Thinking about the Archive


We are in the run up to what will undoubtedly be an extremely divisive and emotionally charged referendum on what is known as the 8th amendment here in Ireland.  While looking through my archive a few days ago I came across this image that was shot 2013.  At the time we were having an ongoing public discourse around a piece of legislation known as the protection of life during pregnancy bill.  My main thought when I found this was the importance of photographing what is all around me today for no motive other than documenting how things are now.  In just 4 years things have changed so much here that this image has a different value now, a different context.  How will it seem in another 10 years?

Digital dystopia and happy accidents

Following on from my last post I dug out my copy of Post – Photography.  The Artist with a Camera last week.  Thinking about the way we consume images, music, places, experiences etc.and how the digital world has effected our consumption habits got me curious.  Reading the first chapter Something Borrowed, Something New started me thinking about my own archive of images and how I could play around with images using Photoshop to create something new.  I started by collecting everything that looked of interest in one Lightroom collection.  Then I just started to play.  Here’s my first effort, a little crude I will admit and probably needs a bit of polishing but its got my attention.  It has a certain dystopian mood that I find unsettling.


This follows on from this image below which was one of those happy accidents,  Again its by no means perfect and could could do with some finessing too but I keep coming back to it.  It sort of reminds me of a Sean Hillen montage.  More exploration to come.

theirelandthat we dreamed of no 2

Speed viewing in Dublin

Two strands of thought coinciding.  Recently I found myself on a trip to Dublin.  My day had a purpose which was to indulge in a little culture.  My train arrived in at 12 and I made haste, exiting the station and began walking at a brisk pace toward my first exhibition at the Gallery of Photography in Temple Bar.  First though I needed to eat. finding a suitable place I wolfed down a delicious sandwich while necking two swift coffees.  Then onto my first objective at the gallery.  The show in question, Perceived Irishness by Yaqoub Jemil BouAynaya,  was a small but coherent presentation of work on which I will write a review seperatley but for now I want to go back to the way I viewed and consumed the work.  I quickly enjoyed the framed prints on the wall and admired the quality go others that were larger and mounted on board.  I took some photos to refer back to later and possibly to post here then I went to look at the video presentation.


All in all I would say I was there for no more than 15 minutes before I was out the door and on my way to the next show:  Portrait of a Century by Kim Haughton.  This was over 100 different portraits where each individual was born in between 1917 and 2017.  I found the number of portraits overwhelming and the different styles, poses, lighting arrangements etc. to be conducive of scanning quickly rather than looking.  After the exhibition we went for a coffee and a chat.  I will write at length on this too later.

I headed to IMMA to see The Edge go Landscape by William Crozier which was showing alongside a second curated exhibition Coastlines.  All in all it was an exhausting day but reflecting on it brought me to consider how long we actually spend looking at anything today?  Last week I was discussing this with a curator of a local gallery and I also came across the subject on a BBC Art Night documentary: “the average time that a person spends looking at a work of art is just 17 seconds”.  Also my use of the camera on my smart phone is mentioned too:  “but we don’t need to remember visual images in the same way anymore, so are some types of memory becoming redundant ?and does that means that we don’t look at art work with the same urgency?”  (

There are two aspects of this that I am interested in, one is because I am beginning to plan my own show and the other is thinking and reflecting on how fast people consume place, how fast we experience life now, we are constantly jumping from one thing to the next.  So for something like the wild atlantic way how quickly are people consuming it?  All of this brought me to remembering Rob Briscoe’s Road to Joy:

“Surveys suggest moreover that most of the 7 million who do visit the countryside each summer weekend do not venture far from designated places, from picnic tables and parking spaces for cars, caravans and burger vans.” – Stephen Daniels

In naming (or otherwise indicating) an area on a map, the area becomes a ‘place’ and is given an increased significance over other, unnamed, areas. Their designation as a ‘viewpoint’ further means they are identified as being (potentially) picturesque, an area of beauty worthy of looking at. With this exploration of the designated viewpoints situated in England’s North West, I have taken the decision not to venture far from the parking space, indeed not even leaving the confines of the car, having used it first as an enabler for access and then as a frame for the vista before me. However, the chosen aesthetic subverts the idea of beauty and resides within the contemporary notion of experience – been there, seen it now time to move on…

From Road to Joy by Rob TM:

Finally I found myself waiting on my train home.  There is this enormous screen in Hueston station in the departures area that bombards you with adverts and trailers for the latest hollywood films just out.  I watched as it scrolled – flicked would be a better description really – each scene appearing and disappearing in a few seconds seemed somehow an appropriate ending to my day.

