ON BECOMING ….. A JOURNEY WITH CREATIVITY
Kip Carroll, Photographer, converses with Ann Egan.
Kip, will you tell me about your childhood?
My Dad, an architect from Derry, and my Mom, from Dublin, met in London, and married. I was two weeks old when we moved to Holland – stayed for two years. Then we moved back to Ireland; and to Lanesboro when I was four. My parents bought a house on the banks of the Shannon – Clonbony.
I got my name, Kip, which means chicken in Dutch. ‘My little chicken, Kip’, is what my Dad used to call me. Kevin is my name, and my Dad’s. Later in boarding school – Sligo Grammar School –I tried numerous times to change it back to Kevin, but I got nowhere. People just kept calling me Kip. It’s even on my passport now.
My parents had an art gallery in Longford town, ‘Carroll Gallery’. My Dad’s office was also in Longford. My Dad used to collect art, he always wanted to be an artist. He had lots of artist friends which gave me an interest in art. He went to Columba’s in Derry and was in Seamus Heaney’s class.
Were you inspired by the gallery?
I wanted to be an artist but I didn’t have the results for Art College in ’85 but I got a job as a photographer’s assistant. I helped with portrait photography, fashion photography, in the studio and darkroom in Dublin. The only photographic studios were in Dublin at that stage. Then I started doing model photos, and then I progressed to magazines, doing fashion editorials and portraits. Mainly people photography, but I photographed everything from wellington boots to light bulbs!
At what stage did you set out on your own?
I set up a studio in ’88 in Lad Lane. I had a studio there for 20 years. I did fashion and advertising for: banks; drink companies; Telecom Eircom; HB Ice Cream. I did a lot of advertising with people. I left it six years ago because I was going to London three times a week for Hello Magazine. I wasn’t using the studio. I did 120 photo shoots. I went to New York, Milan, France, all over England. Ryanair was my best friend! I was paying for the travel expenses. It was a nightmare. I gave it up because of the travel. You’d have to be up at four in the morning to catch a plane for a job at nine. You’d get on to the Tube at rush hour, and you might get back home at 12 or 1 at night.
You have met many famous people.
I met Daniel O’Donnell, - I still do most of his albums, calendars, jigsaws. I’ve been over to his house in the Canaries. I’ve photographed Donovan and his daughter in Majorca. We did the photoshoot on a yacht where everyone else was drinking champagne at 11 in the morning. I always had to drive! Some of the people I’ve photographed are : Samantha Mumba; Danielle Llyod; Juliette Lewis; Neil Jordan; Dolores O’Riordan; Leanne Rimes.
Did any occurrence change how you looked at things?
About 15 years ago, I went to Nepal with my mother. I found it very photogenic. I took an awful lot of photos there. That’s where I had an idea about ---- I hadn’t thought of a show but I did want to take more of this type of photograph.
Did the place inspire you?
It was more the people, culture shock helped. I just found everything so photogenic. I guess what I wanted to do was try and focus a little bit on – not really travel photography but I get a feeling from a scene, and then I capture it. It’s quite spontaneous as well, a moment in time. With my work portraits, I’d take maybe a 100 photos, but where with these photos, they’d be a quick snap trying to capture a moment in time. With these photos you can’t set them up really. You have to use the light and weather that is there, whether it’s clouds or rain. I travelled to India, Thailand, Vietnam afterwards, taking photos in each place.
What was the next stage to developing this interest?
When I saw etchings at a Trade Show in Ireland from Noble Art, that sparked something off. When I saw how beautiful their etchings could be, I decided I would try and make a show out of the photos I had. The etchings are Photo Gravure, which goes back to the origins of photographic printing in the 1880s.
I worked with Noble Art, which is based in England to produce a set of 35 photo gravure plates. My first exhibition was in The Bridge Gallery, Ormond Quay. My sister, Deirdre, who was managing the gallery, offered me a solo show. It was very successful. Four months later, I had a show in The Backstage Gallery. Everything sold. Because they were etchings, they were a set of 10, and all sold.
