On the 14th of January 2013 I wrote a long and detailed blog post all about my friendship with the Tenacious JHCG (John Henry Coe Graham). I explained a little of how our lives have unfolded since we studied together at Greenmount Agriculture College in Northern Ireland, now part of Cafre (College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise) from 1996-1999 (last century!).
John went on to work as an agricultural policy advisor in Dublin, whilst managing farming in Sligo at the same time. He found the woman of his dreams Brid McNulty on a night out in Dublin. They bought a beautiful Sligo farm and house, married where Brid studied Trinity College Dublin and John had her picked up from the hotel for the wedding in an gigantic brand new Claas Tractor (which I had the honour of photographing!). They had their beautiful baby Judith and opened a fantastic new cafe called The Beehive, in Sligo Folk Park.
It was fantastic to see my old friend and we had a good laugh explaining to his local customers how we knew each other. It was hard for folk to believe that I, the gentleman photographer swinging the Canon 7D camera, dressed in tweed jacket & silk cravat, once studied agriculture with John almost 20 years ago! Two of John’s lovely customers Margaret and John, who farm sheep, suckler cows and the beautiful Connemara ponies in the Sligo mountains even posed for a quick portrait.
John was in full flow as gracious host deftly moving from kitchen to front of house, hand making fresh scones and all sorts of delicious delights which I was lucky enough to taste test. The chocolate brownie is some of the best I’ve tasted on my travels as are the scones. Both have been created and baked to perfection resulting in a crunchy bite, followed by a soft centre of utter succulence!
Their macaroons and christmas mince pies look so enticing too…
With the recent buzz of London Fashion Week I was inspired to share some portraits I made earlier this year. Faye Dinsmore, one of my neighbours from back home in Donegal, in the Irish countryside, dropped by for lunch one day last spring. She had flown over for modelling work, from Dublin, where she is based, after graduating there in French and Classics at Trinity College. Faye is on the books of agencies in London, Paris and Barcelona and is looked after by Distinct Model Management in Dublin. She also recently landed a contract at Ford Models agency in New York which has seen the likes of Elle Macpherson and David Gandy on it’s books.
Faye was interested to hear about my photojournalism travel blogging and I was in turn interested to hear about her life adventures. I wanted to take Faye somewhere authentic and chose one of my favourite cultural delights in Victoria, Costa Coffee Boutique. Far from the regular Costa Coffee chain outlet, when you step inside this cafe you genuinely feel as if you’ve been transported to 1980’s Italy with beautiful ornate tiling and a glass topped bar where you can view a selection of coffee beans whilst you sip on that perfect brew!
Fitting that it is, the owner and his wife emigrated to London in the 1980’s and have never looked back since. The owner’s manner is so charming, as he slowly potters around making your coffee and food with a relaxed latin style. In central London this is a real treat, considering most people move at breakneck speed! The original retro decor matches the ambience and flavour of this wonderful little haven of culture! It’s fair to say we had a grand ole time of it chatting at a rate of ninety whilst soaking in the sunshine on that crisp cool bright day. We’d both been in touch with each other’s lives from Facebook but there’s no substitute for conversing in person. True Irish craic! A term that I explained to the world last March on Humans of New York or HONY as it’s often referred to. More on that in another blog post soon.
Coming from our respective family farms and ending up in the creative urban environment, Faye living in Dublin and me in London, through our creativity we have travelled the world, but our hearts will always have a place in Donegal. Both passionate about our homeland, we chatted about Ireland’s development over the past few decades. Most interestingly we’ve seen it evolve into the tech capital of Europe, with numerous international IT companies basing their European headquarters in Dublin, including Google, Facebook, Paypal, Microsoft, Yahoo, eBay, LinkedIn, AOL and Twitter. Apple have their European HQ in Cork.
The existence and rapid growth of this industry has been one of Ireland’s major economic saving graces. Faye’s equally talented entrepreneurial fiance, Wicklow-born Paddy Cosgrave has brilliantly promoted Ireland through international networking. He is the man behind Europe’s top tech event Web Summit which brings over 20,000 of the international IT community to Dublin for a three day event. He also runs a more curated event for 200 guests called F.ounders, which brings the founders of major tech companies to an exclusive event which runs alongside the Summit.
