June 27, 2016

Ireland IV (Monaincha Abbey, Ireland)

The final session of the first full day of photography for the Ingrid Portfolio was at the small ruined Augustinian abbey of Monaincha. The location is both isolated and relatively unknown, and was one of my first little victories of all the research I did before the trip - it was easy to find, and turned out to be the perfect space to finish our first day of photography.
Founded in 1140, but built on a site of an earlier abbey founded in the 6th century by Saint Elair or St Cainnech of Aghaboe, Monaincha Abbey is described by locals as "Tipperary's best kept secret". The abbey's name comes from Mainistir Inse na mBeo meaning "The Monastery of the Island of the Living". Originally the monastery was on a small island surrounded by water, but agricultural drainage works in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries drained the bog and left the monastery perched conspicuously on top of a mound in a cow field.
More by happenstance than planning, Ingrid and I arrived at the Abbey as the setting sun was falling across the main doorway; the weathered Romanesque chevron designs and scroll-work carvings were easy to make out with the angular sun, and it provided the perfect setting to start working with Ingrid. I began with my colour camera set low on my tripod, and used a wide-angle lens to frame the entire doorway, looking through to the high cross and arches beyond. Ingrid experimented with a number of different poses and I shifted my camera camera angle occasionally, but the above photograph of Ingrid's body back-on and low in the doorway, with her arms reaching up and anchoring the inner arch above her is by far my favourite. The dark shadowy interior behind her is the perfect counterpoint to the almost sculptural quality of Ingrid in the doorway.
After some further explorations of the doorway and nave spaces, Ingrid and I moved into a small addition to the abbey, added in around the 15th century. The original purpose of the small chamber is unclear, though it is thought to have been either the priest's quarters, or a sacristy. The vaulted room was only a little higher than my head, and was lit by two small windows. Though the light was low, it was also lovely and dramatic, and Ingrid and I struggled for sometime to find a pose that did the space justice. In the end, a simple composition from the side of Ingrid crouching, and leaning back upon the tomb at the end of the room proved to be the most pleasing. Dealing with the high contrast of the location needed four separate exposures to be combined into the final image - in retrospect I wish I had thought to try the composition in infrared - I suspect it would have been even more pleasing, and would have needed just a single exposure to realize. 
Though the light was lovely in the vaulted room, it was also easily the coldest place Ingrid modeled all today, so after a couple of other compositions, we moved back into the main body of the abbey, and after Ingrid spent a few minutes dressed to warm up, we set to work in the ruins of the east window. After a couple of photographs made in colour, I shifted to working with the infrared camera, as the glow it gave the trees behind Ingrid helped separate her figure from the background. Working relatively quickly, Ingrid and explored more than handful of different poses with the window - the most successful were those with her standing, and arching back against the sea of trees moving behind her in the wind. 
After about 45 minutes of working within the abbey itself, the light levels were starting to really drop (sunset was just after 10am, and we'd arrived at the abbey at 9pm). Given the small island the abbey was on had some massive trees on its outer edge, I decided to finish up the session working with the ancient hardwoods. Though I have photographed the Nude for close to 30 years, I have to admit, I have never really worked out how to fit the body into trees...they are incredibly challenging to work with.
As it turns out, the larger the tree, the easier it is to work with, and after some pose experimentation, Ingrid I managed to make a number of really pleasing images, including the above photograph which really thrills me - the lovely tone of Ingrid's body set against the rich shadow tones of the tree behind and beside her. Just lovely.
We brought the session at Monaincha Abbey to a close at sun set - by 10pm the air started to cool, and both Ingrid and I were feeling the length of the day - three sessions and several hours of driving only a day after landing in Ireland had worn both of us out. The final session left us both feeling elated, however - in the single hour at Monaincha, we'd made some incredible images, working with both beautiful light and a stunning setting. An auspicious beginning to the two-week long project in Ireland!

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