Sunday, 24 April 2016

Portavogie ladies

The ladies of Portavogie harbour. Some people prefer their boats shiny and well preserved. I like them better this way.

They're well looked after, but storm-worn. They were beautiful to start with, but now they're more so. Battling through waves has made their textures more interesting and more elegant. Their colours are less brash and more harmonious.

Kind of sensing a metaphor here...

Sunday, 17 April 2016

The Saltpans and the camera club

I'm a keen and prolific photographer (as regular readers will have noticed...), but I've only been working on it seriously for the last couple of years.

I've read numerous books and magazines on the subject and watched even more online tutorials. I've taught myself to use Lightroom effectively. I've found a great printer, and by trial and error I've been producing prints I'm proud of, with the only the odd disaster. I also learn a lot from the many fantastic photographers I follow on Instagram (you can see my own account here).

But the thing that's made most difference in terms of encouragement, learning new skills, and motivating me to print and display my work has been joining a local camera club this year.

My natural inclination on a Friday night is to crash on the sofa with a novel and a takeaway from the Good Fortune and then go to bed early. But making an effort instead to beat the sloth, leave the comfort of my fake-fur blanket and drive across the hill to Bangor and the clubhouse has been rewarding every time. 

I've seen the work of inspirational photographers, from our own club and from the wider photographic community. Sometimes it's been work that I'd aspire to do myself. Sometimes the style and subject matter have been very different, but I've still learned a huge amount from hearing them talk about their approaches and techniques. 

I've seen experienced photographers judging the work of the club members and have learned a huge amount from both positive comments and constructive criticism. That includes my own work. It's a terrifying thing to see your little print alone and anonymous on an easel and wait for a verdict. Sometimes I can anticipate what will be said; sometimes it's a surprise, but it's always something to ponder and take account of.

I like the thought that my grandfather (you can see some of his work here) was a camera club competition judge back in the 60s and 70s. Many of the things that he would have talked about in that role are the things that judges address today.

I've made new friends, supportive and encouraging and funny. It's nice to have photo-geek companions who, unlike other friends, don't think you're weird when you fall in love with a lens, and who have strong opinions on what colour a mount should be. Watching and sharing in their achievements and triumphs is cool too. It's all a lot more fun than just doing it all alone.

The probably random-seeming images I've used in this post - The Saltpans, Lily in a Headwrap, and John Dory with Buttons - were chosen because they all did well in our recent exhibition and competition, and that's been another very enjoyable thing. While "winning" isn't the point of photography, it's always a thrill to have some recognition of a print that has worked well. It's another element of the encouragement that comes from being part of a group like this.

Thank you, club members, for your very warm welcome this year - it has been fantastic. And for other readers who may be working away at their photography alone, I highly recommend joining a similar group. It will keep you on your toes, broaden your horizons and ultimately make you a happier photographer.

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Harriet Hobart at Castle Coole

My new home,
Named for an Irish lake.
Dismal and cold and grey.
Old as forever.

My new husband,
Named for an Irish mountain
To quell his flabby jealousy.
Dismal and cold and grey. 
Old as forever.

My new hope,
Here in the sun-stained stable,
Purloining a warm undismal hour...

My new horror.
Confined, to be confined 
Till I am as old as forever too.
May she be a she.
May her eyes be blue.


Harriet Hobart, born in 1762, was married reluctantly at the age of seventeen to the widowed Armar Lowry-Corry of Castle Coole, County Fermanagh. He was almost forty years old and had lost his beloved wife Margaret and their elder son. His remaining son was five years old.

Harriet and Armar shared a birthday, but little else. The marriage, arranged for reasons of political and financial advantage, was doomed from the start. And, very unusually for the day, within eighteen months Harriet had been permitted to leave her husband and return to London, taking with her her beautiful brown-eyed baby daughter Louisa. An act of Parliament was required to dissolve the marriage, eventually leaving both Harriet and Armar free to wed again.

In the music room at Castle Coole hang portraits of Armar's first wife, Margaret, and his third wife, Mary. There is none of Harriet.

The one thing she did leave for Castle Coole was her husband's title. He had fumed and huffed for years that he couldn't call himself the Earl of Fermanagh, since that title had already been taken by relatives who lived in the slightly grander local stately home, Florence Court. Harriet suggested that he become Earl Belmore, after the mountain visible from the elegant drawing room window pictured here. Belmore is still the family title.

There is no suggestion in the historical documents that, despite her aversion to her husband and to Fermanagh life in general, Harriet was anything other than unhappily faithful to him during their brief marriage. 

But one can't help but wonder.

Saturday, 2 April 2016

Matthew Loney on Minerstown Beach

I've been working on a new little project starring Matthew Loney of Kilcloud (you can find out more about him here).

Minerstown Beach proved the perfect location last Sunday for a few shots of Matthew and the Mournes.

The project is a story of emigration, something that's been on my mind recently as I've been researching my own family history. The tale isn't completely in focus yet, but every time I work on it, new ideas come rushing into my head. And my very patient model J has been a good sport about getting into character on freezing cold beaches while I try to organise my inspirations into actual shots.

I've been shooting backwards. I already have my New World images, taken in Florida last October. This afternoon I was thinking of Matthew's farewell to Ireland, imagining what he would do and feel on the last days in a country which he knew he was leaving forever. 

The beach couldn't have looked better, with miraculous fingers of sunlight reaching out of the clouds over the mountains. It seemed the perfect setting for portentous decisions and leave-takings. I'd go there myself now if ever I were to leave this island for good.