why I was doing it. I also let them know what they would expect to be getting up to if they decided to take it further. The project’s concept is fairly strong at this stage. The actual details of it are still a bit vague. However, by the time we had a very informative and open discussion about getting old and about being invisible (or not), I took them into the studio to introduce them to the concept of studio lighting, and the studio itself.

I was always going to involve the participants in the project, so today seemed like a good day to start. Each took a turn at the camera and photographed one person with the camera hooked up to a studio light. To my surprise, there was very little resistance at either being the photographer or to being photographed.

 

Lillian

 

 

Marion

 

 

Joan

 

 

“]

Bettie

 

The project is essentially based on one social grey area, which is about older people and their visibility in society. I say grey area, as the area I choose to investigate is older person’s fashion. It could be just a personal taste issue: if you were fashionable in your 30’s then it’s probably not something you’ve lost. If you didn’t care about fashion in your 30’s chances are you don’t care much about it when you are in your 70’s. Maybe there is fashion for everyone, regardless of age. I have a feeling that it’s not as simple as that, although one person today told me that buying clothes is not a problem at all. I would say that most wouldn’t agree with that, but I’ll let my survey decide.

We will all meet on a monthly basis as a group, which will be important in an overall discussion of how the project is going for them. Between now and December 1st, I will meet with each one individually (or as a smaller subgroup) and decide on that basis, how each person would like to be represented.

I still haven’t decided about film or digital.


Do you have anything for me?

July 22, 2010
While working on Wearing Purple, where I turned my camera on the retired people of my hometown in Carrick, Co. Donegal, the idea of invisibility was a common thread in the conversations I had with the people I photographed. Some felt that since they are over 65 and retired, their status in society had been downgraded as such. Some of them commented on younger people not acknowledging them, often looking right past them.

For this work, my research begins at an important source of our collective obsession with youth – the fashion-advertising image. Most of us are obsessed with youth and avoiding the reality at all costs, which keep the advertising and cosmetics industries very happy. The advertising industry predominately targets a younger audience with younger skinner beautiful models, with fashion also geared to that genre. In my previous blog entry I introduced the question, ‘do older people abandon fashion, or does fashion abandon older people?’. in other words, are older people invisible also to the fashion industry?

I want to look nice too

I have no idea what the answer is. Perhaps it’s a comfort thing; perhaps it’s a case of no longer caring what anyone thinks; perhaps it’s because they can’t find stylish clothes ‘for their age’; perhaps it’s down to financial concerns. Either of these or a combination of these is possible for a lot of people, but even as I write this, I am reminded of some sharp dressed ladies in their 70’s with lots of style at a recent funeral I attended. Perhaps the idea of the uniform: the elastic skirt, cardigan, pullover, pants and so on, is something too that will be confined to history as older people refuse to conform to our societal norms. I created this survey for older people to complete – it’s 10 questions that attempt to draw some conclusions on the concept of the uniform in the older person’s closet.

I had a very interesting chat with a 64 year old woman today. We talked about how we sometimes think it’s OK to treat some of our older and most-alive demographic as children; about why we expect them to do certain things, to act a certain way, to avoid certain things and dress a certain way just because they’ve pushed on 5 or 10 years; and when they refuse to be pushed into that little box we make for them, why do we then label them as daft and ‘away with the fairies’? She also talked of another fascinating thing we as a society tend to do. We have this idea that as we get older, we adopt a completely new personality and become re-born. We’ve all heard the saying ‘God, didn’t he get very cranky in his old age’. Chances are he was a fairly cranky 30 and 40 year old too.

I talked about getting rid of this metaphorical box before, in relation to my work photographing older people. I want to use the idea of printed media, the glossy magazine, the Vogue’s and various other fashion shoots celebrating youth and promoting glamour, as the inspiration for giving older people a stage to look as beautiful and glamorous as their youthful counterparts. In the next few months, I will re-create fashion shots with older people, and in the process, address what we as a society perceive to be ‘beautiful’.

My darkroom is almost built, my studio, almost ready. So … film or digital …


Some notes on Fashion Photography

July 13, 2010

Edward Steichen

My latest work has me digging in books about fashion, and how it has changed and adapted to suit the social climate and current trends of the time. It will be interesting to see what happens in the next two decades in relation to one particular social change of our time, which is that we’re living a lot longer than we were 50 or 60 years ago. I’m pondering a question I read by someone, whose name now escapes me (perhaps Pamela Church-Gibson), which went something like ‘do older people abandon fashion, or does fashion abandon older people?’. I’m not sure what the answer is, but I’m going to do some more digging and report back in six months or so!

Since its beginning, very early on in photography’s history, the fashion industry began to see the potential with photography to advance its own goals. Photography took over the fashion illustrations that existed in the 20’s, to give women something tangible and real; something a little less conceptual.

Fashion imagery of the 1930’s lacked any form of narrative. Women had their place in society, and fashion advertising’s role was to create an ideal that women could aspire to. The Second World War and Hollywood had a huge impact which generated new codes of representation, narratives and fantasies. The concept of the ‘real’ person was introduced by photographers such as Lee Miller, who photographed women in everyday situations in wartime Britain.

