Tuesday , May 21 2024

An Irish Eye on Irish Landscapes: Enda Cavanagh

We are very happy, and proud, to publish the interview with Enda. Enda Cavanagh is a professional architectural and landscape photographer. IPPA/RSA Photographer of the year for his image Sands in Motion, the PigeonHouse in 2010, and  in 2011 Architectural photographer of the year, in 2010 published his (awesome) first book, Exploring The Irish Landscape.

Hi Enda and thank you for this interview!
Starting from you, in your biography we read: “Enda grew up in rural Ireland and has always felt a strong connection to the land”. In twelve years of work about (understanding) Irish culture, we learned one thing for sure: how important, how strong is that connection to the land.
It’s a landmark for writers, it’s a landmark for songwriters, and in your work (or, at least, in a huge part of it) has the same importance: why, in your opinion? Of course, Ireland is an island, but is this characteristic a risk to be insulated too? And, if you’ll face different landscapes, other countries’ landscapes, what will you have to change in your mind, in your approach?

I just feel I have a strong instinctive understanding of the Irish landscape. I was brought up in the countryside near the Atlantic in Skreen, County Sligo, and of course it is what I knew first so it is what I know best. I feel most grounded when I am in the landscape and especially by the sea. This extends to certain urban settings, examples of which you will find in my book where you find these lonely man made structures, oozing with their own personality, synergising with the natural environment. What I love about the Irish landscape is, despite it’s small size, it is a Country of great variety and beauty.
Due to it’s small population you can escape from the hustle and bustle of life, when you jump into you car and drive quite a small distance. I live in Dun Laoghaire, on the outskirts of Dublin and I’m 40 minutes from the Wicklow mountains. It is easy to have a close relationship with the Irish landscape as it is so easily accessible, it never feels like a distant cousin.
When you identify with your subject and develop an understanding for your subject, then you can really take great pictures, whether it be at home or abroad it doesn’t matter. I shoot based on instinct rather than on a rational decision to do something: once I feel that connection then the whole process just feels very natural.

What you can tell us about the Enda-boy strolling that rural Ireland with his first camera?

I started taking photos I think when I was about 13. I got a pretty basic Halina compact camera from my uncle Paddy as a Christmas present. I fell for photography straight away. Initially I started taking photos of my family and friends and just captured little moments. I still love that type of discrete reportage photography and Don McCurry is one of my favorite photographers. I think my photos convey a sense of place, peace and calm, irrespective of the scene. I feel his images convey the same message. He is one of the few photographers that influenced my interpretation of photography. After a couple of years shooting with my little Halina I bought a Canon T50, which turned out to be a bad choice as I had no control over the settings, When I was 18 I bought my first SLR with full manual control. It was a Minolta 7000i with a 28-70 and 70-210mm lenses. I soon discovered the world I saw, was in wide angle. I think that is because I am very aware of what I see with my peripheral vision. I then really improved dramatically as a photographer as I soaked up information like a sponge both technically and creatively. This whole learning process was like a constant burst of adrenalin, where I strived to improve the whole time. This urge continues in me today and it is one of the main reasons photography is so exciting for me. After a series of Minoltas over the years I moved to medium format with the Mamiya 7 rangefinder and eventually to digital where I now use a Hasselblad H3D 39 and a Cambo Wide DS view Camera. This has opened a whole new world to me. The view camera slows everything down and makes you really look at the scene. I shoot panoramics which are 2 images stitched together. You have to imagine what the final result will be as you do not see the stitched image as you shoot. It mind sound like I am been pretentious but I would honestly feel like I am not appreciating and interpreting the scene fully if I was to shoot at a faster pace as say on a 35mm SLR.

Architectural images, landscape images, and… Dear Dirty Dublin images: how do you face the three different branches of your work? How do you switch between them, and are there cases in which you want, or you have to, ‘mix up’different approaches? And how do you relate them, if you relate, with a culture that, in music and writing, connected to the land for hundreds of years?

Enda Cavanagh: Dune Grass, The Pigeon House 1
Enda Cavanagh: Dune Grass, The Pigeon House 1

I don’t interpret the scenes in my various photographic disciplines differently, really. I look at object as forms. I look for forms which relate and work together: whether it is an architectural, cityscape or landscape. I look at an ancient stone wall or a tree not differently than if I look at a modern piece of architecture: the forms must relate to each other. Every scene has a point or location where all these forms just come together and work in harmony with each other. I worked in architecture for 16 years and I think my love for design and form heavily influenced both my architectural and landscape photography. In turn I think my landscape photography influenced my cityscape and architectural photography where I show man-made structures sitting perfectly in their environment.
I do indeed relate my urban and rural landscapes to my culture and heritage. I find the Irish are quite chaotic and emotional at times. They can also be quite melancholic. They have also a great spirit and warmth. That is also how I see the Irish landscape and I try to communicate that in my pictures, whether it be an old abandoned car under the shallow waters of Lough Easkey or ancient stone walls on Black head in the Burren.

Which similarities and differences do you feel between your medium and others media as music and writing, in ‘capturing Ireland’?

