New Project

West Cork Ireland

Going Home © David Creedon

Last November as I came to the conclusion of the portfolio ‘The Summertime of my Autumn’ I began to plan on what the next project would be. I decided that this time I would return to work on something in Ireland. In January I broke my arm and this left me restricting on what I could do and so in early May I went away for a week with a friend of mine to beautiful rural West Cork. We stayed in an old school that has been converted as a holiday rental. During our stay the new owner had saved some old items that were part of the school. The school closed in 1975 because it numbers fell to five students and this was below the criteria required for the Irish Department of Education to support the running of the school. One of the items that the new owner kept was the school’s roll book. The book spanned the era from 1954 to 1975 when the school closed. On examining the book I began to wonder where all those pupils are now and so was born a new project. My project revolves around finding those pupils that are still alive and doing portraits of them. The other part of this is to record their memories of going to school there.  Another element to this project is to include the writings of the ‘Schools’ Folklore Scheme’. The Schools’ Folklore Scheme was commissioned in 1937 by the Irish Department of Education where they got school pupils all around the county to write essays about their home place.  These essays talk about incidents that happened in their locality and refer to local places where these happened. For this section I intend to make images of these areas and combine them with the essays.

In my research so far I have found most of the pupils, the majority are in Ireland with some in the United Kingdom, Canada, United States, Australia and New Zealand. As the project developed I realised that this was going to be a big undertaking and I can see the possibilities of doing an exhibition, book, radio and television documentary. With this in mind I have approached a television production company who are interested in developing the project as a one hour documentary. As we continue our research things are looking good and we are getting very positive feedback. Our next step is to secure funding from various sources and hope they see the potential in developing the project.  You never know where research is going to take you and whatever you have in your mind you can end up in a different place altogether. I think the project will take about a year to do. Rural Ireland can have strange weather and you can experience four seasons in one day. I will try and blog as much on the project as thing develop.

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Miquel Angel Sanchez

Miquel Angel Sanchez by Cork Photographer  David Creedon

Miquel Angel Sanchez © David Creedon

It was mid afternoon and we had been driving through the rural province of Sancti Spíritus in Southern Cuba. Most of the tourists that come to this region head to the world heritage city of  Trinidad with its colonial buildings of which some date back to the Spanish conquest of the island. My assistant Orlando and I have no interest in Trinidad as at times it appears like a tourist trap and so we spend our time just driving on the by-roads in the hope of finding someone to make a portrait with. As we drive we come across a house just off the road and decide to stop and see if anyone is at home.  The land around  the house is flat and appears that it is not arable while in the distance we can see the mountains.

We park and walk the short distance to the house. As a point we always leave the camera equipment in the car  as we just wish to  introduce ourselves and cold calling to someones home can be intimating for some. Marta comes to the door and Orlando speaks to her outlining how we are making portraits and shows her samples of work already completed.   Cubans are very friendly and hospitable and Marta invites us in and offer us coffee or water to drink. We spoke for about twenty minutes and she agrees to have her portrait made.  After collecting the gear from the car we returned to the house where we met her husband Miquel who had just returned from working in the fields. From a distance he looked like Steve McQueen. dressed in denim jacket, stray hat and rugged good looks. The minute I saw Miquel I knew  that I wanted to do a portrait of him but first I had make one of his wife.

When I had finished with Marta I then asked Miquel if he would allow me to do portrait and he agreed.  As I looked at photographing him on the veranda Miquel just sat down in the doorway of his home and drank water from an aluminium cup and took out his cigarettes. The evening winter light illuminates both him and the interior, he looked so relaxed and for me this was just perfect. He looked very masculine with his machete and wooden gancho stick, the sweat glistened on his skin as he lit his cigarette against a juxtaposition of the feminine lace and flowers of the background. I think this is one of my favorite portraits that I made during this trip, everything just fell right on the day.

www.davidcreedon.com

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Sometimes you have to leave your babies go!