Post WWII moved outside of the studio. The 60’s and all its revolution changed the way women saw themselves in society, and in fashion photography, it changed the way they saw themselves to men and to society itself. The static woman in the studio was beginning to be replaced by a more energetic woman on the move, outside. This was a time of huge change worldwide, both socially and culturally.  People like David Bailey, Terence Donovan and Brian Duffy created a certain type of realism, looking at the woman inside the clothes. A theme that followed this type of realism was one labelled ‘brutal realism’ deployed by photographers like Guy Borurdin, often commenting on the eroticism of women and underlying tensions and movements that reflected the period.

Guy Bourdin

Guy Bourdin

As the 1980’s arrived, subcultures such as the punk movement offered up some ideas that were translated into both a commerce solution and a social document of the time. People were photographed in the street in ‘normal’ conditions. In the decades that followed, a new ideal was created. This ideal was almost super human, and set a new definition for ‘beauty’. This unattainable ideal of ‘beauty’ had burdened photography with a whole new type of representation, one that affected a whole wider social context. The supermodel was born.

Elliott Smedley claims that fashion photography can confront problematic issues and force us to ask questions and address wider concerns, something that was once in the realm of photojournalism.[1] While he also touches on the point of fashion imagery ignoring the non-slim, the non-young and those who are not able-bodied, it’s difficult to see how fashion photography can, in any way, make us confront problematic issues when it is so selective in the ‘real’ problems it claims to confront. The advertising machine cannot ignore any demographic of people who have money to spend. That’s probably rule number 1 of Capitalism. One demographic that fits that bill in the West is our older population. This demographic does not fit into the historic, and current, super human ideal of beauty. If history is anything to go by, one can only surmise that fashion photography will continue to adapt to the relevant and current social trends. Will fashion for old age be one of them? For how much longer can the the fashion industry and retail outlets ignore the over 50’s?

Pamela Church Gibson argues, “the only industry really geared up to respond to the needs of the ageing population is … the beauty industry. Cosmetic scientists and surgeons are set to maximise their profits and allay the fears of their customers”.[2] There in-lies a twisted paradox.


[1] Smedley, Elliott, ‘Escaping to Reality: Fashion Photography in the 1990’s’ in Fashion Cultures: Theories, Explorations and Analysis. Bruzzi, Stella and Gibson, Pamela Church (ed.). Routledge, London, 2000, p. 155

[2] Gibson, Pamela Church, ‘Invisible Women, Ageing and Fashion’ in Fashion Cultures: Theories, Explorations and Analysis. Bruzzi, Stella and Gibson, Pamela Church (ed.). Routledge, London, 2000, p. 83


Two Weeks in Scoil Bhríde

June 8, 2010

My introduction to the book I’ve been working on for the past few weeks. The book can be previewed here here on Blrub.com

Hockey

At the beginning of May I made my first visit to Scoil Bhríde, and met the class that I would be working with to produce this book. After possibly one of the quickest introductions to the idea of a photographic narrative ever given, their brief was to document the school building and to tell their personal story of their experience with the school. Their stories were to include even the no-go areas; something every school has and something every student body will not ignore.

As the weeks progressed, the pupils’ composition skills were tuned, and soon a rich narrative of school life began to form. It was impossible not to have these girls be part of this story; it was after all, their story. In three groups, they documented the corridors and gym, the classrooms, and the areas outside. Each of these spaces had some contribution to the girls’ social makeup over the eight years they had been taught at Scoil Bhríde. The school corridor, for example, is a sort of in-between place linking the classroom to the world outside, where the concepts of queuing and patience were introduced. The classroom, which dominates school life, is the place of learning, obedience and where respect is shown to both teachers and pupils. The yard and outside environment are locations where social skills such as co-operation, leadership and creativity are fostered.

The group of 27 students began this project with no photographic experience other than perhaps the snapshots that populate most family albums. After some compositional tips and suggestions for image improvement such as using flash and backlighting, they continued to make over 3,000 images that documented almost every inch of the school in two weeks. Like a fine-tuned military operation, no person or place was exempt, even the caretaker’s office.

From these, the photos were edited down to a small pile for each of the three groups. They carefully decided on what to include and, most importantly, what to exclude. They decided together how this book should be structured, from the title down to the school’s red and white colours of the opening page. Each pupil was asked to write a short story about a personal memory associated with the section of the school they were assigned to photograph. Selections of those stories are presented alongside the imagery in this book. To me, they tell a story that we all have of school, of being 12 and about to enter the second phase of our education. The stories capture something beautiful, uncensored, almost vulnerable, and celebrate the free spirit we each had as children; something often suppressed as we get older.

The principal, Dr Déirdre Kirwan, has written about the importance of this publication for pupils, historians and the school itself. I feel that its importance extends even beyond that: anyone picking up this book and flicking through it will inevitably be reminded of their own corridors, classroom and yards – their own stories.

