Dublin City at Dusk
The sun has slipped
below a far distant horizon
pulling the night behind it
like a chariot
trailing a quartet of horses
racing towards a point of no return
As the day slowly fades
this iridescent blue
caught in transition
to the scurrying traffic beneath
Dusk gives us time to prepare
against the twilight
like mini fireballs
screaming into the night sky
a glowing missile shield
protecting the city below
This blanket of blue
this dusky light
is our final buffer
and ghoulish dreams
that permeate the night
The Clock Tower in Dublin Castle is recorded as being in existence by 1756. This puts it smack bang in the middle of the Georgian period, one of my favourite architectural eras, second only to the magnificent structures created by the Roman Empire.
My original plan was to shoot another building elsewhere in Dublin Castle, but here, on a balmy summers eve, with beautiful lighting picking out the finer details of this gorgeous structure, it would be a crime not to set down my tripod and fire off a couple of shots.
I guess I'm not a criminal :)
© Dave McKane 2013
I've not shot this bridge at dusk before. While not the oldest, dating only from the 1790's, it's by far the widest in Dublin and in fact is as wide as it is long. It's also a bridge that has probably undergone more modifications and extensions than any other bridge in the capital and now is ready for a new era with the laying of tram tracks about to take place. Despite the new Rosie Hackett Bridge beside it which is due to open in three weeks (from when this was taken) O'Connell Bridge will remain the pre-eminent, squarest bridge in Ireland.
© Dave McKane 2014
While it would be hard to run out of floodlit buildings to shoot in the centre of Dublin, you end up with an amount of infinity if you include the multiple angles from which each of these can be captured.
While the original Christ Church dates from c1030, most of what's visible from the outside comes from the Norman and Reformation periods. The bridge you can see here, though, was only constructed in the 1870's and was designed to connect the cathedral to the recently built Synod Hall, just to the left.
One more angle on an ancient, multifaceted, building. 360 degrees brings with it an awful lot of options!
© Dave McKane 2012
This one has been a long, long time coming!
I first became aware of this beautiful building at about the age of 4, while holding my mothers hand as she brought me up to Talbot Street for the daily shop. This was before fridges were commonplace in Ireland, so perishables needed to be purchased on an almost daily basis.
Of course I knew nothing back then of the beauty of the Italianate style, or how it came to figure so prominently in the design of the two main train stations in Dublin - that came many years later - all I knew was that it was fun to run up and down the stairs in the centre of the shot, the ones that still lead up to the station platforms.
After my family moved out of the inner city, this amazing structure still featured large in my weekly vistas, as it's on the road that takes you to the outer suburb of Coolock, where I spent my teens and early twenties. I would spy it through the front and side windows of the 27B bus, even wiping away the winter condensation coating the inner glass caused by the half closed mouths of the semi-automatic passengers, so that I could bask in it.
Then, well into my 'Blue Moments' period, when I was beginning to look further afield than the key city centre architectural dusk subjects, my mind returned to here. I wasn't sure if it was lit at night, so checked it out numerous times (no was the answer) and scheduled multiple shoots (things always got in the way). So here it lay, as it has for over a hundred and fifty years, greeting and fare welling millions and millions of passengers, most of who never even look up. But I kept looking up; even more so now that I pass it again on a regular basis, and so was doubly determined to make it happen, come hell or high water.
This night was the night; hell had recently passed and the high water mark was just beginning to recede. My photography class had finished early enough for me to be able to grab a city bike, cycle furiously over to see if the west facing façade was capturing the bright sky from the setting sun and, once confirmed, set up the tripod, quickly set a shutter speed of 8 seconds to capture the trails of the cars heading in my old direction and fire. First shot – nada, second shot – woohoooo!!!
I love when a plan comes together, no matter how many decades it takes.
© Dave McKane
There are certain views of Dublin that make it look really cosmopolitan, look like a really vibrant city. This is one of those views in my opinion. In this particular vista there is important architecture from the 18th Century (the Custom House on the right) up to the Celtic Tiger in the 21st Century (the Ulster Bank complex on the left).
My Dad worked on these very quays as a docker. I would have regularly past this area as a child because we lived a hundred metres away on Commons Street, sometimes on his shoulders as we went out for our Sunday walk.
This shot is extra special though because of the calm, clear conditions. I've been here many times with students but it has only ever been like this once. And this is the shot. The blue moment at high tide with no wind and a cloudless sky. That's the formula, but so hard to repeat!
Lighting candles in the local churches sometimes helps.
