Probably it is true of any European country, Ireland is the least photographed. How this has come about is something of a mystery, for it offers the camera article an unequalled variety of subjects, and many that must rank at the peak of the world’s finest photographic material.
It’s a bravado boast for sure, and I cannot assess its veracity yet, but I am so keen to land on the Emerald Isle to discover photographic subjects on what will be our first trip to Ireland in just a few days’ time. As I study magazines and online travel sites, I am intrigued by the myriad landscape possibilities — in sky and sea, in cliff and field, in both the Republic and Northern Ireland.
I am curious to visit older and newer buildings and sites; I look forward to walking the streets occupied by saints and sinners alike. I am eager to sense the worlds of pastors and priests, and to discover the places of both conflict and reconciliation.
I expect to encounter the contrasts and the contradictions, the pride and the pleasure of a people who have endured so much, for so long, and yet have thrived, even through the present mess of the BREXIT protocols, with a memory of the dreaded Penal Laws and of famines, Catholic feasts, and Protestant furies.
How wonderful is the infinite blending of sky and water, be it the Atlantic breakers casting their spray hundreds of feet into the air to be swept inland; the quiet waters of some small lake, blue as the sky above, or a dashing torrent cascading through the purple heather of a mountain glen! Woven through such unforgettable scenes are lofty peaks, wild boglands, and homely little valleys studded with colour-washed cottages and farms.
What sort of place are these two countries? How does one capture in two dimensions the complex history, the artistry and the poetry expressed, in the sights and sounds of people going about their daily life and business, globally connected though uniquely situated in this particular place they call home?
Here are men and women at work, winning peat from the bogs, collecting carrageen moss from the rocks, to be loaded in panniers and carried away by amiable donkeys inshore. Wheelwrights lovingly build the gay little, orange-coloured carts seen on every road; and craftsmen who skilfully shape the most sophisticated haunting carts for Kerry. Boatbuilders who hew from home-grown timber sturdy fishing craft, and with lath and canvas fashion the less sturdy but equally seaworthy currachs of the West coast.
How will my own skill and equipment enable the collection of a visual record of our travel there? Travel photography has its own particular challenges. You often do not have the ability to return for another shot, either in the next hour or on the next day. You must keep moving – Speed Chess meets Annie Leibovitz. The needs and wants of other members of our party will inevitably compete with my own obsessive desire to work a seemingly endless variety of subjects, for either minutes or possibly for an hour or two. What equipment shall I bring? On gear, there are many strategies and opinions. Consider the following:
For landscape work, I prefer an old field camera taking cut films or plates, quarter plant or larger. I consider at least two lenses essential, one medium and one long focus. An interchangeable foot of lens shutter with an air valve control giving speeds from one second to one-fortieth of a second is adequate for most pictorial work, although higher speeds are sometimes necessary to “freeze” foliage movement. For almost all other kinds of work, I favour one of the twin lens reflex cameras. They permit speedy action, but at the same time give a negative big enough to perfect each dust spot each assuming the proportions of a walnut when enlarged.
At this point I should reveal that the language and recommendations of the above quote (and of all notes in italics in this blog) seemed odd upon first reading. They are not contemporary. They are taken from an article by John Hinde found in an anniversary edition of Ireland of the Welcomes, a lovely magazine given to Kathie and me by my adopted mother, Marian. The article was written and published in 1958. Landscape photography in those days used bulkier and heavier, manual equipment. Such older technology produced beautiful results. These images exhibit a patina, a gravitas rarely found in contemporary images. Seventy years ago photography was a much slower process, a creative process well-matched with the less frantic culture of the mid-twentieth century.
In searching out and discovering subjects it is quite possible that the photographer of seventy years ago would have encountered a more magical, mystical, and possibly a more enchanted world (Charles Taylor, A Secular Age) throughout Ireland. I also hope to glimpse and document some of this world through my own Fuji XT-4 viewfinder.
And so, whatever your particular interest – be it landscape, architecture or nature . . . in black and white or in colour, let me wish you “good shooting.” You will certainly return for more.