The Aran Islands have been a source of inspiration to artists for generations. One of the first people to photograph them was John Millington Synge whose images, made around the turn of the 20th century, centred on the islanders and their daily lives. More recently, in 2007, Irish painter Sean Scully produced his exhibition and book Walls of Aran, which focused on the iconic and timeless dry stone walls that criss-cross the islands.
Film-maker and photographer Ivan McMahon has created a series of photograph which comprise striking black and white landscapes of Inis Oírr. McMahon’s photographs are closer to the work of Scully than Synge but have their own potent and distinctive visual stamp. They might more accurately be described as rockscapes rather than landscapes as McMahon explores the tones and textures of rock formations that have been shaped and sculpted for millennia by sea, weather, and time.
McMahon has titled all his images after deities and figures from Irish mythology. He is interested in natural, rather than man-made, structures though ‘Na Sídh’ presents a dramatic interplay between the two as hulking, fissured slabs of cliff are sandwiched between low rocky walls at the top and bottom of the image. Elsewhere, natural forms seem to echo man made ones as in ‘Dagda’ which suggests ancient castellated battlements, or perhaps the prow of a mighty stone ship projecting outward toward the sea.
The catalogue carries two resonant quotations about the work; from The Iliad there is ‘Gods are hard for mortals to recognise’ and from renowned French photographer Robert Doisneau there is ‘To suggest is to create; to describe is to destroy’.
Inis Oírr – A Reflection (Ivan McMahon photographs) exhibition runs at the Town Hall Theatre bar in Galway throughout January 2018.