I can’t ever forgive myself for missing out on days with good weather here in Galway. The plan was for me to wake up early and hike with the university’s group out in Connemara. But at 7:30, the downpour wasn’t all too inviting, especially with a minor cold that I want gone before Madrid this upcoming weekend. The weather had a sudden change of plans, though. So by noon it was nothing but blue skies, puffy clouds, and green grass. I had to get out. But with the day seemingly halfway gone, I couldn’t bus anywhere.
While here studying abroad, I’ve had a strong interest in getting lost. So I got the backpack and photo equipment together and headed east with no destination in mind. No cellphone service is a godsend, especially with an urban area as your point of departure. (Doesn’t matter for a foreigner, though. No internet + no Irish phone = I’m cut off!) Walking beyond the docks for the first time, I got to see the innermost part of the bay. A residential area lay on the other side of the water, something that “center city” living has deprived me from, even though it was only a 20 minute walk to get there. As I kept walking, one trail led to another, seamlessly. When you wander aimlessly, it’s ironic that a path becomes more clear to you. (Or maybe there’s something existentially more to that that I pondered over and don’t feel like sharing).
Passing some sort of military base led me to a high vantage point where I could see a sand beach. Well-gated train tracks kept me from descending directly to that foreseeable destination. So I meandered some more until I found a car tunnel to cross underneath, opening up to this beautiful recreational area. Lots of off-leash dogs and several mounted horses took advantage of the low tide. Three dogs anxiously pulled their leashes, anticipating the freedom that lay ahead. A gravel path led me out to a peninsula. From there, I could see up and down the coast; low hanging clouds were rolling in at their freakish pace. I don’t know why, but I considered it better to remain by the water as the potential storm chased after me. Every time it rains, if you’re not surrounded by buildings, you can see distant sheets of rain and figure if you’re in their path or not. I guessed right and received only a drizzle’s worth of dampness as I stumbled along the beach’s pebbles, departing from the locals and their park.
I could tell my coastline was running out and that I would need to cut inland. By chance, I found a muddy driveway leading me to the same pair of tracks I crossed underneath earlier. But for some reason, the Irish have gates at the majority of their crossings. I’m not sure what purpose that serves, maybe these intersections weren’t used regularly. Yet there was no way I could get around the gates to hop the tracks. This run down structure lay to my left with NO TRESPASSING, a field to my right. A black cat eyed me as I leaned over some barbed wire to snap a shot that I thought would look good for some heavy HDR editing. The three dogs that passed me earlier by the beach came up the muddy path with two men, one close to my age, the other nearing 50. I said, “Howdy. Where do y’all reckon I go from here?” (Southern accent goes a long way outside of Galway-don’t ask why, it just does).
Before coming here, I was told about the Irish people’s forwardness, friendliness, and wanting to share stories. And to varying degrees thus far, I’ve experienced those attributes separately. But in this instance, I had no idea that I’d be getting all three for the next five hours. Just when I thought I was getting comfortable with the generic Irish accent, I was taken aback by the older man’s response. From a distance, I couldn’t understand a word he was saying. But his forwardness led to his welcoming me on his walk with his adopted son. Apparently, there was no direction to head but through the fields. What I could understand from this man’s face-paced talking was that the six or seven horses in the field were wild. The other option was going through some psychopath’s property; there was a camera that I had not seen that my new acquaintances pointed out to me. So that wasn’t much of an option at all. Wild horses it was.
