The Light of Other Days
In the mid 1970s I began exploring the world through photography. I was keen to make it relate to my other great passion, Irish traditional music. Through the following few years, I regularly photographed people and performances at sessions and concerts, working in an enthusiastic, if neophyte, way – the resultant work was not particularly coherent in approach or concept.
My time as a student on the Documentary Photography course in Newport, Wales in the mid 80s would add structure to the idea. A requirement for the final year of the course was to produce four major ‘picture stories’.
Three of my ‘stories’ dealt with music: the musician portraits; a series on The Boys of the Lough; and another on Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger. (I had the privilege of documenting this legendary pair and their family recording an album to raise funds for the anti-apartheid movement.) These three bodies of work were effectively this project in nascent form.
During 1985/87 I travelled frequently from Wales back home to Lurgan, from where I would strike out to find my musical heroes. It was at this time that Dara Vallely, Tony McAuley and David Hammond introduced me to some of the sitters.
When I returned to live in Belfast in 1988, Ciaran Carson, the Traditional Arts Officer at the Arts Council of NI, commissioned several projects. The portraits of Archie McKeegan, Tommy Keenan, Peter Welsh, Josie McDermott, The McGoldricks and Paddy Harpur among others came out of that period. The documentary portrait and ‘decisive moment’ approach was, and remains, at the heart of my practice. The best portraits arrive naturally when a relationship of trust exists.
I like to think of my practice as being in this humanist tradition. My photographic exemplars were Robert Frank, Gary Winogrand, Lee Friedlander and Henri Cartier-Bresson. Their work is a continuing and compassionate engagement with people, and it remains an inspiration to me. It has provided a framework for my work and the way I relate to the people I photograph.
If my admiration and appreciation of these musicians – some of whom have suffered much hardship – all of whom have given great joy - is conveyed in these pages, then I am more than content.
Revisiting some of those I’ve photographed over the last twenty five years, has given me an added impetus. This is one of those passionately engaging, once in a lifetime projects that I intend to pursue for as long as I can still make pictures.
Jim Maginn, August 2012