For the authors of this book, it will forever be a testament to their creativity and free spirit. It will also no doubt be an enjoyable reminder of their final few weeks in May 2010, photographing the length and breadth of Scoil Bhríde. I would like to take this opportunity to thank each student who participated, who gave their full attention, enthusiasm and creative energy into producing this rich visual account of school life, and to wish them the very best on the next leg of their education.

These stories and photographs give us a rare gift – a universal account of school, which the girls of Scoil Bhríde invite us to revisit.

The book can be found online here.


The Hidden Garden

May 27, 2010

In late 2007, Kevin Downey contacted Dublin City Council to see what they thought of handing over a disused plot of land, cornered by three streets, to the residents of Summer St. North for the purpose of growing fruit & vegetables. It was a vague idea, and after visiting the site, it was looking to be a pretty scary idea. The plot of land in question was used as a dumping ground for all kinds of household waste for over 30 years. Dublin City Council regularly cleared the place, to make way for more household rubbish, and on it went.

Up until the early 1980s, a few small cottages sat on that space in a small terrace called Summer Row. The footprint of that small area was the place we met with Dublin City Council over a year and a half ago, who were doing a feasibility study on the site before they handed it over to us.

It seemed quite a daunting task, one, which we all agreed, could literally have to be abandoned and the key turned if things didn’t go well. Surrounded by houses, surveying the rubbish, I couldn’t help but get the feeling that I myself was under surveillance – a fact confirmed much later by one of the residents who thought I was from the council, equipped with a camera equipment. It was quiet with only the sound of dogs barking and what sounded like more than a few parrots. The vague plan had a poly-tunnel in mind, and on viewing the space, the idea of allotments quickly had turned to a community garden due to the physical size, which was 16 meter square approximately.

The idea of community gardening is to promote healthy communities, bringing people in touch with growing their own food as well as tackling isolation by creating a strong social community. It is a heartwarming to witness neighbors who didn’t know each other, who have lived only a few doors apart for years, make regular contact in the garden. Residents literally pour out with 15 cups of tea and trays of sandwiches and biscuits for gardeners. The North Inner City has well-known and documented social problems, but one thing the people of this area have never lost is the sense of goodwill and benevolence. The spirit that has been generated from a 16-meter square plot of land is touching to witness.

We applied for various community funding and have been generously supported by Agenda 21, Croke Park and RAPID in the form of grants for a poly-tunnel, fencing to make the garden secure, garden sheds, tools, plants, topsoil, raised beds, a wormery, water harvesters and a community art project, and much more. And we’re not done yet. Plans are afoot to engineer a bike, when cycled, will pump water from the buried tank into the poly-tunnel irrigation system, or to raised water butts. We also applied for funding to re-route water from the roofs of houses into water butts which will be located outside their gates, adjacent to the garden.

This is an 8-minute promo of the documentary that I am filming around the entire transformation of the garden. We hope to show the documentary in the garden space in the Autumn, as an outdoor projection.


Your People Needs You!

May 25, 2010

It is a long time since a TV documentary moved me to the extent that Prime Time Investigates did last night on RTÉ1. People the length and breadth of the country whose loved ones are suffering with Alzheimer’s disease told us their story. All of them had this in common: they all felt deflated and beaten, they were helpless and powerless against a state service that is supposed to help the most vulnerable in our so called society. That state service is the HSE, and you don’t get much more vulnerable than an 80 year old woman who is cared for 24 hours a day by her son’s family, who can’t do anything for herself, or an elderly man who just about remembers how to walk and eat. They all live in a muddled and mixed up world where very little makes sense. Surely in this day and age, in a developed country like Ireland, it is a basic human right to be cared for when we can no longer care for ourselves; for suffering families to be given proper advice and support, and the very least, a simple break. Surely, the taxes we pay throughout our lives must mean there is some cushion in our final years if things not in our control go out of control; for when families need help to do the most basic of things which take the most excruciating amounts of time and effort, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

But it appears this is far from a reality for the people interviewed for that TV program, and for the other 44,000 families who suffer with Alzheimer’s or related dementia in this country. We may be in a slump, and we all get that city and county council’s have no money. We get that, and the majority of us understand it. We all know that it will get better again. What I fail to understand however is how in God’s name we can prop up capitalism with the most obscene amounts of money, and unapologetically ignore our most in need. Eugene get’s two hours a week from the HSE to care for his mother, the same woman who would go hungry at Christmas so he could have Santa. He doesn’t want to put her in a home, and why should he? In his own incredibly touching words, “the least I owe her, is what I’m doing for her now”. Kate Arthurs, a young woman, felt she had no other choice but to abandon her own mother Rosemary in the A&E department in Mullingar in order to force the state to help.

What have we become? A nation that prefers profit over people. A nation that tolerates a decrepit health system that has proved itself inadequate time and time again, as it saves penny’s and spends pounds, and delivers us only a stack of statistics that is supposed to make us feel better. I don’t feel better, and neither should anyone else paying tax to a government who treats suits and boardrooms with more respect than the honest men and women who made this country what it is.

Let’s strip away all the threats of the IMF coming into Ireland, and of being banished to a cave far from the Eurozone party. Is trampling over our most defenseless people and losing all touch with reality really worth it? Our people is what make this country great. Our country just doesn’t understand this.