© Dave McKane 2007
Busaras was a young building when I was first skipping by here, held tightly in the hand of my then young mother. We lived on Commons Street nearby, of which I was very embarrassed by as a kid, I always thought it sounded like I lived on 'common' street when I answered where I was from, and I never felt like I was common, even back then.
My father was a docker, as were many of the men who lived in the Sheriff Street area of Dublin, so he was gone from our two room bedsit very early, leaving my mother and I to head up town to get the daily shopping.
My first memory of seeing this building was the time we were walking up to Abbey Street, off to the left. My mother had met someone she knew, right by the Zebra Crossing that predated the pedestrian lights, the safe way to get across the busy road onto this triangle of paving that sits sandwiched between three major city arteries.
Zebra Crossings, which get their name from the alternating dark and light painted stripes on the road, required you to place one foot in the road to indicate you were about to cross and the traffic is meant to come to a stop. This bored little kid knew nothing of that, swinging aimlessly around the light pole I slipped and momentarily placed a foot on the road. With a huge screech of brakes a massive dumper truck ground to a halt; but that wasn't the loudest sound at that moment, all I could hear was the sound of my mother as she ran towards me to pull me away from the road.
In that moment I was both terrified and exhilarated, but I now knew how to stop a truck. And that was much more important.
© Dave McKane 2014
Houses represent a huge investment in the life of a normal family. This investment runs the gamut of financial (the mortgage, the rent), to the emotional (who hasn’t argued about where precisely a frame should hang on the living room wall?), to the sheer amount of time it takes to keep a house clean and liveable (roof repairs, lawn mowing, meal preparation and so on).
For a house to be abandoned, for a family to walk away from their home for the last time there has to be a series of catastrophic events that converge on one point, “we have to leave.”
These homes were once the center of hard working, profitable family farms, but with the drive to produce cheaper food many of these families had to sell out to larger commercial concerns which are able to produce food on a more industrial scale. Once this happens, the homestead is no longer a home. It has no more reason to exist. It just sits there waiting for the earth to take it back.
This photography project is an attempt to record these fascinating buildings before it is too late. The project called “Ghost Houses of the Prairies” currently concentrates on the State of Kansas and covers houses from as far north as Meridan, as far south as Winfield, as far west as Hays and as far east as Osawatomie.
Travelling south back home via Lyons, Kansas, with 3 houses already in the bag, I had one last abandoned location in mind. I was so fixated on trying to find it that I didn't see this one as we passed by. My target didn't work out because it's not abandoned I only figured this out when, with my camera set up to shoot, Jeff, my brother spotted the curtains moving! I'm only interested in abandoned houses, not ones that should be abandoned but still have people living in them. Besides, i have to be careful, Americans have guns! Jeff had seen another house a half mile or back and suggested we try going back.
How could I have missed this! Such an iconic scene. If there is one shot that I would use to illustrate my Ghost Houses Project it's this one.
The house is picture perfect, with a windmill and beautiful ice storm clouds in the sky! It could not have been cheap to build originally, the detail on the doorway and the filigree work on the eaves says all that, but yet again this is a house that's been abandoned for a long, long time, for at least 50 years. Why?
Now it just lies rotting in the middle of a wheat field. Forlorn, wistful for the past.
© Dave McKane 2009
By late 2009 I had finally figured out the kind of photo project I wanted to shoot on my return trips to Kansas. I needed something that iconic of the mid-west, something that people back in Ireland would recognize immediately as being from this special place in America; abandoned wooden farmhouses with old windmills if possible.
I had spotted a photo of such an abandoned house, situated north of Lyons, on a website while researching locations from back home in Ireland. So I set out on a cold winters day to track it down. As I was driving around the Lindsborg area heading in the general direction of Lyons scouting other possibilities, while trying to track down my prey, I spotted this monster of an abandoned house, near Pollard. Big as it is, I nearly missed it!
That day was a scary one to an Irishman used to mild weather, both winter and summer. While many Kansans are very familiar with the effect of their wiper blades sticking to the windshield in the middle of winter, this experience was completely new and nearly frightened the life out of me!! It’s hard to see out of a windshield that is covered in Ice. Nonetheless, I spotted something out the corner of my eye and pulled up to admire this beauty.
I couldn’t shoot that day however, as the clouds weren’t of the moody texture that I would normally seek; clouds which are snow bearing tend to be uniform in texture, quite smooth actually. For these kinds of shots I need dark, angry clouds; I have to be able to bring the sense of sadness that I feel about these structures to my shots. A return the next day brought better clouds along with a significant increase in temperature, this is Kansas after all, if you don’t like the weather, just wait five minutes.
