There are many instances where I think too much devotion and credit is given to social media. One of my biggest pet peeves is seeing “activist” groups on Facebook try to get “likes” to change the world. That’s nice, I guess, in terms of raising awareness. But there is a difference between the social capital found in the virtual world and IRL (in real life)…
What does it really mean for an amateur photoblogger to have x amount of followers? It’s easy to answer that in light of a professional photography: money plays. But none of my artwork is for sale; I’m not in it for the money. So what is to be gained from networking online? Facebook friends, Twitter and Instagram followers, and whoever reads this on WordPress -only a few of these individuals engage with me face to face. I don’t find these types of relationships to be as gratifying as real-world relationships. I hope that doesn’t offend anyone, but in terms of a healthy lifestyle, I think that physical contacts are superior. But in the instance where those superficial followers can become real-world acquaintances, I think social media can be incredibly valuable.
In the months leading up to my departure for Ireland, I was going through different online social mediums to find local photographers to follow. I stalked their photos and got some destinations in mind. There are plenty of photo opportunities throughout the Irish countryside and that became more apparent the more I got out and shot. But while researching, I noticed that most photographers were based somewhere and not in Galway. Then I found “Galway Pete,” whose work I fell in love with the moment I checked out his online portfolio. Maybe I’m still a newbie in terms of photography, but when I see someone’s work that I admire, I really do think, “Wow! I’d love to shoot around with this guy, see how they work, what equipment they use etc.” Again, despite how much I’ve learned online, I think there is something valuable about a hands-on approach to photography.
For anyone not familiar with Ireland, it’s not the easiest country to get around with a limited and expensive bus system. Apparently, in the past few years, the major motorways that were constructed amount to small roads back in America. These “improvements” don’t really do much in terms of increasing accessibility, but I guess they reduce the time between major urban areas, which are basically Dublin, Galway, and Cork. So finding a local “fixer” was a priority upon arriving here. After some re-tweeting, liking, and generic Twitter conversations, I had contacted Peter and set a date to go out and shoot Connemara. It might strike Americans as odd at how easy and familiar that process seems. But Ireland is such a small country that people really are who they say they are. That “have your guard up” mentality is quite unnecessary here; I guess it’s because communities are so tightly knit.
We headed out of Galway into some pretty relentless rain. There are many attitudes that photographers can have when they interact. In some circles, unfortunately, I detect a lot of condescension, probably due to competition. But Peter was really comfortable with how he shot and was completely open to sharing his opinions on equipment, techniques, and his general philosophy when it comes to photography. I think it’s the last part that comes through in a face-to-face relationship. Sure, online you can view someone’s portfolio, and I guess ultimately, this is what matters if you want pictures. But it’d be pretty miserable if a bride’s wedding photographer was a jerk and ruined her day.
I really got the best of both worlds: great photographer and Irishman. Having a local show you around is something I’ve recently learned to treasure after some extensive traveling. I’ve been reading up on art and photography and relationships are what the more keen artists denote as important in their process. Two pieces of advice that Peter shared with me, (and I hope he doesn’t mind me repeating!) really stuck out to me. The first was to never shoot what another photographer dictates as the right way. His wording didn’t really make this tip as much of an absolute that I am making it out to be. But if you’re motivated by someone else’s mindset, or anything other than your own internal drive, then are you really an artist? This is definitely different from motivation or a passive type of influence. But it brings me to his second point: amateurs have the potential to create better work than the pros. I thought this was an interesting tidbit, just because so many people incorrectly assume that the most expensive equipment, which presumably pros have better access to with their photo-related income, churn out the best shots. The relationships that many pros make are, well, professional. And that basically means the motivation is profession driven –ahem, money. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. But it’s definitely in this category of online, virtual, and financial.
Despite the poor weather, I think Peter and I got a few good shots. I went a little crazy with the edits, just because Connemara itself is a really wild landscape. I want to give a huge (virtual) thank you to Peter for the nearly perfect day! Be sure to check out his website and to follow him on Twitter! If your work is great, you’re bound to get a re-tweet at the very least.
(Written yesterday): My day started with me not going out last night; probably the best decision I made before embarking on an intense, five+ hour trek in the Irish back country. Let’s get one thing straight, there are no trails in Ireland. In the few instances where there are footpaths, they are nothing compared to the US National Parks’ neatly kept (and subsequently crowded) trails.
I’ve admittedly been a bum here in terms of waking up and assimilating to the five hour time difference. (I worked out a class schedule that doesn’t have me waking up any earlier than nine). In waking up at 7:45 was a huge commitment for me to make; it was more than worth it.
NUI Galway Mountaineering Club is probably the greatest thing since sliced bread. First come, first serve; you pay 10e for a full twelve hour day of adventure. I was the fourth person to arrive for a spot on the would be full bus. The sunrise was beautiful to witness as I waited; the day was looking formidable. Once we departed, I learned there was a short, medium, and long/expert only variation that we could choose from in terms of trek paces. I looked at the contour map and saw that the only way to bag a few peaks was to go advanced. I wanted the challenge; I live for exploring. Out of the bus of 50 some odd students, alums, and older folks, only eight of the latter category chose for the long route. Thank God my beard is full because newcomers aren’t typically allowed on this variation of difficulty.
My perspective of space and distance is always off; regardless if it’s in the city or in the wilderness, I fail at measuring. I couldn’t tell how far we went by bus, but it wasn’t even a full hour before we reached our destination, still in Galway County. Apparently, I had entered into Connemara from a different direction earlier last week. My sense of direction isn’t bad like my sense of distance. But the landscape makes me think this country is much larger than it really is. Ireland is truly an island, for we had not gone so far and eventually saw the Atlantic Ocean.
Garda (the police) shut down the road that we were suppose to be dropped off due to a murder (?) or flooding. So being the advanced group, there was no questioning that we could just “hoof it” to our trail head. While Ireland saw some considerably hard times in its past, there was no Works Projects Administration established at any point to create a network of roads. Our walking didn’t take place on a road; we traversed a field that could only be summarized as squishy. From a distance, you’d believe the ground to be no different the American prairies. Yet it only was ten minutes off the bus until my feet completely soaked, despite the beautiful weather we experienced else wise.
Something that a Southerner would think is worth noting is property laws. “I’ve got my gun so get off my property” is somewhat of the unspoken norm in Virginia. You stay in the National Parks’ boundaries because immediately outside of them are descendants of families that were pushed off their land by FDR’s New Deal projects. Fascinating maybe only to me, our leader asked a young kid at a gas station whether or not the owners of the land would be bothered with our potential “trespassing” on his land. Apparently, contrary to culture precedence, there was no issue. Earlier on the bus, even the university students seemed to know who lived where and who owned what; I forget that the country is small in population.
I misjudged the distance between the Garda blockade and the foot of our mountain. To my surprise, time didn’t seem to pass by too quickly as we trudged through spongy reeds. I thoroughly enjoyed the pace this group moved at; I must have looked like an idiot because I was constantly smiling and sticking out my tongue. I skipped -“gracefully” as a group member said- as I forded a river to begin our ascent.
Great weather, a new terrain; a new adventure unfolding before me with each step into cold mud.
To be continued!