Dún Briste .. a long way but the right path.
Dún Briste – Mayo
Making this image was the best decision I’ve ever made as a photographer and the benefits of which, I hope to reap for a long time to come. I’m not talking about any monetary reward or even recognition that I gained, but a great self-realised insight instead. I made this in November 2014, perched precariously on the cliffs at Downpatrick Head in Mayo. I had driven all night from Cumbria, via ferry to Larne and down to Mayo, sleeping in the car and waking up in the dark gloom.
I was in Cumbria for the first OnLandscape photography conference which was wonderfully inspiring with speakers including Paul Wakefield , Joe Cornish, Hans Strand and David Ward ( check out their work if you haven’t already ). But it was a talk by @jemsoutham that was the most influential and judging by some of the grumbles, the most misunderstood. I went to art college and was familiar with the approach to landscape photography artists such as Jem take and found the talk fascinating. What spoke loudest to me was his connection with the landscapes he worked in, even his back garden! It seems like an obvious point, but I was on the verge of completely missing this and heading down a very different path.
Although I had been photographing the landscape at that stage for over 22 years, my work concentrated on a very, very small part of this island I live on. Sure, I had photographed all over the world from Antarctica to Iceland and Tobago to New Zealand, but that work always lived in a different space for me, and I almost regard it as belonging to another photographer.
I had a newly published book, exhibitions and print sales all now giving me the shove I needed to concentrate on my landscape work full-time finally. I looked around at what others were doing, ( a lot fewer than today ! ) and decided I needed to travel. I needed to expand my library of images and photograph far-flung places to show my credentials. Of course, I was also going to do workshops, loads of them, to places no one was really going to yet.. like Norway !!
That’s what I thought I had to do; that was the path I thought lay ahead for me. I was even starting there and then as I had two days after the conference to photograph the lake district, surely a must for any landscape photographer. I had already scouted a few areas and drove around what seemed like a remarkably familiar landscape with a strange feeling that I just couldn’t put my finger on. Yes, it was beautiful and dramatic, and I could appreciate that, but I wasn’t having the same reaction or feeling that I would have driving around similar mountains and lakes back home. What was missing? It was, of course, connection.
I realised this as Jem Southem spoke, with a growing sense of what in god’s name am I thinking. I had days off from my other photography job, precious time away from my young family, and I’m here ?? I thought about all the places back home that are on my wish list to visit for ages and quickly realised that’s where I should be instead.
The talk was the last of the day and near to wrapping up, but on my phone, I managed to change my ferry booking, and get a sailing on the late one that night. I drove up to Scotland with a strange sense of knowing I was doing the right thing and all the doubts that sometimes plague me in decision making for photography were gone.
I arrived in Mayo in the dark, and I wasn’t entirely sure I was in the right place and had only briefly been to this location the year before with my family.
I slept for a bit and then gathered my gear and walked the short distance to the cliffs where I set up and spent approximately an hour, making long exposures of up to 5 minutes. I had wanted to come here for ages, I had visualised this image for a long time, and I felt incredibly comfortable, despite the wind and cold and isolated danger. It was a wonderful experience, and I knew there and then that what works for me is working in the landscape that I have a real connection to, which speaks to me on so many levels.
Ireland’s west coast is such a magical place, steeped in history and tragedy, incredible beauty and fascinating geology. Its people are tough and resilient, and it’s an area which resisted change and held on to traditions longer than anywhere else. It is a photographers dream and privilege to work here and more so than any trip to the Faroes, Iceland or further away, time spent here allows me to make images that reflect my love of it and my deep connection to it.
I spent the second day in Connemara, another fantastic place and a favourite of mine to work in. I made the long drive home absolutely buzzing not because of all the plans I had.. but because of all the plans, I was tearing up. This amazing place that I’m fortunate to live in is what inspires me and continues to do so. The magic and mystery that I hope to put in my images is all out there in those hills, and I have a lifetime of exploring them ahead of me. Six months later, I opened my gallery, a year after I started my second book, and the last seven years have been the most amazing experience that I hope to continue.
This isn’t for everyone and yes there are some places I would like to travel to photograph. I want to make very different types of images that I can’t make here. If I get there, it will be great if I don’t, I won’t have missed a thing.
Dún Briste is a limited edition print available in two sizes to purchase here https://www.normanmccloskey.com/product/dun-briste/