A lot was said in one lunch hour but of course we’re Irish so rapid conversation really wasn’t an issue for us. Faye and I are also both major fans of Irish craft especially Donegal tweed and woollen products. It’s refreshing that current fashion favors them considering the 70’s folk wear which has made a major return to the scene in the last few years alongside folk music. The international renowned Magee business is based only a few miles from our families home now run by Paddy Temple, who I photographed last summer at the Royal Highland Show in Edinburgh.
On a recent trip home I visited Foxford Wollen Mills in Mayo, which has a fascinating history, started by a nun during famine times to help support the community. No matter how far we go from home it’s good to know that just like our old Italian friend, we will always value and celebrate the traditional roots we come from.
In a world of increasing consumerism and fast fashion I would encourage you to buy local products where possible. Most importantly buy good quality which will last and always recycle the clothes you no longer need as someone else will be glad to have them. As a child on the farm in 1980’s Ireland which was then a developing country, I certainly got excited when my older family members handed me down the clothes they grew out of…think local, think quality and think sustainability!
I made a few quick portraits of Faye at Chelsea College of Arts, coincidentally home of UAL’s TED (Textiles Environment Design)…experts and industry leaders in sustainable textile design.The first image was taken inside in the magical space that is the Old College Library. The building was previously the Royal Medical College built at the turn of the last century and opened in 1907. Considering Faye is usually seen on the cover of the Italian Vogue, Cosmopolitan and the likes it was really nice to make these natural portraits and see her pure Donegal beauty radiating on that crisp spring day. Later in summer the press reported that Faye and Paddy are so busy they hardly have time to make their wedding plans. Isn’t it great to see two such beacons of nouveau Ireland light shining out of the economy. I’m glad we got to catch up that day and who knows where in the world we’ll next cross paths!
Read more about London Fashion Week
Explore the Royal Highland Show, Edinburgh
Learn about Textiles Environment Design
Commissioned by Irish in Britain who do sterling work for the Irish community on these shores!
John Henry Coe Graham, tenacious indeed!
Memoires from recent time spent visiting an old college friend in the Irish countryside.
So, John and I first knew each other when we were in class together at Greenmount College studying Agricultural Technology, John was “Dairy mad” and I was “heading towards the ancillary industries of agriculture e.g. the supermarket business”. At that stage John and I clashed in persona and we didn’t really see eye-to-eye.
After three years on that course together with a “sandwich year” on work placement in the middle (where we worked in our chosen industries not just ate sandwiches) John and I went our separate ways. John went on to farm full-time and work for the IFA (Irish Farmers Association)…at one stage he was doing both full-time jobs in two different ends of the country!
England called me to my top-up degree in Marketing, a brief appearance on the English national TV appearance on Channel 4’s Faking It show learning to be a Hairdresser, assistant managing an Irish bar in London’s West End, working in sales and marketing in the English Lake District, marketing, communications and cultural project management for Leeds Metropolitan University, managing music festival arenas such as Leeds and Latitude Festivals, lecturing a little in marketing and developing a passion and career as a Photographer, most recently whilst making this blog.
John happened to come from a few miles from my Granny in the scenic western county of Sligo. I can’t remember who got in touch with who a few years after we left college but I was invited to visit and stay with John and his family for a night after Christmas around 2002. Lo and behold…we actually got on very well as friends! Maybe outside a college class situation we were calmer, maybe the scenic vistas of Sligo made us feel more relaxed around each other, maybe it was the foot deep snow that Christmas…or just more likely we’d grown up a little after a few years in the big wide world as proper functioning adults.
Since then John and I have kept in touch via phone, text, email, Facebook and most recently Instagram. I had been waiting to visit him and catch up on this my most recent trip to Ireland but since I was heavily involved in helping my parents with renovations at my original family home on the farm in Donegal, I hadn’t much time to spare. Finally I got to go on my “staycation” to Sligo, heart and mind full of excitement to see my old mate. It had been a few years due to me being out of Europe recently and John being away for a few Christmases. I had heard the tremendous news of his engagement and I was delighted to hear that his fiancee had recently moved down to the farm in Sligo carving herself out a rural career in teaching, business consultancy and farming.
