Post Grad Blog 1 - Original Concept and Exploration
Right, so the Masters course in Photography has begun, and with it the roots of my photo book concept have been planted. Not gonna lie, it did not go the way I was hoping it would. It has gone, as the French might put it: tits up.
To recap, because I feel like I've discussed what I intend to do in an earlier blog post: I wanted to do a photo book around the topic of my grandmothers death. She passed away in November last year after a short battle with COVID and since then the family has, in a way, been reeling from it. I say in a way because we didn't exactly get to go through the standard routine of grief. Because of the lockdown regulations, we were able to go over to Ireland, but we would have had to spend two weeks in isolation before we would be allowed out, which means we would have missed the funeral by a wide margin. This is one of the problems with death being such a pivotal thing in Irish culture. Where it might take up to one or two weeks before a funeral is even held for the deceased, it happened over the course of three days in Eire. So we grieved from a distance, my family watching the livestream together from home, and me, sat at my desk by myself, whilst my family overseas watched the coffin go into the ground.
Previously, I had done a photo book about my grandmothers dementia in what would be her final days. The process of that had helped me develop closure to a lot of things that had surrounded it over the last few years, so my natural conclusion was to make another one to help translate the thoughts that I was feeling at the time. When it finally came to visiting in the October of this year, the outcome of the trip was drastically different to what I had expected it to be.
When we arrived at the grave stone, I felt a strange emptiness. Like I had expected all of that rage and loathing, all of that guilt, to just subside and for my brain to feel clear again. But it didn't. And that just leaves you with a complete loss of direction. From there, it felt like everything that I was shooting in Ireland was without purpose or direction. There was nothing connecting my brain and its thought processes to the camera, I was simply shooting what was in front of me and hoping that it would be enough.
I shot a lot on film during the first week of the trip. Eire, when you step back from its cities and towns, is a mass of rolling hills, shooting up into the sky. The grey mists cloaking the tips of the mountains. It was beautiful. The scenes I saw there are some of the most incredible things I've seen in my life. It's quiet. It's Irish. But then looking at those scenes leads to the inevitable question I felt I had to face...where do I fit into this country? It is a part of me that's in my blood. My mother coming over from the country, in a way, means that I owe my existence to this country. And yet, amongst the hills, and the trees, and all these things that felt like they gave me some peace of mind, it wasn't my country. Which creates a real displacement of identity.
Throughout the trip, I felt that. I felt in Cork, I felt it in Dublin, I felt it everywhere. I felt like a tourist there. Which I am. It isn't my home, as much I would like that to be the case. But then, there were two instances in which I gained much needed clarity on the situation that have helped me create a clearer picture of where I want to take the picture moving forward.
The first conversation was on a Wednesday night in a pub. I was speaking to one of my friends who studies English Language, and like any good drunken friend would do, I offloaded the stress of the trip onto her through a well placed monologue on my displacement of identity. And she said, along the lines of "well when people move over from other countries with different mother tongues, and they have kids, they raise those children with that language, with English becoming a second tongue to them. Because studies show that a child needs to hear that language consistently for at least the first six months of infancy, because it will begin to recognise those vocal patterns. If you don't do that, then that child will really struggle to actually pick the language up later in life, as it doesn't recognise it." More or less what she said anyway.
The second discussion was with Liam Devlin in a 1 to 1 meeting, in which I discussed the same topics, being much more sober this time around, and he said, that with countries and cultures becoming so diverse now, with places like Ireland even becoming incredibly multicultural, what does the idea of cultural identity even mean? You're from somewhere, but you're also in a sense, not from anywhere. It felt oddly nomadic in its description, and it helped to bring a lot of closure to what I had been facing. It almost begins to generate the idea of that choice of identity, that choice of realising who you want to be. I might be English by birth, but by blood, I think I will always feel Irish. That acknowledgment of these two factors plays into what I would like to do with the project. I know I've spent a very long time writing about where its building to but without further ado:
Oh my god it's the draft concept
By acknowledging the information that was provided by the two previously mentioned people, I would like to photograph the Irish landscapes and country side of Western Ireland. My first reason being that the discussion of language as a source of identity has become something that I feel will play a rather prominent part in the work to come, so to look at Irelands national language of Irish Gaelic is something that must be recognised within the work. Of course, Irish Gaelic is a language that despite being taught nationally across the Republic, is something that is most used on the Western Coast of Ireland. As well as this, the discussion of dual identity also leads to the natural conclusion of: Irish, English. What has one done to the other that is exponentially shit? I think that there is also the need to acknowledge that English Imperialism and its suppression of the Irish people is something that needs to be discussed. The use of the Irish potato famine in the 1800's as a means of killing off the natives to control the rise of population, as well as the erasure of Irelands lingua franca are things that have devastated Ireland and its citizens for hundreds of years, drastically changing the cultural and social landscape. By photographing what could be described as a means of preserving Irelands heritage, it could possibly develop greater personal insight into the lasting impact the British rule has had on this country.
It's an early concept so I'm sure there are issues with it right now, or something will just go catastrophically wrong but hey ho.