When I finally set my camera on the tripod to shoot this house I was simply mesmerised; it is absolutely huge. It just looks like a mansion and the astonishing thing is that it was ever abandoned in the first place. Nevertheless, it seems to have been abandoned for quite a few years.
A house east of Dodge City on Highway 50, which I photographed recently, has a similar level of degradation to the exterior. With the Dodge house I was lucky to make contact with the great grandson of the original owners. He told me his uncle had last lived in the house 1969. Judging by the similar state of the exterior of this ‘mansion’ in Pollard, then I feel it must be at least 40 to 50 years since anyone has lived here.
This also was an expensive house to build in its time, even the shed to the left is brick built, while the steps up to the main door are granite. These are all rare qualities in this part of the world, for houses of this age.
With its mansion-like size, you have to ask yourself what are the catastrophic circumstances that would lead this house to be abandoned. Its proximity to the rail-track that passes out of Lindsborg, just north of here, surely has something to do with the scale of the building. It may well have been the home of a major player in the local railroad business.
An intriguing thing though, is how the house seems to have been added to over time. The central part would likely have been built first, possibly as a kit house shipped in from the east. Then, over time, as the family expanded further additions were made, in at least two phases, one to the back on the left and one to the right on the front. Families were big back then, and when grandma and grandpa move in, both sets, then the need for extra space becomes vital. Well that’s my take on it.
But why are these houses abandoned? They seem substantial, built to last forever, how could someone ever walk away from a home like this? One theory is that these abandonments are the result of many smaller farmsteads merged into much bigger entities. In this day and age it takes at lease 1,600 acres to make a farm economically viable, but back then so many of the farmsteads were based on quarter sections; 160 acres. Over time, Famer A buys out Farmer B; Farmer A already has a home so he just leaves the new one to its own devices. Then Farmer A buys out Farmer C and then D and then E and so on. All these houses now have no reason to exist. At the time the houses were last occupied there were simply no buyers and, for many, renting just brings in the wrong crowd. The houses then simply wait for the earth to take them back.
Fascination, sadness, a sense of incredulity, these are all emotions that hit me when I see these houses. This, though, is probably the one that haunts me the most.
© Dave McKane 2009
This is a slide show of my photography project "Ghost houses of the Prairies" and is an attempt to record these fascinating abandoned farm houses before it is too late. The project called "Ghost Houses of the Prairies" concentrates on the US State of Kansas and covers houses from as far north as Meridan, as far south as Winfield, as far west as Hays and as far east as Osawatomie.
© Dave McKane 2009
In many of the large metropolitan areas in the lower 48 states of the USA, old cars are snapped up almost as soon as they become available. The express intention is to either restore them to their original state or pimp them up so that they stand out from the sea of anodyne 'me too' designs that make up many modern cars. Out here on the prairies, many, many hundreds of miles from potential rich pre- and post-kid buyers, a salvage yard with this breath of old cars is simply part of the landscape. The owner of this yard doesn't even have a website, so in many ways I'm probably the only one who actually has a comprehensive photo archive of what's in this beautiful place.
When I realised what was behind the fence surrounding these couple of acres of gems from the panoply of American automotive history my eyes nearly popped out of my head. Luckily the weather was on my side and the dark gloomy clouds were promising to stay for a couple of days. This was important because I needed permission to shoot here, or I ran the risk of being shot myself! Luckily they have a relaxed attitude to personal safety here but I was still surprised to get the go ahead without any discussion around hard hats, hi visibility vests or proof of sufficient insurance. The subtext was that if I was going to be stupid then I had no one to blame but myself. Fair enough.
As a moderate to keen car enthusiast, American cars always fascinated me. The year I spent in Hutch was a formative time of my life; I guess being a naive, 16 year old, Northside Dubliner whose family had no car and who had never travelled together more than 20 miles from home base would do that to you. To be dropped into the heart of a society that was centred so much around cars meant that I was brought up to speed really quickly.
I initially ventured into the salvage yard looking for a Chevrolet Caprice Classic which my American Mom, Shirley, owned back in the day. I probably spent more time and drove more miles in this car than in any subsequent one that I owned, at least on a year-to-year comparison. In early August of 1978, just a couple of weeks after I arrived in the US, we all went on a 2-week vacation thru Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota and Nebraska in it.