Longford Library bought, ‘Boat Shop Vietnam’. I’d visited Halong Bay when I was on honeymoon in Vietnam. I’d met my wife, Nguyen, she was a model in Dublin. We were on a boat visiting a large cave when the little girl saw our boat, she paddled over. It was in the middle of the sea. On her boat was two boxes of noodles, and bottles of coke, she was selling to anyone visiting the cave. She was about seven, on a boat, all on her own. I was the only one who thought it was strange, everyone else was Vietnamese.
Where would you like to photograph?
I’d love to do a set of photos on the Shannon at some stage. From growing up on the bank, I used to love walking along the river, through the fields on my own, walk with my dog, along the bog also. Everytime the light changes, the scenery changes. Longford has brilliant sunsets, beautiful sunsets. I miss the country. These days I don’t see very many sunsets. In Lanesboro you had 180 degrees of sky.
What was your first camera?
When I started photography, I got an automatic camera off my Dad, 35 ML Compact Camera. I still have it even though it’s broken. I wanted it to take photos of the Shannon - to try and capture the sunsets over the bog and river. Because it was a totally automatic camera, I couldn’t control the light, the photos didn’t turn out very well. Later when I got an SRL Camera, I went back to take a lot of the missed photographs again. This time, I could capture the scene exactly as I wanted it. I still find that rivers and the edge of water are great for capturing interesting images. Half of the show of, ‘Time and Place’ has river scenes or water in them.
What is your next project?
At the moment I’ve been offered a show in Paris for next year. So what I would have to do is see can I afford it, it will be quite a gamble. I have some new photos. What I’m hoping is to incorporate some photos into my art photos. I have a few things I’d like to do - I’d like to visit our historical sights – the ring forts, the stone forts, and dolmens, and see what I can do.
How did you meet your wife?
My wife’s family were one of the first Vietnamese Boat People to come to Ireland as refugees after The Vietnam War, in 1978. We met through photography. We have two boys. We spent last Christmas on Danang Beach in Vietnam, which was nice.
What were your feelings on hearing of the fire in St Mel’s Cathedral?
I was totally shocked when I found out about the fire. My Dad had a house on Keon’s Terrace, opposite the front of the cathedral. I used to love looking at the sculptures above the front door.
What do you think of Longford’s, ‘Midland College of Photography’?
I’m jealous because when I was starting out, they weren’t really any of those opportunities. One had to learn on one’s own more.
What advice would you give to a young person starting out?
The more photos you take – I guess constant working at photography will help you the more - if you don’t do it, you don’t gain.
In photography, a lot of the time you learn from your mistakes. It also depends on which type of photos you are doing. I often help the Blanchardstown Photography Club. I help them with portrait light, and I’ve gone on a few trips with them.
Does Longford play a part in your creativity?
I have a special place in my heart for Longford. After twenty five years, I’m only getting used to living in Dublin. We camp with the kids at every opportunity in Forest Park and in the west.
I did a photoshoot for Ardagh Heritage Centre. They had a lot of turn-of-the century photos of buildings. I did new photos of the old. They are on display in Ardagh Heritage Centre which was designed by my Dad.
Tiernan Dolan: A Unique Photography Story
by Ailbhe Gillespie
When Longford man Tiernan Dolan first picked up a camera at the age of 19 little did he know that this small black box would open an amazing world of travel to him in later life. From Honduras to war torn Darfur, the GOAL photographer has seen sights in front of his lens that many of us can only dream about or indeed have nightmares about. The adventure all began for Tiernan when he started taking photos for the Maynooth college magazine, Kairos. “I knew the editor, Mick Melvin, and he gave me a superduper camera – a Canon A1”, he remembers fondly.
In the early 90s Tiernan began organising local fundraiser initiatives for GOAL and when the Kairos Magazine finished up, he approached GOAL and asked them if he could take photos for them on a voluntary basis. “I just wanted to get involved with them and I thought I could do it through photography. It was only about a four minute interview so they must have liked me,” he says.
In 1993 Tiernan was sent to South Sudan where a brutal war was a in progress and in his own words, “it blew my tiny little brain away.” The Longford secondary school teacher was faced with some very unfamiliar sites. “GOAL sent me there to take photos of the local people's situation to show to everyone back home but I saw children starving to death and nothing prepares you for that. My first reaction was to cry and then I realised I had to get on with it and capture it on film.”
