To Know Here and There

By Ailbhe Greaney, Contributor
April / May 2004

To Know Here and There is my thesis project undertaken while studying for my MFA in Photography and Related Media at the School of Visual Arts in New York. It is a continuation of my ongoing exploration of the subject’s identification with place. With this work I depict the connection with one’s homeland as tied to the people of that place. Taking the form of pairs, images taken in my native Galway, Ireland are paired with images taken in New York City. As an Irish person now living in New York I am photographing my parents, those people left behind, and presenting them as an embodiment of the concept of `Home’ while still emphasizing place as an important shaper of that `Home’.

In all of these photographs my parents are physically present in both environments. Visualizing my parents in both Ireland and New York blurs the line between which place is really home and begs the question: What is home? How do we reconcile ourselves with place so as to understand that which is unfamiliar? While in New York they refer to Ireland by the mimicking of pose and gesture, and vice versa. I am interested in exploring this experience, particular to New York and the immigrant, of living somewhere in the middle. Here the environment is malleable, a hybrid of two or many more worlds. However, the variations that occur within this mimicking indicate that while in one place they are not in the other. My parents both transform and are transformed by their environment. This is in response to the continual transformation of such New York City spaces by those many people seeking home here.

This is to investigate also both the physical and metaphoric integration and separation of person and place.

The writer Frank O’Connor once said, “There is something in the short story at its most characteristic — something we do not often find in the novel — an intense awareness of human loneliness.”

Photography too, I believe, has the potential for that kind of awareness. In the very simplest of terms I attempt to find my parents by making pictures of them in New York as they were and are in Ireland. It is those small connections to home that help to bear separation and to close distance. These images are small things, small connections (like flashlights winking at one another across a gap). They are an attempt to fill a stage.

This project springs from separation and yet it illustrates in contradiction photography’s capacity to bring together and to illuminate hope and togetherness in its subjects. In leaving my parents behind they have become something new together. In leaving them I too have become something new, which creates hope.

This I believe is the essence of all leavings. ♦

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