So, with my Social Media hiatus looming, I am surreptitiously trying to generate more reasons for myself to blog and thus
avoid cold turkey stay in touch and have reasons to be online and commenting/reading/distracting myself. Over the top? No, I was thinking of an OTT along the lines of a “Off-Topic Tuesday”. You see, recently I have felt the increasing urge to comment on some thing or other that is actually not related to RA. But this is an exclusive RA blog. Damn. Every once in a while I have sneaked in OT posts when it was really important such as political news, charity appeals, or definitely less important stuff like my self-serving photo posts of Greece, Ireland and other places, as well as photography-related lectures pieces, and commemorative personal news, for instance. Heck, I even have a category tag called “OT”, so I figure I might as well go for it openly, rather than just sneak my OT commentary into Weekly Round-ups or RAPS introductions.
Chances are, that my OT(T) thoughts are triggered by something that has occurred or been discussed in the fandom, or is in some shape or form motivated by Mr A, anyway.
Trust me, I can find a tenuous link to my most favouritest actor in almost anything, anyway… I’m pretty good at finding hidden connections. Here’s a classic example:
This bottle has been lying in the laneway behind my house for the past week, and every time I walk past I think of Mr A.
Sorry, Rich, for associating you with rubbish. Or alcohol. Dublin Porter. Hello, yesssss! I want a Dublin Porter *badly*. Make it a Dublin *John* Porter, please, who will magically replace that discarded bottle and cross my path the next time I amble down the lane. I’d pick up such a Dublin Porter, any time, and give him a good home.
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See what I mean? There’s a RA connection even in the most mundane of sights. Or sometimes, the connection is once removed – which is exactly what prompted today’s post. I was shopping at the weekend, and I dropped into one of my favourite Dublin places. It is called Powerscourt Townhouse, and is basically an indoor shopping mall, located in a historic townhouse. It once was the townhouse of the Viscounts of Powerscourt and consists of a magnificent mid-18th century Georgian house with back buildings arranged around a central (now covered) courtyard (see right, click to enlarge).
And now we are finally getting to the point. Powerscourt Townhouse is currently hosting a photo exhibition in conjunction with the Dublin International Film Festival, which is why I popped by. The photographer is none other than RA’s colleague from the eagerly awaited mediaeval road movie Pilgrimage, actor/director/photographer Hugh O’Conor. I very much liked his contribution to the 2016 Annual Show in the Royal Hibernian Academy (exhibit #7 in my list of sneaky OT commentary in regular postings) and was keen to see what he would produce by way of portraiture. Here’s his blurb:
The inclusion of Andrew Scott of Sherlock fame on the promo material is no coincidence. Despite the grand words of the blurb, he is easily the most well-known of the subjects photographed by O’Conor. I recognised a few of the sitters – but many of them are of the “world-famous in Ireland” kind of fame. No matter, really, what counts is, how the imagery stands up of its own.
The square format of the images already points to their origin on a medium format camera – (very) unusual in the age of full-frame (i.e. 35mm) digital photography. O’Conor shoots with a Hasselblad camera, a name that even most non-photographers recognise. A classy, high-quality camera, especially when paired with top-glass by Carl Zeiss. As such, the images originated on medium format film, therefore it is somewhat unusual to see the resulting prints are archival pigment prints (fancy name for “inkjet printed”) and not photographic prints. However, I can see where O’Conor was coming from with that decision: O’Conor chose to display the images – unprotected prints, unframed – simply hung from clip binders. Not an altogether new and revolutionary idea (even little me used that method way back in 2012 at an expo, see right, click to enlarge), but a good alternative when operating on a smaller budget. And with images not protected by glass, and people passing by the exhibit every day, some people probably pawing them, it does not make sense to invest heavily in photographic art prints. Mind, the archival prints are not chucked out on O’Conor’s desk printer, either, but professionally printed by fine art printers on fine art paper (incidentally the printing house whom I use, too. Good choice, O’Conor!).
I had a good look at the images
much to the boredom of daughter-dear who was accompanying me and it was clearly apparent that they are shot with much thought and deliberation. All b/w, they are all characterised by shallow depth of field with the focus on the subject and a soft, blurry background. This approach serves the intention of the exhibition estremely well: “featuring a selection of home-grown talent”, i.e. we are not only shown a face of an actor, but the image also anchors (most of) the sitters in a specific (noticeably Irish) location. As a local, I was able to make out details of the background, which enhances the idea that these are “local”, *Irish* artists.
The images are beautifully shot, carefully composed with the background never detracting from the most important element of the photos (the sitters). B/w is a great choice, as it emphasises the facial characteristics and avoids loud colour distractions. Despite the mostly symmetrical composition of the images with the sitter bang in the middle of the shots, there was a nice variety on show because every sitter was pictured in a different pose – which obviously means that O’Conor carefully directed his sitters and/or edited his images accordingly. All very aesthetic, arty and nice, technically convincing, and by no means bad.
However, there was a tinge of boredom in me when I was looking at the images. The images do not appear flat, in fact quite the opposite – the shallow dof creates a three-dimensionality that makes you want to reach out into the depth of the image. But what you are “touching” is not a living, breathing individual but a static sculpture. The sitters all appeared very still to me, frozen. Applying the benefit of the doubt and judging by the contemplative poses and looks off-camera by the sitter, I presume that that is exactly what the photographer wanted to achieve. I am deliberating whether it is a valid, good idea to show actors mannequin-like, a mere outer shell which they are providing for a character to inhabit. Personally, I find the “still” approach falls flat in a context where you are showing actors whose job is to imbue characters with *life*. But that interpretation is offered from the POV of someone who looks at acting *from the outside*. As an actor himself, O’Conor inevitably must have a different experience to the act of acting.
So, a mixed reaction from me to this piece of work. Looking at O’Conor’s website again, I was much more taken with another project of his that takes its subject(s) from the world of acting. Have a look at his photo project “Winter Pages” in which he explores what happens once the show is over. I found the resulting images beautiful, as well as touching and surprising. To me they exude a sense of exhaustion, possibly relief. O’Conor calls it “a weird netherworld” in the accompanying short text.
To get back to my tenuous thematic connection to Mr A, the images immediately brought up memories of the TC SD and the impression that RA was often “not there”, still dazed, in another world – or another head, after 3.5 hours of being John Proctor. Grown-up Fan Heather touched upon that a little bit in this post, albeit in a different context. For non-actors such as ourselves, it is probably hard to imagine exactly what it must be like to finally sink down at the dressing table after “living” another person’s story for a few hours. O’Conor’s “Winter Pages” have certainly made me feel a bit more understanding of RA’s decision to occasionally skip the SD.
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If you have read this far – thanks for entertaining my photographic spleen, and for gracing an OT(T) post with your attention. I’d love to know what you think – do you have examples of every-day items and occurences reminding you suddenly of RA? Care to share?