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Well thats it for another year, St Patricks Day has come and gone. The day when every Irishman or woman or child, or dog, or 2nd cousins twice removed pool cleaners brother once bought a pint of guiness wears green and does lots of ‘Irish’ stuff.
it might be just me but everyone else in the world seems to do St Paddys Day a hell of a lot better than we do. I received emails from friends in Argentina who were dressing in green just to salute me, friends in America were having green pints (blargh!) and saying top of the marning te ye a lot.
In chicago they died the river green (love the line in the film ‘The Fugitive’ ‘why cant they dye it blue then every other day of the year?’), New York had marching bands and we get, well we get some 7th place in years X factor and a load of people dressed up in foam suits pretending to be well known tv characters.
Hence the reason I was not working St Paddys Day for the first time in a number of years. Normally I’m down covering the parade in Belfast or another event in the country somewhere followed by the open air concert but recession and all that, I had to say ‘who?’ when the headliner was announced. This isnt a slight on the concert organisers as they have to get somebody but Im sure there are loads of local bands who would give their eye teeth to get on that bill.
Ok thats the whinging over so leaving the leprechauns, ginger beards, pots of gold and green vodka jellies aside what does it mean to me?
Well when we were kids we’d get up in the morning, put on sunday best with something green on it, get our shamrock pinned to our clothes and head up and watch the parade. The parades seemed bigger then, maybe just because I was only 3 foot high. It was an all day thing and not a mention of Darby O’Gill and the Little People.
This year as I was taking a day off, as after all it is (or well used to be) a public holiday here I decided to do something which is ‘Irish’ to me. Feed my face.
I’d decided on an Ulster Fry or to give it its other term an occupied six counties fry (depending on where you come from) which just has your arteries hardening talking about it. Soda bread, potato bread, eggs, bacon, sausages, mushrooms and maybe some black pudding. Putting beans on this is an english invention so will result in excommunication, execution and just not good form at all.
As for boiled ham/beef and cabbage, the only time Ive had this was in America. My hosts decided to cook something ‘Irish’ for me. I know we were poor when we were kids but we werent that poor
Besides which you cant beat a nice plate of champ (potatoes, scallions, butter). Cabbage is just rank!
Now traditionally St Partricks Day is in the middle of lent when all good Catholics of the Irish persuasion decide to commemorate Jesus’ 40 days in the desert fasting by giving something up and supposedly donating the money saved to good causes. I know a lot of people who gave things up for Lent but the money saved to good causes seems to be a bit hit and miss. Theres also the non-smokers who give up smoking etc but they arent fooling anyone.
Now Im sure its in canonical law or vatican council 2 or somewhere that God has given all us good folk living in his good green land a day off lent. So if you are off the drink you can drink yourself stupid from midnight to midnight on the 17th March, eat chocolate, puff your brains out or whatever. If its not a strictly written rule its an unwritten rule somewhere, it might even be on one of those stone tablets down at newgrange. Party on!
I went down to the local bakery shop to get some proper bread not that machine fed stuff you get in the supermarkets when I saw a real blast from the past, the Belfast Bap. The Belfast Bap has its own special place in history. It was supposedly invented by Belfast Baker and Philanthropist Barney Hughes. Of course my dad told me the folklore as a kid how Barney Hughes produced bread cheaper than anyone else during times of need for Belfast people, most notably during the Great Famine. Of course as with all stories my dad told it as if he knew Barney himself, which I wasnt really surprised at. A half hour walk into the city would take 2 hours because my dad knew absolutely everyone. The fact that if he did know Barney Hughes personally, Barney would be known for old age rather than a baker as he would be 170 by the time I was 10. When we were in primary school breakfast consisted of part of a belfast bap or large scone, buttered and a glass of milk then kicked out to school. At the time Belfast was covered with bakeriers, Hughes, McErlanes, Peter Pan, Ormo etc etc etc. So going round to the local home bakery to get a bap and next door to the wee shop to get real butter, not that low spread rubbish I was weaned onto by countless well meaning girlfriends isnt a bad way to spend St Patricks Day morning.
Locally you have the option of going into town to join the now cross community parade, heading down to Downpatrick to see St Patricks Grave or heading up to Slemish Mountain in county antrim and being rescued by mountain rescue as you attempt to negotiate the pilgrimage slopes 4 months before you really should try to climb the mountain. Croagh Patrick in county mayo has a better idea, they wait until the end of July before carting people off the mountain on stretchers.
