Cork Photo bring creativity into focus at the Pavilion

The Lord Mayor’s Pavilion in Fitzgerald’s Park is hosting wonderful creative workshops — from brewing to quilting and GIY — as well as photographic exhibitions. COLETTE SHERIDAN talks to the woman behind the venture
Cork Photo bring creativity into focus at the Pavilion
Louise Maher and Naomi Smith who run Cork Photo.

TWO photographic artists are working towards turning their enterprise into a sustainable business by hosting creative workshops on everything from Kids’ Messy Sessions, Growing Your Own Herbs, Documentary Photography, Creative Quilting and Home Brewing.

Based in the Lord Mayor’s Pavilion in Fitzgerald’s Park, Louise Maher and Naomi Smith run Cork Photo, which started as a photography festival in 2014.

Up to last year, there has been a festival every year since its inception but it has now become a biennial event with the next one taking place in April 2018, focusing on emerging photographers both from Ireland and abroad.

In the meantime, as well as organising the workshops, Louise and Naomi are holding regular exhibitions, showcasing emerging and mid-career photographic artists.

The latest exhibition, featuring the work of Finnish artist, Noora-Mari Pelkonen, opened this week (April 6). It promises to be a fascinating exhibition. Noora-Mari has travelled around Karelia, which straddles the southern half of the Finnish-Russian border. It was surrendered to Russia under the Moscow Peace Treaty of 1940.

Noora-Mari’s ancestors lived in the heart of Karelia. When 400,000 people were forced to leave their homes there at short notice, a culture was torn apart. Karelia was for a long time a place that embodied the Finnish national spirit, its natural beauty and traditions of singing, folk tales and mythologies.

Noora-Mari’s photographs of the lost homeland “are very poetic, very calm and painterly with rich colours as well as subdued ones conveying the turmoil,” says Louise.

She and Naomi came across Noora-Mari through Source, a Belfast-based photographic magazine which has a graduate section described by Louise as a kind of archive of all the work that is being produced by each university in the UK and Ireland.

“Our exhibitions look at photography in a broad sense, anything from archives to multimedia, incorporating sound and more traditional types of approach.”

Louise was born in Cork but brought up in America until she was 16. After returning to Carrigaline to, she went on to complete the photography course at St John’s College. She studied at Edinburgh College of Art and did her Masters’ degree at Brighton University, graduating in 2011.

“I was very interested in photography from the age of about 12. When I was at school in Florida, we were introduced to the dark room for developing photos. It was great to have that exposure at such a young age. It is something that has always stayed with me.

“Funnily enough, the school I was going to in Crosshaven had a dark room, which was such a fluke. My tutor, Fiona Kelly, was very encouraging.”

Curious about photography, Louise explored the medium from different angles. “Some people don’t pay attention to how expressive photography actually is. They keep on talking about the mechanical aspect of it.

“I was lucky to get to Edinburgh College of Art where there was a new kind of genre of photography. I then stepped back and mixed it all together. I found Brighton University very inspirational as well and very freeing.”

As well as doing photographic portraits, Louise likes to walk around her immediate environment for images.

“It’s all about slowing down and realising you are in a special moment. You don’t have to go off to distant places to be inspired.”

With smartphones, isn’t everyone a photographer these days? Louise doesn’t agree.

“Just because you have a phone with a camera doesn’t mean you’re a photographer. I think what is interesting is how photo journalism in particular has changed. It’s so instant. By being present, events can be documented as they’re happening. But I suppose that kind of photography is less reflective. But there’s a place for everything.”

An exhibition by Noora-mari Pelkonen-Karelia, organised by Cork Photo is currently running at the Lord Mayor's Pavillion.
An exhibition by Noora-mari Pelkonen-Karelia, organised by Cork Photo is currently running at the Lord Mayor's Pavillion.

As for photo-shopping, Louise says there’s nothing new about manipulating photographs.

“It used to be done in dark rooms. Now, new technology is used to manipulate images. People forget that kind of history is there. It might not be acknowledged as photography but it’s always been there in the art world.”

Naomi Smith is originally from the Isle of Man and settled in Cork “because of a man I met”. She studied photography on the Isle of Man and was introduced to the dark room.

“I loved studying the ins and outs of photography, all that practical side of it. My grandfather was a photographer for Top of the Pops. So there was all this material that I always wanted to find.”

Naomi, who also spent time studying in Spain, ran a community dark room at Camden Palace for a few years.

“I’m interested in the community side of photography, bringing projects together like our photography festival and working in the gallery. I like being a catalyst for bringing other artists together and making things happen.

“I’m excited about where Louise and I have got. We started off basically sitting down with our ideas. We made a proposal for the Lord Mayor’s Pavilion space when it came up for tender and the festival feels like a natural progression from that. It’s a beautiful little space.

“We’re really pleased to get the support from City Council. We continue to look for funding. Our creative workshop programme is an endeavour to generate an income stream.”

With their eye on opportunities, this photographic duo is clearly going places.

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