Ireland on Youtube

`I spent this morning thinking and researching for the completion of my project from BOW: There’s No Place Like Home.  A large amount of the work was finished at the end of BOW but I feel I lost focus a little on what I was trying to convey so I’ve gone back to the drawing board.  I’ve also been thinking about my exhibition next year and how I can contextualise my work and am attracted to creating a multi-media presentation and use video.  Straight away I began thinking in terms of making my own video and mat still do that.  I was hunting around Youtube to find some sources that I could watch an then had the idea of using a Youtube playlist of videos about Ireland on a continuous loop.  With a small amount of research I came up with this playlist:

Random reflections


These two images above are the product of thoughts that have been stewing inside my head for sometime.  Every time I go to Dublin I notice the amount of homeless people sleeping on the streets in this oh so prosperous nation of ours.  I notice how they are so anonymous and mostly ignored and I was thinking of strategies I could use to emphasise this.  Here I have erased the guy sleeping in the doorway and related him with a pattern of flowers thereby aestheticising the problem.     BrianCooneyPhotography-1001355

These next few images are from a walk I took around Easkey a couple of Fridays ago.  This is a kind of happy accident.  Its out of focus but I find it interesting, it kind of reminds of some sort of dream-like dystopia.  The dark clouds with the intense light at the centre of the image bring to mind a scenario where there’s been an explosion and all the people have disappeared.


The image above with the celtic crosses is a possible inclusion for There’s No Place Like Home.  The Celtic cross has become an Irish icon and although they occur in other celtic cultures such as Scotland the cross is a strong signifier for Ireland.  Its a sort of classical, romantic symbol that has been taken and reused and this image shows a neat and ordered row of graves each of which features a cross.  I’ve deliberately framed them with the the modern and utilitarian car park lines, the gutter and the halogen lamp.  I was thinking it might be interesting to reshoot this at night when the lamp was lit.  Or is the unlit lamp a signifier in itself?  Has the light literally gone out?


This was taken because I like the way the pylon in the distance was framed, just looking at it now has me thinking it would go well with the first image.


Later on my walk I came across these traffic cones in.  Initially I was thinking of trying to frame them in front of the castle but it didn’t look right.  I was contemplating what these two elements might suggest is used together.  Would it indicate that heritage – symbolised by the castle – is a construct?  Our that its endangered?  Or perhaps the viewers inability to enter the scene?  Or something else entirely.BrianCooneyPhotography-1001362.jpg

I have an interest in these marian statues.  There are so many of them around here.  Were they to be an example to the young women of the area?  This one is interesting because she’s tied up/ bound with rosary beads.  Also the empty bottle of wine reminds me of a small sign of resistance or irreverence.

Family and home

I started making these images from home as a way to remember what life looks like today, to have a record of how we live.  Life goes by so quickly.  At one time we would have taken photos on film and then kept these in an album.  Today we have the ability to make images without thinking about it, without cost but we (or I) hardly seem to look at them.  So I was thinking about how I have no images that record me as I am today, in my early 50’s, living in rural sligo.  I am married to Vicky for more years than I care to recall and I am a father. Jacob is 2 and a half years old.  His birth was probably the biggest event in my life to date.

The last couple of years have flown by and even though it’s a relatively recent time, when I look at photographs – say the first photo I took of him just after he was born – I’m not certain that I remember that instant or the photograph of the moment?  is the photo actually like a cuckoo that has secretly made its way into my store of memories and usurped the original moment?  Is it an imposter sitting there in my memory centre.

I wanted to start documenting – and I use the word advisedly as I am aware of its baggage – our life and also record my thoughts at the same time so that I have a record of how I felt, what I was thinking and what was going on in our lives at this time.


