Artist Interview with Garvan Gallagher – 31 May 2011
Draíocht says goodbye today to its longest ever resident artist Garvan Gallagher, who has been working with the Centre since 01 March 2010. We chatted to him as he tidied out the Studio …
Q: So can you remember your first day here, back in March 2010? It seems like a long time ago in one way, and yet it’s flown by in another way!
Yes, it seems like only a few months ago, but actually when I was clearing my things, nuggets from the 15 months resurfaced and it puts it into context. My first day was like the new boy in a big space with open windows. It was exciting, new things always are, and I knew what I was going to be working on, so I got down to some research after a quick blog update with my new empty studio.
Q: So how important has this time been for you in Draíocht’s Artists Studio?
I think it’s fantastic to offer this to an artist. The physical space is one thing, and as a photographer, I probably didn’t need such a huge space, but the emotional space (if you can call it that) is really as important. That space where I could base myself to work in the community, a community where I’m a total blow in. Draíocht having such a prominent place in Dublin 15 allowed me to immediately begin having conversations with people without them wondering if I was an axe murderer or just slightly crazy.
Q: You’ve been working hard on some big projects during your time here, including the Intergenerational Photography Project & Exhibition. Can you tell us a little bit more about this project and the people involved?
The Intergenerational project was a fantastic success in so many ways. Other than the fact that the end exhibition looked fantastic, the entire process was really interesting, exciting and allowed me to do something completely new, something I’d never done before. Facilitating a group of people was daunting to begin with but the participants gave 100% and they were all so amazing to work with. Sarah Beirne with her little box of tricks, fantastic attitude and unending supply of props was vital to the whole thing. The intergenerational element to the project was something all the participants picked up on in the feedback; it was the one element all the participants really enjoyed. Whatever about the project, this little social experiment was the biggest success for me. It was a truly enjoyable, rewarding and incredibly valuable experience.
Q: What would you say is the thing you most enjoyed about your time in Draíocht?
Probably the Intergenerational project and working with the lovely Sarah Bierne. We were a good team. That and eating cake and being able to bring Fred (my dog) to work every day. Fred wasn’t allowed any cake though.
Q: Have you any funny memories of the last year in Draíocht that really stand out in your mind?
Erm, the Christmas party ...
Q: How did you keep motivated if you were having a bad day?
Working on a residency so long allowed me to work on other things too that had to pay the bills. I set up a photography workshop/school in town, which took a lot of my summer last year. If I was really having a bad day, I’d treat myself to some coffee, donuts and head home to watch some West Wing by the fire.
Q: Could you tell us a little more about your forthcoming exhibition in Draíocht’s Ground Floor Gallery later in 2011?
Normally when I work on something I have a pretty good idea what I will exhibit. Right now, and this is a good thing, I’m not 100% sure. I know there will be some recreated fashion photographs using the older body as opposed to the youthful skinny superhuman one; there will be lots of personal stories confined to a publication as well as being told by the people themselves in a video piece; there will be photos of the ‘real’ people in their own fashion and what they have to say about it and also a piece on reflections – that last piece I’ve no idea what it will be yet. So it will be an interesting mixed bag but with a very human element, and all from people around Dublin 15. I think it’ll be really nice.
Q: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Ever since I was in my teens, the moving image was something that always drew me in. Photography was what I done in college and it’s something I’m passionate about and maybe I’ll stay with it. I don’t want to confine myself to one thing though but be open to lots of other stuff. So in 10 years time, I really have absolutely no clue. I’ll probably be in London, hopefully able to pay the mortgage!
Q: What are your interests and hobbies outside of photography?
Are box-set marathons a hobby? Cooking is a big thing for me, I have a library of cookbooks and make a great beef bourguignon. I love to travel. Every five years or so, myself and my partner aim to make massive 4-month trips. Last time was South America, next India. Have plans to head across Europe with Fred on a campervan.
Q: You weren’t always a professional artist; can you tell us a little about your journey from full time 9-5’er to where you are today?
I did an OK leaving Cert, actually it was kind of crap. I wanted to do Communications in DCU but never got the points so I got my 7th CAO choice (that’s 3 from the bottom!), which was computer science in UL. I had to double check how far down exactly Limerick was from Donegal. It was good to me though, it allowed me to travel and live in places like Istanbul and Rome. I just didn’t want to wake up when I was 50 behind a desk working for a big company, and I could never see myself starting up my own IT company. So I went and did a full-time photography degree in IADT, working a 3-day week in my old company for the most of it, which was great. The company were really flexible and really good to me. I picked up a lot of really valuable things from working in a professional IT position – work ethics, deadlines, writing documents, communication skills etc.
Q: In general, do you have any advice you could give to an artist following the same path as you?
Being an artist is hard and you definitely don’t get anything handed to you on a plate to you. You have to do all the digging, all the looking, phone calls and selling yourself; something I’m not very keen on or good at myself, but who is? But the best advise would be to follow what’s in your heart, it’s generally telling you the right thing.
Q: Most of your work concentrates on portraits of older people. What draws you to taking photographs of this particular group?
I don’t think it’s something I’ll do forever, it’s something I got interested in while doing my thesis for my final year in college. Doing portraits was the last thing I thought I’d end up doing, and it’s all I do now. I was making portraits with a social element to them, e.g migrant workers, the male body that wasn’t the covers of Men’s Health magazine. Doing research for these, the older body would inevitably come up, and I made a note to do a project around this. I’m interested in how we adapt to what society thinks we should do. There are very few representations of older people used in advertising. Products are sold with young and beautiful bodies. There is a myth that is being sold to us, and something we are lapping up, that we can stay young forever. This has a huge impact on how society views our older population. I was brought up to respect older people, and I had huge respect for my own Grandparents, who have had a huge part to play in who I am today. We are losing that, and by doing projects like these, I hope in some small way it will make people think. If it changes the attitudes of a few, then it has worked. We are all going to grow old, and changing attitudes starts in schools, in homes and in projects like this. There is also a great sense of freedom in working with a lot of older people. They have so much life experience and juicy gossip, and they don’t really give a crap what you think of them. I love that.
Q: Has working with older people made you think a lot about getting older yourself?
It certainly draws attention to it. I’m 37 so I’ve a bit to go, but time does shift on quickly. I think it’s made me less self-conscious about what other people think, and that’s refreshing. In Japan, older people were celebrated (now also unfortunately changing). That’s the way our society should be. The thing to achieve I suppose is to have no regrets by the time I get there.