We leashed up the pit-bull, mid-sized black lab, and larger puppy that just had surgery on its hind leg. Pathetically, there was some fourth dog, a Jack Russel mix, that wasn’t anyone’s dog. No one had a leash for it; so if it made the mistake of following us, it was on its own. I didn’t fully realize what the term “wild” meant for the wild horses until all of them charged us as soon as we hopped the fence into their field. People think I’m ridiculous for having some sort of fear/respect for domestic horses. Yes, I know they’re trained, but those animals are massive and muscular. It’s no different (in my mind) than a tame lion at the circus. All of these thoughts came rushing into my head as our little party edged around the pack. The dogs were instinctively smarter than I was; their herd mentality versus the horses’ herd mentality meant everything as one wrong step could’ve had me left behind my herd of humans. They kept bucking at us, to which my new friend threw his hands up, yelled, and bucked back at them! The fences we kept close to were technically working against us, covered from overgrowth and barbed wire. On the other side of them, elevated on gravel, were the train tracks. The only direction we could head was forward as the horses’ front line took up our rear. I had to walk backwards to keep them from chasing us, one of the dog’s leashes in my hand.
Midway through the field, I looked back to see the crazed property owner come to the gate. His camera must’ve picked me up. I couldn’t tell what he had in his hand, but at present, the horses posed a more immediate concern. We descended further away from the cleared portion of the field, which slowed the horses until they judged that we were no longer encroaching on their land. Badgers and foxes were the next thing we might encounter, according to my friends, but we didn’t see any of those. We had to hop a low point in the fence, making sure that the dogs didn’t get cut. Just then, a train zipped by overhead. “Well,” I thought to myself, “At least that means there won’t be another one for a few minutes.”
The terrain changed significantly once we crossed the tracks. Another path picked up, winding through a forest. Those renowned Irish stonewalls even exist in the woods, creating that fairytale-esque feel which could not be accompanied by a story of the little people. As Eamonn (the older man) talked about the tricky nature of these little people, I couldn’t help think how such a fable continues for so long. But that light-hearted talk ended abruptly as we came upon a glen. On the other side of this field lay Old Dublin Road. Here, the IRA executed two men. I began to realize that I was hearing an Irishman’s opinion about a topic that seems to have many sides. To me, there doesn’t appear to be any unilateral understanding of the violence that occurred on the Emerald Isle. To hear this man’s point of view was rare, even considering how open the Irish can be with their stories. Plainly put, violence was never a valued entity. But foreign control truly resulted in the maltreatment of the people, something that doesn’t seem forgiveable, regardless of the current legal status of the Northern Counties.
To be continued. And yes, I will do a part 2. I just have to be somewhere now…
Well, I haven’t posted in awhile because I have been getting into the swing of things here. Since I have been gradually accepting Galway as my new home, I’ve decided that I would choose to live here, regardless of studying or not. I haven’t been to Seattle, but I am assuming that the rainy weather here is similar to that northwest climate. Ireland is more European than it is American, as obvious as that may seem due to its place in the EU. Maybe I was misled by the study abroad advisors or rather, my subconscious made generalizations. But I thought that the English language would bridge the cultural gap between countries. This isn’t the case. Galway is urban for the Irish, but it functions like a village. I write this as I look out into the docks. I’ve watched cargo ships unload and then take on new shipments; it makes me think of a small, fairytale port city. (Maybe ___ from recently watching the Hobbit?) America is too young to have any fairytale, archaic aspects to its culture. Well, it did. But Europeans killed that off (or confined them to reservations) and none of that is preserved mainstream. In any case, Irish culture has been historically practiced and is evident in the daily rituals of the locals. The same could be said (maybe) for the US, but Wal-mart doesn’t have a castle inside of it. (Apparently, inside a shopping mall, the structure of a castle wall is part of the building’s foundation).
Taking some classes that focus on Irish history, politics, and culture, it’s becoming more apparent that the Irish are a fighting people. They’re hungry for some positive freedom in the new global age. I’ve come to that conclusion based on several observations at my university. First of all, basic liberties that Americans take for granted are still a novelty. (I guess Americans recently have been challenging their freedoms in the past decade, which is coincidentally the opposite direction Ireland is headed). By that, I mean America is redefining various interpretations of the Bill of Rights/Constitution whereas the Irish are just now experiencing some seemingly basic liberties for the first time. Regardless of anyone’s stance on these liberties, I personally think it’s quite fascinating to know that a developed country like Ireland has finally gotten around to legalizing divorce. I’m not blind to the historical, constitutional connection between the Church and State here, which recently (as many of y’all know) has been under the magnifying glass to say the least. And I don’t consider the implications of Ireland’s past as not relevant to why this country is so far behind America in terms of these liberties. But all of this made me recognize that the US truly was innovative in terms of rights and liberties given to its citizens. This brings me to my second point: because Ireland is just now experiencing something like the American Civil Rights era crossed with the Second Constitutional Congress in 1776, the citizens are hungrier than Americans.
