Gerry Andrews' photos on display in the Hunt Museum, Limerick

When Gerry Andrew’s photographs of the Milk Market in Limerick were exhibited in the city in 2014, the response was hugely positive. 

Gerry Andrews' photos on display in the Hunt Museum, Limerick

It went on to the National Photographic Archive in Dublin and was viewed by more than 80,000 people.

“There was also huge interest internationally, which was very gratifying,” says Andrews.

“I also produced a book of the project, which sold out.”

Andrews began taking the pictures in the 1970s, when he was 19. His passion was put on hold while he built up his printing business but in 2004, after the death of his wife, Andrews found solace in photography and travel.

Now a collection of photos from his travels, at home and abroad, have gone on display in the Hunt Museum in Limerick.

Cuban Mechanic. Havana: ‘Because of the embargo in Cuba, they have absolutely nothing in terms of tools and equipment and are used to improvising. The cars in Cuba are incredible — with the minimum of tools, the mechanics keep these old bangers on the road. This was taken in 2011. You can even see the goggles he is wearing are the old-style welding glasses. The thing that really struck me about the Cubans was their ingenuity.

Cuban Mechanic. Havana: ‘Because of the embargo in Cuba, they have absolutely nothing in terms of tools and equipment and are used to improvising. The cars in Cuba are incredible — with the minimum of tools, the mechanics keep these old bangers on the road. This was taken in 2011. You can even see the goggles he is wearing are the old-style welding glasses. The thing that really struck me about the Cubans was their ingenuity.

While at first glance, many of the subjects appear more exotic than the homegrown characters featured in the Milk Market exhibition, Andrews says there are many similarities.

“I see these photographs in many respects as a continuation of the type of photographs I was doing in the Milk Market back in the 1970s. Really what I was doing then was capturing a vanishing culture, vanishing tribes.

At that time Ireland was on the cusp of change and the Milk Market represented an Ireland that was disappearing. These were people who had very little; farmers working the land, making ends meet with the meagre resources they had.

‘Glendalough is my favourite place in the whole world. It’s only about half an hour away from where I live. That was a very early morning, around 5am. It was one of those tranquil mornings, everything was in balance, a shaft of light just came across in front of the cobwebs.’

‘Glendalough is my favourite place in the whole world. It’s only about half an hour away from where I live. That was a very early morning, around 5am. It was one of those tranquil mornings, everything was in balance, a shaft of light just came across in front of the cobwebs.’

"When I go to developing countries, I see those similarities; very hard-working, generous, decent people with few worldly possessions but making the best of it.

"There was a sense of community in the Milk Market in the 1970s. Similarly, in some of the villages and tribes I visited, that community spirit is evident.”

Andrews’ main interest is in social documentary photography.

“In many cases, the cultures of the places where I’ve been to haven’t changed in centuries — the Omo Valley [in Ethiopia] being a case in point. Now change is being imposed on them.

"I wanted to capture the people there before that happened, in the same way that I wanted to capture the community of the Milk Market before it was shut down and change was imposed on them.”

There has also been a seismic change in the world of photography since the 1970s. How has Andrews negotiated photography in the digital era?

Mursi tribeswoman: ‘The story goes that originally, the lip plates were put in to discourage slavers. But now it’s become a custom and tradition — the size of the lip plate decides the dowry a girl will get when they get married. The Mursi are a pretty fearsome tribe in the Omo Valley in Ethiopia; all of the women carry Kalashnikov rifles. You would be walking along and you’d see a woman with a baby in one hand and a rifle in the other.’

Mursi tribeswoman: ‘The story goes that originally, the lip plates were put in to discourage slavers. But now it’s become a custom and tradition — the size of the lip plate decides the dowry a girl will get when they get married. The Mursi are a pretty fearsome tribe in the Omo Valley in Ethiopia; all of the women carry Kalashnikov rifles. You would be walking along and you’d see a woman with a baby in one hand and a rifle in the other.’

“Back in the 1970s, when I did the Milk Market project, it was all film. There is something about the traditional methods that I really love, the whole idea of processing and the dark room but there are benefits to digital photography.

"For example, the instant response, that almost immediately you can show someone what you’ve taken. That gives you a great opportunity to interact with your subject, to build a connection, a dialogue.

"It helps break down barriers. For me, the traditional methods will always be near and dear to my heart.”

For Andrews, this includes not digitally manipulating his work.

“I don’t use Photoshop or any manipulation — what you see is what you get. I always engage with my subject, I would never surreptitiously take a photograph of an individual, I think that would be an invasion.

"My primary rule would be to engage with the subject and treat them with respect, in a manner that will preserve their dignity.”

Cambodian Woman: ‘This was taken in 2010 in the Killing Fields in Cambodia. I found out the woman’s story after I had taken her photograph. Her husband and sons were taken by the Khmer Rouge; she had a very small house near the Killing Fields and refused to move because she believed one of them would return. She had a very tranquil look on her face, as if she was reconciled to the inevitability of life. She struck me as being a very serene woman, despite having been through terrible turmoil.’

Cambodian Woman: ‘This was taken in 2010 in the Killing Fields in Cambodia. I found out the woman’s story after I had taken her photograph. Her husband and sons were taken by the Khmer Rouge; she had a very small house near the Killing Fields and refused to move because she believed one of them would return. She had a very tranquil look on her face, as if she was reconciled to the inevitability of life. She struck me as being a very serene woman, despite having been through terrible turmoil.’

Andrews used Nikon cameras for years but recently had to change his equipment due to ill health.

“I developed a rare blood cancer and the weight of the equipment was too much — I have a tumour on my spine so I had to move to a lighter alternative. I use Fuji cameras now, which are fantastic.

"When I was travelling, the weight of the equipment was about 12kg, so I was pretty fit, you needed to be to carry that gear. I now have to work within my energy levels and limitations.”

Andrews is determined to continue following his passions for photography and travel.

“Everybody deals with major illness in different ways; I stare it straight in the face, acknowledge it and just get on with it; I am living with the disease as opposed to being consumed by it.

"It’s not holding me back — I went off to Rajasthan to photograph the holy festival and I am currently planning a trip to north Vietnam.

" I don’t know whether I’m a traveller interested in photography or a photographer interested in travel.”

  • Faces and Places: A Photographer’s Journey runs at the Hunt Museum, Limerick, until March 30

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