Images: we take them so much for granted, because it’s easy for us to go out with a camera or phone and capture a place, an event or our friends and family. I’m sure we have now all got hard disks, memory sticks or ‘clouds’ full of hundreds of pictures – perhaps far too many for us to appreciate individually.
Here are some images of Ireland, both old and new. The old ones are taken from the collection of Tomás Ó Muircheartaigh, who documented life in rural Ireland between the 1930s and the 1950s – that’s between sixty and eighty-something years ago. I was fortunate enough to pick up a copy of his book of photographs when it first came out: now it’s ‘rare as hen’s teeth’*… The new ones are taken locally by my favourite contemporary photographer – Finola.
The thing about a photograph is that you know it is an actual moment, a fraction of time, which has been captured and held forever. A painting is not the same – it can be very beautiful and emotional, but it is always a fantasy: it’s the artist that has made it live in the way that she or he chooses. Ó Muircheartaigh’s photographs affect me emotionally: they depict places and, more importantly, people that were once real – living landscapes, personalities… There’s a lot of nostalgia surrounding them because they show us the world – Ireland – as we want to think of it: halcyon, idyllically happy, peaceful, carefree. All the photos in Ó Muircheartaigh’s book picture this blissful state: that’s because he saw rural Ireland in that light, or because he wanted his audience to view it that way. In his work we never see hardship, rural deprivation, illness or pain – and we are completely unaware that there could be a terrible world war raging just over the waters.
Precious moments: how special that through the expert wielding of a camera lens Tomás Ó Muircheartaigh could use a negative to create a positive world! We can still do that: Finola’s photographs capture, digitally (and beautifully), a different world – our own modern Ireland – but also record the essence and enduring appeal of this place which we are pleased to call home. It’s all about the focus…