I used that term twice because it captures the extent to which the Irish folk get after it in this world. This competitive, global job market is no place for the American anymore. (I will surely write a piece on that at some point as much of the structure of the education system here is on mind. So anyone that is offended by that, or would like to hear the extent of my position, anticipate a nice manifesto soon). In short, Ireland does not have much of a national job market. University students have a more globally conscious outlook on their futures. Consequently, they are more competitive in their academics. Or more simply, they are just brighter students. I’ve heard variations of this throughout all the levels of my American education: “I haven’t read a full textbook before.” Whether or not that is true in every student’s instance, American education is certainly becoming more about the “cutting edge”, or should I say “cutting corners” curriculum. In other words, we’re just lazy. Look at the combination of the current status of the US national job market, immigration reform, and obesity epidemic. (We’re toast!) Obviously, there are jobs availabe in the US for hungry immigrants that aren’t afraid of working hard. The Irish were never afraid of hard work; that is as historically true as it is now evident in today’s society.
I think that’s enough of a rant today. This is my photoblog! So I apologize for anyone that came here just to view the photos…If that is the case, you can follow my daily posts on Instagram/Twitter; both handles @jvierephoto.
I guess my posts will be getting shorter now that I am back into the grind of being a student. It doesn’t mean I will be shooting less. I’ve watching various Youtube clips about different photographers and their styles; reading up while I have down time.
Now that initial shine of being in a foreign country has started to wear off, I am starting to get a little homesick. There are certainly some things that I took for granted back in the States: if you “have” internet access, that means you actually have it. Back home, food is processed (and probably more unhealthy) so that it lasts longer; buying groceries on a daily basis is nice because the produce and seafood is definitely fresh here. But I feel like I am spending more if I am spending at a more frequent rate, even though each payment isn’t as high as a bulk purchase like back at home.
Another thing, which is a positive aspect, but it will still take me awhile to get use to; island culture. It’s true, Ireland is an island. I was moved to an apartment looking on the bay/docks. So now I find myself listening to Jack Johnson as I write this because when the sun shines, I feel like I’m at the beach. But with the island lifestyle comes this off-putting mentality of nonchalance and its subsequent disorganization. For someone that has lived in Philadelphia, certain things annoy me. (There, I said it). Cross walks, in the rare instance there are painted lines at a street intersection, don’t mean anything for a pedestrian. Galway City doesn’t have very straight roads either, or so it seems to me when I am trying to get from point A to point B. The “grid” on Mapquest is deceiving; there aren’t a lot of direct lines, which undoubtedly represents Irish life. But the upside of all this is no road rage. I don’t know how but there quite simply is nothing of the sort you see in the States. The long, snaking routes I take to my destinations are along the River Corrib and different canals. It’s quite a lovely commute. So I feel as if I need to detox from fuming Philadelphia and not only say that I like these differences, but actually embrace them as a part of daily life. I hope to internalize the daily grind not in some disgruntled (Philadelphian) mindset in which I have to do this. But I sincerely want to enjoy them. Once I get my iPhone up and running, those small things will be posted more frequently.
