Image on the right is courtesy of Finn Richards
I have my first solo photography exhibition coming up next month in Wicklow Town and it’s called Threading Place. It’s very exciting but also a little daunting. A few years ago I would never have imagined that I could be involved in something like this. For most of my time working as a photographer it has felt like work, rather than being about following a thread of curiosity that many would recognise as part of an artistic practice. Mainly this is because of the pressures to ‘pay the rent’ that most people face. But there is something else to it: it’s the nervousness and uncertainty surrounding the notion that maybe, somewhere in there, I have something that I want to try and say.
Threading Place is about human connection. I’ve taken a broad understanding of what ‘connection’ can mean: it could be a person’s best friend; it could be the postman; it could be that person who you nod to every morning as you walk your dog; it could be your Auntie.
The first person that I approached to be photographed for this project was someone I had met in my local woods, and chatted to once or twice. The project uses photography to chart these connections between people in County Wicklow: it starts with one person, who is photographed, who then sends me to someone in their life who they feel they are connected to. This pattern repeats for five people, and I’ve made three of these ‘threads’, each starting with a different person that I feel connected to. Participants are asked to nominate the location for their shoot, and this should be somewhere that feels meaningful to them in some way.
Human connection has long fascinated me, it’s something that I’ve spent time studying at degree level, but really it’s something that I’m just nosey about: I’m curious to hear the story of how person X knows person Y.
Whilst making this project I saw first-hand that whilst some people have many connections in their lives, others struggled a little to suggest a connection to bring into the project. It made me very conscious of the importance of connection in our lives. It’s much more than a ‘nice thing’ to have, I suspect it’s almost up there with food and shelter as something that a person needs in order to be able to live the ‘good life’.
I moved to Wicklow a number of years ago from The Liberties in Dublin, where we’d lived for over a decade. In that time we got to know some of our neighbours, but really, given the time we had to make them, we didn’t leave behind a lot of strong connections, which is a shame, and also a little surprising. We lived in such a densely populated area where it should have been easy to meet new people.
I sense both from living here and working on this project that Wicklow is an easier place to meet people, despite the distance that the rural environment imposes, and the amount of time spent driving to get anywhere.
But compared to the centre of Dublin people here seem to have the time to spend talking to one another, which is a great thing, and to be able to ‘run into’ people who are not exactly like ourselves (in all the ways imaginable) is a wonderful and necessary thing.
The project exhibition has been conceptionalised and designed by architecture studio, Cineál Place. It takes the three threads of images that I’ve made and displays them over three outdoor locations in Wicklow Town. They have taken care to invite viewers of the exhibition to think about the connections that they have in their own lives. They have also carefully considered how place plays a role in the ability to initially establish and then maintain connection. Their idea is that the places that we spend time in, be they ordinary or beautiful, act as foundations for us to make our lives, and connection is a big part of this. To further support this they have also created an audio element to the exhibition.
Getting the funding from Wicklow County Council’s Arts Office under the Strategic Project Award Scheme to pursue this project has meant that I can follow my own curiosity about these connections, using a medium that I am comfortable with, and over a timeframe that feels sufficiently long enough to have explored deeper than just the surface.
The process of working through the photography (15 shoots, each in a new location) has been educational: one of the challenges that I had to accept for myself was that I’d be going into each shoot knowing nothing about the person that I’d be photographing (except for the first person in each thread who were my own ‘connections’), and in most cases, nothing much about the location either.
This is slightly terrifying, but by challenging myself I’ve learnt to be comfortable with a new way of working, I hope.
To get to spend time, using a camera, to explore these themes and try to express myself has been a wonderful opportunity. To do this work in collaboration with Cineál Place has been incredible.
My lofty aim is that some of these images might offer a view into a person’s life that feels somehow beautiful and that this will prompt some viewers’ to think about their own connections, and the importance of these connections in their lives’.
Threading Place will officially launch on the 22nd of September, as part of Culture Night. The artists involved, along with a local sociologist, will also take part in a Q&A session in Wicklow Library on the same night.
I am a photographer and filmmaker based in Wicklow. My work is split between personal projects that focus on themes of human agency and citizenship, and commercial work that concentrates on people. I use stills photography, and increasingly also turn to short films to achieve my goals.
My interests in human agency and citizenship have led to completing a part-time degree in International Studies and I use this academic grounding to inform my camera-based projects. My recent work has been included in festivals and awards: The Gnomes, a short film about a group of young men who transformed a disused area of DCU into a functioning farm was included in the 2020 lineups for both the Fastnet and the Still Voices Film Festivals, and my portrait of British poet Lemn Sissay was shortlisted in the AOP Awards 2020. In 2023, in collaboration with Cineál, my ongoing Threading Place project will launch as an outdoor exhibition over three sites in Wicklow Town.