Inspiration

15th April 2018
Anybody who has ever done anything creative has been influenced by the creations of others. There’s no doubt that originality exists, but in the beginning we are all informed by what we’ve already seen, and particularly by what’s inspired us. The better artists will sooner or later start to define styles of their own, but even the most highly regarded form of originality has roots in what came before it. Photography, though not quite so commonly accepted as an art, is no different. I’m a hell of a long way from marking myself as a high caliber lensman, but I’ve certainly come a long way since the first morning I cycled around West Cork with a disposable camera in my pocket and an urge to record a tangible memory of a place I loved. And without the inspiration I found in the work of better photographers I might still be shooting blindly into the world, half the time forgetting to get my finger out of the corner of the frame.

That need to make photos from fifteen odd years ago (half my lifetime now – imagine!) is still there, and thankfully I’m harnessing it better now because I’ve learned (and am still learning from) some of those mentioned below. If you think any of the photographs you see on my website could have been from somebody on this list, now you know why. I just hope by now I’ve found some bit of my own style. The line between inspiration and plagiarism is a narrow one, and I’m conscious of leaving some mark of my own on pictures I make that have been stimulated by the images of others and not just ripping them off. I think I'm starting to get there.

Mike Brown

Somebody some Christmas many years ago got me a copy of Images of Irish Nature by Mike Brown. I still look at it these days. Before Googling it became the instant answer to questions in your head books were the main source of information, and inspiration, and I got both from this beautiful hardback. Wildlife photography is like rocket science compared to shooting landscapes – the patience and field knowledge required means that very few camera addicts pursue it to any great degree. Mike’s skills are obvious when flicking through Images of Irish Nature. Flicking through is the wrong phrase actually, because if you’ve any appreciation for Ireland’s natural history then most of his images will draw you in for closer study and wonder. I recently contacted Mike about some tuition in the art of wildlife photography and am looking forward to learning more from him than his books have taught me so far.

Gareth McCormack

I grew up in suburbia but for some reason I usually longed for less urban surroundings. My parents copped on to this at some point and got me a magazine (remember them?!) called Walking World Ireland. Between the covers were photographs of Ireland that blew my mind, and most were by Gareth McCormack. Mountains and hilly coastlines from the west of Ireland, shot in the golden hours on the vibrant hues of Velvia had me dreaming of amazing adventures in an impossible future. Back around this time you might have gone on the Internet only once a week instead of fourteen times an hour, and most of my online time then was spent looking at Gareth’s website and struggling to believe places like Dun Balor and the Beenkeeragh Ridge could really be in the same country that I lived in. When I finally had the means to get to these places myself it was dream-come-true kind of stuff. Plenty of those dreams were borne of Gareth’s photography.

Carsten Krieger

Another few Christmases down the line Santa brought me another book of photographs I’d seen reviewed in a newspaper. It was called The West of Ireland, by a man with a name that was obviously not Irish. But evidently he’d been to far more of the country than I had, and knew how to present it very well, and in all its variety. It was while looking through this book that I first really started to notice how much composition matters. I began to consciously realise that even in flat light there was potential for striking photographs if you framed things right, and that smaller details in the landscape could be just as interesting as the wider scenes that are so obviously eye-catching. Years later I ended up living a few miles from Carsten and called by his gallery for a look around. I think I had it in mind to talk photography with him and mention how the book got me thinking harder about my own images but shyness got the better of me, and he didn’t launch into conversation either. After ten awkward minutes of shuffling through prints while he worked at the computer I mumbled a thanks and went home again. We've managed to actually speak to one another since.

Hazel Coffey

Flickr helped me find plenty of inspiration in the past, and one user’s images kept drawing me back again and again. Rural scenes from the west of Ireland are, for me, the most interesting, but there are so many tired clichés. Hazel’s images show off the quiet glories and subtle, beautiful realities in the much-mythologised Irish countryside. We’ve never met so I can’t speak much about her intentions but in an image media environment where countless gaudy sunsets from Dún Chaoin pier scream for attention with their blue barcode of hashtags for wider market consumption I find Hazel’s unobtrusive style very refreshing, and much closer to the truth of things.