So despite having no way of processing images the way I would like to, I still went out to shoot. I admit that I have a long journey ahead in terms of fully learning photography; it’s a never ending process. Street photography is something I just do not understand. So it subsequently goes to the top of my to-do list. I’ve been looking at some books, magazines, websites -and I don’t get the medium. Lugging around a Canon 5D with a huge battery pack doesn’t really help me blend in either. There is a type of stage fright that you can get when you put the viewfinder to your eye; some people will glare back at you through the lens, other people will turn to look at what your photographic eye is seeing, and others just walk on by, oblivious to your presence.
Well, like writing, you just need to put the pen to the paper in order to get the creative process started. That’s certainly easier said then done. I resorted back to my photography instincts; use the rule of thirds, aperture/shutter speed, ISO and white balance etc. But the most useful instinct that I fell back on, and is probably in the truest sense an “instinct,” was following the light. Sure, photographers don’t “need” light because of flash and camera technology. But I was thinking of this in more of an abstract manner; light will create a scene that I have to find and capture.
As soon as I realized that truth, it became easier to put my camera to my eye and snap away. And then, once I started feeling the beat of Galway, which is hard not feel with a street performer on every corner, I got addicted. Very addicted, very quickly. I’ve been writing a lot about how the Irish and the Americans differ in culture and daily life. But I want(ed) to capture that. There are so many movements that create lines and temporary scenes that your eye only sees for a moment. Well, not even that for those of us that walk around with our heads in our phones…
Everyone has eyes; (metaphysically) we have the ability to see our surroundings on many different levels. So it’s up to us what we want to perceive. (It is NO coincidence that I just walked away from a French Phenomenology class. That has everything to do with my language about perceiving and seeing; how we grasp the world around us).
I still need to get my computer situation together. I guess I assumed too much in thinking there would be Macs, running CC, readily available for university students. (Nice going St. Joe’s; having all the high tech stuff!) In terms of photos, I have scouted a lot of good areas to shoot when the weather permits. Since my workflow has been on hold, due to the computer situation, I haven’t been shooting as much. Unfortunately, I also think I am roughly three hours behind in terms of catching up on time zones.
But in any case, I have been loving it here so far! I went to a gym a ways down the road from where I live with some room mates. So that allowed for me to see more possible areas to shoot. Eyre Square seems to be a good place to shoot street photography. But I won’t lie, Irish folk have a really intimidating demeanour. Coming from Philadelphia, that’s saying something. The major difference is, once you open your mouth to an Irishman, he’s likely to be personable and welcoming. Philadelphia –eh how do I put this gently? The City of Brotherly Love is more of a “f*** you” mentality; “What are you doing talking to me?” Sure it has a community feel to it, but that only exists between acquaintances, not random people. It’s odd that a lot of Irish immigrants moved to Philadelphia throughout the 18th century (and obviously later). The Irish hardened, outward appearance turned into something more while assimilating into the “blue-collar” American that resides now in Philadelphia. Galway is fascinating in terms of displaying the hierarchies of the Irish workforce. Obviously, it attracts a lot of commuters as any “city” might. But there are some observations I have made that certainly differ than the good ole American (Protestant) work ethic.
For starters, the hours on restaurants and shops don’t indicate a 40 hour work week. With the high prices for drinks, which is obviously a major factor in the Irish social sphere, it is odd that all the social classes seem to go out. I don’t know what minimum wage is here, or how the welfare system works, (though I am taking classes on that!) But the work week just strikes as me as unbalanced when compared to the degree people entertain a social life. Galway is the “big city.” So I guess to some degree, in comparison, people would go into Philadelphia, aware that they are going to pay more to socialize.
But on the other hand, the cost of living doesn’t seem to be incredibly high. In terms of housing and food, the prices are lower than back home. Not only that, there definitely seems to be missing classes on the social hierarchy ladder. To be clear, I think that Ireland’s scale ranges from low-working class to professionals (or a a lower end upper class) while America clearly has that 1% and sliding scale below it. I don’t know if I just haven’t seen the wealthier parts of Ireland, but I am assuming that an island cannot have as many huge estates as America’s 1% can have.
