Warblers, Andy Warhol and the beautiful art of land

Tiny warbler in the fennel

Small flocks of warblers have invaded the herb garden and I've taken a big shine to them. I think this one is a Chiff-chaff but as ever I am open to correction by my twitcher friends. 

This summer there are fewer butterflies and insects but a lot more warblers. My sister was visiting from Sweden and we both remarked on the eery silence and lack of bees buzzing. The buddleia otherwise known as the butterfly bush, has had no takers. Every other year it has been laden with them. 

This week I did a happy dance because one butterfly appeared in the kitchen.

It is probably no coincidence that the land around here has been cleared and fertilised having been a boggy wilderness for years. Although designated as a protected wetland, the local authority did not see any conflict of interest with clearing for "agricultural purposes." This consisted of the removal of a willow wood, a number of acres of boggy wildflower meadows, ditches, hedgerows, and numerous trees. 

Farmers can't be blamed if the relevant authorities fail to educate and monitor how farming should be managed. At this stage our couple of wild acres are an oasis of cover for small animals and birds on this boreen. There are other small farms around here but there won't be any talk of conservation when the younger generations finally inherit them. I suspect instead that all the shiny bulldozers and diggers will be out in force again.

I came across this prophetic wisdom from New York celebrity artist Andy Warhol, and I thought of the vulnerable landscapes of Ireland.

"I think having land and not ruining it is the most beautiful art that anybody could ever want."


Learning lessons in street photography

Promenade Festival, Tramore
Train station, London

Pride Parade, Vienna
Two young Vikings, Waterford
Woman posing, Vienna
Familiar sight everywhere

More often to be found sneaking up on hares in the wild, I was recently asked how to take photographs of people in public places. This made me realise that I must have made some progress in what was once such a huge challenge. 

A few things have inhibited my street photography. There's my own shyness, the way certain people react so negatively to a camera, and the impulse not to interrupt the flow of some one's private life. Over the years I've learned how to capture relaxed scenes in public places but mostly of people's backs!

There is a distinction here between what I see as urban"portraits" like Humans of NY and "street" which I would define as casual and candid photography of the moment.....think Vivian Maier  Her street shots of a strangers tell a story in a particular way. It doesn't matter who it is or where, her images always captivate me.

While photographing a context, an event, a building, sometimes it's just a blessing when some one literally walks onto the set. Other times I am interested in a face, an expression, a pose. I like reflective and grounded people who are staring meditatively into the distance.......well they kind of remind me of hares and rabbits but that's another story!

Tending to draw more on the contemplative aspects of human nature, I have a particular soft spot for watching elders and their individual body language. There's also an ethical aspect to how I would want to portray some one and although I hugely admire documentary and human rights photographers I am reluctant to snap people in all their vulnerability.

In case like me you are slowly building up an interest in street photography her are three tips I've learned from my experiences over the years.

1. The best way to study other human beings is where everyone has their cameras out, festivals, parades, weddings, etc. People are so much more relaxed and everyone is at it....small camera phones are perfect for this.

2.  If I pick up unhappiness in people when a camera is produced and if I can't find a way for them to be more relaxed I just stop. 

3.  I am wary of photographing children unless I get specific permission. (Yes technically you are legally entitled to photograph anyone in a public place, but I think it's best to get a nod from the parents......) 

There are more photos here in the Street Gallery


A man who knows his flowers

When the streets of Vienna are getting too hot to bear, I duck into a side street flower shop.  It's the bunches of "weeds" in the window that first catch my eye; familiar wildflowers as carrot and catmint, laurel leaves and common grasses, in bouquets and tall vases.

As I stick my head in the door I ask "do you mind if I take some photos?" Fine, is all he says.

I snap away. There are huge cat portraits and the rows of jars are filled with soft colour combinations, in the background endless telephone conversations in animated German. And I am in awe, here is a man who knows his flowers......

After a while I say, "I'm not sure I know much about the flower business but you seem to be an artist of the genre."

"Ah! D'you think so."

He continues to twirl ribbons around a wreath of roses, lost in the zone; the touch, the scents, the colour. For some time we work side by side. Deliveries come and go. Orders are taken, glass jars are shifted up and down the rows.

Vienna is old world and on a grand scale, but transported into the intimacy of his workshop, I feel more inspired than by almost anything else in this city of ghostly memories.

See more Vienna photos here in the Street Gallery


"Stop whining and get back to work!"

That blue grey Irish light of summer

It's been raining

Wildflowers after the rain really sparkle

Glistening foxglove fingers

He introduces himself to a field of cattle

The bull pokes his nose into the air

Red ants

The Irish light is blue grey and it's been raining. I'm snapping raindrops. He stops to introduce himself to a herd of frisky cattle. They get like that in the gloaming. Leppin around and hooshing themselves up on top of each other.

The bull is at the back, a foot or two taller than the others and he pokes his moist black nose in the air, sniffing us out. Still he stands there talking to them and peering into their midst.

Suddenly he jumps out of the ditch and scampers to rid himself of the red ants crawling up his legs. I capture him, my adult son ahead on the path while the dusky sky behind me darkens. The low light and low key stroll is a welcome break from the earlier procrastination and questions.

Are we in a period of "lowest common denominator" art? This has been the topic of the day. It's a challenge to argue against it. The on line art world is over saturated and the offline art world is a daily struggle to survive. 

I agree. I disagree. I argue. I listen. I don't know.

