A day in the life

December 22, 2009


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.

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