That Thursday evening our time began with John’s homemade creation (in between all the farming duties….TENACIOUS AS EVER) of beautiful roast salmon dinner and a glass of vino but only after meeting his fine lady who no more than myself would “talk the hind leg of a donkey!” (Miss McNulty has roots in Donegal very near me so like me, has the “Donegal non stop talking gene”).
Then on to a fun night of great “ceol agus craic” (singing and good times in Gaelic) watching and dancing to one of John’s old school friends Sharon Conway and her band Ruby Ridge in Hargodans Pub, Sligo…both stunningly beautiful and Ireland’s finest…Sharon and Hargodans that is! The household even returned home with a free CD as a prize for the best dancing.
Friday was spent out on the farm with John which I very much enjoyed. Farming for me is fine recreationally…as long as I don’t have to do it for any length of time…I love the countryside and have a love of the land but to be a full time farmer really is relentless hard work. People often complain about farmers but do they realise how hard farmers actually work to produce the food that we all need to survive?!
After a great staycation and technically John taking part in The Freeborn Travelling Portrait Project I bid them adieu and John’s advice for my career and future is “You were born to make people happy…that’s your talent!” and “You have a natural ability for opening people up and getting them to communicate freely”.
Although work isn’t particularly easy to come by in London I’m certainly meeting lots of great people and sure as the saying and the song goes “people make the world go round”. I’m sure if I keep true to myself and keep communicating openly with people, more opportunities in photography, marketing, communications, cultural project management will come my way. I’m also aiming to learn the art of mixology.
Who knows what I’ll have to report when I next visit Tenacious JHCG! Whatever it is I’ll be happy to see him and his lovely lady Brid on their little patch of rural bliss in County Sligo, Ireland.
So…I’ve been in the Irish countryside working on the farm, chopping wood, growing a beard and working in the garden. Now I’m back in London and I wanted to share more of the interesting experiences I had when I travelled the world and expanded my mind. I have a host of images in my “bank” that I’d like the world to have the opportunity to see….and here are some more of them…
As we say in Ireland…”What’s the story?”…..Well, my younger brother Stuart (Disco Stu) and I travelled to eastern europe for a week last June, from Budapest out to Lake Balaton to visit some family and then up to Bratislava, across to Vienna, down to Gyor in northwest Hungary and back to Budapest. It was quite the spin!
We had 24hrs in the Slovakian capital of Bratislava which we found very charming. Arriving at a Couchsurfing social with our bags on our backs (or wheels because it’s the way to go these days) we offered two lucky leprechauns to the highest social bidder! Well it was a fun night and we ended up staying with top bloke called Anton Cernak who we had lots in common with and had a right laugh.
We only visited the Tourist Information Office once, preferring to find our own way around, but when we did the gruff lady who “received” us…gave us the wrong time for the bus to Vienna. I always do my best to turn a negative into a positive and found myself enjoying the funky artistically decorated graffiti of Bratislava’s bus station. When I went to the toilet and stood at the urinal this shaved headed guy walked in and at first I put my hand to my pocket in case of being pick-pocketed (I shouldn’t have judged so quick) only to find that the guy was working as the toilet attendant. He was fixing the soap in a net that hung above the wash hand basin to avoid the soap getting dropped on the floor. I commented “that’s clever” and smiled at him (not something most straight guys do in toilets considering that even making eye contact with another guy is a real no-no…and women actually accompany each other to the toilet…???).
He then came out of the toilet and lit a cigarette as I was leaving. I couldn’t resist capturing the image of such a striking character, of course introducing myself first and asking his permission.
He told me his name was Vladimir…
I then ran for the bus to find that it wasn’t coming for another hour so I popped back to chat with him a little more and take this photo as I wanted to get a little closer and see some more of his great character.
The moral of the story is that as much as I try not to stereotype it’s slightly engrained. The above photo is of Vladimir holding my business card after we had a broken English/Slovakian (I had a handful of words)…and he was an absolute gent.
It’s amazing where you can meet real characters in this world and how wrong you can be when jumping to stereotypical conclusions. I’m just glad I observed who Vladimir really was, spent a little time with him and gave him a coin for keeping the Bratislavan capital’s bus station toilet clean and presentable.
