Over the past decade, the journalists in Irish Country Living have championed those making the most of rural life in Ireland; telling stories that capture real life from real people who have inspired, encouraged and sometimes made us sit back and think. Adding another dimension to these stories have been the photographers, who have embraced the challenge to go out on location to capture – sometimes in just a single image – that which is truly worth one thousand words. It sounds simple, but if you ask any of them they will tell you it rarely is.
This is because behind every image that the reader sees, there is often a hundred more taken. Behind every image there is a conversation, an understanding, an empathy and, often, a cup of tea and a biscuit. Behind every image there is a hike, a swim, a cut and a graze. Behind every image there is a photographer and their subject – a subject they most likely just met, but all of a sudden that subject is the most important person in the world.
What makes an image?
Photographers are often asked what makes a good photograph. It is a question that photographers have struggled to answer for years. We are often asked about our cameras, our lenses our flashes, as if these make the image. The camera, much like the artist’s pencil or the carpenter’s saw is an integral part of capturing the image but the image is first captured in the mind. A photograph is personal. It is anticipated by the mind, seen by the eye and captured by the camera and as such a ‘good’ photograph is completely subjective.
Ansel Adams, one of the most famous landscape photographers once said: “The single most important component of a camera is the 12 inches behind it.”
Think about an image you have taken on your phone, your favourite image. Open it up and look at it. Now ask yourself why it means so much to you? The answer is most likely not because you love your iPhone 7. We all live in a world where the pace seems to quicken each year. But the photograph has not changed. Well, yes how we take an image has changed, so too has how we process it and share it with the world. However, the essence of what a photograph is, an image, is still just a snapshot in time... a moment, a breath.
For me, as picture editor I see many photographs each week. The majority are all good images – that is to say they are well-exposed, sharp and captured the brief. We have all taken these good images, but what I always look forward to and what keeps me excited each week when reviewing image submissions (my own or those from our photographers), is when one appears that just stops me in my tracks. I have thought long and hard about what it is that causes me to stop scrolling and I now simply call it “The Feeling”. The Feeling could be nostalgia, joy, sadness, shock, disgust or simply the enjoyment of seeing a beautiful image. It’s a feeling, created by the photographer through their use of light, composition but mostly their ability to stop, anticipate and capture a moment in time that gives the viewer a pause.
Often an image becomes iconic with age and many a photographer has become famous after their death. Likewise, it is often an image becomes iconic after the subjects death. One thing I know to be true is that images only get better through the lens of time.
Looking back through our archive for this article I was struck by the creative way our photographers have captured rural Ireland which has emboldened my opinion that images are captured by the person and their experiences, each completely different. Whether that is Valerie O’Sullivan’s connection to the landscape and people of Kerry, Donal O’Leary’s connection and understanding of farming, Barry Cronin’s sense of humour and use of composition and lighting or the unique and beautiful way Ramona Farrelly captures the world she sees.
As the father of photojournalism Henri Cartier-Bresson once said: “It is an illusion that photos are made with the camera… they are made with the eye, heart and the head.”
Our job is not to take pictures for the next paper or magazine, but to document and capture images for the next generation. Because through the lens of time, all these images will become iconic... to somebody.