UNTIL we begin issuing citizenship papers to the birds, Kevin Dwyer will remain one of a small, select band of Irishmen as familiar with Ireland from above as they are from the ground.
But it was from terra firma that Dwyer took his first ‘aerial’ shot. Chasing a commission in 1989, he was required to submit an example of aerial photography. The only problem was he had none. So, he sent a photo of Derrynane and the Kenmare River taken from a nearby mountain top, 1,500ft above sea-level. It was enough to get him the job but even more so, it led to 20 years spent surveying this country from a ‘bird’s eye view’.
“In sunny weather,” Dwyer says, “Ireland is one of the most beautiful places in the world.” Certainly, his latest book, Dwyer’s Ireland, is a sumptuous collection confirming that assertion but equally it fascinates as a pictorial document of human life on this green island on the fringes of Europe: from Iron Age ringforts to monastic settlements of the early Middle Ages to pre- and post-Famine smallholdings right up to the brash, modern development of the Celtic Tiger.
Dwyer’s grandfather, William ‘Billy’ Dwyer, established the now-defunct Sunbeam Wolsey textile factory in Blackpool, Cork, and his father, Declan, built it up into one of the city’s largest employers. In time, Kevin joined the family business. “My first 13 years were out there in Blackpool and 10 of those years were spent buying fashion photography so I really learnt an awful lot about photography,” says Dwyer. Dwyer then worked in banking for a further 12 years before he was made redundant in 1986.
His brother, Peter, had opened his own knitwear company and asked Kevin, then a keen amateur photographer to photograph his collection. “Peter was sending his knitwear to Ballymaloe to sell in the shop and Wendy Whelan, one of Myrtle Allen’s daughters, asked who took the photographs. The next thing I knew, I was taking pictures of the entire Ballymaloe range of goods in and around Ballymaloe.”
With his redundancy payment, Dwyer established himself as a commercial photographer with a particular emphasis on aerial photography: “The first time I took off in a helicopter was from Derrynane, a place I thought I knew very well. I realised when I got in the air above it I didn’t know it at all. I was quite gobsmacked and was taken with the desire to share with people places they thought they knew but from angles and perspectives they could never imagine.”
Dwyer’s Ireland: A View From Above by Kevin Dwyer is published by Collins Press; €14.99.
Sunday’s Well, overlooking the Mardyke, Cork.
KD: “It’s really lovely to find large green areas in the middle of a town and this shot includes the gorgeous new pedestrian bridge linking the Mardyke to the old North Mall Distillery. If you didn’t see the aerial photo you mightn’t realise how gorgeous and green the city is.”
Roaringwater Bay, West Cork.
KD: “As I work from the right side of the helicopter, the same side as the pilot, there was always an ‘empty seat’ beside him. My wife Fiona joined me on many flights and is a very good photographer, she took this shot. She has her own style, much more impressionistic, maybe, into textures. This shot has great life, great drama, with the trails of the boats and the jet skis.”
Sunset at Derrynane. KD: “True, this is taken from the ground but there was no way I was going to publish a book of photography and not include it! It is not a ‘view from above’ but a ‘view of above’. I took it one October evening. Scarriff and Deenish are prominent just slightly to the left of centre just four miles offshore and on the right hand side of the horizon, you can see the two Skelligs, about 17 miles away.”
A monastic site on Illauntannig, one of the Magharee Islands, Kerry.
KD: “This is probably my favourite photo in the book. The Magharees are very beautiful and I love the composition of the picture. I never crop, I always compose and then take what I want. I suppose that comes from the discipline of working with film when you had to get it right first time or else it would become a very expensive process.”
Station Island, Lough Derg, Co Donegal.
KD: “A place of pilgrimage dating from 445AD when St Patrick visited the lake. Its importance in medieval times is recorded by the fact that the lake is the only Irish site on a world map of the 1490s.
“I had spent a day flying around the northerly counties of Ireland taking pictures and the pilot was finally heading back towards Dublin from Donegal when Lough Derg presented itself and I looked down and saw Station Island.
“‘What in the name of God is that?’ I asked the pilot. I had been commissioned at the beginning of June 2007 to take pictures in Donegal and was waiting for the right weather; when a suitable day finally arrived, we headed out and I took this picture on the same day — September 27! You wouldn’t want to be in a rush or trying to put bread on the table. Waiting for good weather is a constant theme of aerial photography in Ireland.”
Tramore Strand, Dunfanaghy, on the northern shores of Co Donegal.
KD: “I have flown all over Ireland, but this is one of the most beautiful stretches of golden sand on the whole island of Ireland. It’s absolutely gorgeous and I know this whole island, particularly from above.”