'Last Orders' explores the social isolation and melancholy embodied in the extended closing of the Irish pub. Presented as a photobook in 'zine' format, it is a collection of 40 photographs made over the winter and spring months of 2021.
Signed copies available for local pickup - contact me.
View gallery of images and video here.
Last Orders – launch discussion and Q & A. Kinsale Arts Weekend, July 10th, 2021.
What is a photography 'zine' anyway?
– The photography 'zine' is a small circulation/print run of self-published work, usually around a concept or theme. Sometimes this is a collection of photographs with no text or captions; this presentation style allows the collected images to do the storytelling. In other words, the collected images printed in booklet format aim to tell a visual story.
What were the themes or ideas that inspired this project?
– The past sixteen months of living through a global pandemic has brought about fundamental changes in all of our lives. The first lockdown, starting in March 2020, had a surreal feel to it. Working in healthcare, I was on the move almost every day, to and from work in the pharmacy – usually on bike or foot. I did a lot of work in those early weeks, using different technologies – film, digital, black and white. This was the time when huge signs were erected asking us, "how far from home are you?" Cycling through town in the late evenings around dusk, not a single car nor any sign of human life was evident. But we forget these things quickly and move on. Nevertheless, I had a strong image imprinted on my mind from those early days when we were all unsure of everything. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar made a speech outside a building in Washington DC in the early hours of March 12th, 2020. This was the day after the World Health Organisation used the term 'global pandemic'. He started by saying, "Good morning everyone; I need to speak to you about coronavirus and Covid-19…." These words, where we learned a new term - 'lockdown', and that image stuck in my mind. From then on, we started to use a new vocabulary as we marched towards an uncertain future.
– Just over a year later, the one area that had remained wholly closed was our public houses, or, to be more specific, the so-called 'wet pubs'- those without kitchens or serving food. I started to notice these. The silence and darkness spoke of something more expansive, deeper – wasn't sure what – but it began to talk to me.
How do you approach or develop an idea like this?
Initially, I try not to overthink it. I started to take some work, using an old twin-lens camera from the 1950s and black and white film. I like the slow approach to working this way and the simplicity of the technology. These were all exterior images of the closed, dark pubs. These negatives had a sadness about them. I started to think about why this might be and how it might differ among people – our perceptions of the Irish public house are very diverse. For some, this can be pretty negative – in the context of alcohol addiction, perhaps or drunkenness in all its negative facets. But there are so many layers to how we interact in spaces outside our homes – are we fundamentally socialise. This core human need is often facilitated in the spaces. It could be the random chat started at a bar counter, a card game. It occurred to me that there was so much more to this than could be easily conceptualised.
How did you progress from there?
I knew I wanted to photograph interiors, just as they were, absent of people - a year of having been closed completely. So I approached some publicans and just asked for access - which was graciously and unhesitatingly given - even though they had no idea I would do with the work (I didn't myself at that point!). For me, the interiors spoke of even more profound silence - an absence. It illustrated something missing from our lives. From here, the work came relatively quickly, over just two weekends. I changed to using both film and a monochrome (black and white only) digital camera.
Let's talk more broadly about expressing ideas through visual culture...
This is the great thing about an arts festival! My own approach to photography has evolved over the years. For a long time, I put a lot of emphasis on descriptive illustrative images that were mostly published as magazine features. This evolved into my first book, which was an underwater collection titled Cool Waters Emerald Seas. All this time, I was continually making work not just underwater but landscape and street style observational photographs. These were reactive images to simply expressing my surroundings and what it means to be here right now. I think this is why I am drawn to photography through its limitations and simplicity, we can create single moments, frozen in time made with light-sensitive materials. Photography is also a language – and a rapidly evolving one given that we have had nearly a decade of everybody having access to a camera in their pocket.
I also like the idea of photographs being both windows and mirrors – which was a concept created by MoMA curator John Szarskowski in the late 1970s (around the time I became interested in photography). It opens the idea that photographers can either express their world by projecting it outwards; or by drawing it so that photographs reflect inner feelings. So, there are two people involved in every photograph – the creator and the viewer - and there is a chasm of difference, of space between the two. The creator has no control or say in how the viewer will see or read an image.
It is these layers that I like to experiment with. On the surface, this project appears to be about the pubs themselves – how they look and appear through prolonged closure. But the deeper layer, which is personal and individual to us all, is what these spaces mean to us. In particular, how they're connected with memory, as well as how we connect with people through shared interests, ideas, or just simply idle chat.
So, how did the work make you feel as the project progressed?
The interior photographs really started to resonate with me around memory. The empty barstool and stillness - was this a reminder to represent those no longer present in our lives. Does that lead to emptiness within ourselves? The empty fireplace – the cold hearth - does this open other memories? One image that I was very drawn to was that of a few decks of cards behind the bar counter. These small gatherings to socialise and play, maybe for those less inclined to idle chat but a channel to feel easier in company. It also started to open other memories, particularly of my grandfather, and one powerful image came to the surface that I had forgotten.
So to go back to the windows and mirrors idea, a photograph looks out but it also looks in - to the eye the heart of the photographer.