George Karbus / Ken O'Sullivan

I first met Ken and George on a very fine winter morning in Kilmore Quay. A friend who was supposed to be driving Ken's RIB for them was sick and roped me in as backup. I was terrified of making a balls of things - crashing the boat on the way out of the harbour, accidentally riding up onto the back of a whale, sinking... But I was assured it’d be grand. And it was. Hanging out with Ken and George was very inspiring for me at the time - I was a year out of college and jobless, and wondering what I was supposed to be doing with myself. These were two normal guys who just got on with doing what they wanted to be doing, and had a laugh while they were at it. In a world where so many of us work any going job just to get paid here were two people who did what they wanted to be doing, and their enthusiasm made it pay. As Ken says "It's better than a real job!" Unfortunately the winter whale season off the south coast has all but died, so those trips with Ken and George don’t happen anymore. But George’s underwater work, and Ken’s film making skills continue to inspire me, and will probably do the same for you if they haven’t already. Make sure you watch Ireland's Deep Atlantic, Ken's latest documentary about what's going on in the underwater worlds off Ireland's coast.

David Ward

If you know a bit about landscape photography then you probably know about David Ward. I mentioned in the start of this article how many people probably don’t see photography as a form of art. Many people probably haven’t seen David Ward’s work. I can’t say a whole lot more about how good a photographer he is. If a picture says a thousand words then I don’t need to. Pure class.

David Clapp

You may have noticed that most of the photographers here focus primarily on Ireland – that’s just my preference. I suppose it’s easiest to be interested in what you’re familiar with. David Clapp seems to have spent very little time in Ireland but I still find his photographs very inspiring, which says a lot. To me his images have a freshness that I don’t notice much elsewhere. From reading his blog it’s obvious he’s a technical whiz, and that kind of talk usually sends me clicking elsewhere. But I enjoy the nerdy gear talk he sometimes gets into (or at least the parts I understand) and this knowledge (combined with an eye for very clean and creative compositions) is evident in the finished images he produces.

Jaro Fagan

Jaro lives a few miles away from me, and through that slightly creepy way that Facebook manages to pair like with like I was introduced to his page. There’s a guy making sunrise trips to the tops of mountains near to where I live?! How have I not met him? Eventually we did meet, and have continued to meet with and without our cameras. Jaro is a great man to know because on top of being a great human he has a very good pair of hands and an impressive understanding of digital cameras and printing. When Jaro starts talking about these things I try to nod my head and look confident but I feel like a total chancer by comparison. I’ve been sponging information from him since the day we met, probably without giving anything back. Hopefully he hasn’t noticed and I can continue to learn for free. You can pay a lot for photography tuition. There are images that Jaro has made that I’ve had in my mind for years. Even if it’s not me making them it’s great to finally see them done, and I wouldn’t do them as well anyway.

And there are so many others... Ben Ditto for his vertigo-inducing images of climbers on remote big walls, Chris Burkard’s and Russel Ord’s different styles on surf scenes, Keith Ladzinski’s ability to swap between pro climbing photographer and wildlife shooter extraordinaire, Paul Nicklen’s portraits of animals in their most enthralling moments and his constant drive to use imagery to protect the planet, Jim Richardson’s portfolio from the Hebrides, Richard Shucksmith’s above and below shots of diving gannets...

The one big thing that keeps me interested in these photographers is their reluctance to play the easy clichés. So many places have been photographed to death by now, both in Ireland and abroad. I find it incredibly boring. Obviously people are free to do as they wish, and nobody is being hurt when another photo of Dromluska Cottage pops up online. It doesn’t matter. But the photographers mentioned above stand out, and if you've been interested enough to read this far you should go look them up.

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