Saturday, March 08, 2008

The Story Behind the Picture

When we lived in Dublin, Peter sold his photographs at several craft and art shows throughout the year. Because of the inconvenience and expense of multiple trips up to Dublin for shows, he's now down to just one show (The National Arts and Crafts Show at the RDS in December). I help out at these shows as The Lovely Assistant. It's not a job I love, but it does have some fringe benefits. Like Wagamama or Bitz and Pizzas for dinner.

The other fringe benefit is the ability to watch people. I'm fascinated by people (I just don't particularly like to interact with them all the time) and I'm especially fascinated by which photographs they find compelling. Being a writer, I'm also interested in the story behind each picture. Peter typically documents this a bit on his web site, but his accounts are often more technical or photographer-y in nature. I'm more interested in the human element - the sheep who followed him around when he went on an early morning shoot in Wicklow, the stories of the bus in Iceland getting stuck when fording a river, the heron that nearly flew right into his camera and tripod.

I've decided to start an on-going, occasional series: The Story Behind the Picture. I plan to limit the series to only photographs for which I was present at the creation. This week's subject is Crab Island, Doolin, County Clare.

In September 2005, friends of ours got married in Killaloe, County Clare. We decided to turn it into a photography trip - our first dedicated photo trip. The plan was to head over to Doolin to photograph the Cliffs of Moher and then drive up to Donegal.

The wedding was fantastic - much fun and drink were had by all and the festivities went on into the very wee hours of the next day. I want to say it all finished up around 4, but it could have been 2. Either way, I'm usually in bed at 10 and often get up at 4, so this was a shock to my delicate system.

In my misspent youth, I was never bothered by hangovers. A nice greasy breakfast plus a few huge glasses of water and I was sorted. Now, as I march comfortably toward middle age, this is no longer the case. Even with preventive measures, like water and pain relievers before bed, I still don't handle drink very well the next day. I'm often unable to sleep as well, which makes for a bad combination. I only got about 3 hours of sleep and when I woke up, I felt like my entire body was filled with jagged pieces of glass.

I wanted to get on the road pretty much immediately, but Peter wanted to visit with his friends, have a leisurely breakfast, and relax. We didn't leave until a bit after Noon and my condition had only gotten worse. Instead of driving directly to Doolin, Peter wanted to poke around and explore. Ordinarily, I'm up for this sort of adventure, but the hours of sitting in the car was making my joints stiff and I still felt like I was full of jagged glass. I was exhausted and hungry, which is never a good combination.

The thing about landscape photographers that the uninitiated must understand is that they set their watches to the sunrise and sunset times. They live for the magic bit of time on either side of the sun sliding over or under the horizon. It's all about the light and the colours. Ordinarily, again, I've no problem with this. But sunset on this particular day was at about exactly the time my stomach thought we should be eating dinner.

Instead, we were at the Cliffs of Moher, both tired, hungry, and hung-over. I'd never been to the Cliffs of Moher before, but I couldn't find any enjoyment in it. (We'd tried once, and that trip had ended in tears. Perhaps a story for another post.) I had no book, nothing to do, nothing to distract me except for my IPod shuffle. I found a nice spot of grass, laid down, and listened to my music. It was as close to comfortable as I had been all day.

Peter came over and asked me what was wrong, told me to get up, told me that people were staring and concerned that something might be wrong with me. Yeah, something was wrong with me. I was starving, hung-over, exhausted, cranky, achy, and bored out of my gourd. Plus, as I'd just found the little bit of comfort I'd experienced all day, I was not pleased to be yanked out of it by the perception of others that I was uncomfortable or distressed.

And thus ensued what can only be described as one of the worst fights of our relationship. We don't tend to fight and most of our fighting was done in our first year of marriage, when we were trying to figure out how to be married. At this point, 9 years into things, we were pretty good at having civilised discussions instead of fights. Not on this occasion though.

We walked back to the car, fighting all the way. Peter was mad at me for letting myself get into such a state of misery. I was mad at him for presuming that I was uncomfortable when I wasn't and for trying to decide for me how I felt about things. There wasn't really much shouting, it was just sharp words, angry tones, and tears (mine, of course).

Finally, I called time out. It was clear that we were heading into dangerous and destructive territory. I told Peter to drop me at the B&B, then head down to Doolin harbour to take photographs. I planned to take a shower, change my clothes, and try to re-humanise myself. Without the responsibility of worrying about me, Peter would be able to salvage at least something of the sunset. The harbour was close enough to the B&B that I could walk over and join him when I was ready.

I had a shower, changed my clothes, and found a candy bar to deal with my blood sugar levels. Then I had a bracing and enjoyable walk to Doolin harbour. Peter was pleased with the results of his photo shoot. We were able to make up and move beyond that horrible fight. (Although I still get a little teary just thinking about it.)

