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.

Back in September 2020, chef Neven Maguire spoke to our editor Amii McKeever at MacNean House and Restaurant in Blacklion, Co Cavan. \ Barry Cronin

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.

Brothers Tommy and Paddy Lally pictured on Paddy’s farm in Stangeford, Williamstown, Co Galway. Tommy rents land off his brother for his herd of sucklers. \ Philip Doyle

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.

The feeling

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.

Vicky Phelan, the iconic woman who exposed the cervical cancer scandal, speaking at the Women & Ag Conference in 2019. \ Philip Doyle

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.

The gallery

DK Connemara Oysters photographed for the September issue of Irish Country Magazine in 2018. \ Philip Doyle

Shé Bermingham and Willie Cross from Hacketsown, Co Carlow, ‘having a look’ at the 30th Annual Sheepbreeders Show at Tullow. \ Philip Doyle

Siobhan Walsh featured in Irish Country Living in October. Siobhan is determined to be a positive as she can while battling cancer. \ Ciara O’Donnell

Matt Stapleton from Pallascross, Borrisoleigh, Co Tipperary has been all his life, but also worked in the ESB until his retirement a number of years ago. \ Philip Doyle

Ninety-nine year-old Maggie Sullivan from Durrow, Co Offaly. \ Philip Doyle

Michael O’Sullivan was looking over the stock on offer at the Christmas Fatstock Show Sale at Kanturk Mart. \ Donal O’Leary

Ciaran Coughlan from Ferbane, Co Offaly, checking his pedigree Vendeen lambs early in 2016. Ciaran farms with his wife Nora. \ Jack Caffrey

Sheep farmer Séamus Ó Cíobháin with his dog, Floss, from Dún Chaoin, Co Kerry, driving his ewes towards Clogher Head, after feeding nearby in March 2020. \ Valerie O’Sullivan

Francis Naughton, Kilkee, operating a ‘horse plough’ competing in the Killarney Ploughing Association points competition. \ Valerie O’Sullivan

Farmer Terry Birmingham, RIP, was photographed picking stones while preparing ground to sow barley in Tullamore, Co Offaly, back in 2016. \ Jack Caffrey

PJ Hickey checking on his cows on the home farm at Sleady Castle, Ballinamult, Co Waterford in January 2019. At the time of the shoot, Paddy had 180 cows due to calf that spring. \ Donal O’Leary

Shane Connolly on Corkscrew Hill in Ballyvaughan, Co Clare. Shane had to bring in his ewes and lambs every night for the first month to avoid attacks from crows and foxes. \ Philip Doyle

Tom Fitzgerald from Kilkenny, waiting for his cattle to enter auction at the Enniscorthy Mart in 2017. \ Philip Doyle

Gerry Reid harvesting winter wheat (lumos variety) for the Sheridans in Wilkinstown, Co Meath. \ Barry Cronin

Bart from ARÁN bakery and artisan café in Kilkenny. \ Philip Doyle

Tattoo artist Aisling Mahon specialises in restorative mastectomy tattoos. \ CJ Nash