INTO THE WEST
I am very focused and determined to continue working in my own local landscape and cultivate the deep rooted connection I have with it. But it’s both refreshing and inspiring to head off in pursuit of new views and explore the landscape a little further afield at times. For many years I would count down the days with excitement to when I would be jumping in the car and heading for Kerry with my camera but now I’m lucky enough to call it home and so every now and again I do it all in reverse. Recently I found myself in Tipperary for a family event and had three days after for a photography trip with the essential ingredient … NO PLAN ! Most of the time my photography is all about planning, and knowing exactly where I’m going to go the next morning with a lot of visualising done well in advance about the types of images I’d like to make. On this trip however I had deliberately kept it all completely open with only the vaguest idea of where I might go and what type of images would result from it all.
Trips like these are so re-invigorating for my creativity and give me a great boost to be more productive and more focused for the weeks ahead. The problem is of course that it makes you want more, and as soon as you start you are aware of the limits you have on time and distance that you can cover. Still though you have to make the best of it and after meandering around the midlands exploring some forests I found myself on a very familiar trajectory… out west.
The lure of the west coast was too much and I arrived in the late afternoon, booked into a hotel and headed out for the evening to a mixture of sunshine and showers. The whole idea of shooting sunsets holds little appeal to me these days but I do love exploring what is illuminated by the lowering sun and if something extraordinary presents itself on the horizon, I wouldn’t turn away.
With the rain and breaking light, I knew I had an opportunity to return and make some images which I had been thinking of since my last visit almost three years before, with the limestone pavement, glistening in the low light. So I headed for Fanore and explored the wonderful formations of this limestone landscape for a blissful few hours.
Working in a landscape like this completely focuses you on composition and you are constantly scanning and adjusting and simplifying. It’s nice and slow and I make a real effort to try and avoid looking at the images after exposure on the camera screen. I have to trust myself that I’m seeing it this as I want to and spend more time looking up and around the place as the light constantly changes. In fact, I spend a huge amount of time just looking around and taking it in because for me it’s an incredibly important aspect of photographing the landscape. I’m so happy just to be there, the location, the light, the air, the sounds were all spectacular. I was working but I was also recharging myself with the love of it all.
You can get lost in all those lines and texture and an almost alien type landscape but every now and again something will grab your attention and I’m off scurrying around on the rocks and then lying down on them as the angles get more severe.
In the low light, I spotted these little leaves of defiantly peeking up through this crack in the rock which for me epitomises The Burren. It’s been referred to by one of my favourite singers Luka Bloom as a ‘ Fertile Rock ‘ and The Burren on close inspection certainly seems to be. From a distance, it looks fairly barren but there’s an abundance of plant like that grows here despite the lack of soil and some flourish here and nowhere else in the country.
As the sun sets behind me I turn my back to the dramatic sky and look for drama elsewhere which is nearly always there but isn’t as obvious to photograph. I was immediately drawn to the contrast of the foreground and the distant hill lit by the warm light.
As the sunset and sky glowed red, it began to be reflected in the light grey limestone pavement, rocks, and walls. This is very difficult to capture accurately on camera whether on the best digital or film cameras. It’s something we experience best with our own eyes because we’re more aware of it and it’s almost enhanced by us being there!
I shot predominantly in a square format that evening, and indeed for much of the next couple of days. I set the format in the camera to 1×1 and like to compose the images this way, rather than crop afterward.
The following morning started a bit dull but perfect for what I wanted having found a really interesting part of the foreshore not far from where I was staying and after checking the tides I was set to plan a little, for the next morning at least.
I have to admit that although I like the results, I don’t enjoy this type of photography at the time of making the images as much as I do with other scenes. It’s quite technical and inevitably repetitive. I’m a very responsive and emotive photographer and relying on longer exposures to convey a certain feeling in the image leaves me a little detached from the scene when I’m working. But you have to concentrate, visualise and crack on with it. It was still gorgeous to be there and watch heavy showers roll in over the bay and completely avoid the spot I was standing at!
On so after a very early start, things brightened up and it was time to pack it in and head back for breakfast! At this time of year, these trips are not hugely efficient for me as I will rarely continue working past 9 am unless the conditions are truly special. So after breakfast, I was on the road again, making my way north but with no destination in mind. I had a great morning wandering through the Burren and making numerous stops hoping in and out of the car more times than I care to remember.
So I ended up in Clifden. As good a place as any to stay and explore my favourite landscape outside of my adopted home in Kerry.
I always end up photographing roads up here, it’s unavoidable but it’s kind of like my Route 66 and the road is central and evocative.. maybe slightly overdone now though!
No real drama in the light, but that’s when you become more aware of the drama that’s there in the landscape all the time and you have to work with what you’ve got and focus more on that. Every now and again it delivers.
The next morning started even duller.. and to be honest once I looked outside and checked the weather at 4.30am I pressed snooze on the alarm and decided to wait an hour. I didn’t miss much, and although it didn’t look too promising as I headed out, for some reason I switch from being a permanent pessimist to the world’s best optimist on trips like this.
I stopped and looked at what is probably the most photographed scene in Ireland now. Derryclare Lough with it’s nice little island of Scots Pine trees bisected by what are surely the worst placed electricity power lines in the country. Anyhow having photographed here over 20 years ago and found the images unusable because of the lines ( shot on film), I took a couple of frames but was completely underwhelmed by the idea and will never print them.
Instead, I quickly headed away from there an took a small bog road which I love doing and wandered around looking at this distant hill, thinking wouldn’t it be great it the sun just broke through and the light fell on it for a few seconds. Standing in a bog, cut turf, forgetting which direction the road was, Sky Larks singing away and a little bit of light = one happy journey back down south.
The wonderful thing about trips like this is that you are completely in your own world for a few days and I think of nothing but photography, where I am with my own and where I want to be. The images I’ve just made and maybe some I’d like to make and just how in god’s name did I end up being so lucky as to do this for a living!