The photos of this trip really captured the attention of the people of Longford and Tiernan began hosting annual exhibitions in the County Longford Library so people could see the work that GOAL were doing in developing countries.
One trip was not enough for Tiernan though and he says: “John O'Shea, the CEO of GOAL told me I might be opening a door that I wouldn't be able to close but to be honest that door just blew off the hinges. I started taking around 2,000 photos per trip and I'd get them developed at home by Spectra, who kindly did them for free and Hands in Mullingar who enlarged them for exhibitions.”
About five years ago Tiernan reluctantly embraced the digital era by purchasing a Canon 350d. However digitalisation didn't have a huge impact on his photography as the places he travels to are so remote that there is often no internet access anyway. He comments: “To be honest it's not my priority because I'm an aid worker first and foremost when I'm there – I'm just one who happens to be carrying a camera.”
Tiernan's photos have appeared on posters and brochures for GOAL as well as in several national and local newspapers and the question he always asks himself when he looks at them is, “I wonder what happened to the person in the photo.” Although taking photos for GOAL has shown him many horrific sights, he has no regrets: “Photography has opened a lot of doors for me and I've met some amazing people through it. For me the words of Patrick Kavangh explain it best, 'You can celebrate the ordinary'.”
Interview with Tim Durham
Tim Durham is a professional photographer living in County Westmeath. He has been facilitating photography workshops throughout Ireland since 1993 and he describes the objectives of his workshops as follows;” the workshops stimulate visual awareness, encourage participants to take chances on their creativity and offer simple technical skills.”
Tim Durham facilitated a very successful two-day workshop with members of Longford Camera Club on 27th & 28th of February and he gave this short interview to www.midlandcollegeofphotography.ie before hand. He can be contacted at www.timdurham.ie
How did you get into photography?
I came to photography by a very unusual route. I had a relation living in Africa so in my late teens I headed off to Africa to meet that relative. I was so taken by the beauty of the “dark continent” that I spent three years cycling around Africa taking amateur photographs meeting photographers and casually asking them how they were taking their photographs and what technical tips they could give me to help improve my own photography. I bumped into a Canadian photographer in Namibia who on seeing my interest in photography and possibly seeing that I might have some ability, invited me to come to Canada to work in his studio and to study photography.
You are based in the midlands – what do you think of it as a location for landscape photography?
The thing that first struck me was the flatness, then the beauty and visual diversity of the bog lands. It then began to dawn on me that the real allure of the midlands of Ireland for landscape photographers is not its striking landscape on a grand scale such as can be found on the west of Ireland for example but rather the subtle understadedness of it all. In the midlands you have to seek out the right picture, you therefore have to put more of yourself into your photography and it becomes a much more personal experience.
What are the primary skills and techniques that you will be trying to impart to Longford photographers at this weekend’s workshop?
The primary emphasis for me will be on “picture making”. I will be trying to impress upon the students the importance of looking, of seeing well. Picture design and composition is often overlooked today with such a huge emphasis on technical proficiency and of course that is equally important. However the various elements of photography are interdependent and an in-depth technical knowledge of your digital SLR alone does not make a good photographer. It is all about looking well, thinking about a picture, laying it out in your mind first and being aware of visual design.
For the enthusiastic beginner – what advice or tips would you give to help them develop their talents?
- First – go to galleries, expose yourself to all forms of visual arts, and decide for yourself what you like of dislike thereby developing your own visual tastes which will inevitably inform your photographic style.
- Second – show your work as much as you can and ask for critical feed-back from people whose opinions you respect and of course develop thick skin you might not always like what they tell you!
- Third – JFDI – a sports term meaning “Just F ----- Do It”. Photograph as much as you can as often as you can.
If you had a free hand what developments would you introduce in the midlands to improve photography?
I think that it is important to “bang away” at different levels of activity. It is important to start with the kids teaching them a visual and critical awareness which will stand to them throughout their lives even if they never take up photography or any visual art seriously.