It must have something to do with status. Irish people, at least in Galway, don’t measure status the same way we do. Sure, there is style, which is maybe more of a “thing” the urban community partakes in here. And yes, people spend a considerable amount at pubs. But it’s not really for show. In the back of my mind, I have large, multimillion dollar estates embedded in the category of non-utilitarian properties. Ugly, brick, six bedroom houses for a family of four. That can’t be for utility’s sake; that’s just status (i.e. gluttony). Cars are another example of this. There are nice European brands here. But why was there a Mercedes taxi on the street? Isn’t that what daddy’s little girl drives back in America?
Getting to know the architecture here, I can see that there are wealthier neighbourhoods outside of the city limits. Yet somehow, every class seems to enter the city for the pub scene. The fashion fads here are difficult to discern. There’s a lot of make up, which to me, makes the female population look a little monotonous. The male situation isn’t much better. Maybe a peacoat signals for classy? Who knows?
Hope no one was offended by my mental meanderings…All I can say is that Ireland is still frustratingly foreign. By that I simply mean that so much seems the same on the surface. But if you pay attention to some of the details, you can’t easily put your finger on the differences that you know that are there. So I just jot my observations and reflections with no intention but to try and make some sense of it all.
I finally stopped by the Camera Shop here in Galway to get a CF card reader…It was worth the wait because it was only 20 euro. (Even with conversion rates and all that, I think it was a pretty good deal).
Anyways! I am sitting here on my Google Chromebook, waiting for my files to go to various places. I have an external hard drive, so obviously, everything gets on there eventually. But I am also uploading JPEGs and RAW files to Dropbox and GoogleDrive. I haven’t really done any serious travel photography; or I should rephrase that and say I haven’t traveled for an extended period of time, away from my desktop. That being said, I will only be doing minor touch ups on the JPEGs for the time being. I might have access to some school computers that have the digital tools I need to make some great shots. But then again, I’ve always been about in-camera capture. So I just continue to challenge myself with this 5D I have been very excited about!
So this is the first shot I took over here. I guess my time in Philadelphia has trained me to find a high point before meandering through the streets. That’s how I like to do things; open minded with a wanderer’s spirit. This was taken through a window on the fifth floor of the apartment I’m living in, Niland House, looking west towards the Atlantic.
These are the docks that are in my backyard. I’m not sure what these two guys were working on, but it looked like solar panels on a buoy.
(Here’s where some editing would go a long way. My shadows are a bit too dark, and my lens filter had some spray on it). This is the River Corrib, headed toward the Atlantic. This is still about a two minute walk from where I reside. The Irish folk seem to sit and wait for the sunset. Lots of people were coming and going to various seats facing the West.
The water level is surprisingly high. Locals stop to look at the river occasionally. Apparently, there was some serious flooding and wind damage that occurred prior to my arrival. That wasn’t too apparent to me, but there is always rain water abundantly displaced throughout the streets.
I think that I am over-juicing this little Chromebook that has a spotty internet connection. So I am going to let it do its thing with uploading and copying my image files before I post more. These were nice shots, but just wait until you see the sunset I captured on the same day!
I wanted to post again, even though I don’t have a CF card reader, or the right plug for my camera to get my pictures up. Fear not, they will be great when I finally get to them! Day 3 here has flown by; I woke up fairly late after a good outing to the various pubs that are about thirty seconds from my apartment.
But before that, I was out walking through Galway City. I think going somewhere foreign (yes, Ireland is incredibly foreign, says me who has been to Japan) puts new challenges forward. Particularly as a photographer. There is not only a new, uniquely beautiful scenery I have to learn how to shoot, but the culture, movement, and personality of Galway is a great challenge.