St Patrick was a big lad with a big beard who was kidnapped from wales/england (he wasnt english – trust me)/french/spanish by the romans/gauls/pagans/vikings/irish and brought to dublin/belfast/ballymena and sold as a slave. He definitely tended goats or was it pigs or maybe sheep on slemish mountain and whilst he was there found the shamrock which represented the holy trinity and escaped back home. Im not sure if the shamrock or the pigs or goats helped, history isnt clear on it. He then decided to try and convert all these pagan irish to christianity, something they have become a bit expert on since and have even exported it a lot themselves. Somewhere between this and dying and being buried under a big rock in downpatrick he kicked all the snakes out of Ireland. What the snakes did to him is unsure but he could have got rid of the big spiders and those horseflies as well while he was at it.
Wearing my green combats I decided just to sit on my backside at home and enjoy my bap. One of these days I’ll make it down to Downpatrick to see their parade or even down to Dublin where they are currently flying in bands from the USA for the parade as local ones are probably too busy ‘drowing their shamrock’. I love it the way we have so many different ways of lying about going out and getting drunk.
Ive spent a couple of St Patricks Days away from home, most notably on a skiing holiday in the French Alps where a group of 19 of us were staying in one hotel and I broke out the tin whistle and started playing. It was a bit like the pied piper where it attracted every irish person (or people calling themselves irish) from 10 miles in every direction. The musical interlude wasnt helped by someone sending a taxi for a guy from Dublin who was working in a chalet 6 miles away who could ‘play the guitar a bit.’ Being the masters of understatement this could mean anything from having seen a guitar once to sending a taxi for Jimi Hendrix. It turned out it was more the former and so we played the same 3 songs he knew over and over again all night. Nobody seemed to care and to be honest I gave up trying to put my fingers over the whistle holes after about 4 green vodka jellies….
..maybe next year I will go to New York after all.
More St Patricks Day Images here
As with Dance Photography
Music photography is another passion of mine.
Its very similar to dance photographically technically, you have a few people on a stage moving at times quite quickly under mixed lighting with no scope to say ‘here hold on a minute, can you go back a sec and repeat those lines’.
With larger bands/acts you tend to get better lighting but not always the case and in recent years the move towards led lighting which seems to be just above candle power in output has meant that gig and band photography remains technically challenging. Saying that of course the latest range of digital cameras almost turn nighttime into day and if they have a live view mode you could almost use them as night vision cameras. It makes sure that any student with a half decent camera and half decent lens will get a useable concert photo. Saying that at todays current prices for gig photos, even students with high street off the shelf equipment would still find the prices too low.
So you have two options, get smarter and shoot better pics, or give up. Well I have sort of done both. The market isnt enough now to sustain top of the range kit, ability to wire in onsite within seconds etc etc. Occasionally you do get ‘big’ events (Id the first UK pictures of the Arctic Monkeys after they hit it big and Id shots of Boyzones first night comeback) but in general theres someone beside you who will be happy to see their name in print and a willingness with most mags to be happy to accept a straight up and down shot because they dont have to pay a penny (or very little in subscription).
It means that the majority of shots arent by specialists any more and those that do submit have little or no imagination compared to those shooting every day. It was always going to be a hard sell anyway in Ireland because you can spend your life shooting every upcoming band for none of them to ever make it or get that middle of the tour shots, which unless stand way out from the crowd wont be much different from the 20 photographers in 10 countries before you.
Thats not to say there isnt merit in it or indeed money to be made but promoters dont really want photographers to cherry pick who they will shoot and theres always some give and take to help promote new acts in return for inclusion on the wish list for lady gaga or whoever is hot at the minute.
Add into that the current recession in the UK and theres less gigs about, people cant afford the 50-70 quid for a concert ticket that they used to spend only 2 years ago maybe once a month or in concert season, once a week.
People also have this glamourous idea that gig and concert photography is one of the best jobs in the world. Well the realities are somewhat different. The three songs and you are out rule applies. In some cases you dont get three songs, you might get 2 or one. One group came out recently to a video as their first song. So that leaves about 6 minutes to get the banker shots and try to get a good folio of shots that will spread across a range of publications. Quite tight going. Then after that theres the mad dash to get 3G or wifi connection to get your edits into the agency before everyone else does. Thats a lot of adrenaline and quite often it can be totally exhausting.
Try shooting a festival where its shoot, edit, wire, shoot, edit, wire, etc etc for maybe 6 or 8 hours. Add that over 2 days and just give me a sleeping bag in the corner.
Having said that some of my most loved shots come from this type of environment. Often you are in a pit of 4 maybe up to 10 or 20 photographers and in order to eat the following month you have to make sure every single shot counts. Trying to get interesting angles, tell the story, show the emotion and tie the images together really gets the cold sweat down your back going. I remember one act who I wont name was slightly under the weather coming out on stage and out of 400 shots of one band member I got 2 with their eyes open, and thats with them using a prop to keep them vertical during the show.