Last night, I was ashamed to be part it.


Draíocht Residency

March 5, 2010

I’m almost one week in on a 15-month residency in Draíocht. Feeling like the new boy all week finding my ways around and through the building, remembering codes, names, where the kitchen, toilets and photocopier is. Unlike my fantastic Limerick residency, this will be a little different – in a positive way. There’s no-one else but little old me sitting in a big fish-bowl for adults, looking onto the street outside of Blanchardstown Shopping Centre. And it’s slightly longer. The timeframe is excellent as I will need it all in order to pull of what I think I will pull off.

The area of focus will once again be on the elderly. Ageing is already beginning to have a relevance in contemporary visual art. Here in Ireland in the last few months, significant developments have been made at government level which is beginning to dramatically shift the meaning of what ‘old’ really is. Under the Government’s plan, published on March 3rd 2009, the retirement age will be raised to 66 in four years and eventually to 68 as part of a comprehensive reform of the pension system. This will not be isolated to Ireland. The UK has already begun to debate this and other countries will have choice but to follow as people are living longer and are healthier. Does this mean their relevance in society will change too? Time will tell. In the meantime, my stage and spotlight will be coming to Blanch soon to give them as much showtime as possible.

Artist Sutdio, Draíocht


A February Breath

February 16, 2010

A new year, he says in February, but I’ve been busy. Too busy apparently to update my blog. Since my last post, I’ve had a show in Dublin at The Exchange Gallery with Gubu, who finally came to the capital to disgrace himself and be put on show. It was a quick show mind you, lasting only two weekends and less that two weeks. That said, it feels good to have him aired and better to have him resting again back in his box, as it were. The installation was a lot more work than I thought (isn’t it always?), which included 24 ancient to fairly recent TV’s, 15 RF modulators, 22 coaxial cables, 4 coax splitters, 10 SCART cables, 16 DVD players, 16 edited snippets of Gubu on DVD, 120 meters of phono cables and 67 hand-written anonymous postings about the recession.

The TV’s were stacked in a circle in the centre of a room. Each TV played a looped 1-2 minute movie, mimicking the country’s circular motion of progress. The only sensible thing to do then was to inflict the same motion onto the audience, and make them go around in circles in order to view the segments of film. Chaos was the order of the day, as 16 soundtracks played simultaneously, some of which were intermixed with random segments of static, rolling TV pictures, and a TV test card all signifying a societal breakdown of communication and a sense of general chaos. All a big grim? The recession cards posted by a gallery audience over a 4-week period brought hope and a ray of sunshine as one positive person wrote “It can get better”.

Gubu - Installation

Gubu Installation @ The Exchange Gallery Dublin

On that note, yes. Yes it can. I’ve been offered a 15 month residency in Draíocht, which is a fantastic arts centre in Blanchardstown. The residency begins on March 1st, and will involve me working on my own practice towards a show there in September 2011 and also with a youth group in the Dublin 15 area, which will culminate in another show and publication in April of 2011. Exciting times ahead, and for the moment, Gubu is being ignored.


That’s the one!

January 7, 2010

Tues. 26/February/2008

I arranged with JP on the phone that I’d call up on Tuesday. Called into him two days earlier and he was glued to the TV watching the rugby (Ireland V. Scotland). The TV was so loud and he engrossed in it that I took my leave. Tuesday at 2pm I called up again, and the TV was on again, turned up so much that he didn’t hear me come in. He was at the cooker making dinner and seemed glad to see me. As I couldn’t really hear him, I turned the TV off. He was asking me if I wanted some food, saying how good the tinned salmon was that he was having, because it was wild. He never took any slop when it came to food; he would always peel the skin away from sausages. ‘Rotten’ he called it. He was making salmon, spuds and a sort of pork gravy and carrots. It looked and sounded very strange but on eating it, turned out to be actually lovely. During dinner I recorded our conversation, which was mostly around his pack of wild cats getting it on in the back garden. After dinner I set up my light. The shot was a retake from the last one only I wanted a spotlight shot of him with the cable release and the empty room without him in it. This was my third visit photographing JP. The more I do with the spotlight the more I like it. I love the vigenetting around the edges – shadows and darkness have their own connotations. The polaroid back screwed up all my polaroids. The very last shot we done, he made a joke, perched on the table, before he pressed the cable release and was grinning as he took it. He winked at me with that smile on his face, after the flash had fired and said “That’s the one!”. After I pulled the equipment down, I had tea with him – some queen cakes and a small kitkat. I’m probably finished photographing JP now. I brought him the latest photo of him in his waistcoat. He loved it.

I have this photo hanging in my house now, in the spare room. He beams smiles at anyone who walks in. The funny thing about that shoot was the one he called ‘the one’ really was the one. I don’t get to see him very much anymore as I don’t get to Donegal as much as I would like. I called in very briefly on New Year’s Eve to say hello before I hit the roads back to Dublin, getting ahead of the snow. Attempting to replace a bulb on a stepladder a few months earlier, he had a fall. Ever since then, he has been in and out of hospital and his health hasn’t been great. A relative was there with him getting his medication together. His reply to my question of how he was doing had his usual jokey answer. “I’m fucked” he said with a bit of a smile, straightening himself up a bit, but in it, for the first time, I think I saw resignation in his eyes. He’s 96 going on 97.

