Not exactly an assignment, but still mostly a working week, I’ve recently been in Ireland. The occasion: my friends Ryan and Aoife gathered the closest of their friends and family from throughout the world for a week-long convergence in County Wicklow, just south of Dublin. At the end of the week the two bonded in holy matrimony on a hillside near the town of Blessington.
Though we’ve known each other for about 15 years, Ryan and I became good friends when he returned to Richmond a couple years ago after living in Chicago, Italy and Ireland, respectively. A talented web and graphic designer, we’ve collaborated on a few projects as well. He is the architect of this blog and my forthcoming website. Both of us well traveled, we share a love of other cultures and ways of life. Shown above on the windy moors, Ryan holds on for dear life.
Aoife, from Dublin, was studying abroad in Chicago when she and Ryan met. She then studied in Italy and Ryan went with her. Along the way, the pair (shown above) have made friends everywhere they’ve gone, many of whom came to the wedding in Ireland, where at least seven nationalities were represented.
This is the first year that I have begun to take my camera everywhere I go. Not just when I’m in a foreign country but to a party, or movie, or even the grocery store. In many ways, I think it’s changed the way I look at things. For one, I now feel that I’m always on assignment, that I’m always charged with the task of taking interesting photographs, whether or not someone has commissioned them.
As a photographer who seldom takes a photograph that doesn’t include a human being, I concentrated more on the people of Ireland and their environments than on it’s beautifully green landscapes. Here I was able to gain more confidence in approaching subjects to ask if they’ll allow me to photograph them, and seldom was I turned down. Carrying my camera with me at all times forced me to be so bold, lest I return to the hotel empty-handed. Above, a retired man outside his tenement building north of the River Liffey. Below, school kids take the bus from Dublin to Blessington. “Are you some sort of famous photographer?” the girl asks. “Not yet,” I jokingly reply.
To call me a devoted U2 fan would be an understatement. Though we stayed out in the countryside, I made several day trips into the band’s hometown of Dublin, keeping my eyes peeled the entire time for U2 landmarks and even once sipping a pint of Guiness in a bar owned and frequented by Bono and The Edge. U2’s Dublin was a Mecca of sorts to me. Never am I so berated for the love of a band than among my own circle of friends in the US, who constantly poke fun at Bono to annoy me. It was great to be amongst allies.
Though this is the first time I’ve visited, it is apparent that today’s Dublin is not the same city of the 80s and 90s. Although in some sectors it has not lost its working class and industrial flavor, Dublin is in many ways a posh and metropolitan European capital. It is clearly undergoing an identity crisis. Despite being Europe’s fastest growing economy and a top destination for immigrants from Eastern Europe, voters recently rejected the Lisbon Treaty, a European Union constitution-of-sorts that streamlined EU integration and further centralized power in Brussels.
Ireland is dotted with ancient and medieval sites. On a day trip I visited Glendalough along with Bill, Jeremy (fellow Richmonders) and Andreas of Germany. The site of an ancient Christian monastery, it was founded around 600AD and today contains ruins of churches, towers and countless headstones. Above, Bill strolls through the graveyard at Glendalough.
Never without a song when there’s a pint in your hand, the week was peppered with Johnny Cash, Guns N Roses and U2 singalongs. These groups seemed to elicit consternation on both sides of the Atlantic, but became the glue that bound our various cultures together.
At the end of the week, a dapper Ryan (above with the best man, Barry) wore less conventional attire for the wedding, even riding into the ceremony on his future father-in-law’s bicycle.
Above, Aoife walks to the altar with her father. She and Ryan were married in a stone enclosure on a country hillside, where friends and family encircled them. The guests then used bits of rope to tie an unbreakable knot around the enclosure, recalling Ryan’s years of training to be an Eagle Scout.
Every step of the wedding was planned by Ryan and Aoife, and it remained true to form for the couple. Shunning tradition and employing symbolism, Ryan even baked the wedding cake (although with some last minute help from his mother).
I’ve shot a fair amount of weddings in the past. I’ve approached them as any other cultural event that I document -as a story to be told. Lately, however, my schedule has been so packed with overseas assignments that booking a wedding has become logistically impossible (I’m writing this entry from an internet cafe in Ecuador).
Ryan now lives in Europe. I hope that during my travels I’ll still be able to visit him and Aoife from time to time. The fact that so many of their loved ones traveled thousands of miles to be at the wedding in Ireland is a testament to the kind of steadfast and upstanding friends that they are.
Good times ahead.