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© David Creedon

Every photographer has work that will never see the light of day.  For one reason or another sometimes images don’t reach the mark.  Hidden away in drawers are negatives or files on hard drives that will never be seen again.  Photographers spend time in creating, composing, lightning and working out the exposure but at the end of the day it doesn’t  count if the images don’t have what it takes to make the cut. As photographers we can sometimes become emotional attached to our work and at times find it difficult to make a decision on what to keep and what to leave out.

An example of that is the image above which was photographed in the Baltic last year as part of the project The Summertime of my Autumn. The background to the essay was one about mass emigration in Latvia.  At the time of making this photograph the image fitted  in well with the project but when I got down to post production and writing the essay the central theme went away from emigration itself to a theme of aging and memory in a society left behind because of the leaving of young people. This photograph made it to the final edit and even though I liked it I had to concede that it did not now fit in with the overall theme of the project. Speaking to a fellow photographer on the dilemma she stated that these are the decisions that photographers make and Sometimes you just have to leave your babies go!

www.davidcreedon.com

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Matt Conway with Denis the Donkey. Co Sligo Ireland

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Matt Conway and Denis the Donkey © David Creedon

You can’t drive too fast on these small country roads in rural Ireland as you never know what you might meet. The roads can be narrow about the width for one car and one has to be vigilant as you could meet cattle or sheep wandering these “Boreen’s” (a little road).  It was on one of these roads that I came across Matt Conway with his Donkey. Seeing them together it was reminiscent of a scene from ‘The Quite Man’ and I was half expecting a flame haired Maureen O’Hara type girl to emerge from a nearby field. The scene before me was a world removed from the Ireland that I live in and I felt that I had been transported back in time to the 1950’s. Stopping the car I was more interested in making a portrait of the man  but realised that I would have to be tactful and diplomatic in my approach. I introduced myself and asked could I make a picture of his Donkey, he agreed and I spent about half an hour photographing both of them as Matt loaded the cart with grass and hay before they both traveled the short journey home. The resulting photograph of Matt contemplating the cart’s load as it appears weighted down on one side. The only sign of modernity in the photograph is the watch that Matt wears on his wrist otherwise the picture is in some way a throwback to old traditions that have now all but disappeared in rural Ireland.

www.davidcreedon.com

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Happy accidents with the Mad Dog on the Spiral Staircase!

Mad Dog on Spiral Staircase

Mad Dog on Spiral Staircase © David Creedon

There are times when you make photographs they don’t turn out like you had visualized, this can be for a number of reasons including diminishing light or in the case of a portrait the subject  moved at that vital time. On the other hand a photograph that you did’t expect can work out to be better than you thought. Orlando Lazaro has been my assistant in Cuba since 2011 and we have a very good working relationship. We both understand each other’s needs and wants and this has cemented our working partnership into a bond of friendship. I depend on his advice to keep us out of trouble while he began to understand that I am not a click, click, click photographer but one who takes time over each composition and he knows if I make one photograph a day I will be happy. Every evening when we’d finish work Orlando would scout locations for the next day’s shoot.

During my time in Cuba I was principally photographing portraits in my subject’s home developing a story on its people against a background of the countries history since 1897. Orlando understood I wasn’t looking for the clichéd  images of  automobiles or women in national costume  smoking big cigars, but we were trying to do something different. Orlando had found this staircase in the lobby of an apartment building and thought it might make an interesting backdrop for a portrait. I agreed with him and we proceed to first set up the equipment for a portrait and then wait for someone interesting to come along to photograph. As we were setting up this mad dog came along and started barking at us and we felt a bit threatened by his behavior. The dog then ran up the staircase before his attention was caught by a cat that passed on the roadway outside. Startled by the sight of the cat the dog froze as if caught in the headlights of an oncoming car. Orlando urged me to take the shot and I managed to take two frames before the dog raced down the stairs again and out the door to give chase to the unsuspecting cat.

