Fieldwork in Ireland: Dwelling In Surfaces, Seeing Language and Landscape in Ireland
These photographs were taken on a walk along the shoreline while at a language course in Donegal, where I spent a week speaking Irish and being taught about the quasi-mythological place of the natural landscape in post-Celtic Revival Ireland. This language learning was done in preparation for my upcoming fieldwork, which will focus on the place of the natural landscape in Irish language multimedia art objects.
These images do not conform to the representationalist documentary ethnographic genre, but it is my hope that the viewer can approach them as methodologically robust if generically subversive in certain respects. The natural landscape holds pride of place for many Irish-speaking artists and Irish language learners, many of whom would have been taught to understand the Irish language as co-imbricated, in ordered and aesthetically meaningful senses, with Ireland’s natural ecology. These images were thus taken with a dualistic ethnographic aim in mind: first, to use photography as a way of learning to see the natural landscape from a vantage inspired by this post-Romantic Nationalist vision; and second, to visually subvert the expected naturalist representational views often reproduced in landscape photography, and in so doing, to make alternative ways of seeing available to the viewer’s interrogation.
One of the multimedia artists with whom I will work for my research has produced a film entitled I mBéal na Stoirme (“In the Eye of the Storm”), in which the Irish language, Irish ecology, and the phenomenal experience of the landscape are intermingled in politically and aesthetically meaningful ways. Tim Ingold’s widely read essay of almost the same name, “Eye of the Storm,” might perhaps have been more aptly retitled with the conspicuously absent preposition, implying dwelling and inhabited being. For in this essay, Ingold encourages us to reimagine seeing as a phenomenal process bathed in light, in which light itself is ontologically prior to sight. The following images, all captured with a DSLR, have been photographed and minimally digitally manipulated to eschew the boundaries—between sky and sea, substance and medium—that Ingold evokes in this crucial piece, which is by way of critically exploring the resonances between his reflection on landscape as meshwork and the perception of the landscape so often encountered in my fieldwork context.
Rather than describe for the viewer what these images contain in a realist representational sense—which would, I believe, defeat the purpose of viewing them and render their ethnographic and methodological potency null—I have borrowed quotes from Ingold’s “Eye of the Storm” as captions to situate them in a particular kind of seeing process for the viewer. The intention is to expose these photographs to the viewer’s experience of seeing and to encourage a critical reorientation to the landscape and its visual apprehension. I have edited these photos in black and white because I feel the flattened tonality of greyscale contributes to the perspective disorientation that is, to me, a crucial part of what these photographs do ethnographically for the critical viewer.
From top right:
“Sensed as the generative current of a world-in-formation, weather engulfs landscape, as the sight of things is overwhelmed by the experience of light” (103).
“With their feet on the ground and their heads in the air, human beings appear to be constitutionally split between the material and the mental. In the weather-world, however, the sky is not a surface, real or imaginary, but a medium” (104).
“… far from facing each other on either side of an impenetrable division between the real and the immaterial, earth and sky are inextricably linked within on indivisible field” (104).
From Ingold, T. 2005. “The eye of the storm: visual perception and the weather.” Visual Studies 20(2): 97-104.