Later I try to find something relevant and soothing about leading an artist's life. More for myself than for anyone else. I find a quote from Werner Herzog where he responds to a desperate and disillusioned young film maker.   

"Quit your complaining. It’s not the world’s fault that you wanted to be an artist. It’s not the world’s job to enjoy the films you make, and it’s certainly not the world’s obligation to pay for your dreams. Nobody wants to hear it. Steal a camera if you have to, but stop whining and get back to work.”

I'm not sure how the jobbing artists upstairs have received this advice, but Herzog works for me every time and I immediately get the finger out and return to work......

More Irish wildflowers here in the Gallery


Beginning the descent

Mountains of the Mani Peninsula

The mule track

Beauty underfoot with every step

Down to the land and sea near Pylos

When walking in Greece, each map we followed advised mule tracks based on whether you were more suited to climbing or descending. I would choose walking downhill anytime over walking uphill! Anticipating the view from the top of a mountain will carry you up there, but the thoughts of a Kardamilli breakfast and a dunk in the sea will help you stay focussed on the way down. 

As I reach the summit of this pilgrimage trail it has come to the turn in the path where I will begin to descend. I'm not sure why this idea is leading me so strongly, or why I can't stay a bit more in the familiar denial and enjoy the view. I just feel, in my whole being, that I am at this downwards turn on the hill.

I am often torn between aspiring to the view from the mountain top or taking the track down to the depths. The race to the top, the climbing of Mount Everest, the peak of your life's achievements this is how we tell the story of the climb.  The tale of the descent is more likely to be one of darkness, valleys and fears. And yet when you get to the top of a wobbly ladder, there is an irresistible urge to get your feet back on solid ground?

Most of my life I have been in training for the art of free falling; frequently saying goodbye, delving into vulnerabilities, observing closely the life cycles around me. My quest now for the rest of this pilgrimage year is to to ease downward, to dig deeper, to take my shoes off and feel the grass beneath my feet. 

It doesn't stop here. Life goes on. I just watched Beau Lotto's TED talk about perception and reality. So today I'm thinking about the fact that the only thing that is certain is uncertainty. (Yes that's the kind of stuff I delve into on a Sunday morning!!)

I've always loved going downhill; the reassuring pull of gravity, the lure of lying horizontal, the damp smell of the earth. So here I go again........

There are more photos of the beautiful Peleponese of Greece in the gallery here


In stillness

They excel in stillness. Sitting and watching. Waiting and listening. On the corner, on a chair outside the front door, at the gate to the garden.

Once I asked a Native American for a clue to the future. Am on on the right path I asked her?

She was supposed to be a seer of sorts and looked harshly into my eyes. Tell me about your life she said. So I told her about teaching and leading, about the emancipation of women and the poor, about trying to pass on knowledge and skills. She remained impassive.

I longed for some kind of reaction and so she said, "Yes, you are on your right path."

That wasn't what I wanted to hear. No. I wanted her to guide me, coax me, to soothe me onto some new path. I wanted her to have another answer. Like that I wasn't on the right path at all, like that I was on the complete waste of time path!! I wanted to be rescued, found, understood. Maybe I just needed a big cry and a hug!!

But now I know, that I only have to be still; that questions are the nub of the whole thing; that there is no one answer and that we are all in the same leaky old boat. 

And when I saw them, each one in such stillness, they left me wondering even more about striving and waste of time ambition.

There are more photos of Greek elders here 


Wild foxgloves on the lane

Wild Foxgloves appear in a new place each year, especially some old patch that has been recently cleared. A corner of rocky earth suddenly gives birth to an abundance of the most exotic of our wildflowers. They nestle under trees and festoon the hedgerows. They peep over the tallest grasses and parade their purply pink lady's fingers up and down the lane.

This year they surround the newly drained meadows on the shores of the lake as a ribbon of vibrant bunting. An odd one grows on a stone wall. Another few wave from the grassy hill. 

It's as if they are cheering us on!!

Check out the Foxglove Lane Gallery for more images



A quiet moment of contemplation from one of my friends. When life is a bit hectic, remember to stop and smell the mint....says she.......

More contemplative rabbits here


Paint yourself beautiful

I know! I'm gadding about a lot recently. It's a long story. This week I'm in Vienna. Strikes me as a conservative and wealthy city. It's only my initial impression and I've never been here before. Right?

Wrong. Turns out today is the Gay Pride March. It's my first proper Gay Pride. It's got bells and whistles. It's got knobs on. It's the whole shebang.

We cheer it on, myself and the citizens of Vienna. The trams are rainbowed for the event, smiley police are drafted in, the city thumps to the beat of the drums. I love this world and everyone in it, especially those who celebrate by painting themselves beautiful, and doesn't it just leave everyone else in the shade......

Alas, I was told that some time later the parade was attacked by christian right wing marchers coming from another direction. How dark and sad, in this city of ghostly memories. 

See some more street photography here


Golden photography

Sometimes you just snap what you can, following your photography path and documenting each step. On other days you fall into a flow, visualising the image before you even see it, lost in a reverie and yet connected to every fibre of the present. 

You anticipate certain factors that add up to the right conditions. Still air, soft light, fields of golden daisies, drifts of wildflowers. The sun is going down casting long golden beams across the landscape. Even the birds are singing in harmony with a thousand dancing crickets.

One hour, on one evening as the sun slowly deflates into the sea. 

Check out my first Gallery from Greece called Golden here and continue enjoying this wildflower shoot.......