For adult photographers it is important to continuously expose them to new intellectual and visual experience through the programming of guest lectures, workshops and visiting exhibitions.
It is important to place an emphasis on good design standards and the importance of good professional presentation techniques.
Local authorities should give consideration to providing affordable accommodation and studio space to visual artists. Attracting more photographers and visual artists to the midlands would help to create a critical mass of activity in the area which would make the midlands the centre of the visual arts in Ireland.
If I were asked to identify one glaring gap in the visual arts infrastructure that would be the absence of a dedicated photography exhibition space in the midlands. This is a disadvantage that should be addressed as a priority.
What is your favourite location in Ireland for landscape photography?
My favourite landscape or location isn’t in Ireland at all it is the desert particularly as I experienced it in Africa. In the desert everything is visually simplified, the landscape is pared back to its minimalist essentials and I feel very close to the earth itself.
The closest that I have come to that minimalist landscape in Ireland is the bogs especially the cut-away bogs which display wonderful geometric shapes.
Interview With Photographer Luke Danniells
Luke Danniells is a freelance photographer living in County Longford. He has been working professionally for the past 18 years. Portrait, music and documentary photography are his specialist subjects in addition to which he teaches photography widely throughout the midlands. He has taught photography at the Midland College of Photography since its inception concentrating primarily on FETAC Level 5 Digital Photography An Introduction to Photoshop and Advanced Photoshop.
Luke Danniells can be contacted at www.lukedanniellsphotography.ie
Tell us about your background as a photographer.
My interest in photography started when I was twelve years old, I was passing an old junk shop in Bath, England, and in the window was an old Cannon Pelax for ten pounds and after a bit of a haggle I bought it for eight. Spent years wondering why most of my photographs were complete rubbish. When I was 24 I decided to try and turn my hobby into my profession. A chance meeting with a professional photographer called John Mortimer led to me spending the next year and a half having lessons in all aspects of photography, photographic composition and darkroom techniques, all given for free for which I am to this day truly grateful as it awoke a passion for the photographic image which is now something I try to pass on to my students through my teaching. I had my first major one man exhibition when I was 26 at The Fox Talbot Museum of Photography. I then worked mainly as a freelance and a stint with The Bath Evening Chronicle newspaper as a staff photographer. Decided I wanted to be a photojournalist like many of the great photographers that I admire. I spent a year at Cardiff University studying a postgraduate in photojournalism under the tutorage of Daniel Meddows and Colin Jacobson. On leaving Cardiff I continued freelancing and now I mix freelancing with teaching mainly for the VEC and some private classes which I give in the midlands.
What is your favourite genre of photography and why?
My favourite genre of photography has to be street photography as I have over the years covered most of the classic genres but life in the street has always been a constant in my work.
What is your most often used pieces of kit and why?
Well, it used to be my trusty Nikon F2 but now we have entered the digital world I currently use a Nikon D70S with either a 50mm lens or a classic photojournalist lens a 70mm to 120mm.
You have been living in the midlands for a number of years, how do you view the state of photography in this area at the moment?
For me Ireland has always been an inspirational place. The light you have here is unique it can change so much on any given day and learning how to shoot in an ever changing light has been both a frustrating and rewarding experience. As for the Midlands and photography I have found that there is a huge interest in the art of photography here, there are many camera clubs and now we have The Midlands College of Photography I think it is an exciting time for the budding photographers out there.
You work with photographers of all ages from students to O.A. P.’s what particular challenge does this present?
One thing I have found out from teaching different age groups is that age is irrelevant when it comes to photography its how you view your surroundings and how you compose the image. For me teaching people to see things from left of centre, not to take the standard shot in what excites me? Watching how the student’s progress through the term and seeing how they develop is my reward. During the end of term exhibition I start to feel a little nervous as I see the high standard of work produced. Freelancing is a very competitive market now I have to watch my back.
What advice would you give an aspiring photographer who has just purchased their first DSLR?
Shoot regularly, learn from your mistakes, study images of the photographers that you admire you can learn from them and take a lesson or two a little help can go a long way.
Where do you stand on the photography v technology debate – are photographers increasingly ignoring the basic principles of good photography in the belief that anything can be fixed in Photoshop?