Enda Cavanagh: Busker, Merchants Arch
Enda Cavanagh: Busker, Merchants Arch

I feel my photography is quite different to many other landscape photographers, which often take the conventional picture-postcard scenic approach. I try not to be influenced by other photographers or media and when they have been it was coincidental. For example I love the scene in American Beauty with the old shopping bag swirling in the wind. That really opened my eyes to seeing the beauty all around us, whether it be in the classical or unconventional sense: I believe that you really capture the true essence of your subject. Terrence Malick was another hero of mine for the same reason. When shooting I focus on my own style and interpretation of my subject. I feel that way I am been honest to myself and there is a great sense of joy in capture something beautiful out of nothing. I never think ok I’ll do it this way because person X has done it. In fact that is a reason why I would do the opposite!

In book’s intro Shane Conneelly speaks about “a country where we are always part of the picture”: do you agree with him, do you think Irish people still know how to relate with the land? Ireland is also the Country of Corrib pipeline issue and of the breach of the EU Environmental Impact Assessment

Enda Cavanagh: Against the Flow
Enda Cavanagh: Against the Flow

I think the huge uproar in Ireland caused by the construction of the pipeline illustrates our feelings about the landscape in Ireland. In Ireland we truly feel how precious it is. it is an integral part of out society and or psyche. We don’t have a Rome or a Paris. Dublin is not a beautiful city. Our beautiful landscape is our Rome.

Jumping from the intro ‘in’ the book: when did you decide to make a book from your landscapes series? How much work is ‘distilled’ in the book? How did you make photos’ selection, how much time did you employ to capture so much Ireland? And… Did you have problems with the rain..? ;-)
Have you already been back on places you have pictured in the book, and did you find something more, or something different, in that places? Are there pictures that you would have wanted in the book but aren’t?

Enda Cavanagh: Field of Rock, the Burren 2
Enda Cavanagh: Field of Rock, the Burren 2

The seed was sown in my mind about the book about 3 or four years ago. I, like most landscape photographers, had this dream of publishing a book: it is a great way of showcasing my work. There are more and more photographers around, now that we are in the digital age, and this has helped to bring my photography to a wider audience. A lot of my favorite images are in the book, but even since it was published under a year ago, I feel like I have taken some of my best work. I guess I’ll just have to work on another publication in the future! Although my current book has photos dating back to 1997, so it might take a while. I decided to do the whole thing myself with help from my (new) wife Zofi. I didn’t even approach a publisher. I wanted full control over, the content, design and the quality of the book. This may have otherwise proven quite difficult as a first time author. I also wanted to print it in Ireland which would probably not have been achievable if I had it published elsewhere. I knew instinctively pretty much straight away what photos I wanted to use. Most of them are on sale on my website, so I knew what my favorites were.
Rain? Rain isn’t really that big a problem in Ireland as people think, you know: it’s not that often that we really have a day of constant rain. Sometimes the rainy weather brings about photographic possibilities, for example in black and white. My nemesis is white cloud: then you can do nothing. Some of the places I haven’t visited in some time. Kerry for example is high on my list. I know I am a better photographer than I was then, and it would be really nice to shoot it with the Hasselblad/Cambo combination.
I think I am happy with my selection of photos: I didn’t want to have any ‘space fillers’ in the book. It is a nice coffee table size book without overloading the viewer with hundred of photos. There are 83 photographs in the book: all are full page images; the panoramics cover 2 full pages. My aim was to leave the reader feeling fulfilled after viewing the book. I hope I have achieved this.

In 2011 we launched our 3rd ‘Italish Stories’ contest. This time people could take part to this charity initiative not only writing, but also taking photos of Ireland: any tips for non-pro photographers to take a good Irish landscape shot, for Italish Stories 4..?

Enda Cavanagh: Guinness Storehouse, Kilmainham 1
Enda Cavanagh: Guinness Storehouse, Kilmainham 1

My tip for taking a good photo of anything, is to just feel your subject.

Let it become part of you and get in under a skin.

Then it becomes natural and you should just know what works. You just need to open you eyes to what is around you. Sometimes the most beautiful photo are of nothing.

AND DON’T BE AFRAID TO TRY SOMETHING DIFFERENT! Conformity is the worst thing you could do!

Inspirations: five books to read and five tunes to listen to ‘see’ Irish lanscapes in different way?

Enda Cavanagh: Curious Sheep, Connemara
Enda Cavanagh: Curious Sheep, Connemara

I’ve read very few books in my life to be honest. I’d say the last one was about 12 years ago!!

I am very much a man who appreciate the visual world.

A movie I would definitely recommend to see Ireland in the way I see it is Ryan’s Daughter, which really captures the bleak beauty of the Dingle peninsula: it’s probably my favorite place in the country.

Contacts and where to buy  Exploring the Irish Landscape:

About QRob

Massimiliano "Q-ROB" Roveri writes on and about Internet since 1997. A philosopher lent to the IT world blogs, shares (and teaches how to blog and share) between Ireland and Italy.

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