It's hard to believe that our Kinsale gallery hasn't been open this year, but it won't be too long now before we can welcome you back through our doors (17th May!). And sadly closed doors means we've been missing out on those in-person reactions to Giles's photographs. So to debut our new 'Gallery Notes' series, our Gallery Manager, Niamh, reflects on the five images that attract the biggest response in the Kinsale gallery.
Most people who walk into the gallery approach this image with a big smile and chuckle, but there are a select few who respond with horror, and for that reason, I like to think of it as a marmite image: you either love it or you hate it. And there’s always the same succession of questions. First up: That’s the Chanel guy, oh what’s his name? Answer: Karl Lagerfeld, and no, it’s not. Follow-up question: But that’s Tina Turner, right? Answer: again, no. And finally: But who are they then? Answer: a very confident Parisian couple (with their dog in tow, not a feather boa!). There’s a confidence in their stride and in what they’re wearing – there’s that wonderful I-don’t-care-what-you-think attitude that is synonymous with Parisians – sorry for the generalisation, but it is what we love about them: their gutsy confidence. And I think for those who choose to hang ‘Oh La La’ on their walls, they do so with the intention of having a piece of art in their home that is cheeky and fun and daring.
This is Giles’s favourite image, and for that reason it is always on display in the gallery in the largest size for the biggest impact. And the initial reaction to this image is usually one of silence or a singular “wow” while visitors stand before it, taking in all the movement and details from the delicate spray off the rolling waves to the two gulls in flight and the jagged texture of the rocks. I personally think so many people are drawn to this image because it’s not just one thing: it’s light and it’s dark; it’s calming and it’s dramatic. And for those who are unfamiliar with Ireland’s coastline, they often turn to us in disbelief questioning how such a rock structure exists in Ireland. And over the years, I’ve noticed that this image gets the “gut” response, meaning that selecting a piece of art for your home – something that you are going to look at on a daily basis – often requires thought and consideration, and there are people who will visit our gallery a few times before they commit to a photograph, however when people gravitate to this particular piece, there is rarely any deliberation towards it – they instantly know they want it in their home.
It's the subject of this image that gets our gallery visitors excited. For those who are unfamiliar with the Fastnet Lighthouse, they instantly want to know its location and more importantly: how do I get to it? They’re always disappointed to discover that it isn’t within walking distance of our Kinsale gallery, and that they’ll need a boat if they want to experience it up close like Giles did. And when they learn that it’s located 13km off the Irish mainland, the next reaction is one of amazement as to how it was even built and how a lighthouse keeper survived the isolation. There’s a strong sense of stoicism to this image, and the calmness of the water (which you definitely need if you’re venturing out to Fastnet Rock) gives room to take in the intricate detail of this image from the stone steps and railings to the contrasting tones of the clouds. Many people proudly proclaim their love of lighthouses as they stand before this photograph in the gallery, but I personally think it’s a universal love – I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t love them – lighthouses will always be a symbol of safety and comfort and hope, and that is something that most people want in their home.
A word that is often used to describe this image is: Dickensian. Many of our gallery visitors comment on how it could be a scene from a Dickens novel. And they often question whether it is in fact a photograph, claiming that it looks more like a charcoal painting. And for many of our tourist guests, they can’t believe that we ever got snow as thick as this, and we have to admit that we never expected to see snow as heavy as the snow of 2018 on our shores. Giles has captured Kinsale under snow before in the years of 1991 and 2010, but this was the first time that snow actually fell during the day and allowed Giles to capture the physical motion of snowfall. And I think another reason why people enjoy this image so much is that Giles is renowned for photographing the vast and dramatic coastline, but it’s nice to have an intimate image that captures the winding streets of beautiful Kinsale. And then for us locals, any image that features the Greyhound pub, which has been in Kinsale since 1690, will forever be an iconic symbol of our hometown.
This cow is a member of many many households across the world. It’s the most popular piece. Everybody loves it. We have this photograph on display outside our gallery, and many of our visitors walk through our doors because of it. They’re always amazed as to how Giles managed to get this shot, and it’s the photograph that Giles uses to support his no-tripod approach because the truth is that he was actually photographing the stonewall when the cow popped his head around the corner and because Giles wasn’t tied down by a tripod, he was able to capture this curious creature. It might sound cliché, but if you love Ireland the chances are you’ll love this photograph, because if you could conjure up a subject to encapsulate Ireland and its raw and rural beauty, I don’t think you can get a better subject than that of a cow poking its head around a stonewall. This photograph is nearly thirty years old now, and we’ve heard many stories over the years about how it’s a photograph that has travelled with people as they’ve moved homes or even countries, or how they’ve gone a step further and named the cow. And if I had to use one word to describe the response that this image receives in the gallery, it would be one of ‘warmth’, and I think the feeling of warmth is what most of us aspire to when building a home.