This is one debate that will go on for ever. Photoshop is a very powerful tool it has saved me on a number of occasions however to rely on it would be a foolish and time consuming thing. It is my personal belief that a good photographer gets as much right with both exposure and composition in camera and Photoshop should only be used for tweaking an image. The flip side of that is to use Photoshop in a creative way where it is obvious that the image has been manipulated. Photoshop is now the darkroom of old without need for chemicals it has become an essential part of the photographic process whether we like it or not.
In your view what are the essential elements of a good landscape photograph and a good portrait?
There are so many elements that go to producing both landscape and portrait images that in fact there is no formula. A great landscape photograph should have balance and should contain both foreground and background detail and be lit beautifully. Portraits on the other hand should capture some of the personality of the sitter in order to be truly great.
If it was within your power to make three changes or initiate three developments to improve photography in the midlands what would they be?
Firstly a good grounding in how to work in a studio setting, also a dedicated space for photography a building that would be used not only to teach but also to exhibit is badly needed. Lessons that take place in the form of field trips where students would get first hand tuition by an expert would be very useful. A fully equipped studio that could generate an income as well as giving students the experience of working in a studio context.
Interview with Tony Murphy
Tony Murphy was born in Ballina, Co. Mayo. After graduating from Sligo IT in Fine Art Sculpture I qualified as a post-primary teacher of Art & Design at NCAD. Subsequently, I taught Art for 5 years in a secondary school in Co. Monaghan, then returned to college and studied for an MA in Fine Art Sculpture. I have been a lecturer in Art & Design Education at The National College of Art and Design since 1994. Primarily I work in Art & Design Teacher Education but my interest in digital media has developed as is now the main channel for my creative output.
I live in the foothills of the Curlew Mountains just outside Boyle and consider myself a very lucky chap indeed to be here. Also a founding member of Boyle Camera Club Co. Tony is a popular guest lecturer with both Longford Camera Club and Shannonside Camera Club.
You are an artist who has worked in many creative media – what persuaded you to specialise in photography?
As an artist, the subject and materials that constitute my work at any given time have been dictated by many factors; where I’m living, my lifestyle and other issues. I have worked in wood, steel and bronze and taken part in numerous large-scale land art projects. As a secondary school teacher, I spent a long time working with print and when I got married even made furniture for a while. The creative medium varies, at the moment its photography, simply because it suits my lifestyle. I live in Roscommon and travel everyday to Dublin where I work. I spend about 20 hours a week on the road and in the car. Photography is now very much part of this ritual. I record the happenings of my journeys and am constantly looking out for the next image. At the moment photography is a medium that works for me and enables me to express myself as an artist. Who knows, next year I might be knitting!!, an artist has to be flexible, adapt and try new ways to communicate and express ideas.
What type or genre of photography do you find most rewarding?
I would like to think my photographs are more about Light than subject matter, but if I had to choose, I would say ‘Interiors’. Interior light, natural and artificial, can give a space great atmosphere and character that can be challenging to capture. I like churches and old houses in particular, looking for the little details that constitute a habitat, sacred or living space. I find being able to authentically recreate the light, surfaces and colours that characterize the space, very rewarding.
What genre and technical aspect of photography do you find most challenging?
At the moment I would say that action/movement photography can be very challenging, especially if you are using a camera or lenses that are not up to the job. It’s not an area I know enough about but I’m learning fast. Some of my recent work is exploring aspects of light and movement. As a teacher I’ve discovered it’s one of the areas that many people find difficult to get their head around.
Is digital always technically and creatively better that film?
Technically, and I speak personally on this subject, in short, my answer is YES. In the camera, there is an enormous advantage being able to see the image once the shutter has dropped, allowing you to make accurate adjustments and ensure good results. However, I feel the real advantages of digital over film are most evident at the processing stage.