Another one I distinctly remember was lit by one single red spotlight, which by itself was enough to give a half decent exposure. Thats assuming they werent swaying backwards out of the light most of the time. Looking at the photos it reminded me of those old kids tv programmes where the clown with the big shoes was nailed to the floor and swayed backwards and forwards because of it.
With some groups they seem to go out of their way to make things difficult for you. One group who are notorious with photographers deliberately keep most of the stage lights off for the first three songs and once the lead singer said to us ‘right thats the freeloaders gone, we can get on with the show’. Charming. Hope you dont do anything stupid in your private life in the future… Another keeps the photographers at a huge distance away, takes your kit bags off you and has one security person for each photographer who ‘escort’ you ‘quickly’ out of the arena…. yes…. Particularly galling as you sit on the cold stone ground wiring pics in to see people with cellphones and compact cameras in the crowd uploading to flickr with impunity. Again the old maxim of being nice to people on your way up as you may need them on your way down.
I’ll not even give credence to the travelling pr company who thought it would be a good idea to put us in the crowd with all our equipment at a rappers concert. I have to say Ive never laughed as much as at the skinny white boys from belfast with their calvin kleins falling down round their arses getting down with the boyz in the hood. No seriously lads, take a long hard look at yourselves.
Then theres the concerts where you pray that the golden liquid flying towards you from the crowd is cheap lager beer and not the end product of an afternoon spent drinking that beer. Newcomers often ask why some of us at festivals shoot with our hoods up on sunny days.
Compare that with the hard working PR companies who get you spots in the press room, sort out wifi, keep you fed and watered and see if theres anything you need. Ive even had Louis Walsh sitting over my shoulder helping with photo selection. Normally something you try to avoid when you are sitting wiring away and someone over your shoulder is saying ‘oh thats a nice pic’, ‘ I like that’, ‘lovely’. I was just about to turn round and tell them to foxtrot oscar when I saw it was Louis so told him to pull up a chair.
As you can probably tell I wouldnt classify the most of it as fun so when a friend of mine Stephen Maguire
mentioned to me that he was doing a gig in Belfast in support of Nanci Griffith I jumped at the chance to photograph it. I’ve known Stephen for a number of years now and we have become friends. Ive done a lot of static work with him for posters, album covers general PR, headshots etc but as most of his concert touring is in Canada I rarely get the chance to see him live never mind photograph him. In fact I’d never seen him live and was worried that I’d be too busy looking through the lens that I wouldnt even hear the gig. Its one thing that people ask after a gig, ‘what did they play’. ‘I dunno’ is invariably the answer as you are too busy concentrating on the job in hand then you are out.
Stephen was playing in quite an unusual and intimate venue, the May Street Church
. I’d photographed it a few years earlier for the local press as it was rumoured it was closing due to dwindling attendances due to population movement out of the city centre. Its trying to regenerate as a venue and coffee shop downstairs as well as the church. Stephen was supporting Nanci Griffith as part of the Belfast Nashville Songwriters Festival
I have to say Ive never been as nervous photographing a gig in my life. Id never done it for a friend before and chatting over a coffee minutes before the gig I dont know who was talking the bigger pile of shite, me or Stephen. I stuck to my 3 songs rule and then slid up the aisle into the gloom to enjoy the rest of the show. I know Im biased but you know the way it is with friends, you will give support regardless of how you think they did. Well I thought Stephen was superb, great audience interaction and a great buzz during the set. I hate the phrase but its probably the one time you will hear me say it, Stephen, you rocked! (invoice is in the post).
I’ll let the photos tell the next 1000 words but dont forget to check out Stephens website and Irish Soul 2010 tour
Dance photography is one of my real passions in photography.
Im not a dancer, never was, never will be. I got into it by accident, a friend was dancing in a production and asked me to take a few shots, I got chatting to the artistic director and they gave me an opportunity to shoot their production and I’ve been with them 6 years now. Ive expanded to other forms of dance and other companies ranging from 6 year old kids up to people wayy past pension age (which I hope they dont mind me saying).
Theres something about it, its the movement, the flow, the telling of a story with just movement of the body. Its the only part of my job which has actually left me with a tear in my eye.
Its more than just art, to use a well worn quote, its poetry in motion and this production married dance with another art form that I am passionate about, football.
Technically its the most challenging photography I do, often you are shooting in conditions that a bat wouldnt be able to see in. Getting pin sharp images is normally what photography is all about, in this case as with other art forms its not about that, its about capturing the movement, the flow, the idea, the story.
