Well known to French photography lovers thanks to his exhibitions in Guingamp (2012) and at the Centre Culturel Irlandais in Paris (2015), Tom Wood comes back with a wonderful book published by RRB PhotoBooks. The title, Irish Work, reflects the hands-on approach of this photographer who, leaving his work in suspense, allows readers to find the Ireland of their liking through the many images devoid of narcissism and framing everyday goings-on the way one would front-page news. Tom Wood’s sense of nearly dizzying artistic freedom goes hand in hand with a very personal approach. Born on January 14, 1951 in County Mayo, on the west coast of Ireland, Wood has composed his life as if he were writing a music score.
Browsing through Irish Work, we might spot red lupins, crows’ nests, and junk cars abandoned at the edge of a field like some scarecrows.
We can marvel at the “soft light” one evening in Clew Bay. We might seriously contemplate “all the ways to blend manure.”
Or savor Aggie’s competitive cuisine, her patience of an angel when tending to neglected graves, and her three clocks, each telling a different time.
Or yet we might marvel at Jane and Rebecca’s performance, two spinster aunts who had once played the violin for Queen Victoria.
We might admire Jacqueline posing with Julia, a young mare who went on to give thirty-two years of loyal service. We could try to decipher Aunt Betty’s school notebook.
Or risk a few solo steps on the scuffed red floor of Gaughan’s Bar in Ballina.
Or we could greet Norman one last time and hold his hand in the room that saw the births of so many children: Charlie, Tommy, Alan, Jim…
Or yet we might overlook these familial occasions, barely mentioned in the captions, and simply take a well-paced journey across Ireland between 1970 and 2019. Spanning five decades and shot with twenty-two cameras (full list at the end of the book), in black and white, color, and even video, Tom Wood’s images paint a captivating portrait of his native land, which he left for England with his parents (Catholic mother, Protestant father). He was based in Liverpool and Merseyside until a recent move took him to Wales. Neither a nostalgia-filled homecoming nor a tourist guide (empty cottages, crowded shores, etc.), Irish Work retraces the footsteps of a man exploring his memories, without a care for chronology. This ars memoria summons photographer friends, such as Chris Killip and John Davies, as well as other, anonymous, figures. We are invited to take part in reunions at places of pilgrimage, such as Croagh Patrick, or at a county fair or the racetrack.
Irish Work is also tinged with humor, as shown on the facing pages 258–9: two young men take turns standing on Gráinne, a tender and “calm” Charolais cow, who had 17 calves and lived twenty-one years. The art of balancing, bovine style.
By Brigitte Ollier
Brigitte Ollier is a journalist based in Paris. She has worked for over thirty years for the newspaper Libération, where she contributed to the fame of the column “Photographie.” She is the author of several books about a few memorable photographers.
Tom Wood, Irish Work. With a dust jacket designed by Pádraig Timoney, RRB PhotoBooks, 280 pp., €110.95.
To learn more about Tom Wood and his work, visit his website.
To read, the Irish writer Edna O’Brien’s work, and especially her Country Girls trilogy.