I remember at the time calculating that we spent a total of 48 hours in that car on that trip which covered over 1,700 miles. Up to that point those hours probably increased by a factor of ten, the TOTAL time I had ever spent in a car. Being cooped up for that length of time, travelling long flat highways took some getting used to, particularly for a kid who had difficulties with holding back his frustrations. Mom still shivers involuntarily when the subject of that vacation is brought up. In fairness, I still apologise for my behaviour every time I go back.
In the 1950’s and 1960’s many American cars were designed to look like they could fit right into some futuristic utopia. Space transfixed the US around this period of time; this new frontier seemed to offer hope and exciting possibilities, until the Vietnam War soured this ‘brave new world’ outlook on life.
The car in front is a Lincoln Premiere from about 1959 and epitomises the look of the era. A huge car, it was the one to aspire to, one that seemed to say, “I've made it!” I’m sure there’s a photo of my mother from around this time wearing glasses that looked just like the front of this car.
My memory is hazy here but I think I drove one very similar to this in the summer of '89, when I returned to my High School town for the first time in 10 years. The husband of a high school friend owned a pink one one and gave me the keys to try it out!! If I remember correctly he told me that this is one of the heaviest passenger cars ever built.
As a neat twist on the idea of 'futuristic' design, the car behind is an AMC Pacer from about 1975, although it's initial design was started in 1971. The funny thing about this car is that it seems looks much like a car from the space era should look, but by the mid-70's it just looked out of place and was thought of as just plain ugly by many. A car magazine even referred to it as "The Flying Fishbowl"
In the words of another friend of mine: "My mom drove a Pacer - I HATED that car! I just kept my head low when riding in it."
Two different designs, two different eras, two different concepts of how to look forward in time. Now that the future is here all we can see are cars that are long past their prime.
© Dave McKane 2012
Memory association is a funny thing. Apparently smells have the ability to transport us back decades to a place where a particular one was a regular part of our lives. I spent a lot of time in the basement in Hutch, that's where the pool table, the big TV and Jeff's workbench were. We hung out, played each other at pool and worked on Airfix, Tamiya and Revell model tanks and airplanes down there. Imagine my surprise when, over 15 years later, I walk into a suppliers premises in Dublin and am hit with the EXACT same smell. That day was a special one.
Well something of a similar nature happened during my exploration of the salvage yard that I happened upon on the outskirts of Hutchinson, Kansas. Having not thought of this kind of Chevy pickup in nearly 30 years I was immediately reminded of a friend from High School. Dan Houghton had one of these in 1979 and was in the process of renovating it. It's funny how it seemed old and cool, even then.
I haven't a clue which year it's from but this particular design came out in 1960 and is either a "C" (rear wheel drive) or a "K" (4 wheel drive). Chevrolet also used numbers after the letter and I'm guessing this is a C10, with the 10 indicating it's a half-ton truck.
© Dave McKane 2012
Since I was a teenager I've had the pleasure of visiting 22 of the 50 States in the USA. Between these journeys, and the exposure we Irish have to American movie and TV culture, I've come to see America as a mixture of cookie-cutter looks (architecture, cars, chain stores and restaurants) and localised specifics based on a blend of topography and dominant settler culture (French influence in hot and steamy Louisiana versus British influence in cold and wet Massachusetts)
For me, though, the vast majority of my time spent, and the epicentre of my affections, lies in the State of Kansas. I sometimes think of this place as 'America' but it is also influenced by its topography (mainly flat) and its dominant European settlers (Germans and Swedes). This is a State of hoarders, they throw nothing away. This includes cars. I've seen hundreds, if not thousands of abandoned cars on my travels here, many from the sixties and seventies. In this place they throw nothing away until it has reached the absolute last breath of its useful life. I read recently that 100,000 miles is no longer considered the end of the useful life of car here, 200,000 now is. With the average mileage in the US for a male aged 35-54 being in the region of 18,858 (2011 figures) this means that cars are being kept for 10-12 years on average.
The Cadillac Eldorado in this picture dates from around 1971, so is way past its useful life. Cars of this nature do tend to last a bit longer, but in the mid-west even 40 years is considered too much. In California however....
The car itself has no real connection to me, other than a deep love of the automotive design that came out of Detroit at this time, but its name has a number of direct lines into my psyche. Eldorado is actually Spanish for 'the golden one' but became synonymous with a 'Lost City of Gold' back in the era of the Spanish conquest of the Americas. My own connection with the word came about because of my brother’s introduction to a wonderful album by the Electric Light Orchestra of the same name. This was in 1978, and it’s an album that regularly plays on my iPhone all these years later. At the time I was only vaguely aware of a town in Kansas of the same name but in 2011 I wrote a poem in the McDonald's Restaurant there that starts out 'Darkness defeats me in El Dorado'. While the opening line may seem defeatist, the key section that opens it up is as follows:
"Out here on the Prairies
if all else fails
executing a series of
quite often brings me
to where I need to be
It's brought me here
where clues abound
if I allow myself to recognise them"
An abandoned classic American car, a name that really has nothing to do with what its design evokes but a personal association that is pure gold. That's something that money can't buy.
