18” x 24”, C-prints.
The series title refers to the date and time of a car bomb explosion on a busy shopping street in Omagh, Northern Ireland, described as the worst single incident of terrorism in Ireland.
I have been photographing the Irish landscape for over five years now, fascinated by how the land itself becomes the source of mythology and longing. I have my own nostalgias, but I stand apart from how these, here, feed into a sense of “Irishness.” Nevertheless, I feel a connection: as the father of “blow-ins,” and as one who has felt a shared history with the Irish in their colonial relationship to the English.
Spending my time mostly in a one-shop, two-pub Donegal village, hemmed in by mountains and peat bogs, it might be easy to forget the “Troubles” or even the burgeoning “Celtic Tiger,” but evidence of violence and change intrude everywhere, at times discreet, at times traumatic, at other times so mundane as to be unnoticed.
There are the crashed and abandoned cars, the remnants of sudden, crushing impacts being quietly absorbed into the otherwise bucolic landscape; the unsettling experience of browsing for tourist trinkets within a stone’s throw of the border with its looming watchtowers and armed British soldiers; celebrating my son’s birthday as the news comes over the radio that a car-bomb has just gone off in a crowded shopping street.
Parallel to these occurrences is a process of memorializing; a compilation of ancient mythologies entwined with more recent tragedies. It seems the classic formation of nationalist history, the past creating a sense of home, of belonging, of communal suffering and outrage, and finally, a collective self and its promise of the future.
Every town seems to partake of that collectivity in some small measure, sporting a famine or prison museum or reconstructed workhouse with mannequins each more abject than the next; in history theme parks I can watch a blacksmith bending horseshoes or sample oatcakes freshly made by a matron in nineteenth century petticoats. The past might have been dire, unimaginably so, but through these lenses even the squalor and degradation seem blessed by divine spotlights.
In all the sites, sights, and cites (quoting their own fabrications), I am most struck by their sense of unreality; each site, etc, seems a square on some board game whose rules and plays are pre-determined, forging masquerades of the past and the present with, no doubt, aspirations to replace both. I have no idea what other forms these might take, though in a moment of clarity–or perhaps of density–I imagine that reality, poetry even, is only approached by total immersion in the prosaic.
l’ve looked, then, to the ordinary and to what others might have passed by as unworthy, since it is the ordinary and unworthy–in all their surreal presence– that seem to be the most loaded (in all senses of that word), that seem to somehow embody and preserve the contradictory traces of what, with deference to W.B.Yeats, has changed, changed utterly; when a terrible beauty is born.
– In an interview quoted in the Irish newspaper, The Sunday Tribune, on December 31, 2000, Bill Clinton criticized Ireland’s growing racial tensions but went on to say, “… I think it will be quite amazing ten years from now to go [to Ireland] and see all these people with different coloured skin quoting Yeats’ poetry.”
– My son has lived in Ireland for almost half his life, has “differently colored” skin, can not only quote Yeats, but can do so in Gaelic. His name, Kiran, is ostensibly Irish, but his friends tease him that he spells it the English way. I remind him that it’s an Indian name, brought to Ireland by the gypsies. It’s necessary ammunition in the not-so-subtle skirmishes over origins and ownership, and ultimately over who has the right to be here.
–Yeats referred to his own dilemma of trying to create an “Irish poetry” while living in London, and the effects of the colonial capital upon his fellow countryfolk as an “unnatural conditioning of mind.”
– I was born in a British colony, to parents who had earlier migrated from a Portuguese colony; we subsequently migrated to England. My parents later moved to Portugal, my children to Ireland, and myself to America. I wonderwhat Yeats might have said of our “conditioning of mind”?
Donegal, January 2001