Wednesday 3 February 2016

UK Camera Magazine features my 5 year project 'Ghost Houses of the Prairies'

I am proud to announce that my 'Ghosts Houses of the Prairies" Photo Project is featured in the current edition of the UK Photo Magazine "PhotoPlus”.

This project is very close to my heart, as it represents a number of milestones in my life, and in my career. First and foremost it brought me much closer to the friendships first forged over 35 years ago when I attended High School in Hutchinson, Kansas, and a place I now consider my real home.

Secondly, using Hutchinson and a good friend's farm in Overbrook, as my bases, I spent a wonderful 5 years driving along thousands of miles of Kansas, straight as a die, highways and dusty county roads, tracking down these sad but amazing structures. Over the course of that project I learned more about the negative effects of globalisation on food production that a lad from the projects of the inner city would ever normally get.

It was also, as a result of this project, the first time that I was called an artist to my face. This came from someone I deeply trust, and was at a time when I didn't trust many people around me back home in Ireland. That statement alone was enough to change the course of my creative journey from that point.

Now, as this project passes into history, along with the houses I captured, a new phase has opened, one which will see me working from Dublin, Kansas, and California. From these leaping off points I will be seeking new and exciting directions in my photography, while giving the various photography related workshops I have created for the Institute of Photography.

I can honestly say that if it were not for my Ghost Houses Project, I believe none of this would have come to pass. A very good friend uses 'Art saves lives' as her email signature, in my case I know this to be true.

It has been an incredible journey, and as I come to the end of it I see that I'm just at the start.

Vita brevis, ars lunga - Life is short, art is long

Much of my new work is only available on my Instagram:

My own website is an easier way to see some of my projects:

My Facebook Arts Page is at:

- The magazine is available for the month of February in all good magazine shops in Ireland and the UK.
- The print version can be purchased from:
- A downloadable version for computer and smart device is available for purchase here:

Saturday 6 August 2011

The clouds, the clouds!!!! or how we can assume too much in our photography

It's amazing how you take things for granted. I live on a little island surrounded by the sea. This means we suffer from "inclement" weather on a regular basis. For "inclement" read "cloudy"! This, of course, makes it hard for outdoor photography that relies on the perfect light for any scene. You either have to be very lucky or very persistent. When you have a life i.e. kids, career, perhaps a significant other that doesn't really care about photography then persistent usually isn't an option.

I began to come to terms with "the clouds" a couple of years ago but I really started to build a relationship with them when I started delving deep into HDR. As my journey in this new way of working with photographs progressed I noticed cloudy overcast days produced great results, the cloudier the better!

So my photographs of abandoned Irish buildings are coming along nicely. I can usually expect interesting clouds here in Ireland and I'm rarely disappointed. This makes for very efficient use of limited time. It means I shoot more, process more, learn more, all in a shorter space of time.

So what's the problem I hear you say? The problem is that when you go to a country that doesn't suffer from the same weather, or maybe even a US State that's not surrounded by water you have to change your perceptions of the weather! On a trip to Kansas last April to continue with my "Ghost Houses of the Prairies" project I suffered from great weather for 6 of the 7 days I was there. I had been shooting under the clear blue skies and bright yellow sun but wasn't getting good results. The shot at the top above shows an abandoned farmhouse under these bright conditions. Luckily the weather turned for a day and I got to re-shoot the house under cloudy skies, as the shot at the bottom shows.

This last trip to Kansas at the start of October was 11 days long of which 9.5 were clear blues skies and bright yellow sun (of which, more next newsletter). Next time I'll be checking the long range weather forecast before I make any more assumptions about the weather!

Friday 20 May 2011

Open your Reticular Activating System!

What has the Reticular Activating System got to do with photography? What in god's name is it? Why should I care?

The Reticular Activating System is actually a filter at the base of our brain that prevents information, deemed irrelevant to us, from sending us into sensory overload. It essentially checks all our senses all the time and makes us aware of what it thinks we should know about and hides from us information it thinks we don't need to know about.

It was explained to me in a way which I think is very interesting. Think of a young mother who lives in a house under the flight path of an airport. At night there are planes regularly flying overhead making a level of noise that, in theory, should wake her up. But they don't. The Reticular Activating System says to her unconscious mind "you don't need to worry about this, stay asleep". But if her newborn baby makes a sound much lower than that of the planes the Reticular Activating Section says "you need to be aware of this, wake up".

This is one of the reasons why, when we're looking to buy a new car, we suddenly see that make of car all over the place. It's also why we see lots of pregnant women immediately after someone we know gets pregnant. In both cases it's like they've suddenly appeared out of nowhere. They haven't. The filter stopped us from seeing them in the first place and has been forced open in the second.

So what does this have to do with photography? For me it has more to do with photography projects. Let me explain.

One of my long-term projects is called "Ghost Houses of the Prairies". This is a collection of abandoned farmhouses from Kansas in the USA. Many of the houses I come up against are 'nearly' abandoned, they still have people living in them. I'm not interested in these kinds of houses. So how do I know? Well there are clues such as broken windows, screens hanging at an angle, doors half open, a tile or 2 missing from the roof, a hole in one of the walls. Any one of these is not a guarantee of an abandoned house, but a combination of them usually is. You'd expect, though, that I could only spot these up close and not from a distance. But I can spot these houses now from a mile or more away. My Reticular Activating System is open to all of these clues and tells me when I "need to be aware of this".

