Kerry’s beauty through an outsider’s eye

Kerry is perfect for landscape and seascape photography. With ever changing Atlantic light, you never see the same scene twice

Cows about to get wet again. Yet another shower blows in over St Finian’s Bay. Photographs: John Wesson

Cows about to get wet again. Yet another shower blows in over St Finian’s Bay. Photographs: John Wesson

 

I first visited Ireland in the late ’70s on a motorcycle, having previously toured the highlands and islands of Scotland. It was a natural progression. The Atlantic edge has always attracted me, in a way that only those who are like-minded and living miles from the coast in a place like rural Derbyshire would understand. You could say in Kerry, I had kept the best until last!

I find Kerry to be the perfect place for landscape and seascape photography. With the continually changing Atlantic light, you will never see the same scene twice. It is a joy to experience the extraordinary light first-hand. Illuminated by this light, is a remarkable landscape, largely untouched since the last ice age. Mountains, rivers, lakes and never more than a few miles away; the ever impressive Atlantic ocean, the Skelligs & Blasket islands, mighty sea cliffs, huge roller waves, abundant wildlife – it’s all here.

In 1988 my wife and I bought a small ruined house on Valentia. It was a time when ruins in remote locations were not considered to be of any value (then as now most are considered to be in the wrong places…I disagree). This was a significant commitment for us, but one that we’ve never regretted. Built from stone and clay and held together by gravity & friction, it will always have its inherent problems, inside and out. Ignoring local advice to “knock it” and build new, we then spent all of our available time and money over the next seven years restoring it. Working from a tiny caravan on site was not easy, as our two children were born during this period. Today it is a delight when a passing tourist stops to photograph it!

A Skellig storm
A Skellig storm

My late friend Dave Lyon, who was taken suddenly and very young, persuaded me (10 years ago) to make my photographs available in Ireland. He joined me regularly on Valentia and was tremendous company, with a great sense of humour, hence my dedication to Dave in the book.

Michael O’Brien of O’Brien Press was seeking a photographer to produce a book on Kerry. Another friend, Bob Joyce, recommended me. That was two years ago, and although I already had a sizable portfolio, the following year was spent on the road filling in the gaps in the Kerry photographic story, and six months refining the narrative to accompany the pictures.

Before I started the book my Kerry portfolio consisted largely of landscapes, seascapes and wildlife images, with little in the way of people or portraits. However, Michael was keen for me to include more images of people. I always find this more of a challenge, especially in this day and age, when you never really know what response you might receive when pointing a camera at someone. It’s much easier to work with puffins.

I used a small compact camera for most of the public places pics, which seems to be more acceptable than aiming a large Canon at someone. Generally, people were very gracious and open to having their picture taken. One or two turned away. I find candid work better where possible because once an individual is aware that you are aiming a camera at them you can lose the mood and the spontaneity of the moment. A snap, followed up by a quick explanation and most individuals are happy; a posed picture is generally not as pleasing as an unguarded one. Oliver of Dick Mack’s is, of course, an exception to this rule!

Over the years I have gleaned a lot of information and interesting facts about the kingdom. However, I needed to check these out and expand my understanding in some areas for the book. It has been a fascinating journey. I have gained a great deal from the experience. There is so much more to Kerry than just scenery. Producing a book on the county certainly concentrates the mind. The big vistas and huge skies are what attract visitors, its warm-hearted people with their humour and laughter add a little something special that would be likely to be missing elsewhere. Without these features, a book about Kerry would not do justice to the county.

My photography in Kerry continues. I take a trip to the Skelligs whenever possible, and I would like to see more of the Blasket Islands. A good picture of an otter still eludes me, but it will happen at some point if I persevere. The abandoned houses fascinate me, and my collection of them grows. I have not mentioned the astrophotography that I have been working on in the International Kerry Dark Sky Reserve. There is a great deal here to do, so I am sure that I will be busy for a long time yet.
Kerry, The Beautiful Kingdom is published by the O’Brien Press and is available from all good bookshops and obrien.ie now

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