Most press photographers are on a hiding to nothing doing this work, you cant encompass the mood and essence of a show in a 15 minute time slot. I spend time with the choreographer asking questions unrelated to photography or even dance, I watch the rehearsals, watch the pieces and get a feel for each of the dancers strengths. Then its a simple case of just tying them all together, sitting in a dark theatre where I cant see my shoelaces and ‘taking a few snaps’
I try to avoid setups, I see them too often and in most cases they are soulless. No motion, no lead into a piece and no lead out of a piece, just static. I’ve done them for poster and promo work and to be honest Id rather do a themed shot for a promo than mimic a movement from a piece.
For me, real dance photography can be a period of weeks, charting the progress, having it explained to me, having it explained to me again
leading up to the one chance in full dress rehearsals to get the photos that I hope do the piece justice. In many cases its then a quick selection and get the event printer cranked up to put a selection of shots which dont give away any twists and turns up on the entrance foyer walls. For professional productions this is icing on the cake, for productions involving kids who maybe have worked all year for this moment and are now performing in a concert hall they probably couldnt afford to buy the tickets for, its momentous. Many parents see their kids in a different light with those photos and for many its the start of something big, for more than that its the one day in their life they performed on the waterfront hall stage, equally momentous and equally life changing.
Its difficult, very difficult, both technically and for the production companies. Particularly in times of recession, the arts funding gets cut and people see it as an easy cut. In school curriculums theres little slack as it is so lets cut the art/dance/music budget.
I remember very little about passing my O levels, remember very little about my A levels or indeed getting each of my two degrees. I do remember taking part on stage of the rock nativity in the Lyric Theatre with my sister in 1977 when I was 7 and she was 5. In our wee aran jumpers which was our ‘dressed up’ clothes, doing a circle walk with other kids in front of a packed audience of hundreds.
If Id never done anything else remarkable in my life, I’d have done that.
So when I got a chance to do some promo photos for Maiden Voyage’s latest production of ‘Best’
I was all ears. A dance production representing the early days of George Best, up to the time of his testamonial at Windsor Park. I am too young to remember George Best, other than the latter years and the only real interaction was sadly photographing his funeral but I remember my dads face telling me about him and how gutted I was when I went to England for the summer to try and get a summer job before going to uni and missed the testamonial at home.
The middle of November isnt a great time to try and do outdoor football shoots and it was interesting, I went out to source the props and try and find some football gear (black boots, long shorts, plain green or red top) suitable for the promo material. If all else failed we could turn my 1977 replica liverpool football shirt back to front and make a 1977 man united one. I managed to track down some souvenir shirts that had been produced with Best 11 on the back of them in the old Northern Ireland style. I phoned the artistic director and she went down and bought the remainders. All odd sizes and none fitted so the costume designer would have their work cut out for them.
After a lot of kicking balls about an empty playing fields we had a shot and off we went. I disappeared off to Argentina with the return date booked to give me time to see some walkthroughs, rehearsals and then set up for the dress and production.
Im not going to tell the story, in fact its all out there. Theres only one night left and thats in Downpatrick this Friday night. I’ll be there for the closing show, if you google a maiden voyage best and bbc ni you should see the short interview piece with the choreographer Andy
. Why Andy labours on George Best eating muesli is anyones guess but it gives a view on the piece. Media interest has been worldwide with a correspondent from Brazil attending the opening night and a good review in the Irish Times
I think this is a show that could tour and certainly the interest in George Best himself could see the performance being taken to the likes of Manchester, Glasgow, Dublin etc.
So what did I think of it, well normally I dont get to see the pieces, I concentrate on little pieces, the poses and poise of the dancers, where they position themselves on the floor, where Im likely to get the best angles, trying not to end up in a heap on a dark floor or cause any distractions. I remember little snippets, little sections of dance, bits that stand out from a dance, choreographic or photographic point of view. Only when you sit back, put the cameras away and watch the show do you get the whole picture.
I did mention earlier that the show brought a tear to my eye, and it wasnt until they played the George Best interview with Gay Byrne on the late late show towards the end of the piece. (google it).
It goes something along the lines of ‘I hope at the end of the day, all the rubbish they have read about me, the women and the cars and the gambling, the booze, whatever, that thats the one thing they will always remember, they cant take that away from me.’
I came home, made a sandwich, and spent an hour on youtube watching all the tricks, all the dance pieces and choreography of someone with born natural talent, a dancer wearing football boots. And do you know what, they cant take that away from him.
The George Best Foundation website is here. They also have a facebook site.
Maiden Voyage Dance is here.