J Hi John. Lovely to chat with you on Bookbanter.ie
JW Thanks Jacinta, Great to be here.
J Congratulations on a beautiful visual journey through Co. Kerry. It is obviously a labour of love.
JW The book started out feeling like a mammoth task, as I’d never published before but soon turned into a very enjoyable experience.
J When did your love affair with Kerry begin?
JW June 1988 to be precise. My wife and I visited Valentia and Cloghane on holiday. We returned to Valentia in September that year to buy a small ruined house. It was a time of recession, and old ruins in remote locations were not considered to be of great value. As newlyweds, this was still a significant commitment for us, but one that we’ve never regretted. We then spent all of our available time and money over the next seven years restoring it. Working from a tiny caravan on site was not easy, as our two children were born during this period.
J We always give out about the rain in Ireland, but I love the way you see the positive aspects of our climate in your introduction
JW Yes, rain the likes of which is only seen here, Kerry certainly gets more than its fair share of the wet stuff! However, the Kerry ‘green’ is all the better for it.
J With our weather system, we can see all four seasons in one day. In your photography, you catch this but transport it into a mood board, catching the Irish temperament.
JW In order to take interesting pictures…you have to stand in front of something ‘interesting’ …the best advice I was ever given! I would add, do this with patience and in all weathers!
J You haven’t just produced a book of photographs, you have many captions reflecting history and points of interest. Did you do a lot of research for this or is it knowledge you have gained over your thirty years of visiting the area?
JW It is a combination of the two. I have gleaned a lot of information and interesting facts during my time in Kerry, however, I needed to check these out and expand my knowledge in some areas. It has been a fascinating journey for me and my family – we have gained a great deal from putting the book together and filling in the gaps in our knowledge, along with adding photographic representations of less well-known areas.
J Which do you prefer to capture, scenery or people?
JW Definitely the scenery. I find this much easier, although I have enjoyed the challenge, set for me by Michael O’Brien, of including more images of people in the book. Generally, people were very gracious and open to having their picture taken. Candid work is always better, once an individual is aware you are pointing a camera at them you can lose the ‘mood’. A posed picture is generally not as pleasing as an unguarded one. Oliver of Dick Mack’s is, of course, an exception to this rule
J Does it give you a great sense of pride, capturing a moment in time that will very soon disappear. I’m referring of course to the cottage on page 120.
JW Indeed it does, the abandoned houses to be found around the County are of great interest to me. (As mentioned earlier, we have saved one from falling down by our own efforts). I have a growing collection of abandoned house pictures, both internal and external shots. Time is certainly taking its toll on them, and I am sure that one more building boom would see the remainder gone.
J Some of your photographs look like paintings, is this down to lighting or filters?
JW The correct time of day is the trick here, mornings and evenings are always good. This is when there is low light, which brings out the colours and the contrast.
J I love that you give some tips on how you captured a particular scene. As a very amateur photographer, strictly for own amusement, I’m inspired to head out and give it a try. How long would you spend setting up a shot? Is there much digital adjustments when you get back to the developing process?
JW From time to time, it is possible to come across a great shot when out travelling, and this is always a joy! However, as a rule, I know the shot I want, the direction of light required and of course the weather… many hours and miles have been spent on the road to achieve this.
All my photography is done in ‘raw’ enabling a little post production editing to polish and tease the best out of the shots. The objective is to produce a pleasing image that a visitor would be happy to have taken themselves and would want to take home.
J How did you capture the seascapes? If you were in a boat I’m at a loss to know how you kept a steady hand.
JW I used a long lens and a tripod for the dramatic seascapes and for some of the mountain pictures, too. The Skellig storm picture was taken from St Finian’s beach. A long lens compresses the perspective, making the Skelligs and the waves look closer together than they really are. I was standing in the tide in my welly boots…one eye on the nearest wave and ready to beat a hasty retreat!
J Tell me about your experience of getting the idea of this book through to the finished product.
JW My late friend, Dave Lyon, started me on the route of making my photographs publicly available in Ireland. He joined me regularly on Valentia and was good company, with a great sense of humour, hence my dedication to Dave in the book. My friend and neighbour, Bob Joyce, recommended me to Michael O’Brien when Michael was seeking a photographer to produce a book on this topic. That was two years ago, (I already had a sizable portfolio of pics), followed by a year on the road filling in the gaps in the Kerry photographic story, and six months refining the narrative to accompany the pictures. All of the O’Brien staff and editors on the team were so helpful, particularly Emma and Liz, in encouraging and guiding me through the process.
JM What is your favourite picture in the book? For me, it is the one of the donkey. It took me back to my childhood with summer holidays spent in Mayo visiting my grandparents.
JW That’s a difficult one. I am not sure that I can answer – however, the milky way shot is impressive when shown on a large scale. I have only recently invested in a wide fast lens to enable this type of photography. Skelligs photos will always be a favourite – and the blue Skelligs shot is the most popular to date.
JM Once again John, congratulations on a beautifully produced book. Thank you for taking the time to chat with me.
JW My pleasure, Jacinta.
Kerry, The Beautiful Kingdom by John Wesson – O’Brien Press