Text and photos by Kenneth O Halloran.
I became interested in photography at a young age and was encouraged by my mother to pursue it as a career, although my Dad was rather less enthusiastic.
I come from a small village in the West of Ireland and my father is the local undertaker, as well as running a small shop. It’s the sort of place where everyone knows everyone else. During my teens I fell into the role of village photographer recording local horse shows, fetes, communion and confirmation ceremonies. There were some expectations at home that I might a school teacher, following a well worn path, but I wanted to do photography.
Given the nature of the job I quickly gained a lot of experience of all aspects of photography particularly news photography since the agency serviced all the national and some of the international press. I remember covering everything from Greyhound meetings to the visit of major dignataries such as Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Regan.
Following that I moved to Dublin. After freelancing for a time I was staffed in Independent Newspapers in Dublin working there for 15 years. During that time I covered all the usual markings ranging from news to sport, with regular trips to the North to cover the conflict there and covered many European and World soccer championships.
During that time I also made numerous trips with Irish Aid Agency GOAL to areas of civil unrest and conflict. The first of these was to Rwanda in 1994 and subsequently to Iraq following the US invasion of Afghanistan, East Timor, Kosovo and Banda Ache in Indonesia following the Tsunami. These were exciting places to visit, particularly when the day to day newspaper routine could become so mundane.
I built up a good relationship with the aid agency and therefore would end up in these places fairly early on, involved right at the heart of whatever was happening which appealed to my youthful search for excitement and difference. At the time I believed that some of the images I took might end up making some difference.
I began to tire of the daily grind of news photography and increasing cutbacks changed the nature of the business. Increasingly we spent our time doing “at home” feature photographs with the excitement gone out of the job. The culture of celebrity meant I saw far more red carpet events than getting to cover things of any substance.
I took a leave of absence in 2004 and moved to Madrid to my then Spanish girlfriend with girl. Christina’s family came from a small town outside of Madrid and her father Angel had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in his early 50s and was ill for ten years before he died.
Obviously I saw first hand how this had devastated the family and the care involved. Almost without knowing it I had begun a project which was markedly different from anything I had done previously which was an intimate portrayal of a man’s illness and it’s affects on his family and his dignity – as a father, husband and friend. It also affected my relationship because we spent so much time in the house because Christina helped to care for him spent right up to his death. I also remember it as a portrayal of female strength, not just physically but also emotionally for Christina and her mother Dioni.
While in Spain I came across Photo España — the annual summer photography festival in Madrid. I went to see exhibitions by Martin Parr, Massimo Vitali, Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin to name a few.
They opened my eyes to a new style of photography that I was totally unaware of before. I had been working in the traditional documentary style of photography up to this point. I took a couple of workshops and learned the importance of spending time working on long term projects. This led to a renewed enthusiasm and passion for the medium, and a shift in how I approached photography, and since then I have been working on a number of projects.
My curiosity about photography deepened and as a result I have now have a fine library of photographic books showing the different styles and approaches. I also did a number of my own projects, over a long time period such as the series featuring my family with an emphasis on my Dad, Micheal, in his role as a local undertaker and shopkeeper.
Local undertakers frequently had to take on a second business to supplement their income and in my father’s case it was a drapery shop. The shop keeping part of the business is now closed, and its decline is also something which I photographed.
Faith plays a huge role in our family. To many people the role of undertaker can be a strange and even frightening one but its something that I grew up with. The morgue is just behind our kitchen and I can remember coming home from school as a young lad and going in to see who was dead.
This project also gave the excuse to spend more time with my family and record the significant events which occurred including deaths and births and the cycle of life.
I also developed an interest in portraiture. Given my own background I find myself drawn to exploring the contrast between urban and rural and with a particular emphasis on identity. The images in this project, which involves country fairs around Ireland, particularly explore our cultural identity. These fairs are a curious combination of an Ireland from a by gone era yet with many of the trappings of modernity.
I began the fair series 2009 and plan to continue with the project.
Please visit Kenneth O Halloran website for more photos and stories.