If you had to describe your overall photographic vision in 25 words or less, what words would you choose?
I aim to create a window for people to look into and lose themselves for a moment and dream.
Why are you so drawn to long exposure photography?
I love how it reduces a scene to a more magical and quite often more thoughtful and calmer place. I love not knowing exactly what will happen; this still excites me every time.
Why do you prefer black and white photography?
I can’t put it better than Ted Grant when he said:
“When you photograph people in color, you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in Black and white, you photograph their souls!”
I believe that this applies to all photography, not just portraiture. I try to capture the personality of the subjects in my photographs. I try to make a feature of the textures, forms, tones and shadows, and I can accomplish this in black and white but not in colour.
Who are three of your favorite photographers, and, more importantly, how has your appreciation of their work affected how you approach your own photography?
1. Michael Kenna is my favorite photographer. He is a visionary, a pioneer. His work inspires me but also challenges me. Not everything is clear cut, and I often ask myself “why did he leave that there, why did he compose that way? ” He sometimes does things I may not initially understand or appreciate, but I learn from his work all the time. This is what makes his work so compelling. Everytime I pick up a book of his I come away enlightened and refreshed. He continually opens doors to my imagination and sometime I see things that he may have photographed if he had spent more time in Ireland. This coming winter I have three very different subjects that wouldn’t normally be associated with long exposure photography. They are all very Irish and I believe it is studying Michael Kenna’s work that has led me to consider them.
2. Ansel Adams. I have more of his books than any other, but then again he has probably produced more than most. I love reading his letters and correspondence– also his dealings with galleries, clients and governments. Its very enlightening. I visited his exhibition at the Maritime museum recently in London. It was rather special seeing his images on a wall. Seeing his prints right there in front of me, some very large in a great space was very exciting and eye opening. I love his connection with the subjects he is photographing and this is something that you can feel in Michael Kenna’s work as well. They are at one with their subjects and I am trying to do that, especially with my seascapes.
3. Michael Levin has to be included, though I also rank David Burdeny‘s work in Asia very closely. It was Michael Levin’s book Zebrato that I studied closely when I first started my journey into long exposure photography. His compositions and tones are perfect and so well balanced. I also learned a lot from him at a workshop I attended a couple of years ago. He is almost the opposite of Michael Kenna and Ansel Adams; there is a disconnect with his subjects, a coolness that I can’t quite put my finger on. I believe that this works so well with his minimal approach and recognizing this has taught me much.
I would also like to mention that I was influenced by many amazing artists on Flickr initially and would like to pick a few in particular . They are your very good self, Joel Tintjelaar, Steve Landeros, Giles McGarry, Noel Clegg, Andy Brown and Keith Aggett. I mention them not only for their beautiful images but also for their feedback on my work a from which I have learned much. This has helped me immensely. I must also mention the work of Xavi Fuentes, Nilgun Kara and Kevin Kwok because I adore their tones and processing styles.
I am now inspired by many more contacts on a daily basis, with far to many to mention, but it was the work and advice of the artists above that set me on my way.
What artistic influences, outside of photography, have had a significant influence on how you approach your photography (for example, painters, filmmakers, musicians, poets, etc.)?
I spent three years in Barcelona and I was surrounded by the wonderful art of Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso and Joan Miro among many others. I visited theirs museums, in Barcelona, Figueres and Paris. I stayed in Cadaques, a remote fishing village on the Costa Brava, not to far from the border of France. This is where Dali had his home and where a lot of artists including Picasso spent their summers. I made one of my first long exposure photographs from outside Dali’s front door in Cadaques. My wife also introduced me to Georgia O Keeffe and I enjoy her work immensely. I believe an architectural series I am working on is subliminally influenced by her paintings of New York. Ironically, I had no idea who Alfred Stieglitz was at that time. It was when reading Ansel Adams biography that I pieced the connections together.
I spent a lot of time visiting and photographing the architecture of Antoni Gaudi and Santiago Calatrava also. I am not sure if they have influenced my current photography but they definitely opened my eyes and imagination.
Before my journey into photography I ran a record label, record shop and djed extensively through out Ireland, Europe and the States. The music I released was drum n bass, a form of dance music that was based around the sampling of breakbeats from old funk, jazz and soul records. Similar to Hip Hop in one sense but with a faster rhythm. I was very picky in my selection and played and released only records that sampled real instruments rather than some of the over produced and synthetic sounding tunes that were being made. I feel I approach my photography in the same way. I try not to over process my images and hope to retain a certain earthy feel to them.
What are your thoughts about trying to find the best gear possible versus working on making the best possible image with the gear you already have?