We made our portrait later on and when I was viewing them both together in post production I preferred the one with the dog.

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Attracted to the light(house)

Roches Point Lighthouse

Roches Point © David Creedon

I live close to the coast and even though I don’t consider myself as a landscape photographer and I don’t always take advantage of the natural beauty that surrounds me. Photographers have always been attracted to capturing lighthouses and I think that within an hour’s drive from my home there are about ten of them on the south coast of Ireland.  I always try to photograph them when there is minimal light either just before dawn or after sunset, just enough light to make out the lighthouse itself.

The photograph above is of Roches Point lighthouse in Cork Harbour and only about ten minutes from where I now live. The original lighthouse was built in 1817 and replaced in 1835 by the present structure. When I was a young boy  our family used to spend our summer holidays just across the bay in Crosshaven. I can still remember the sound of the foghorn as it sounded it’s warning to mariners. In 2011 the lighthouse foghorn was decommissioned because it was felt that foghorns were no longer an effective aid to navigation despite much opposition from local people who  felt reassured by its sound.

On a historical note Cork Harbour was one of the major transatlantic ports and was the departure point for 2.5 million of the six million Irish people who emigrated to North America between 1848 and 1950. In April 1912 Cork was last port of call for the White Star liner RMS Titanic before she crossed the Atlantic on her ill fated voyage. One hundred and twenty three  passengers boarded  the vessel here of which forty-four survived. In 1915 the Cunard passenger liner RMS Lusitania was torpedoed by a German Submarine off Cork coast and 1,198 passengers died, while 700 were rescued. The survivors and the dead alike were brought to the Cork harbour town of Queenstown (now called Cobh), and the bodies of over 100 who perished in the disaster lie buried there in the Old Church Cemetery .

www.davidcreedon.com

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The Cuban Piano Project

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National Workshop of Instrument Repair Havana Cuba © David Creedon

Late one night I heard a radio report about a group of Irish piano tuners who travel to Cuba every year to repair the pianos there. I was very intrigued by this story and felt it may be something that could be developed further for a future project.  At the time I had just begun working on the Steinway project so the idea on Cuba was filed away. By early 2009 and with the Steinway project coming to its conclusion I began to look at the next project. The Cuban project was still in my mind and so I began to conduct research into the project. By the middle of February I applied to the Cuban Embassy for my press visa and was informed  that I would be informed about my application within a month. By the end of April I still had not heard back about my application and came to the conclusion that it had not been granted. As an alternative I began to look at a project in South East Asia. Our plan was to travel in the first week in June and I had allocated three weeks for the trip. On the day we were to book our flights for Asia my assistant rang me to say he could not travel as he didn’t have the proper vaccinations and his doctor had advised him not to travel without them.   Disappointed that our travel plans had been cancelled it was back to the drawing board when later on that evening I received a telephone call from the Cuban Embassy that my visa had been approved and could I come to Dublin for an interview the following Tuesday. I received my Visa on the Tuesday and on the following Thursday I arrived in Havana.  As I checked into my hotel I heard in the background was my name been called, when I turned around I saw two friends of mine from Cork waving at me, after a quick shower it was off to dinner and drinks and soak up the atmosphere of the city. During my stay I fell in love with Cuba and its people and even though I didn’t know it then it was the genesis for another project that would have return to the island again and again.

Una Corda;  In the back streets of old Havana and a world apart from the tourist trade is the National Workshop of Instrument Repair. When the Russians became Cuba’s close ally in the 1960s and 70s they used the workshop as a training centre for what is now the current generation of Cuban piano tuners and technicians. Two classes of blind and partially sighted tuners graduated from here, the first in 1970, and another class two years later. However, with the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, this training programme ceased and the workshop fell steadily into disrepair. Pianists in Cuba face challenges that most people in other countries can’t imagine. The island’s tropical climate is particularly hard on things made from wood, and the scarcity of supplies makes repairs virtually impossible. Now an Irish group is helping to restore thousands of pianos that have fallen into disrepair. Una Corda is a charitable non-profit organisation run by volunteers from Ireland’s music community. Since 2006, Irish piano tuners have been going to Havana to tune and help train local technicians. Working in conjunction with the Havana Arts Authority and the Cuban Ministry of Culture, the organization has three objectives: sending a small number of piano-tuners to Cuba to tune pianos and train people locally; helping to restore Havana’s National Workshop of Instrument Repair; and encouraging Irish people travelling to Cuba on holidays to carry piano parts with them, which Una Corda supplies.

