Photographer Conor McKeown speaks to Anton McNulty about his current exhibition in Westport
SETTING up his tripod in the early hours of an April morning and taking pictures of the Milky Way over Clew Bay was not something photographer Conor McKeown envisaged doing a few weeks previously. However, with lockdown in place and regular engagements such as Communions and Confirmations all cancelled he had a lot more time on his hands, and nothing was now normal.
“A friend of mine from Westport but works in Dublin said to me that my 2km radius was a lot more interesting than his. He was pining for home. During the lockdown people appreciated their space here in west Mayo.
“If you were living in Westport, you didn’t have to go that far outside the town, just going around Westport House and the Quay is a luxury, and it really is a blessing to have at your doorstep,” the Westport native told The Mayo News.
Gift of time
As we spoke, McKeown was preparing for a talk he is due to give on his latest exhibition of photographs in Westport Town Hall.
Entitled ‘Collected Moments’, the exhibition is a collection of still-life and landscape photographs captured around Mayo over the last number of years, including some taken during the lockdown.
As a busy freelance professional photographer, Conor admits that getting time to get out and capture such photos can be a problem, but the lockdown gave him that opportunity – plus it allowed him the time to look over photos taken in the last year or two.
“The photos go back maybe two years, but there are also one or two that go back a few more years that I really liked. There are some of the seacapes and shoreline with an emphasis on composition and nature, which I really enjoy, but getting the time to work on it is another thing.
“Sometimes I have an idea in my head of what I would like to do, but other times I might be just going for a walk at Bertra and I’d bring my camera along. Generally, after a while you find a really nice composition, and I find Bertra quite nice and could nearly do a series on its own, especially when the tide is out with the view of Clare Island,” he explained.
One of Conor’s previous exhibitions was a celebration of Westport people for the Westport 250 celebrations, and he says that even with his landscape photos he likes to include some human element.
“I have one right at the end of Bertra with the tide out with people in it as well. I like to include the human element as well and not just wholly landscape. I have a black and white photo of the Mall, and I wanted someone walking over the middle bridge and I waited until someone came. You can’t make out who it is but it shows the context of someone walking on a misty morning, which creates a nice atmospheric style.
“If you are caught up on pure landscape only that is fine, but I like to have interaction to put some context to it. A lot of people take photos of sunsets and the Reek, which is great and they are lovely, but sometimes they can be a little bit more personal with a human element in it. That is my take when I look at things.”
Conor admitted that he still gets a buzz around seeing his work exhibited and on display on a wall, and hearing compliments about his work gives him an extra satisfaction.
“It is easier to sit back and just post stuff online but there is a lot of appreciation from the public when people go the effort of exhibiting their work. There are still people out there who like to buy art work and photographs,” he remarked
With the advancement in technology in recent years and the increased popularity of amateur photography, Conor admits that professional photographers have had to ‘fine tune their game’.
“You have to be a bit more engaging with customers and organised when dealing in commercial work. You have to stay up to date with the current trends and keep ahead and aware of the client’s needs,” he explains.
“It does annoy you when people don’t factor in a budget for a photographer but it is up to you to show them there is a difference between professionally take photographs and and it is not the same to just take photos on your iPhone.
“When you finish a job you do want them to realise that, and they are glad they got professional photographers taken. While it might look okay on social media, nothing can really match the professional quality.”
‘Collected Moments’ is currently on display in Westport Town Hall until August 31, and while there is no formal opening due to Covid-19, Conor will give a talk about his work this morning (Tuesday), August 18, from 11am to 12 noon.