Old way of life well captured by a young man

Anne Sheridan

Reporter:

Anne Sheridan

PHOTOGRAPHER Maurice Gunning always had an interest in the sea from an early age.

PHOTOGRAPHER Maurice Gunning always had an interest in the sea from an early age.

He used to row with St Michael’s rowing club, Shannon rowing club and Limerick Boat Club.

Then at the relatively tender age of 30 he turned his attention to the traditions of seamen, going back hundreds of generations and possibly on the brink of extinction.

There was, he says, a very real fear that this old, often forgotten way of life along the West coast would die out without any ceremony, or more importantly with little documented records of their way of life.

This week, his photographic exhibition of Ireland’s contemporary boating heritage will be displayed in the Hunt Museum for its first showing in Ireland. It has already been exhibited in Athens, and now he’s bringing it back home, to where some of the images were taken.

For intermittent periods over three years - during the course of his funding from the Heritage Council - he practically led the life of a seamen to capture them in the most natural and unaffected way possible.

While they rowed their currachs, he rowed side by side them, snapping away. Images were taken at sea, in the boatmen’s workshops and in their own homes.

The result is 35 beautiful portrait and landscape photographs, some as large as one metre.

They are accompanied with details and measurements of the boats documented, which he hopes could help reconstruct them in future.

For the 33-year-old from Clancy Strand the purpose of the exhibition was “not just archival”, but also to satisfy his own artistic drive as a fine arts photographer.

Éamonn Costello, a lecturer in the University of Limerick, said in a forenote to the exhibition that it will “give the viewer a glimpse into the life of this boating community, showcasing the skill and art of the men and women of this tradition.

“Maurice’s work is undoubtedly an important record of Irish boating. The most striking aspect of this work is that it captures the essence of this living tradition; one can almost smell the wood shavings on the workshop floor, or the tar on the currachs,” he said.

It is worth noting, he said, that in this digital age, all the photographs in this exhibition were taken on a Hasselblad film camera.

Mr Gunning holds a Bachelor in Design from the Limerick School of Art and Design, and a Masters of Fine Art in Documentary Photography from the University of Wales.

He tutors photography at the University of Limerick with students from the Irish World Academy and from the School of Architecture, and served as director of photography for a documentary about the rescue of the Chilean miners earlier this year.

The exhibition runs until April 27 in the Hunt Museum.