As you may have guessed, it was during that cooling-down alone time that Peter took the photograph Crab Island, Doolin, County Clare. It's a huge crowd pleaser. Everyone loves it. Surfers love it because it reminds them of a good surfing spot. People from Clare love it because it's from Clare. Other people love it because the sunset and the colours are so gorgeous.

Everyone loves it, except for me. It's easily my least favourite of Peter's photographs, all because of the story behind the picture.


At 8 March 2008 at 11:19, Blogger Babaloo said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 8 March 2008 at 11:21, Blogger Babaloo said...

oops, sorry, the previous post wasn't finished yet but somehow I had pressed enter already. Not my day somehow.
What I was saying is that it's still a wonderful photo but I understand it's not your favourite with the history behind it. Hope the next one has a nicer story... :)

At 8 March 2008 at 11:48, Blogger laurie said...

ann, that's a fasciating story and i felt every second of it. every second.

doolin and donegal are my favorite places in ireland--doolin is the first place i went, purely by chance, never having heard of it, knowing nothing about the music there, i still think i 'discovered' gus o'connor's pub. (this was in the early to mid '80s, so maybe i did!). just got in a rental car at shannon airport and headed west and that's where i ended up.

i am with you on hangovers; i am with you on resentment if someone tells me how they think i feel; i am with you on not really caring if some stranger wants to surmise why you're lying in the grass.

i assume that other "stories behind the picture" will be funny, or happy, or poignant, but this one felt absolutely real.

(and, as babaloo said, it's still a gorgeous picture.)

At 8 March 2008 at 13:36, Blogger Dave P. said...

Beautiful photo and a good story, even if it's an uncomfortable for you. Your description of your agony reminds me of having to drive back from Athens to Columbus (to catch a plane to Chicago) all sick and hungover after a wedding. Not fun.

At 8 March 2008 at 15:20, Blogger Kaycie said...

I hate those kinds of agonizing days, when you do everything except what you feel like doing. What makes it especially terrible is that it is something you'd usually be delighted about. I've had those days, too, and you can just see the fight coming.

More often than not, though, ours happen because, as hubby says, I've set my jaw.

The picture is stunning, but I probably wouldn't be able to enjoy it either if I were you.

At 8 March 2008 at 23:29, Blogger Aoj & The Lurchers said...

I can see why people like that picture, it is stunning. But I understand why you don't........a fascinating story though!

At 9 March 2008 at 00:45, Blogger Career Guy said...

Happy place! Happy place! Go to a happy place!
What a sensible solution you came up with, though.

At 9 March 2008 at 00:47, Blogger ped crossing said...

A stunning photo and a sobering tale. I am a firm believer in space before the fight goes too far. It allows both parties to regain perspective.

I will have to put that on my list of places to visit one day.

At 9 March 2008 at 03:20, Blogger Sweet Irene said...

I tried to leave a long and sensible comment yesterday, but despite many tries, Blogger wouldn't let me post it and now I have forgotten what was so sensible about it.

I just want to say, I hear you, girl. I have been there and done that and I know the feeling and it is hard.

Stress and hunger and the unfamiliar can be a bit more than overwhelming at times and that is when we really need to be home in our safe place.

I hope there are many photographs with better memories and that this one does not stand out too much, but I know the feeling. Some of mine I can't look at either.

At 9 March 2008 at 07:27, Blogger -Ann said...

Babaloo - That happens to me all the time, esp with email at work. I promise a happy story for next time.

Laurie - I love O'Connor's pub. We were just there at the end of last year. I like Donegal too although it's a shame that a lot of the coastline is now wrecked with cookie-cutter holiday homes and caravan parks.

Dave - Why do we do this to ourselves? Drinking to a hangover isn't a bad thing every once in a while, but you have to make sure you've nothing to do the next day. (That said, I don't think I've drunk that much in at least 2 years.)

Kaycie - I know what you mean about jaw-setting. And the good thing about the picture is that it always sells quickly at shows so I don't have to look at it for that long. :)

AOJ - Thanks. I picked this picture and story because of the contrast between the two. The other stories aren't such bummers.

Dad - I am nothing if not sensible. :)

PC - Definitely visit Doolin and the Cliffs of Moher. Just make sure you're well rested, well hydrated, and well fed.

SI - Blogger has been eating my comments a lot recently too. Fair play for you to coming back. The funny thing about me is that while I don't like change, I usually love travel and adventure. I promise the next story will be a happier one.

At 9 March 2008 at 12:31, Blogger laurie said...

what?? what?? cookie cutter homes on the donegal coastline???

oh god. it's been about five or six years since we were there--in killybegs, and kilcar, and glencolumbcille, and over by sleive league way, by teelin.

it was all very remote and wild.

i do NOT want to hear that it's being developed. dammit.


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