In the making of Wearing Purple, the relationships that I have reconnected from my childhood have been the best bit of that whole process. Meeting and really getting to know JP again for example, who lives just a few doors up from me, was almost a blessing. You encounter people like that in your life and they inspire you. His positive and outward looking life is something we can all aspire to have as we grow old, something that can inspire others, something that says ‘growing old is OK’.

James Patrick Boyle, 1914


A day in the life

December 22, 2009

13/April/2008

It was a glorious Sunday morning as I drove into Glencolmcille. I turned into her driveway and saw her leaning out a window talking to a kid – who turned out to be her grandson. She didn’t seem to have changed at all. She was expecting me and met me at the front door. There was such beautiful light pouring into her house. It’s probably 15 years or so since I last seen her. A few minutes after I arrived, she produced a photo and gave it to me. It was a photograph of me and her at the back of the church on my confirmation day in Kilcar, which I remember being taken. I was wearing a delightful red fake leather tie and a black jacket. The views from her kitchen on this morning were amazing. Clear blue skies. She suggested a few rooms after I showed her some photos and explained  to her what the project was all about. We talked briefly on the phone and I said it would make more sense once she saw the other photographs. She suggested the kitchen and because it was small I decided to shoot there. I needed another light for the back room as I was shooting at f16. She was wearing a white blouse, black skirt and white shoes and suggested changing but I convinced her she was fine. She put on a pink cardigan anyway, which really lifted her from the white of the kitchen. I love this portrait and the way she held the cable release. She looks powerful in it. The height of the camera in relation to her height was about how it was when I first met Mrs McGinley, aged 4, when I was in baby infants. She called her daughter in law Claire over to see some of the photos, who lives across the road. I went to school with Claire so I knew her fairly well. After the shoot, we had some tea by the table and ate homemade scones. We talked about cholesterol, teachers, schools and how things have changed.

All this talk about Ethnography. I suppose this became part of my photographic practise while I was shooting Wearing Purple. Each visit I made to the people in my photographs was recorded like this in the form of a diary, recording little details. Details I didn’t really know what to do with, except record for the moment. I gave each person a disposable film camera which I collected from them when they had done what I asked them to, which was to capture a day in the life of themselves, no matter how boring a shot seemed. What I wanted was another side of the story, as my side was just that. It was mine. The collected snapshots presented a sense of normality which is exactly what I was after. Normality is important, as I think stereotypes take over when we think of the elderly. A lot of photographic work has focused on the frail side of being old. That is important too, but I wanted mine to steer clear of it, as my subjects didn’t live in a nursing home or were confined to their homes. One woman even expressed her discomfort when I approached her first about taking part in the project. She didn’t want to be represented as a lonely old woman who lives on her own, because she wasn’t. The people who took part in this project live full and enriched lives surrounded by people who care about them. It is this essence that I hoped their photos would get across, which is impossible to do with a single photographic portrait that I could ever take. What is glaringly obvious from looking at these snapshots is they bear no resemblance to the idea being sold to us on a daily basis that young should prevail over old. Elements of the beautiful Donegal landscape, holiness, farming, pastimes, fleeting moments, daily routines and loved ones were recorded. All normal here.


The problem with old age

December 10, 2009

Hour by hour, and week by week, the thing upon the canvas was growing old. It might escape the hideousness of sin, but the hideousness of age was in store for it. The cheeks would become hollow or flaccid. Yellow crow’s-feet would creep round the fading eyes and make them horrible. The hair would lose its brightness, the mouth would gape or droop, would be foolish or gross, as the mouths of old men are. There would be the wrinkled throat, the cold, blue-veined hands, the twisted body, that he remembered in the grandfather who had been so stern to him in his boyhood. The picture had to be concealed. There was no help for it.

(Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray, 1891)

Living in the Western world, we are constantly confronted with images of the perfect body or commodities that promise to give us what we can never have. Two ingredients feed this false ideology. One is an obsession with youth; the other is an inherent fear of our own mortality. Neither of these are new phenomena. Oscar Wilde’s fictional Dorian Gray was obsessed with the idea over a hundred years ago. Photography’s history also provides us with an insight around the same time. The Victorian’s used photography to record dead children as angelic sleeping babies, thereby coming to terms with mortality in their own way. It can be seen as a sort of embalming tool for a world they had little comprehension of, one where death seemed a little more reasoned. Lewis Carroll used photography to record childhood as an innocent fairy tale, albeit a highly sexualized fairy tale. His ‘Alice in Wonderland’ accounts for the cultural fantasies of a growing girl struggling in a small world. His photographs of young girls served only himself it seems, as fetishised objects of girls that never grew up, that could forever be young, embalmed and present.