Yesterday, I found myself wandering by the docks, which eventually led me to the bay, and then the ocean. Words cannot describe what the architecture, which enhances the natural beauty of Galway, looks like here. So it’s a pain that I write this and have no photos yet to depict the city. (Disclaimer: I want to say that the lighting was great yesterday, so there are some top notch photos to come)! In any case, I heard that Ireland has modernized and has lost some of its unique, archaic way of life. That may be more apparent to a native. But coming from Philadelphia, I cannot help but stare at the people here. Galway attracts many foreigners, though the Irish remain easy to spot. As the sun was setting, people took time to sit and watch the beautiful scene unfold. Not just two or three folks, but it seemed that the city put down what it was doing, paused, and witnessed a tremendous sunset. I don’t know if that’s intriguing to me because I have been living in Philadelphia, where the people are more self-oriented, heads-down, looking at their phones. In any case, that is certainly not the way of life here. Chatting with various Irish folk, I have gained that Galway City is considered a big city. High rises, expansive city limits, and a high population count constitute a large city. Galway is a large village. The Irish are more communal than any other culture or city I have been to. And that’s saying something for someone who has done a fair amount of travelling.
I also keep asking new acquaintances if I hadn’t opened my big mouth, could have I passed for an Irishman. I guess the brand names I am wearing (North Face, Patagonia), as well as denim jeans make me stand out. But with my grayer outfits on, I was told once or twice that I could pass. There’s really no benefit to “passing” in Galway. It’s a melting pot with different looking people. Yet somehow, the Irish culture is really preserved and celebrated with this level of diversity. (I hear Russian a lot; they’re the equivalent of Jersey folk in Philadelphia). I saw another photographer chasing the sunset and asked if he shot around these parts often. He nodded, and I asked something else, and he spoke some heavily French-accented English. I reassured him I wasn’t from Ireland in French. I also met a girl from the Midwest that had a thick accent. Apparently she passes for a Northern Irish speaker. I heard someone else from Marquette at a pub last night speaking. It is definitely not the same, but it made me laugh to think that two distinct places, known for their distinct accents, share some similarities.
After a day out and about, with only a muffin in my stomach, I was famished and ready to try some Irish cuisine. I had it in the back of my mind that it wouldn’t be that different than the wide-spread category of “American cuisine.” While American dishes mooch from a variety of cultural recipes, the Irish definitely have a distinct flavor. I arbitrarily picked Riordan’s, a small place on Shop Street with green lattice outside. I had bacon and cabbage with mash -that is ham, with a really flavorful, warm cabbage salad with buttered carrots, and lightly mashed potatoes. But besides the actual dishes themselves being unique, the dinning style here is quite different than America. Individuals seem to eat out probably because dining doesn’t appear to be the social activity. All the places up and down Shop Street are locally owned. So you end up eating a home-cooked meal for dinner while chatting the friendly waitress who has stories to tell. Also, asking for a box results in weird looks. I’m 155 lbs, so I don’t consider myself large. But my mindset is no different than the general mindset of obese ridden America. There aren’t any fat Irish people (maybe some older men with rounded bellies). But that epidemic is uniquely American.
Obviously, drinking is the social activity; pubs are the saloons of Ireland. I didn’t frequent bars much in Philadelphia. But what is noticeably different is the age range of those attending pubs. That would definitely irk many college-aged students back in America. It’s not the equivalent of the cool professor showing up to the bar for a game of trivia. It would be more like your parents, teachers, aunts and uncles show up to your house party. Though any aged Irish person seems to consume a lot of alcohol, it still doesn’t equate to the same, rowdy binge drinking you find at American (college) bars. That element exists to some extent, maybe because there are more foreigners here in Galway City. But live music is always to be expected. Or, carrying on conversations is more of the primary objective while drinking goes along with it. Drinking goes along with anything. Pubs are spaces for “anything” to occur. Bars are places to get drunk and then toss the dice and maybe meet new people. Sports bars might be that one exception where you can go and watch a game while drinking. Wine bars might be another exception. But the word “pub” is definitely a larger umbrella term that incorporates all the dynamics of the Irish social scene.
Well, this has been a lot of words with no pictures. So I think I will stop here for today. I look forward to posting (hopefully) on a daily basis!