INNOCENT LANDSCAPES REVISITED: 23 / OCT / 2009
THE REVISITS - AN INTRODUCTION
Posted by David Farrell
"Truth is made of infinite small pieces" (Gogo della Luna). When the searches finished in 2000 it was stated that they were at at end. For reasons outlined below in an extract from an almost singular set of diary entries from 2003 I outline why I started to revisit these places and some sense of the ongoing narrative within this work. Looking back now ten years on in some ways these Revisits do in some way appear to be the act of a madman. (In a later posting I hope to talk about the relationship between analogue, and 'what has occurred', and digital, and 'events to come' and explore the issue of photographic time which should probably also be measured in 'light' years). I mean I had had the photographers lotto win in a certain way with a book published in five European editions (though the photographs were still in English). I could move on to another work and I did (on to many), but there was a force that kept drawing me back year after year. Consequently every year I would revisit and while on one level I was simply documenting the process of renewal I was also searching for metaphors within these recovering landscapes that would resonate beyond the yearly matter of fact documentation. Indeed there is one image that I made again at Wilkinstown that I will talk about in a future blog that encapsulates in Beckettian sparseness everything that I have been producing since the first revisits in 2001 therein giving the painful dilemma of possibly letting/having one image speak for eight years work. So while every time I walked those landscapes in subsequent years scanning the settling earth in the vague hope of a chance discovery it wasn't that I felt Innocent Landscapes as a work needed a full resolution of the issue - the only resolution that mattered was for the families - but perhaps I was carrying within me the comment by the Czech poet Miroslav Holub that "art doesn't solve problems, it only wears them out". I remember my father once saying to me, when he was possibly slightly exasperated at my new chosen vague, mapless and uncertain path "can there never be enough pictures taken" - it's a bloody good question particularly now that I have amassed a level of material on this work alone that at times can be overwhelming. In the first year or two these revisits were made quickly but as events unfolded and the landscape changed it became an imperative.
Every year when I would revisit I would also try to remember where I had made photographs the year before without any visual reference or checking of the previous photographs - a simple test of landscape and memory. In some locations such as Wilkinstown, certain view points made in 1999/2000 were no longer possible due to an ever changing and renewing landscape. In this my planned final year it is challenging on many levels that just last week the whole issue has become active again with renewed searches and new searches at two locations for people not on the original list and I am wondering and hoping that yes it will all end this year for the families, that answers will be given and received.
Tuesday 27th August 2003: I have set off on what is now for me an annual pilgrimage of sorts. Since completing Innocent Landscapes I return every year, at least once, towards the end of the summer to these once anonymous then notorious, and now anonymous (save for the families) hidden places.In between the searches made in 1999 and 2000 I had noticed how nature, even in this short time, had begun to reclaim these locations making them disappear from immediate consciousness. In a certain way it was reassuring in terms of the cycle of life and its yin and yang relationship with death; likewise, it comforted me that my involvement with these sites and the people said to be buried there was not if you like a completely futile artistic gesture, in that my photographs would act as a monument of sorts, an act of remembrance in the face of voracious nature and human forgetfulness. I felt it was important to look at this process of recovery and follow its progression. What also made me return was a connection that went deeper than just 'the work' and that somehow I had a certain responsibility to keep a watching brief on these isolated, haunted lands. There was also the nagging unresolved nature of the searches, a question mark hovering in limbo and as a result I was troubled by the notion of whether I had, with my documentary truth, photographed a big lie.
These revisits usually took two to three days and already some of the sites had reached a plateau in their exponential re-growth. This year Oristown and Wilkinstown would be my first and second stations as they were only an hour north of Dublin. There was little change from last year except at Wilkinstown where a statue of Jesus was no longer the usual bloody crimson colour but was now bleached white; the white screen photographed in 2000 was soiled, torn and collapsing. It also appeared that there had been a planned attempt to reinstate the small 'forest' of Silver Birch trees that had been removed during the search in 1999. I made some photographs and decided to move on when unexpectedly in this summer of summers, the weather turned and I decided to postpone my onward drive to Colgagh, Templetown and Bragan until later in the week.
The next day, I traveled to Ballynultagh, again about an hours drive but south of Dublin. This isolated, bleakly beautiful place had been the slowest to recover. Its exposed, sandy and boggy soil had proved resistant to change. The light was incredible and again I made some, probably too many, photographs; I was moved by the fact that the family of Danny McIlhone had installed an inscribed plaque on the large rock which had acted as a shrine during the previous searches. "Danny McIlhone abducted and murdered 14th May, 1981 whose body lies hidden in these mountains forever loved and missed by his daughter sisters and brothers." My thoughts turned to the fact that despite being mooted, no financial help had been given to the families to do likewise at the other sites. I returned to my car tired and a little down and started to make my way back to Dublin. I was listening to the usual drive time radio when it was reported that human remains were accidentally found by a passer-by on a stretch of coastline at Shelling Hill about half a mile from Templetown Beach; they were thought to be female. It seemed that the rather clichéd metaphor of the movement of sand had, like most clichés, revealed a certain truth.The remains I thought could only be those of Jean McConville and yet nothing in the connection with the disappeared was certain, however this find had one undeniable truth, an ominous gunshot wound to the back of the head. Sometimes, as a wise woman once wrote on the underside of an empty birdcage: "the truth is an offence".