Alice Liddell - Lewis Carroll

Alice Liddell - Lewis Carroll

Childhood and youth is a stage that has always seen to be important. On the flip side, growing old was seen as something to be rejected; to be, as Dorian Gray felt, concealed. The mechanical process of photography seems to have been used as a tool to mythically halt the advancement of time itself. It provided the means to avoid the unavoidable for the Victorians and for some cultural theorists. André Bazin describes the subjects of the Victorian family albums as being “freed from their destiny”.[1] Some saw it as death itself. Roland Barthes in Camera Lucida, which can be described as a form of grieving, constantly refers to the subject as being dead, but forever there, present. Photography provided Barthes a reprieve in the grieving of the death of his mother, finding a photograph that was a suitable likeness, for fear he would forget. Ironically, he only found her likeness or “the splendor of her truth” in a photograph when she was aged five, and not as she was when she died: an old woman. Freezing, embalming time is of course as impossible as the myth of never growing old, yet photography continues to function in this myth. It plays a pivotal role in the twenty first century in keeping this myth alive, with advertising that promises a young healthy beautiful body and everything else that makes the advertising machine work: the production of desire.

In modern times, we are presented with the pervasive glossy magazine that keeps this production line active and alive. David Green argued how the “presentness” of the images in the contemporary glossy magazine is merely a veneer behind which we try to shelter from the inevitable.[2] This veneer is what offers us the chance to remain young and beautiful. This veneer is what nurtures the belief that old is ugly. It seems only logical then that the idea that old-as-beautiful is something that can never be part of the consumer culture. It is after all in the interest of the media to promote ageing as something that is ugly and avoidable at all costs.

To understand the background into the media’s under-representation of this important social group, it is important to understand some history, a sociological history, so that we can make some sense of why the older members of our community are perceived in a different and sometimes, negative and unbalanced way. To begin therefore with a question: what exactly is ‘old’?

The life stages that we are so accustomed to in the West are nothing but social constructions. That is to say that they do not necessarily simply exist in other cultures. Middle-age or old-age are not naturally occurring organic concepts. Sudhir Kakar highlighted this in his article The Search for Middle Age in India, when he went asking diverse and random people in India what they thought was ‘middle-aged’. He only found people who were aware of the concept at a cocktail party of upper class people well versed in the English language and Western concepts.

Within each life stage, a series of rules, regulations and etiquette must be adhered to in order for us to fit in to what is expected, to what is normal. These too are social constructions, and evolve from generation to generation. The sociologist and historian Norbert Elias traced the evolution of manners in The Civilizing Process from the twelfth century to the twentieth century using courtesy manuals as his map. His theories detail the complexity of how the social body was shaped. For example he details how table manners evolved, on how to properly pass wind (in either direction)[3], on how the knife and fork came to be common utensils in our eating habits or how natural bodily functions became regarded as improper and impolite and thus privatized to a special room with special equipment. The Civilizing Process maps out the growth of civilization in Western Europe as a slow complex evolutionary process. The privatization and therefore taboo and stigma associated with natural bodily functions can often afflict the life of a senior citizen. As our bodies grow old, societal rules and regulations can often burden us with feelings of embarrassment and shame when certain organs fail to function as they should.

The varying perceptions of senior citizens in Western societies are therefore deeply rooted in historical, sociological and cultural discourses. The ever complex and evolving social body is never static. Retirement can bring joy and celebration, yet the social effects of retirement invariably have an effect on how the social category of ‘senior citizens’ is perceived. As is often the case, they are rarely represented in the world’s myriad types of media in a fair and balanced way. Our obsession with youth and glamour, and our inherent fear of mortality feeds this under and misrepresentation.

Viewing the 21st century with a contemporary lens, the obsession with youth invariably points us to an ignorance of death and all that goes with it. The consumer culture that is very present and visible in today’s society will always silently avoid the unavoidable that people like Barthes and Bazin openly discuss. The obsession with youth is certainly not a simple turn of events.  Rather it is complex and layered in centuries of history. The Western world is driven by this obsession and the desire to remain forever young, socially tipping the seesaw of life too far for Nature to balance. Everyone will get older, and with that, the Western perception that everyone will get more ugly will inevitably hold true. It seems the only remedy to the bitter aftertaste of old age is to change social attitudes, towards the elderly, towards dying, towards mortality; to alter the perception that because one ages does not mean one becomes ugly; to alter the perception that because one ages and slows down does not make one stupid or less intelligent than before. These are monumental social issues that were formed over thousands and thousands of years and it is unlikely that these attitudes will change anytime soon.


[1] Bazin, André, What is Cinema?, University of California Press, London, 1967, p. 14

[2] Greed, David, ‘Marking Time: Photography, Film and Temporalities of the Image’ in Stillness and Time: Photography and the Moving Image by David Green (ed.), Photoforum and Photoworks, 2006, p. 13

[3] In relation to farting as an example, Elias found a quotation from 1530 from a courtesy manual, that describes the best approach according to Aethon’s epigrams. “Even through he [Aethon] had to be careful not to fart explosively in the holy place, he nevertheless prayed to Zeus, though with compressed buttocks. The sound of farting, especially of those who stand on elevated ground, is horrible. One should make sacrifices with the buttocks firmly pressed together”. In a different era, two hundred years later, the same topic was raised, this time in 1729 where it was considered “very impolite to emit wind from your body when in company, either from above or from below, even if it is done without noise”. Along with farting now being a very private matter, the language itself has been privatized preferring the term wind to farting, and making it shameful and indecent to do it in a way where others hear it.


