Snapshots: through the photographer's lens


BRIAN O’CONNELLasks some of the photographers who are taking part in this year’s PhotoIreland festival to select their favourites from their work on show

Ciara O’Halloran


What’s the background to the photograph?It was taken in an allotment in Clonsilla, in Dublin. The project documents this space, as we don’t have many allotments in Ireland; it is a relatively new thing.

It is part of a series called The Other Room. My mam always used to say the garden was an extra room. I would go to the allotment once or twice a week to document it. Everything changes and grows.

The chestnut tree in the photograph has been there a long time. One of the gardeners told me that some things change but that this tree has always stayed the same. It is like an iconic part of the allotment. If you look more closely at the image you can see scarecrows in the background, and vegetables growing.

What equipment did you use?I used a Hasselblad 500 with a 50mm lens. I shot it on Kodak Portra 400 colour film, which is medium format. The double exposure came about as an accident, and I thought it was a really interesting way to show it. What happens is that I take a picture and I trick the camera into thinking I have rolled on the film. Then I take another picture, and it puts the two layers together on the single negative.

Why did you pick this photograph?This is my favourite picture. It has such an amount of detail I can look at it for a long time. I love the colouring and what it says about allotments.

Kate Nolan


What’s the background to the photograph?It is part of a series of work I was doing in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad. I lived with this woman every time I went there. I first went in 2005; I had never heard of the area, and it sparked my interest. When I went there I was couchsurfing, so I was staying with young women.

This image was taking during my second trip there, at Easter. She had brought me down to her family home to meet her mother and her whole family. I like the image because it was the first time I felt she really trusted me and we could really engage, and she felt comfortable enough to allow me to stay with her family. This was taken in the house of her grandmother, who had passed away 10 years earlier.

It is difficult for women, as there are not many opportunities. I was going upstairs in front of her, and I turned around and saw her looking out the window. For me it was seeing her trying to see the future, and seeing how she balances the love of her family and homeland with the wish for another world.

What equipment did you use?I shot on a Bronica 656 using film. I don’t use digital at all, and there was no flash. It is very simple. I used only one 80mm lens. There was no tripod. It was a lucky image. I just turned around and she was there.

Why did you pick this photograph?I think it represents exactly what I am trying to say about these women who are stuck between an old world and a post-Soviet one, which is represented for me by the damaged wall.

Debbie Castro


What’s the background to this photograph?It is part of a series that is projected as a slideshow. This is a really small Latin American market in the Seven Sisters area of north London that I found one weekend. The Colombian community was very welcoming, and I felt really involved.

Who is in this image?The woman in the foreground, Monica, was the first person I got to know. She introduced me to her brother and family. I was standing back and taking in the movement. I like it because she was looking away from the camera and she was about to serve somebody. The colours she is wearing appealed to me.

What equipment did you use?I used a digital camera, a Canon 5D Mark II, with a 50mm lens. To focus on Monica, I used a shallow depth of field, which blurred the background. I did this because the focus point was somewhat on Monica and not the other employees. Within the series, though, I play around with the focus point a lot; it is not really the person but the space that matters.

Why pick this photograph?It is a very vibrant and strong image, and it represents the connection I had with that particular family, who really welcomed me. I didn’t want the focus to be on one person, which is why Monica is looking away. It is about emigration and about community as a whole.

David Monahan


What’s the background to this photograph?It’s of a girl called Aoife O’Donnell, who was a student at the college above the National Photographic Archive. This was shot in 2010, after which she emigrated to New York. She is outside her college, next to the Gallery of Photography and the National Photographic Archive. I worked in the gallery and the archive, so the staging of this photo meant a lot to us both. Why did you set the photograph up in this way? It is a portrait taken at night, so I used studio light outdoors. It is meticulously lit. For example, I turned on the lights in the gallery space and upstairs, so you can see that burning through in the image. I also lit back through the square. She is sitting on a suitcase from the 1960s that came to me through a family member. It is a travelling artefact and symbolises the generations who left the country before the current emigrants.

What equipment did you use?It is shot on a Hasselblad H3DII camera. It has a very high quality of resultant image, and it can be printed very large without any degradation. This one is 1.3m by 1.6m, and it is all very clear.

What does the photograph say to you?It says I am looking at a person who is moving from Ireland to another country for economic reasons. The idea of making these and lighting them is to celebrate the sitter and say they are heroes to me. I am trying to show and give these people a face, as in previous waves of emigration all we had left were statistics.

Seán Hillen


What’s the background to the series?I took the picture in about 1986. I was an art student in London and coming back and forth to Northern Ireland. I felt compelled to take these pictures.

What’s the background to this photograph?It was July 12th in Newry, which was then predominantly Catholic. There was hardly anyone there except policemen and these old chaps who were hanging around Sugar Island in the centre of the town. It was illegal to take the photograph. I asked the soldier whether he minded. He grunted, and I took that as a yes. I shot a frame, waited, shot another frame, and then the man looked up. The soldier, a marine commander, is playing with his safety catch. He looks uncomfortable.

What equipment did you use?I shot on a Nikon FM with a very cheap lens and a big chip. It was a wide lens, and that tends to suck you into the picture. I had been thinking of the Robert Capa quote that if your pictures aren’t good enough you’re not close enough.

Why did you pick this photograph?It encapsulates a lot about the Troubles . . . the feeling of menace and that we were all trying to deal with the maelstrom. This body of work, acquired by the National Library of Ireland, compromises 700 images.

Joby Hickey


What’s the background to the picture?I make my own negative plates with gelatin, and I use various types of chemical to make it light-sensitive. I make my own cameras from matchboxes and cardboard boxes. This picture was taken on a bright sunny day last March outside the Powerscourt Centre, in Dublin. I like the fact that the photograph hints at being, say, 100 years old and it suits the building, yet the people surrounding the building are contemporary. It has a nowhere-time quality.

What were the conditions like?The lighting was lovely. It was early spring, and normally it is very cold so you don’t see people relaxed. So I feel I got people who seem like they’re in the summer, sitting on the steps. It looks like summer time, yet there are long shadows. It was intuitive; I didn’t consciously think about the angle, to be honest.

What equipment did you use?It was a camera made out of plywood. It is about five inches by five inches and has an old 1950s Minolta lens I found, which had come from a projector. The negative plates are the ones I made myself. I don’t use film.

Why did you choose this photograph?It is one of the most recent ones I am very happy with. I have hundreds to choose from and didn’t want anything out of the past. I don’t like seeing my old stuff. I like to move on.

The PhotoIreland Festival is at the Gallery of Photography, in Temple Bar, Dublin 2, until July 31st

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