© Dave McKane 2012
Manufactured products that manage to live beyond their designed life have always fascinated me. My first fixation with this was around cars, abandoned ones in particular. A later obsession with abandoned houses brought with it an aesthetic that included the use of dark, gloomy clouds and a particular effect achieved with High Dynamic Range (HDR) software. Add to that a multi-year journey into finding out how to make black and whites to match or exceed that which I was able to achieve in the wet darkroom and you have the makings of life long journey into finding a personal way of capturing, in visual form, the sadness which I feel when present at these locations.
This is the first shot in a project that turned out to be a 2-hour shoot of 49 abandoned cars along with an additional 6 plus hours processing in the computer. The previous project that helped develop these skills took nearly 3 years. I think I can leave those two statements to stand on their own!
I was driving away from dropping a friend off after lunch in the town of Hutchinson, Kansas, when I saw some old abandoned cars near a railway track. A frustrating 10 minutes trying to find a way into the compound they were located in to shoot them proved fruitless and so I drove away.
A trick I've used in the past came to mind, and is particularly useful when you're not pressed for time. It's simply the technique of taking a different route than you normally do. Having had my appetite whetted and being on the 'wrong side of the tracks', where most of the run down and abandoned property is, I decided to take a right turn that I've never tried before.
I had hardly travelled a couple of hundred yards when I spotted this through the trees. It's a Lincoln Town Car from around 1981. I've discovered from previous abandoned cars that the lift in the front is a telltale sign of the engine having been removed. This former luxury car is not going anywhere anytime soon. At least under it's own steam.
Think different, work on your skillset and you'll rarely go far wrong.
© Dave McKane 2012
Malton Trail at Dusk
The architecture of Georgian Dublin is renowned worldwide. For many, their image of this time is encapsulated in a series images created in the late 1700's called "Picturesque and Descriptive View of the City of Dublin". These were produced by the famous engraver and watercolourist, James Malton.
This series of photographs is informed by Malton's wonderful work, but with a twist. Instead of shooting these wonderful buildings in the daytime, I've decided to bring some of my Blue Moment magic to them. I've also decided to eschew being limited by his original views so as to show them to the best of my ability, with reference to the modern city that rose around them over the centuries.
The Four Courts (High Courts) in Dublin is one of my favourite scenes to shoot at dusk. I've had the greatest success here with clear reflections due to the proximity of the buildings on each side, along with the bridge this was shot on, giving some protection from the wind.
I had been planning this photo for a while and the anticipation was high as the conditions in the few days before had been fabulous. But then it changed, the weather turned bad and the sky had been stormy and overcast all day. Things weren't looking good. But yet again the photo gods were looking down on me. Just before dusk the sky cleared of most of the cloud and the wind died down just enough to let the high tide create lovely reflections in the river.
Sometimes it's like shooting ducks in a barrel. As long as you have a camera, tripod and luck on your side!
© Dave McKane 2010
Dublin city centre really is an incredibly beautiful place at dusk. If I've said that before I apologise for boring you, but the truth is the truth. Part of that beauty comes from the architectural heritage we inherited from the great oppressors, usually referred to as 'The Brits'.
This amazing building was finished in 1779 (the British finally left Ireland in 1922) and was designed to provide a meeting place where businessmen could buy and sell goods and trade bills of exchange, hence its original name 'The Royal Exchange'.
While it's now the seat of Dublin City Hall, where Council meetings are held, it's also a popular wedding venue. My Institute of Photography is only yards from here so it's not uncommon for me to have to push past dozens of well-dressed guests as I head out for my lunch.
My goal in this shot was to make the best of a gorgeous building at a gorgeous time of day, but I'm increasingly using light trails to help bring a sense of movement to these types of scenes as well.
The type of shutter speeds needed to get theses trails quite often need a small aperture that causes the starbursts on bright lights such as the streetlamps. I'm not sure I'm that crazy about them but they come with the territory. I think I need to experiment with my 10 Stop Vari ND Filter to let me use larger apertures and minimise the star effect.
I feel a new phase coming on.
© Dave McKane 2012