Portraiture

November 30, 2009
August Sander - Berlin Coal Carrier, 1929

Berlin Coal Carrier, 1929

When it comes to portraiture, two of my favorite photographers span almost a century. August Sander, born in 1876 and Katy Grannan, born 1969. Sander was German and Grannan is American. It is the social element to both photographers that I’m interested in, yet both work in very different ways. Sander brilliantly documented his People of the 20th Century in Weimar Germany, categorised by social type and occupation, believing that society was organised into a hierarchy of occupations. Some of his participants were photographed at work surrounded by the tools of their trade, others were photographed against neutral or natural backgrounds, such as farmers. White-collar workers were usually photographed inside. He captioned each with the type of work they done and the year, creating a relationship with society and the individual and in doing so, putting a value on their occupation regardless of what it was.

August Sander - Pastrycook, 1928

Pastrycook, 1928

Grannan on the other hand is a portrait photographer. Her earlier work Model American has a rawness that perhaps is missing from her latest work. For Model American, she put an ad in the paper that read “Art Models. Artist / Photographer (female) seeks people for portraits. No experience necessary. Leave message”. The ad sounds like a dating advert, and the overt emphasis on female changes the tone somewhat, and was probably the reason it drew a lot of exhibitionists. Her subjects would decide on location, pose and clothing (some wearing nothing). She shot on a clumsy large format film camera with a light. What is interesting about these is that her subjects, on their own direction, are performing and acting out roles based on fictional events from TV, advertising or cinema often appearing awkward and clumsy. The photographs hint at something much darker and depressing about mid-American life, the drab interiors, small rooms (often showing the ceilings in the image while shooting low), and the unsmiling model. The aesthetic of this work is on a par with high gloss advertising images, yet it’s meaning is a polar opposite. It’s hard not to think of why these people answered the ad, which is why the work resonates with me. I want to know more about the process involved, what was it like? What were the interactions? Did they seem unhinged? Maybe it is precisely the not knowing, which makes the images so intriguing as we read the images with our own baggage, asking these questions, making our own assumptions and constructing our own little narrative.

Katy Grannan - Untitled, 1998

Untitled, 1998

Katy Grannan - Untitled, 1999

Untitled, 1999

Katy Grannan - Wolf, Poughkeepsie, NY, 1999

Wolf, Poughkeepsie, NY, 1999


AIB Prize Nominee

November 27, 2009

I was fortunate enough to have been nominated for the AIB prize 2010. The winner of the prize gets funding to assist in the publication of a catalogue and towards the production of work for an exhibition in the gallery that nominated them. For me, that’s the Letterkenny Regional Cultural Centre. Three runner’s up receive a €1,500 prize. Past winners include Anne Cleary & Dennis Connolly (2009), Jackie Nickerson (2008), Diana Copperwhite (2007), Linda Quinlan (2006), Paul Doran (2005) and Amanda Coogan (2004). The nominations haven’t been announced yet however, so we will have to wait to see whether there will actually be an AIB prize next year.

I have submitted a proposal of work for the prize. Regardless of its future or funding, I need to kick this project off as it’s been brewing in my consciousness for a few years now. By writing this blog, I hope to strip the project to a simple concept. At the time of writing, it is not entirely clear in my own head, but this process may, or may not, enhance that clarity. It also may, or may not, completely bore the readers. In many ways, this is more for me than a reader, but hopefully it will work in both ways.

In summary, the project is centered upon one important element in the exchange of photographing someone as part of an art project – the potential imbalance of trust and power that exists in the photographer / sitter relationship. Personally, when someone gives me their time, their being, their home for a few hours to photograph them, I always feel a little guilty asking them to sign a model release form. I feel that they have not got as much out of the process as I. Photographers in situations like this usually stand to gain something from the process, whether it’s furthering their career, a masters or PhD. Participants in contrast, may not accrue similar benefits from their own participation. From a power perspective, the photographer clearly has the upper hand. I don’t mean to insinuate all photographers take advantage, of course they don’t. What I’m trying to clumsily explain is my own feelings on the matter. Maybe it’s my Catholic guilt, I’m not really sure. Whatever it is, it’s what I’ve decided to build this next body of work on.

I am reading a lot about ethnography at the minute, which is a pretty wide branch of anthropology dedicated to the study of human societies. I will attempt to simplify that definition and narrow its scope to my own photographic practice of representing a set of older people in our society. According to Sarah Pink, ethnography is an approach to experiencing, interpreting and representing culture and society. In other words, it is a process of creating and representing knowledge about society, culture and individuals. The methods by which this is done usually involves the ethnographer living with the people under study, getting to know them, collaborating with them on generating a variety of documents (writing, video, photographs etc.) which represents a culture, society or group of individuals. This knowledge which is represented is of course subjective, as it is based on the ethnographers own experiences but nevertheless should be an honest and detailed representation about a society or culture.

