Ireland’s incredible landscape – and why its bad weather is great for photographers
Carsten Krieger’s latest book celebrates the country he loved so much that he settled here
Sunset on Inisheer. Photographs: Carsten Krieger
Dusk in the narrow streets of Dingle. A fine drizzle is falling from the dark sky and the damp is crawling into clothes and buildings. The sweet smell of turf fires is hanging in the air and gulls are crying in the distance. This was some 30 years ago and is one of my earliest memories of Ireland. In this moment I felt like I had come home.
However, it took another decade until I settled in Ireland for good and started my career as a photographer and writer. Ireland: Discover Its Beauty is my eighth book with O’Brien Press. Together we did books on Ireland’s Coast, Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland’s Ancient East and the River Shannon but we never thought about doing the most obvious, a book about Ireland. And this was exactly the question publisher Michael O’Brien asked me during one of our conversations: “Why did we never do a book about Ireland?” At that moment it was as good as settled.
This conversation happened around three years ago and at the time I was rather fed up and I was looking for a new path. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. For me this became not only another book, it became a way to reminiscence and take stock of the past 20 years travelling around Ireland.
Capturing Ireland with a camera had not always been easy, the infamous weather made sure of that. But it was the weather that created some of the most memorable moments. Leftover rainclouds hanging around mountaintops; storm-force winds pushing the ocean against sheer cliffs; a red sunset after a rainy day; a rainbow just before another heavy shower; a beach covered in hail stones. All this would not be possible without the changeable Atlantic climate that brings low pressure systems on a regular basis. It is this “bad weather” that delivers the light, the colour and the drama for which the Irish landscape is famous.
Some of the images in the book date back almost two decades, others were made especially for this volume. While camera technology has changed significantly over the years, my approach to photography has not. For me being outside and simply experiencing the landscape is as enjoyable as the photographic process itself.
Being hasty never leads to a good image: planning, watching and waiting are a big part of an outdoor photographer’s life and being in the right place at the right time is almost never a coincidence. It was a wonderful experience sifting through all the files and reliving the moments in which certain images were made.
One of the oldest images in the book, on page 114, shows a wintery view of Derryclare Lough in Connemara. It was one of my first outings with a new camera – for the photographers out there it was the Canon EOS 5D and back then 12 megapixels were a revelation – and the first time I experienced snow in Ireland.
I had stayed with friends in Maam overnight and had woken up to a winter wonderland. The short trip from Maam to Derryclare became an adventurous and slippery affair and I almost crashed the car, but it was very much worth it. Standing by the lake in the winter twilight, a cold wind pushing the clouds past the snow-covered Twelve Bens became etched in my memory.
Coincidently the other image on that same page carries similar fond memories but was made under very different conditions. The image dates back to the hot summer of 2018 when I spent a few days on Inisheer, one of the Aran Islands. Island life on Ireland’s west coast is supposed to be a cool and breezy experience but, on this day, it felt like the Mediterranean. For the whole day I had been lugging my camera gear all over the island, in scorching heat with not a cloud in sight, and I rarely had been as exhausted and aching as on this evening. Still I dragged myself out to photograph the sunset. The result is, for me at least, the perfect depiction of an island summer and the sun setting behind Inisheer pier became one of those moments I will never forget.
The most important image of the book for me is the cover. Not only because it was made just up the road from my home, but also this image represents the new path I am walking as a photographer and writer. The image was made on April 9th during the first Covid-19 lockdown. During this time, I, like many others, saw my business suddenly disintegrating.
To keep myself busy and sane I started a personal project, daily photography outings to capture the natural world around my home from the spring equinox to the summer solstice. The outcome was my first ebook, entitled Silent Spring, which marked the start of a new journey and a return to my roots as a nature and conservation photographer and the birth of irelandsnaturestories.com
When I flip through the pages of Ireland, I also realise how much the country has changed since my first visit some three decades ago. Ireland has become richer in a material sense and more cosmopolitan. But the country also has lost something. The old ways, the art of a slow and simple life, are disappearing.
Like many other blow-ins I settled in Ireland because life was different here, unrushed, more focused on the things that really matter. There was also that slightly rebellious mindset of the Irish, especially when it comes to authorities, that appealed to me. I also came for the landscape, the cliffs and beaches, the mountains and lakes and the wide Irish sky.
Ultimately it is this landscape that keeps me here. It’s the damp and dark winter days, the storms battering the coast, the low clouds covering the land and this unique painterly light being cast on land and sea. It is also the moments the old ways shimmer through, when you chat with a stranger about the weather, when the neighbours bring over an apple pie and when the peat aroma fills the air on a cold winter morning.
Ireland: Discover Its Beauty, by Carsten Krieger, is available from your local bookseller (phone or check its website) and from obrien.ie, €24.99