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Paul Gaffney


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“Over the past three winters, I have spent the nights around full moon exploring the Glen of the Downs nature reserve in County Wicklow, which is one of the few sizeable mixed oak woodlands in the east of the country. For this particular project I have used extreme low light video techniques to capture the subtle movement of the moon’s soft, reflected light upon the topography of this steep, narrow valley. As the slow quiet narrative unfolds, these meditative scenes are juxtaposed with the heavy traffic passing through on the N11, which creates a sense of urgency as the apparently invasive traffic becomes more obvious, and the viewer begins to identify with, and feel empathy for, an interconnected living environment.” 


Paul Gaffney is an Irish visual artist, who, for the past number of years, has been investigating different ways of experiencing and representing landscape. His current PhD research explores how the act of image making can enable and disrupt a sense of connection with one’s surroundings. 

Drawing upon his experience and explorations in this area, Gaffney aims to develop a unique approach to displaying an innovative video work which was created in the Glen of the Downs nature reserve in Co. Wicklow. 

It is hoped that this project will both enhance the audience’s experience of immersion in these landscapes, as well as open up potential opportunities to exhibit the work across a wide variety of sites, from galleries to more unusual outdoor environments. 

Speaking of his recent activities, Gaffney explains, “I have been experimenting with how photography, video and technologies such as VR might be used to translate a more embodied experience of these spaces for an audience, which I hope may in turn encourage a deeper relationship with nature.” 

A key part of Gaffney’s investigation has been concerned with how we experience space through movement, in a multisensorial and tactile way, rather than organising and viewing it from a separate, isolated distance, as per the rules of the Western pictorial tradition. 

“In particular, I am interested in how the non-visual senses can be activated to develop a heightened awareness of both the body and environment. One of these approaches has included walking and photographing in forests at night, which has resulted in a number of photobooks and related exhibitions, where I have used sequences of images to suggest a slow careful movement through these dark, enclosed landscapes. Stray (2015) was made in near total darkness in a dense pine forest during a residency at Cow House Studios in Wexford, whereas Perigee (2017) was photographed in the Luxembourgish Ardennes under the light of the full moon.” 


In his explorations around the Glen of the Downs nature reserve in Co. Wicklow, Gaffney has used extreme low light video techniques to capture the subtle movement of the moon’s soft, reflected light, which combined with the area’s narrow, steep valley, evokes a dense, mythical and psychological wilderness. 

This is a time consuming and technically challenging approach, which involves pushing available camera recording technology to its limits, and was developed with the assistance of a Digital Media Award Residency at Fire Station Artists Studios and a Visual Arts Bursary from the Arts Council. 

In July 2020, Paul took part in an artist residency at Cow House Studios in Wexford, where he began his initial investigations into how it might be possible to display this video work. After some time experimenting with a variety of screens, projectors and projection surfaces in a photography dark room, Gaffney discovered that the optimal viewing apparatus is likely to be a screen rather than a projector. 
Through a series of experiments, he also realised that the image itself would not necessarily need to be very large to create an intimate experience, and that the desired result could be best achieved by creating an environment where the viewer would be forced to sit quite close to a screen. Also realising that the piece worked best if consumed in total silence, it slowly became clear to the artist, that the work would be best exhibited in a small custom-made booth, which would allow a controlled level of darkness and distance between viewer and the screen, as well as reducing the noise spill from outside. 


The primary tangible outcome from this project will be the creation of a small custom-built booth for exhibiting this innovative video work. Paul will be collaborating with an architect to design and build a portable modular system which will create the ideal viewing conditions for the work while opening up the potential to exhibit the work across a wide variety of sites, from galleries to more unusual outdoor environments. 

Throughout Paul’s career to date, this will be the first time where the exhibition of a video work will be the artistic focus, thus opening up the potential for further opportunities for his practice and future collaborations with artists in the county. 

Paul Gaffney

Biographies of Artists & Contributors

Paul Gaffney 

Gaffney holds an MFA in Photography from the University of Ulster in Belfast, and a Diploma in Documentary Photography from the University of Wales, Newport. He was selected for the Arts Council’s ‘Next Generation Bursary Award’ 2016-17, and has been nominated for both the Prix Pictet and Deutsche Borse prizes. 

His acclaimed photobook, We Make the Path by Walking, focused on the idea of long distance walking as a form of meditation. His second publication Stray was photographed by night in a dense Irish forest during an artist residency at Cow House Studios in 2014, and his latest project Perigee was made in the Ardennes in Luxembourg under the light of the full moon. 

His books have been nominated for the Photobook Award at the International Photobook Festival Kassel (2013 & 2016), shortlisted for the European Publishers Award for Photography, and selected for several ‘Best Photobooks of The Year’ lists. 

Gaffney’s work has also been presented as solo exhibitions at the Centre national de l’audiovisuel (Luxembourg), Flowers Gallery (London), Gallery of Photography (Dublin), Belfast Exposed Gallery, Ffotogallery (Cardiff), Oliver Sears Gallery (Dublin) and in group shows and festivals in the US, UK, South Africa, Ireland, Italy, France and China. 

His images have been published internationally in print and online periodicals including American Suburb X, Harvard Design Review, Creative Review, The New Yorker, European Photography, DU Magazine, Katalog, PaperJam, Source, Photomonitor and Landscape Stories. 

Paul is represented by Oliver Sears Gallery (Dublin, Ireland).