Sarah Pink - Doing Visual Ethnography

Sarah Pink - Doing Visual Ethnography

What has this to do with photography? Lots, actually. The photographer in my case, can be seen as a mini ethnographer. By photographing a bunch of people and framing them for a gallery purpose, I am saying something about that which I photograph. In this case: old age. How can I represent old age? I cannot, and don’t claim to. Informed by ethnography and borrowing some of the ethnographic tools however, I can concentrate on a group of people, build a relationship with them and hopefully involve them in the process and in the documentation of that process. In this way, I hope to tackle the issue of trust and the important aspect of leveling of power that I mentioned earlier.

It sounds all very idealistic, I admit.


A beginning, of sorts

November 26, 2009

Behind the scenes in any artistic practice is not everyone’s cup of tea when it comes to reading something ‘interesting’. An artist will spend a lot of time exploring avenues, making work, researching, journaling and recording his or her process before realising that the avenue should be abandoned to explore a side-avenue that might be more interesting and relevant. Mostly interesting. In my own case, the avenues that I go down and research are all relevant, it’s getting the right slant on the project, or what will be the right ‘ahhh!’ from an audience when looking at the work. I tend not to complicate my work, not to smother it with critical art theory that, in my mind, does nothing except baffle 80% of viewers. I certainly am informed by it, as every photographer should, but I don’t allow it to be bigger than the work itself. I don’t find anything problematic or wrong with that. It’s just not for me.

I’m about to begin a project that is slightly related to my Wearing Purple work. Related in that I’m going to continue to photograph people over 65 years of age. The process however, will be quite different. For one, I will not have met these people before. This is quite significant because in order to make a portrait a successful one, there has to be an element of trust between the photographer and the subject. For me, it all comes down to that one word – trust. Where it is not there, it will be as apparent as what the person is actually wearing. They will wear it on their face and in their body language. Of course, it’s more than trust, it’s also how I approach them, how I interact with them and how comfortable I am with them and the project I’m working on. Portraiture is so easy!

Let me illustrate this by an example of work done in Wearing Purple, but not before digressing a little. I began the project Wearing Purple for my degree show, my final year in IADT, Dun Laoghaire. I had wanted to explore the area of old age and the older body. My work prior to that had focused on the younger body in various projects. The reason? I guess it was me exploring photography and for some reason or another, the body always was my point of focus. Naively, the only body to photograph was the obvious more youthful body, because this is what society tells us to, isn’t it? I should only speak for my own naivety however. So on one of those avenues of research I talked of earlier, representations of the older body cropped up and it got me thinking. Representation of old age is something that I find completely lacking from consumer culture, the culture that promises us eternal youth, but for obvious reasons, will always fall short of delivering. The youthful body sells products, and it is this obsession of youth that was the premise of my thesis Old Age: A bitter Aftertaste which was in effect, my research for Wearing Purple. My own relationship with older people has always been positive. I would have loved to have photographed my own grandparents, whom I had a very close relationship with, and it is perhaps that which spurred me on and made the final photographs at home that little bit more poignant.

So enough digressing and back to some evidence. Before I decided to move the project back to Carrick, I volunteered with a great charity in Dublin called Friends of the Elderly, helping out on their Wednesday meeting session, where they would meet as a group, dance, sing and have a bit of fun. About two percent of that group probably fitted into the stereotypical image of an elderly person. The vast majority were full of life, fun and high spirits. Out of this I met a woman who fitted into that category, called Celine. She said she would be delighted to take part if, in her own words, ‘that would help your college exams in any way’.

Celine (unused) from Wearing Purple

Incidentally, I only photographed one person out of my visits to Friends of the Elderly, because I found it a little manic to meet people and introduce what I was doing to them in a few hours, which was really their few hours a week. It was generally quite manic, in a very good way. Visiting her at home on the day of the shoot, which was my first of the series, was very pleasant. She seemed comfortable with the process and I, perhaps not so, as I fumbled with lights, chords and the paraphernalia of a mobile studio. I’ve always found this photograph to be lacking in something, and what I’ve put it down to is trust. The relationship between the photographer and the person photographed needs to be one based on trust. I didn’t have any reference photographs to show her of previous shoots, as she was the first. I met her through a charity, so my background to her was completely unknown. Apart from these obvious reasons, the person being photographed needs to be comfortable in a shoot such as this. It was my fault entirely that this wasn’t the case. But on a positive note, this made me stop on one of those avenues and reconsider. The road I took then, took me to Donegal where I grew up.

Kathleen McGinley, 1943 from the series Wearing Purple

Going back to Carrick in Donegal to photograph people I knew as a child, who are now over 65 and therefore categorised as senior citizens, was one of the most positive and pleasant experiences of my life. I made contact with my very first teacher again, after 20 plus years. I met and spent a lot of time with neighbours, whom I only had vaguely known.

The element of trust I talk about was implicit, as I knew all these people, and they knew me. I feel that this is why the project worked so well. It has made me realise the amount of work which is required when photographing people I don’t know for a project such as this. Which is where I will finish on, as this blog is really about my next body of work.