WHEN the BBC World Service phoned photographer Alison Laredo to get the contact details of a certain short-in-stature and small-scale Mayo farmer she had to think fast. Farmer Tadhg Leonard may have his own Facebook page, but he’s the silent type. While the BBC had rightly assumed was a member of the Yes to Equality campaign for last year’s marriage equality referendum, Tadhg is nothing more than a toy – more mascot than man.
Laredo (pictured right) quickly identified another interviewee – this time a gay Mayo man – for the World Service’s programme on the Irish referendum, passed so resoundingly a year ago.
Launched in the Linenhall Arts Centre last week to mark the first anniversary, Alison Laredo’s exhibition, ‘Ten Weeks That Changed The World’, chronicles a campaign that caused a rainbow ripple of hope and openness throughout every demographic in the country and beyond. It attracted young and old emigrants home in their droves to exercise their franchise and ensure Ireland became a fairer society.
“The campaign wasn’t just about gay or transgender people, it was about people who wanted Ireland to be a fairer and equal place,” Alison Laredo tells The Mayo News. She explains how her involvement in chronicling the campaign was serendipitous and grew organically.
“Before ‘Yes Equality Mayo’, there was a group called Tost (Silent), and it was through Mayo County Council that I was asked to photograph an event in Castlebar that was examining whether Civil Partnership [legislation] for gay couples was enough or should people hold out for marriage equality,” she explains.
So from a rather tentative Yes For Equality Mayo float in the Foxford St Patrick’s Day parade to the emotion in the Castlebar count centre on referendum day ten weeks later, Laredo took photographs all over the county.
“Then after the resounding result, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said this was ‘a social revolution’, and somebody suggested ‘Why don’t you make an exhibition from all the photographs?’. So the exhibition just evolved, the photos were never part of a plan, I just wanted to document it,” says Laredo.
“From the Foxford pictures where it didn’t look hopeful to the victory parade in Castlebar, I suppose I documented this ‘social revolution’,” she adds.
Liverpool born, with Irish parental roots, Alison Laredo observes that ‘photography isn’t neutral, like all art it is political, with a small p’.
“It is ten years since ‘adventure’ called me to Mayo,” Laredo tells The Mayo News. “I was living in London and working as a freelance photographer and criminal defense lawyer. I had some friends who moved to Ballinrobe, and I visited them for my 40th birthday to avoid a big party back in London. Little did I think that two years later I would have moved to Castlebar.”
She simply loves the county town because ‘it is a real town, with real people and a perfect size’.
“Okay it is not really private as a lot of people know me now, so I always have to comb the back of my hair when I go out to Dunnes Stores,” she says glibly.
We are sitting in a sun-soaked courtyard at the Linenhall drinking coffee. Armed as always with her camera, Laredo is also checking out the light waves illuminating her interviewer. With a great big cumulonimbus approaching, there is no time for me to reapply my make-up.
Ten Weeks That Changed The World, an exhibition of photographs by Alison Laredo, is on show at The Linenhall Arts Centre, Castlebar, until Saturday, June 18.
Among the guest speakers at last week’s launch were artist Alice Maher and Equality Mayo Chairperson Jean Cross.