Sketches From Home (Random Notes - February 2010)

The ‘Home’ series is a complex interplay between two identities - my sense of self and my rural background - explored through the ‘ritual’ of photography.

(“)…looking, recording, with limitations, again at the world. (“)

This is an ongoing project which has personal and emotive motivations. The word, or concept, ‘Home’ suggests a direction, a place, an origin and a longing to return. In essence this is about the relationship between myself and my background - my sense of self, my memories of home and my search to find my place within it at this point of my life. In the images, there is also a direct relationship between my role as a photographer and my rural background - a delicate and uncomfortable balancing-act between belonging and disassociation. I find myself longing to connect, or reconnect, to the place or with the landscape. Yet, the overriding impression or feeling is one of ‘distance’.

“… living roots awaken in my head.
But I've no spade to follow men like them.
Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I'll dig with it.”

Seamus Heaney ‘Digging’

Just making my way through Death of a Naturalist by Seamus Heaney. Interesting to note that one of its poems ‘Digging’ is firmly rooted in the type of environment I am trying to deal with. Heaney is trying to grasp, or ‘dig’ into, the real psychological conditions of rural life – to fully comprehend the contradictory impulses and feelings of ambivalence towards his rural origins. The poet does not, of course, physically dig with a shovel or spade, he digs with his pen, into his memories - extracting really visceral words about his fathers' world and his disconnection from it. THese are vivid evocations of rural life, yet it is a setting that he has possibly left behind and one which is slowly fading into memory (note to self: take note of the sense of fading memory in the 'white' triptych). In ‘Digging’ there is a definite balance between feelings of ambition (artistic, or otherwise), and a possible lingering sense of guilt in breaking inherited traditions (of farming). Heaney has chosen the poet’s pen over his father’s spade - the ‘heaven of education’ over ‘the earth of farm labour.’ I find myself easily identifying with the poets position. I want to explore the ‘real’ conditions of my own relationship to rural life. To explore the sense of guilt, of fear, of love, of hatred; to go beyond elemental feelings, beyond any sense of nostalgia and pathos; to find something that feels real to me about the connection and disconnection to what, on the outside, may seem like conflicting identities. I want to bring two worlds I know together, to bring two separate impulses together, and find a broader understanding of my sense of self.
The camera is an ever-attendant associate to my own experiences. It has come to occupy the role of mediator between, for instance, the landscape and my psychological identification with it, between, for instance, my past and my psychological relationship with it. I find myself in a constant search for personal meaning – an identity and a place, and ways to communicate that meaning; even if I am unsure of why I want to do this through the photographic ritual. (What type of photographer am I? ) I am no doubt a mutable creature behind (or in front of) the lens. I adapt my approach to suit the topic or subject matter. I acclimatize to different environments and engage in a constant revision and analysis of my own work. I like to fully conceptualize any project I take on - even if this process takes years to complete. I am interested in exploring the nature of photography in its many different manifestations and find something which challenges me to face the complexities and density of the photographic practice. I like to create work that will maybe challenge the viewer to reconsider the act of photography itself - to see through (my own) aesthetic limitations and maybe feel an identification with the world I know through the images I produce. I strive for a kind of ‘inter-subjectivity’ that transcends words and other ways of knowing.

To see more of the 'Home' Project:

'Suspended State' (Field Notes Feb 2010)

This is my first field-trip since October into the heart of the ‘Suspended State’ – the Midlands - an area I have visited and re-visited throughout the economic, social and organic ‘cycles’ of the last few years.

It is interesting that the term cycles should become appropriate for the re-start of the work, as well as part of the overall and inclusive rhetoric of this particular photographic enterprise. While the underlying context to the work is economic, social and historical (referencing the ‘cycles’ of each); it has also come to signify the eternal cycle of construction and destruction - depicting the inevitable organic cycles which are disrupted by society and then return. The cycle is also seasonal. Today it is spring, it feels like spring, and it is another beginning for me with this work.

The cyclical element to the subject I am photographing has been manifest throughout - from as early as 2004, when I started to look at the landscape with a critical eye. The type of (or method of) landscape work I have undertaken is largely determined by the seasons – the ‘correct’ light is seasonal, the necessary barren and austere look of the landscape is best reflected when it is dry (seasonal). But, I also have to fit this work into the relentless melt that is ‘teacher-time’ – so, determined not only by seasonal and organic time but by the calculated measurements of the academic calendar. But, in many ways, returning at definite points throughout the year(s) can add another dimension to how I look at and conceptualize the landscape – I feel the sense of time and change - or lack of change.

Today, in the terrain vague of Mullingar, all cycles are motionless. This place I have known since it had a definite use-value. It was agricultural land - just far enough away from Mullingar town to give it the colloquial identity of being ‘countryside’. Yet, this place has become just another testament to the years of misplaced desires - bad policy, bad planning and vested interests. It is yet another abandoned and desolate nothing-land – a dumping ground of relinquished pursuits. Here even nature seems uncertain whether it is indebted to once again battle its way to the surface.

The landscape is not only in a state of abandonment, it feels dislocated and discontinuous from both nature and society, from both time and meaning. It has an overriding feeling of ‘aftermath’ about it - like how it must have felt for photographers drifting through Dresden and Nagasaki after the horrors of war, contemplating the intentions and meaning of what had come before. Yet, this, thankfully, is not a post-war landscape, it is not scorched earth (in that sense), but, as I survey the lifeless ground like the lonely figure from Beckett’s post-apocalyptic ‘Happy Days’, I cannot help but feel like this. I find myself desperately trying to establish meaning and purpose to even my own act. But that voice somewhere in the back of my mind is relentless - (")I need to photograph this!(") This state of mind will, today, determine my approach - whether I like it or not.

Sidenote: Listening to a Newstalk debate, as I drive towards Longford, about the recession and the best option for recovery. A Fine Geal TD uses the word “apocalypse” to describe the “state of mind” of the country.

A Pair of Boots (2009)

This image – ‘Pair of Boots’ (2008) was taken on as part of an inventory of objects around my fathers concrete workshop; where he has worked with his brother for more than fifty years. It is a very personal image, which contrasts, and symbolically brings together, the world of my work – as a photographer, artist and scholar of Art history; and my background with my fathers world of work and my time working with him there. It references a famous 1887 painting by Vincent Van Gogh, which is often cited to refer to the pre-modern world of struggle and suffering - the everyday objects of workers labouring with the soil.

In relation to this painting, Fredrick Jameson suggested that through the work of art, reality is drawn into a revelation which is unavailable in the everyday world. The 'audience' (in the context of the time of the painting) is brought into contact with the everyday world of the worker. This exchange relationship opens the object of work to an extraordinary freedom - artist and audience can separately, privately and individually meet and identify with the significance of the object, in a society where this identification woud be otherwise unavailable (Jameson, 1991).

The image also takes note of a famous Walker Evans image from the American depression in the 1930s - 'Floyd Burroughs Shoes', with which Jamesons comments are also apposite. (A copy of Evans' image has been hanging above desk for more that three years. For me its far more than just 'canonical' it represents the valuable essence of the photographic medium).