Over a long period of time, using film taught me how to focus on getting it right in the camera. Processing was very much about printing the result (usually in Black and White), I never had the patience or time to explore the possibilities of darkroom creativity. When I used film, darkroom experimentation wasn’t a priority for me, but I would be naïve to think it didn’t exist and that it is not still alive and well in some parts today. With digital photography, the computer is your darkroom and ‘Photoshop’ your tools. For me, these offer much greater flexibility where there is a desire for immediate results. With film, there was always the ‘waiting’ for prints, in the darkroom it was always .. Dark! there was lots of test strips and smelly old chemicals. Many photography purists speak of this romantically but personally I have no desire to return to the traditional wet darkroom.
Creatively speaking, I believe film has its place. Traditional photographic prints have a beautiful quality that is very difficult to emulate with an inkjet printer.
As a teacher of photography – what are the most common technical and creative difficulties that your students encounter?
Technically, it’s the same old story, remember when VCRs came out for the first time? The technically proficient photography student is rare. Basically though, it’s understanding the relationship between Shutter Speed, Aperture and ISO. Even though many of my students have digital compact cameras, there is still the need to come to terms with this basic principle.
Creatively, it’s getting people to ‘LOOK’ before they shoot. The convenience of the LCD screen on the back of the camera has made us lazy, if we had to pay for every single photo (as we did when we used film), people would learn quicker and become better photographers.
As a co-founder of Boyle Camera Club and as a facilitator who regularly works with amateur photographers – what are the most common problems that aspiring photographers encounter?
This is a difficult question! Generally, it’s understanding that the camera is a sophisticated photographic instrument that can perform many functions. Getting people to move away from ‘Auto’ mode is a big step for many. In this instance, most need some encouragement to help build confidence.
Although amateur photographers are exceptionally keen and bursting with enthusiasm, they don’t spend enough time composing the shot with the camera before shooting. I would advise students to look at some pro’ photographers, note how they compose their shots and attempt to emulate the techniques employed. Learn through looking! It can be difficult for some to understand the difference between a good photo and a great photo.
Many amateurs have difficulty coming to terms with the digital darkroom aspect of digital photography. Anyone wishing to advance their photography skills needs to be up to speed with using a computer and photo editing software as much as using their camera.
If you were asked by a novice photographer - who had just purchased an introductory level DSLR – for five pointers, what would you advise them to do?
- Read the Manual!
- Experiment with A and S priority modes
- Learn how to read the Exposure Histogram
- Buy at least one ND Grad Filter and a decent Tripod
- Join a Camera Club
Is there a chance that with the advent of the DSLR in amateur photography, novice photographers are being swamped by technology and are losing sight of the simple picture?
A few years ago if asked this, I would have answered yes. Today however, I would not be so quick to agree. I think once an amateur has decided to buy an expensive camera, they will want to learn how to use it properly to take better photos. A DSLR is a big investment and once the choice of camera is made, the photographer will usually hold on to it. I have watched first hand, the transition from compact user to DSLR user and noted a sincere desire to come to terms with ‘making’ better photos now that the technology issue is no longer used as an excuse for poor work. Sure, there’s a lot of technology about but if amateurs are given good advice and direction, they can rise above it.
The revolution in digital multi-media is influencing everything – where do you see digital photography going in the future, particularly as an amateur leisure pursuit?
If we were told 10 years ago that someday we would be taking photos with a phone, we would have laughed. Print your photos at home? No way! Yet this came to pass. In those 10 years we’ve watched the first 1 mega pixel camera become a staggering 24 mega pixel monster, more resolution than you can shake a stick at. Still, the basic photographic principles remain true, we know a good photo when we see it, whether it’s captured on film, compact digital or advanced DLSR. At the moment we are in the middle of a big shift, not in the way we take our photos, but in the way we view, present and share them with others. In recent years there has been a move away from traditional printing in favour of on-screen and projected presentations. Students and amateur photographers are uploading their work to photo libraries and file sharing networks, their snaps and photographic art works are visible to a global audience via the internet. There are literally millions of digital photos uploaded to the internet every MINUTE, the amateur photographer may find that interest in their work can lead to admiration or even financial gain. At the moment, pro’ photographers are feeling the heat from up and coming amateurs who have discovered they have a hidden talent and are discovering how to use it. In fact, today, it seems everyone wants to be a photographer! The future then? Its very difficult to say but I think that the youth and amateur photographers have a very big part to play in it.