One amazing way it came together for me lately was on a fruitless trip 360 miles out (1 way!!) from base along Interstate 70 in northern Kansas. I was on my way back from a disappointing find in Hays (that's another story altogether!) and was heading on the long journey back. About 60 miles in I spotted a collapsed barn to the right of the highway. Now I'm not interested in barns and would normally ignore them, but my Reticular Activating System said ""be aware of this, abandoned barns may have abandoned houses near them". Almost without realising it I went into auto-mode. The next off-ramp was fast approaching (probably the last one for 10 miles or more) but I was ready to come off immediately and by the time I hit it I was already thinking of how to get there "go right, go right, go right" was on my mind. Kansas is pretty much laid out on a grid system so this would probably work. Well it did! I found a fantastic specimen... and then another and then another and then another! 4 in total less that a mile from each other.

But my Reticular Activating System wasn't prepared to let go. It said later, after I came back to Ireland "4 so close together is unusual". So I went back the next month and found 3 more, and a couple of months later 5 more!

I now call this my "Elephants Graveyard". All because I forced my Reticular Activating System to open up.

Monday 14 June 2010


On a trip to Berlin recently I had great plans to shoot the Brandenburg Gate at dusk. As luck would have it the weather was miserable all day, with a thunderstorm around teatime promising to bring a halt to all outdoor activity. And I was only there for one night!

The clouds were still thick and miserable as I set out on foot from the restaurant were we had dinner and the weather stayed like that all the way there. As I set up the tripod in front of the gate about 10 minutes before sunset a German photographer came up to me and told me I was wasting my time as there would be no 'blue moment' that night due to the heavy clouds. I told him to have faith, I only needed a little break in the clouds. He said it was hopeless because he knew what clouds were coming our way. Well it stayed that way until 40 minutes after sunset when the clouds started clearing! (It got much clearer about 20 minutes after this shot was taken but by that time the light from the sky was too low and the light inside the gate was blowing out).

Even though the sky was clearing I was very worried about the dark foreground. The street lights simply weren't coming up to strength the way that I had hoped. But as luck would have it a police car drove by in a slow arc in front of me just after I fired the shutter leaving it's headlights trails behind, pure chance! This simple accident added significant foreground interest and really helped show up the detail of the cobbled street.

Oh ye of little faith!

Thursday 19 November 2009

10,000 HOURS

One of my students recently brought my attention to some interesting research lately into the area of achieving exellence has come up with some interesting findings (thanks Tanyia!). We all know about the child prodigy's, the ones who can play the violin or piano from a very early age. We assume that they're born with this talent. The fact is that without regular practice a prodigy will never achieve excellence, day in, day out practice. So if you're born to greatness then a lack of investment in time and effort means you're unlikely to achieve the greatness you were born to.

But what about the rest of us? Those who weren't born to greatness? The same research is actually saying that it's the practice that counts. In fact it's 10,000 hours, or 10 years, of practice that's needed to achieve mastery in any field.

I've been shooting creative photography since 1984 and it wasn't until I was in Asissi in the summer of 2007 that I got what I considered a shot I was really happy with (see right). Is this my 10,000 hours? Maybe, but I had been tricking around my new Nikon D200 at the time and I thought it was the camera that made the difference, who knows!

Unfortunately mastery does not come about by staring at your camera while it sits on a shelf. You have to go out and take mundane shots, screw up the camera's settings and generally mess up before you start achieving a higher skill level. So get out and shoot.. now!

Saturday 4 April 2009

Digital Photography has the power to bring out the creative streak in us all

In psychological circles it’s long been recognised that there is a strong creative streak in us all. Society, and the often limiting demands on those around us, quite regularly quash these urges by failing to understand this simple truth. But the expression of this inherent creativity can create an outlet which has the power to make people feel more positive about their lives and can help us all relight an indvidualism that the western world quite often tries to extinguish.

Unfortunately many people grow into adulthood thinking that “creative” is something that only those with education, money or an “arty” background can afford to get into. Even worse, they often think that all creative expression require a natural talent along with great skills learned over many years.

Certainly, a sculptor needs to be taught about all types of stone and other hard materials and the effect that different tools have; a painter needs to know the qualities of various painting methods and how they apply to various surfaces; even a seamstress needs to have an intimate knowledge of threads, needles and materials before a quality piece of clothing can be produced.

There is one area of creative expresession where a wide skill base is not required however and that area is Digital Photography. Anyone can be creative with a digital camera and get good results, immediately. To get great results may take a little more time and training.

Whatever way you take your shots, using the automatic settings, or through the more complicated manual ones, the power of digital means that you have to spend less time worrying about how the shot is going to turn out and more time concentrating on the composition of the final shot.

I truly believe that Digital Photography has democratised creativity. The fact that the sales of digital cameras has exceeded the sales of film cameras for many years simply underlines this view.

Friday 27 February 2009

You don't have to be a great photographer to get great shots!

I've been casting my mind around the topic of getting great shots lately. What makes a great shot? How do you know you're going to get one? 

Great shots are obviously hard to get. I'm sure your back catalogue is very much like mine, thousands of average and below average shots. Of course the law of luck will eventually apply and once in a blue moon a gem will come along. But this is hit and miss and there can be an awful long time between shots that have any artistic or creative merit at all.

I've been mixing with some of the greats in landscape photography lately, both in person and through their published work (mostly the latter!!) and I think I've discovered a couple of the basic ingredients in many great landscape shots. These are:
  1. Shooting in a great place nearly always gets great shots
  2. Shooting in a great place when the conditions are exceptional is almost a guarantee of a great shot
  3. Shooting in an ordinary place when the conditions are exceptional has a high possibility of success

I know all this sounds simplistic and doesn't take account of the variables of composition and camera technique, but these can be learned. It also doesn't take account of situations that are ordinary but are made extraordinary by the skill and insight of the photographer, again this skill can be built over time.

But if you're new to photography, or your photography skills are a little rusty, then simply get up earlier, stay up later, hike or drive further. Get to great locations and you'll massively increase your chances of getting great shots.