Here I am sitting on the couch.  Most of the time I hate how I look in photos and this one is no different.  But whats interesting to me here is that I have my arm in a sling.  This is taken weeks after I crashed while out mountain biking and fractured my right humerus. Its had a large effect on life.  I feel sort of emasculated right now.  I am pretty dependant on the people around me, I can’t drive, I can’t change Jacob’s nappy or put him to bed and its all I can do to lift him to administer a hug.  But as we are ever fond of saying here in Ireland; It could have been worse.  There are a couple of other notes to make about this photo too; that’s Lizzy our labrador beside me on the couch. She’s 12 1/2 years old and I love her dearly.  We’ve had her since she was a chubby, cuddly pup and she’s been everywhere with us.  She’s really slowed right don the last year or so and although she’s doing great for her age I have to really try not to tear up sometimes as I know she has less time left than I’d like to think about.  I’m hoping she’ll give us a couple of more years but know the day will come when we will have to do whats right for her and by her.  Also on the left of the frame is Rinker, a big cuddly tom cat that we took in last February when his owner couldn’t keep him any more.


Since breaking my arm my movements are restricted.  I have begun to turn my camera inwards to photograph home and family.  Partly because I’m interested as I said to document my/our life but also to see what might emerge.  This tells an interesting story.  I remember thinking about how the light sources were directly behind Jacob and wondering if I should get him to turn around but deciding in the end to try to work with what was there.  The way he is silhouetted and having an overwhelming presence in the frame says so much.  Vicky’s facial expression can be just seen behind as she gazes out the window.

All of these images have me thinking about masculinity. I am conscious with my son how much I am his reference with regard to masculinity or at least I feel I am.  They also have me thinking about the different dynamics in his relationship with me and with his mother.


Recently I heard an artist who works with dance and movement describe how she works with adults to help them inhabit their own bodies when they move and afterwards I remember thinking that is how he moves, unselfconsciously.  This speaks to me about Jacob’s energy and vitality. He moves instinctively without considering how he appears to others.

Finally we spent the weekend at my fathers house and met up with my family.  My nephew kindly passed on some of his old toys to our son who is nearly 3. He asked his Mam what this one was because he’d never seen a tank before. This morning he said that the hole on the top was where the slurry went in.  This got me thinking about Barthes Essay on Childhood from myths.  “French toys always mean something, And this somethings always entirely socialised, constituted by the myths or the techniques of modern adult life”.  (Barthes. R, p 57).    And also “Toys here reveal the list of all the things the adult does not find unusual:  war, bureaucracy, ugliness, Martians etc.”  (Barthes. R, p 57).


Barthes, R. (2009) Mythologies. 3rd edn. London: Random House.

Vermeer and the Masters of Genre painting

Its a while ago now but I joined a small group of OCA students in Dublin to visit this sold out exhibition at the national gallery.  I came to this exhibition contemplating the reputation of Vermeer, my only real knowledge of his acknowledged genius was through what I may have seen online and also via the fictional Vermeer in Tracey Chevaliers Girl with a Pearl Earring.  I was familiar with the speculation around his use of a camera obscura and had watched a David Hockney documentary on the subject.  All of this background baggage meant I had heard a lot about the man but knew little of his work or about Dutch genre painting.  I also was hoping prior to seeing the show that this wasn’t going to be about his unique artists genius as true as that may or may not be its not a question I want to spend my Sunday afternoon pondering.  Comparing his brush work or use of colour, light and composition with his contemporaries has been done and overdone.

So I was very pleased to see the curator had taken a different approach completely and focused on his work within the context on Dutch genre painting itself.  This was achieved by showing Vermeer alongside other Dutch genre painters including Gerrit Dou, Caspar Netcher, Frans Van Mieris and Gerard ter Borsh.  All of these painters contemporaries competing with each other for commissions and sales to the same circle of clients and all painted scenes that were similar.  They were familiar with each others work and inspired one another and all borrowed from one another.  There seems to have been much cross pollination of subjects, styles and innovations that gives the lie to any artist working alone in his private bubble.  No need for the myth of artistic originality here it seems although individual style was discernible as was each painters repeated use of the same models in different works.

I found myself less interested in whether Vermeer’s work was head and shoulders above others – there is no doubt his work is distinctive and different – and more interested in the repeated domestic scenes where we treated to a sometimes voyuer-like view of the main subject – mostly women – engaged in various activities such a playing musical instruments, writing or reading letters or even seeing their doctor in search of the cure for love sickness.  A woman’s place in the Dutch republic must have been in their husbands house.  I imagine that these artists were supplying work that was in demand and probably catering for the tastes of rich merchants.  Men who could afford these women subjected to objectification for the sake of their now new owners status.  Was the genre painting the must have accessory of its day?  Did every successful merchant price need it as his hallmark of success?