The on-going ritual of photographing the transforming landscape of the Midlands region has been an important feature of my life. The project started when I was a student in 2004 and took pace when I returned home to Roscommon for a prolonged spell in 2006. There was, initially and throughout, something compulsive and enriching about this self-directed commission. It offered a sense of purpose and vocation. I carried with me a strong sense of mission and a deep obligation to experience, document and record the physical changes that were happening, at a disorderly rate, around my home town and subsequently, as the project expanded over the years, in the broader midland region itself. I was young, naive, clueless to many of the complexities of the medium, poor in technique, but strong in my intentions. There was an overpowering urgency to travel, to take risks, to simply make work. It somehow just made sense. Caught up in a kind of maelstrom of change in my part of rural Ireland, I found a reason to use a camera. I found a necessity to explore and understand, within the act of photography, something about our contemporary relationship to landscape, geography, our identity and our rapidly changing culture.
While the motivation to photograph began with a personal need to confront and understand these transformations in familiar towns and landscapes, the framework of the eventual project Midlands evolved around the 20-year economic development plan – the National Spatial Strategy, which was announced in 2002 and forcefully implemented throughout the following years. Under the NSS, the disputed territory of The Midlands was allocated a number of major strategic infrastructural projects designed to transform, regenerate and re-populate the region. Investment in infrastructure and foreign direct investment were to be directed towards the creation of nine interior “gateways” and a nine inland “hubs” which it was proposed would promote a prosperous and more balanced national development, facilitate inward investment, stimulate and support indigenous growth, produce sustainable development and create more vibrant interconnected townships. Through a polycentric planning model inspired by the 'Triangle Region' in Denmark, the plan was to put some shape on spatial planning in regional Ireland, pump it with investment and draw our expanding population into the interior. This overarching framework was put in place to guide planning decisions by local and statutory authorities alike. The overall strategy spoke volumes about the Government’s commitment to “proper planning” and “sustainable development”. The National Spatial Strategy has however never materialized into the pipe dreams of the Celtic Tiger years and subsequently, in 2013, it was finally abandoned. Its legacy has a much documented geography of failure - abandoned housing estates, industrial units, wastelands which have provided visuals to the narrative of economic recession that Ireland has experienced over the last number of years.
Over a ten year period ‘Midlands’ has explored and mapped the physical transitions which are as a direct consequence of the promise of the National Spatial Strategy, and the physical effects of the failures of this plan. Throughout the cycles of economic and cultural change, I have charted and represented the changes in and on the landscape - from the promise of progress, through the frustrations of stagnation and subsequently to the anguish of collapse. Through this time, I have attempted to express the cyclical processes of erasure, construction, abandonment and decay that are evident on the rural landscape. While ‘Midlands’ represents topographic alterations which were both subtle and monumental, minute and large scale over this period of time, the work also represents the porous nature of the imagined borders of the region itself, questioning the very concept of what the ‘Midlands’ is – an undetermined geographical entity, under constant construction and re-definition.