I think we can create images with the equipment put in front of us. Recently my Canon 5d Mk11 stopped working and I borrowed a friends Canon 60d for a month or so, while its as being repaired. I have captured some images I am very happy with and they are now in my portfolio but the noise levels are hugely increased in long exposure and low level light. Had I not used my 5d Mk11 I wouldn’t be aware of this. Once you have stepped up it is very hard to step down again.
How would you define fine art? Is it just a label?
I have pondered this same question for some time, in fact it was the one question I had in mind to ask Michael Levin when I attended a workshop of his. I didn’t manage to ask for some reason, but I think I slowly started to see the difference through his guidance on my work. I have read many complex theories on this but have come up with a very simple analogy that works for me. To produce fine art photographs is akin to directing a film. Fine art photography is not about capturing reality but representing a vision of a scene. A good fine art photograph should be like a still from a film. It should have a style, a quality of light, a definite mood, a personality in the subject and a story of some kind.
If you had to come up with one very important lesson that you think every photographer needs to learn, what would it be?
I think photographers should create images for themselves and believe in their vision and ideas. It is very important and educational to study and learn from other photographers work but at some point its time to stand apart.
What are your thoughts about the benefits of online sharing? Are there any particular social media or image sharing sites you prefer or do not prefer?
Online sharing is invaluable; it is where I have learned about photography the most, and through these platforms, I have developed some very good contacts and friends. I have always loved Flickr first and foremost, until very recently when they changed the format drastically. Flickr and Facebook are the two most productive for me in reaching an audience. I generally get all print requests, interviews and spotlights through these two platforms. I tried 500px but got bored of that site quite quickly; I didn’t like the gaming and dislike buttons. Art Limited is a fantastic site, the quality is very high and I made some new contacts there, but I felt I was turning up at a party very late and didn’t quite settle there. I have since connected with a lot of those artists on Facebook. Facebook now seems to be the easiest and most relaxed platform where almost everybody I know shares. Google + has also been very enjoyable and I intend to spend a little more time over there
What photographic cliché or common photography question, if any, irritates you the most?
One thing I do dislike is people presuming that a photograph is “just photoshopped” just because they don’t understand long exposure images, and I hear this regularly from customers in a gallery where I show my work. It is usually from people that wouldn’t have ever used photoshop and think there is some magic button that creates this effect.
If you were stranded on an island, and you could have one camera, one lens, one filter, one tripod, two books, and ten CDs, what would they be and why?
It would have to be a Hasselblad, I don’t own one nor have I ever used one, but I just know that I will use this camera and format in the years to come. I think a 35mm might be a good place to start if I only had one. A ten stop b+w filter is my most used so I would carry on with that. A good tripod: it doesn’t have to be fancy, just one that doesn’t shake.
I feel that any novels would be wasted as I generally read a book intensely from start to finish in as short as possible time. When a book is good, I just can’t put it down so it would have a short lifespan. With that in mind, my first book choice would be a gardening book; I love cooking and would want to grow my own vegetables. I think this would keep me sane and give me a creative outlet and satisfaction to keep me content. I would also want Michael Kenna’s Huangshan as I don’t have that and I would want a little treat.
I am going to be a little pedantic, if I may, and say that I wouldn’t bring CDs because I despise them; it would have to be Vinyl. There is something very special to me about records. I love the artwork, the sleeves, the smell, the dropping of the needle on the record and the fact that they last forever if cared for.
The ten would be and in no particular order.
Lafayette Afro rock band – Darkest Light
The Specials – The Specials – Two Tone
Don drummond – Best of – Studio 1
Miles Davis – Bitches Brew – Legacy
Redman – Whut Thee Album – Def Jam
Pharaoh Saunders – Thembi – Warner
Photek – Modus Operandi – Science
King Tubby and Augustus Pablo – King Tubby meets Rockers Uptown – Shanachie
Curtis Mayfield – Pusherman – Curtom
Method Man – Tical – Def Jam
Are there any specific directions that you would like to take your photography in the future or any specific goals that you wish to achieve?
I want to travel as much as possible; I love discovering new places, cultures and cuisines but I haven’t set any specific goals as such. If I can keep developing as an artist and find satisfaction in my work, I will be more than happy. Photography has given me so much personally over the last six years, and if that continues then that will be more than enough for me.
Is there any specific place that you would like to visit to take photos?
I recently went to Japan over Christmas time. It was exciting to follow in the footsteps of Michael Kenna, Michael Levin, David Burdeny and many other great photographers. I toured with Stephen Cairns, who was a great host and companion.
There are also some real gems in Spain that I have to photograph soon. I also hope to do a trip from West to East across the Pyrenees and down through Las Bardenas Reales. I hope to spend a lot more time in Spain over the next few years. I love the food, the weather and the relaxed way of life and quite often feel very creative when I am there. I also expect to spend some time in Scotland over the next couple of years; my Sister in law has recently moved there from Canada so I will be going there with my wife and daughter on family trips and hope to explore the area as well.