Over the last number of years tourists travelling to Cuba have made a real contribution to the project by becoming Una Corda’s couriers. Volunteers simply carry a package of piano parts or tools with them in their luggage when they go. So far, over three hundred kilos of parts have been carried in luggage, all with the approval of the Cuban authorities. The pianos that are being repaired and restored with the parts Una Corda supplies belong to Havana’s music schools. Up to twenty are in the workshop at any one time. Word has gone out across Havana and there are many more pianos in the queue in need of restoration. Over time the workshop itself is to be restored with money raised in Ireland.

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The Green Kitchen part II

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Star Spangled Banner © David Creedon

You could see that this house had connections with America, lying around on the floor was a book of the American Constitution and a copy of PT109 about JFK’s time in the navy. As I made my way upstairs in the dark I got a glimpse of something red that had been caught in the early morning light. Hanging on the top of the stairway was a Star Spangled banner with forty-eight stars, this dates it to pre 1948.  The flag was at an angle of forty-five degrees and reminded me of Joe Rosenthal’s Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima.  Hanging next to it was a green army coloured dress. The exposure for this photograph was about 6 minutes and I had to be careful not to move around for fear of the movement in the floorboards could cause camera shake.

The greatest resource any country can have are its people, and yet the biggest export Ireland ever produced were its sons and daughters. Between 1949 and 1989 over 800,000 left Ireland and by 1956 the population had fallen to 2.8 million the lowest that was ever recorded and left one author to question, “Are we becoming a vanishing race?”  In fact Ireland is the only country in modern times to have sustained more than 100 years of population decline.

The dreams and aspirations of many exiles was one day to return to their homeland but very few were so lucky. Moving on from the hallway at the top of the stairs I find in one of the bedrooms was a shipping trunk; in this instance the trunk tells a story of emigration and return:

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The Return © David Creedon

Mary Sullivan travelled to New York on the White Star Liner RMS Cedric that sailed from Liverpool on the 11th October 1930, she boarded the liner at Queenstown now Cobh sailing third class, nineteen years later she was to return. According to records at Ellis Island Mary had fifteen dollars when she arrived in New York.  The labels on the trunk state; “Mary Sullivan – SS America – 16th August 1949 – Pier 61 – New York to Cobh – Cabin Class”. The SS America had three classes of passenger; First, Cabin and Tourist class. On the menu for Cabin class passengers Mary could choose from Caviar or wild Irish smoked Salmon. The trunk still contained ladies nylon stockings in there original box, the words “Nylons by DuPont” embossed at the top of each stocking, also included among her possessions was a passbook from the National Hibernian Bank in the Bronx that showed that she had savings of nine thousand dollars. Hanging behind a door was a dress with its purchase labels still intact, did the items of fashion in places like Queens and Brooklyn have no place in rural Ireland of the 1950’s or did Mary ever get the chance to wear them?

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Dress © David Creedon

Mary was lucky, she came home but for the most they never returned home.

I had a friend who once who told me that he never knew his father. In fact there were thousands of Irish children who only ever saw their father maybe once or twice a year when they came back from working from building sites in Liverpool or some other English city. Homecoming was a big part of emigrant’s lives, meeting up with family and old friends, the parties and the craic.

