Q&A with Daragh Muldowney – Dulra Photography – Beacons
“BEACONS is a series of images from Lake Baikal in Siberia documenting the surreal ice road system that guides travellers across the vast frozen expanse of the largest freshwater lake on the planet.”
The exhibition will feature over 25 large format prints at the Copper House Gallery in Dublin from February 17th until April 14th 2021.
This exhibition is based around Lake Baikal, in Siberia. Can you tell us about your first trip there and what inspired this work.
I have a fascination with ice. I find it to be infinitely beautiful and have photographed it many times. One of my previous projects is titled ‘Out of Thin Air’, a study on the glaciers and icebergs of Greenland with the concept that they are formed from the tiny snowflake.
I was looking for a new project and in November 2017, Lake Baikal came across my consciousness 6 times from as many different sources. As I mentioned, I love ice so I followed these signs and booked a trip to visit Baikal in February 2018.
It was an awe-inspiring trip and the ice certainly did not disappoint. Stepping onto the frozen expanse of the lake in winter is a multi-sensory experience. A vast icy plain stretches out before you, surreal and otherworldly, beckoning you to explore. Cracks run in every direction across the ice, a myriad of interwoven lines spanning hundreds of kilometres. Labyrinthine ridges, made of jagged shards of ice known as hummocks, glow sapphire blue under freshly fallen snow. Melodic and disconcerting sounds of popping and grinding accompany your every step reminding you that this ethereal landscape is in constant flux. Howling winds whip across the lake causing your eyes to water and then freeze, giving your face an icy coating that the locals call ‘Baikal makeup’.
I look for a deeper narrative in which to bind the images together. It was only when I came upon a small pine tree in the middle of this giant frozen expanse did I realise what the nature of my project would be. The tree was ‘planted’ in the ice which was a surreal and minimal vision but when I learned that it had a profound purpose of guiding travellers from one side of the lake to the other the concept of ‘Beacons’ was formed.
That first year in 2018 was a challenging one as we had a near calamity early on in the trip where our van overheated and burst into flames…luckily we had most of our gear out before it got completely engulfed. I did lose a bottle of vodka! 🙂
Who told you of the significance of the trees growing in the wilderness, the Beacons what give the exhibition its name?
I guess it was our driver ‘Dima’ and guide ‘Aleksey’ that passed on the information. There are two ice road systems on Lake Baikal: the official one that crosses the Small Sea, a frozen inlet that separates Olkhon Island from the mainland, and the unofficial road system that locals use to cross the Big Sea, the vast icy interior of Lake Baikal. This normally goes from the village of Uzury in the West across to Ust-Barguzin in the East.
Crossing the Big Sea can be a hazardous journey. The surface ice can become unstable due to wind, temperature shifts, underwater currents and large methane bubbles. The ice, 60 centimetres to 2 metres thick, can come under huge pressure causing the ice slabs to either break apart exposing the frigid water below or crush together creating large jagged hummocks. Both are impassable and in order to help travellers across the ice, the locals mark out the road by drilling holes and ‘planting’ small pine trees that act as markers, ‘beacons’ guiding the way.
I was instantly captivated by the surreal beauty of these beacons and I returned to Baikal over the course of three winters in the hope of documenting them. It fascinated me to see their organic forms emerging from the mist or appearing unexpectedly on the distant horizon in such a stark and alien landscape. Each tree a benign presence in an otherwise barren world, offering hope and safe passage.
Beacons is a metaphor for guidance within our own lives. If we stray from our chosen path we all need help and guidance to find our way back. Each Beacon is an essential sign guiding travellers along their road.
Do you carry a camera with you always, just in case you see something that inspires you?
It’s funny, I just gave a workshop on Saturday discussing this very topic and many photographers will say ’The best camera is the one you have with you’. I personally believe it is important to not always be looking through the lens. It is important to connect with your heart and soul and I believe it’s good to leave your camera behind…sometimes. This helps me to connect to the elements without looking to photograph a subject. This, of course, means I miss moments photographically but I don’t miss the moment and it is stored in a deep place that helps me to ‘drop into the zone’ easier when I do take my camera with me.
I normally like to work with a project in mind. It helps to anchor my workflow. I do sometimes go out for the joy of shooting and become spontaneous and reactionary to what I see.
What would you say to someone interested in getting involved with photography? Where is a good place to start?
Shoot all genres… it’s hard to know immediately which genre will resonate with you the most. So it really is worth experimenting with different genres, different shooting styles and different processing techniques. Follow the photographers that interest you but follow others too…you never know when you’ll see a style or technique that might work for you.
From your work, it is obvious that travelling is a large part of your life. How has your life changed since the lockdown? Are you focusing on things closer to home?
Absolutely, travelling has ceased so life is all about Ireland which is a wonderful place to be. I spend plenty of my time in the Dublin mountains, hiking or mountain biking. For much of 2020, I was working on getting Beacons ready. Read That Image (Vinny Gregan and Kasia Kaminska) were the designer’s on Beacons (and Out of Thin Air) and I thoroughly enjoyed the design process. I managed a crowdfunding campaign on Fundit, so, all in all, kept pretty busy.
I am working on a new project on the Aran Islands but I need the travel restrictions to be lifted before I get to go again.
Virtual tours of Daragh Muldowney’s latest exhibition BEACONS (from the Copperhouse Gallery, Dublin) runs until May 2021 – https://dulraphotography.com/project/beacons/