Text and photos by Eamonn Farrell.
My first real interest in photography as opposed to taking photos of my children, came about as a result of the coverage of the Vietnam War by the likes of Don McCullin, Larry Burrows and Eddie Adams etc. In the first instance it was both admiration and disbelieve that men and women could put themselves at such risk to life and limb in pursuance of an image.
And secondly, the shocking power of the images of death, destruction, fear, bravery, cowardice and cruelty, that they managed to capture in situations where putting your head up to take a photo, was akin to suicide. The impact of those images and their effect in changing public opinion about the war, convinced me that the still image could be a powerful force in changing the world. And in Ireland a lot of change was required particularly in relation to the position of women in society.
I went on to become a freelance photojournalist in Dublin, setting up a small agency with my brother Brian, also a photographer and eventually both of us became picture editors of separate Sunday newspapers. A few years later I left to set up a new agency photocall Ireland concentrating on coverage of politics, business and the arts. During this time the realities of trying to make a living from professional photography and providing for your family left no time to pursue your own personal photographic interests.
Like other developed countries, control of photographic images by the spin doctors of politics and business, had moved onto the same level as the music and celebrity industry. The opportunity to capture meaningful and insightful images was fast disappearing. Control of the media by the creative filtering of what was made available to it, was the modus operandi of a new and growing profession – the PR Guru. The enjoyment and excitement of working in the news media was fast disappearing for me. Thankfully I was now reaching a stage in my life where there were less demands on me financially and I could at last take time out to work on personal projects which were not dependent on a financial return.
In 2009 I started a project, which has the working title, The Nude in the Irish Landscape. I am using the female form to represent the human species and how we relate to our natural and man made environment. By placing the naked model outdoors in the landscape I am drawing attention to how vulnerable we are as a species, when stripped of our clothing, mobile phones and iPads. Alone and naked we have to deal with the powerfull forces of nature, increasingly transmuted as a result of our greed and power hungry rape and abuse of the beautiful planet on which we live. I am trying to get across the simple message – without a healthy planet earth we will die. But without us it would happily live on, perhaps forever.
Great idea, maybe! But where was I to get models who were prepared to pose naked outdoors in cold, wet and windy Ireland? Most photographers know women – girlfriends, wives or partners – who are prepared to pose for them indoors. Outdoors is another matter entirely. Yes there are art nude models in Ireland. But very few at the level required to shoot in up to five locations a day. Confident enough not to be distracted when interrupted by humans or animals (hill-walkers, farmers, dogs, cows, donkeys etc). Capable of gritting their teeth (but not showing it), when working in wind and rain. And happy to put up with cuts, bruises, scrapes and bites.
With a few notable exceptions I had to go abroad and use models from England, Europe and America. And make heavy use of alternative model sites such as Model Mayhem. In the process I met some wonderful women, dedicated to their art and prepared to push their bodies to the limit to produce an image worthy of their input.
I was very lucky that the first two models I worked with were at the very top of their profession and set the standard for others to follow. I shot Ulorin Vex over three days in County Donegal when we were blessed with the usual Irish summer weather: four seasons in one hour! At least it gave us a bit of everything to work with. Ulorin is not only a top class model with the ability to change her look at will, but she is also brave to the point of endangerment.
I worked with Ivory Flame in November of 2009 for two days. It was wet, windy and freezing cold. There was no four seasons in one hour. Just two days of hard winter weather. Her beautiful white skin was turning blue. I thought her nose was going to fall off. But she continued to pose in the most difficult conditions, producing great images.
When it was all over she told me she would never work in Ireland outdoors again. Two years later I convinced her to come back during the summer, telling her that we would get blue skies on the Aran Islands. I lied and it rained and rained. Ireland is a wet and windy land. Will she ever come back again. I don’t know, but feel free to ask her.
There were of course issues, some technical, some aesthetic. You spend days searching for suitable locations and find one that works with great mood and skies etc. You book the model and she arrives (usually for two days at a time), drive to the location and there is no sky, just a dull grey flat ceiling. What do you do? Likewise, when after hours of shooting, the model has hit the perfect pose, but at the same moment a cloud has cast a dark shadow over a critical aspect of the landscape. The model pleads for the shot showing her perfect pose, but you know you have to go with the less perfect one which shows the landscape to better effect. In the end it was always a compromise, understanding that it was never less than a union between model, landscape and photographer.
As time passed and I entered year three of the project I became more conscious of the fact that I should incorporate some sense of the economic and social devastation wrought on the people of Ireland by the reckless and greedy behaviour of a cabal of bankers, developers and politicians. This entailed the use of models in built up urban areas, which presented more difficult problems than those encountered in a rural landscape. When you add into the mix the conservative view which many in Ireland still have regarding the exposure of the naked body, it put extra demands on the professionalism of the art nude models with whom I worked.
Finally there is the issue of the genre of art nude within the framework of art photography in Ireland. There are several fine art nude photographers here. To a large extent we work on the fringes of the art world. Silent, unobtrusive, unseen. This despite the exalted position of such photographers as Man Ray, Helmut Newton, Edward Weston, Andre Kertesz, Manuel Alveraz Bravo and Lucien Clergue on the international stage. The time has come for art nude photographers in Ireland to emerge from the woodwork and for curators to be brave enough to embrace the challenge of breaking a taboo.
For more informations and photos of nudes in the Irish landscape, please visit Eamonn Farrell website.