These are the parts of homecoming you like to remember, the bits you like to forget are the after Christmas goodbyes. In the 1950’s it was men headed back on the boat to bed sits in Coventry, Birmingham and London while in the 1980’s it was the sight of mothers breaking down in airports as the said goodbye to sons and daughters as they headed to Boston, Chicago or San Francisco.

During this period young men and women emigrated in search of a better life, today in the United States it is estimated that there are over fifty thousand undocumented Irish who are unable to return to their homeland.  Now middle aged with families of their own they can not come back for the simple things like a holiday, or the important thing like saying a final goodbye to a parent for fear on not been able to get back in.

There’s a part of a Derek Mahon poem on a closed up garage and home.

“The cracked panes reveal a dark interior echoing with the cries of children. Here in this quiet corner of Co Cork a family ate, slept and watched the rain dance clean and cobalt the exhausted grit so that the mind shrank from the glare of it.”

Where did they go? South Boston? Cricklewood?  Somebody somewhere thinks of this as home.”

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The Green Kitchen – part I

The Green Kitchen

© David Creedon

Driving on a lonely road in West Cork on a cold April morning I find myself stopped for road works in the middle of nowhere. While waiting for the lights to turn green I contemplate if I should drive on as there is no cars about at this time of the morning.  Then out of the corner of my eye I catch a glimpse of a chimney pot but I cannot see a house because of trees.  I can see that slates are missing from the roof and the upstairs windows are open and it looks abandoned. Parking the car I walk down the lonely by-road until I reach the dwelling. The house is totally encircled by trees and as I make my way through the undergrowth I finally get to the front door that is slightly open. I enter cautiously; it is quite dark and it takes a while for my eyes to become adjusted.

The surrounding trees have cocooned the house and turned it into a time capsule and also protected it from passers by. Looking around I see a calendar on the wall which has a picture of Pope Paul VI dated 1977, the walls are painted in various bright colours, Pinks, Blues, and Yellows and when I entered into the kitchen there was this vibrant painted peeling green wall. In the center was a solid fuel stove and scattered around the floor were kettles, newspapers and a blue tin of Jacob’s Irish party biscuits decorated with shamrocks that now contained letters and bills, on top of the tin sat a snow globe. On the right hand side of the stove was a picture of “Our Lady of Perpetual Succour”, while on a window sill is a clock with its hands stopped at twenty one minutes past twelve and lying next to it was an Irish Sweepstakes ticket that could have changed someone’s life forever.

The Green Kitchen forms part of the series Ghosts of the Faithful Departed which looks at isolation and loneliness in rural Ireland set against a background of mass emigration. the photograph has been published in numerous publications and I also used it on the book cover for Ghosts of the Faithful Departed. The Irish Museum of Modern Art commissioned a bronze sculpture to be made of the photograph which turned out brilliant.

www.davidcreedon.com

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When one door closes, another opens!

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© David Creedon

In 2005 the Irish Government purchased 57 Steinway grand pianos for the Cork School of Music. At the time this was the largest order that Steinway had ever received in their 154 year history.  All the pianos were built in Hamburg Germany and delivered to Cork during the summer of 2008. Shortly after their delivery I began photographing the pianos in their new home. The School now has the largest collection of Steinway pianos in the the world. The concept for the project was that each photograph would feature a different piano. Since all the pianos look the same I decided to break down the photographs into four classifications, portrait, abstract, study rooms and architecture.

Listening to the radio one morning I heard this soul singer who sounded fantastic. The DJ said her name was Laura Izibor and from Dublin and had recently signed a contract with Atlantic Records in the United States. I contacted her management and outlined the Steinway project to them and they agreed that she would take part. Even though she was barely twenty Laura was building up a steady reputation for herself and had previously worked with artists Tony Bennett and Aretha Franklin. When Laura arrived she was full of energy and played the piano for two hours. In the fortnight prior to the exhibition opening Laura released her debut album which entered at number 27 on the U.S Billboard  Chart as well as singing at the White House for President Obama and his family.

www.davidcreedon.com

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