So I’ve been travelling at a fairly rapid pace these past few months, through Japan, Singapore, England, Hungary, Slovakia, Austria and Ireland. I’ve been zipping across the British Isles visiting family and friends. Of course, throughout this time I have continued to take quite a few photographs which I will be blogging here retrospectively.
Japan was a phenomenal cultural experience, a truly alien experience and yet wonderful! I made some fantastic friends for life there and hope to return one day. I’m working on a photo essay of Japan which I will post a link to soon.
Eastern Europe was great but my time there was short, taking in three countries in one week with my younger brother Stu who I absolutely love travelling with. We spent two months travelling SE Asia together at the very start of this blog. You can look back to the archives for November and December if you haven’t already seen this.
It’s been quite the experience returning to the UK and Ireland with refreshed spirit and eyes. I have some beautiful moments to share from this time too.
I’m currently staying on Amhurst Road, Hackney in a friend’s apartment for three weeks whilst she’s on holiday. I’m living on a 44p reduced IKG Sourdough bread and using my friend’s girls vintage Olympics bicycle to explore the creative and edgy East End with a view to living here for a while.
The other evening I cycled up to Homerton Hospital to the NHS walk-in centre to see a doctor as my recent chest infection morphed into a sinus infection (all part of travelling fatigue..typically you get sick as soon as you rest for a while)…afterwards I cycled through Clapton, Stamford Hill, Stoke Newington, Church Street, Clissold Park and Dalston and it’s certainly quite the neighbourhood here!
As I was cycling round Dalston I spotted a characterful old lady and stopped to chat with her. During the hour I spent in the bus shelter with 86yr old Marjorie (my new girlfriend) we talked about her life here over the past 50yrs in London, travelling from Trinidad on a boat and living in a basement with 20 people, pregnant and in her early twenties during the race riots, going dancing in Stoke Newington Town Hall and watching shows in the famous Hackney Empire Theatre, plus raising a family throughout all of this!
I had stopped and asked if I could make Marjorie’s portrait using Instagram on my iPhone and was pleasantly surprised when she suggested we sit down and have that chat. Afterwards I asked if I could return to make Marjorie’s portrait with my SLR camera one day and next time I intend to do her full justice with a fully professional image which I will share here and hope to make part of The Freeborn Travelling Portrait exhibition one day.
Although I am back in England and some would say I have finished travelling however I would disagree because I feel I can continue to travel every day. It’s people like Marjorie who are the reason I started this blog and the reason the project will continue now that I have wifi and I’m “a little” more settled.
So watch this space and pass on my blog to everyone you think might be interested. I intend to share my travels retrospectively and give you highlights of London’s most interesting people, places and culture!
Josh (Joshua), is Don’s unofficially adopted son. They were brought together through the world’s kinder forces when Josh was around 14yrs old. Don was working in the social arena and wanted Josh to have the best chance in life. I have to admit that anyone coming into contact with Donald Clark will most likely end up with a better chance in life…because he’s an inspirational man! If you are ever near Sydney please don’t be shy to ask me for Don’s contact details and he will gladly have a Chai with you and his dog Cobber (and whomever might be staying with him from Couchsurfing at the time).
It took a few days for me to get to know Josh a little. He’s not the most talkative at first but as soon as we understood each other I was very pleased we got on well. As a portrait photographer I am always very sensitive to people’s different characteristics. Some people want their photo taken, others don’t and then there are some who just take a little time to gain their trust. I’m glad I had the time to gain Josh’s trust as I was and am very interested in his cultural and heritage.
I took this photo that evening when he came home from work and the kitchen was full with Don cooking, Sambath taking film footage, Sam Brown sitting with us and me as usual with camera in hand. For those of you who don’t know the tattoo on Josh’s arm is the Aboriginal Flag. I had to be a little cheeky to ask him if I could photograph it when I noticed it peeking out from under his t-shirt…but that sensitive audaciousness of mine worked out well…resulting in one of my favourite portraits from my time in Sydney. By the way the rabbit behind is from the rugby football team Sydney Rabbitohs.
Thanks for sharing your home with me brother Josh 🙂