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Photographer and musician Christy McNamara takes his exhibition 'Where The Heart Lies' to Toronto in November. Photograph by John Kelly.

Christy McNamara Captures a Sense of Place

AN exhibition by Crusheen musician, photographer and raconteur has gone on display in Glór for the duration of the Fleadh and will give visitors a snapshot of the many great musicians and characters to have come out of the county.

The photography exhibit, entitled Where the Heart Lies, features more than 40 original photographs, many unseen, as well as others which don the walls in the homes of household names such as Brad Pitt.

He has taken the title, as well as some of the photographs, from a book of the same name which he produced with Peter Woods 20 years ago.

Christy explains that he relied on this idea, Where the Heart Lies, because it was something that was emotive for him. “When you think about where your heart lies it’s home and it’s place”, and he said this idea of home is where the heart lies is what he wanted to convey in this exhibit.

Having been invited to do this exhibition by the Fleadh committee he wanted to do something that would reflect on Clare as the home of music.

In choosing the images for the show I wanted to pick a large spectrum of photos. It’s about music of Clare and music making in Clare.

“All of these images were made in County Clare. Everyone within this are connected with County Clare. I specifically selected photos with the connection to place, which was vital. I always associated music and place. I grew up in a musical family my father played with the Tulla Céilí Band. It’s really connecting place and memory and the importance of place with music,” he said.

Christy considers himself both a musician and a photographer and not one more than the other, he said his passion for music and photography has taken him all over the world, leading him to exhibit in New York, L.A, Italy and further afield.

“In my early years I did an apprenticeship and became a plumber I knew after one day I didn’t like it. I got a job for life with the urban district council and then I went through some life changing events in the early 1990s which made me question what I was doing. It made me think about what was important. I ended up going off to London with a bunch of pictures in the early 1990s and I went off to see how to do this thing (photography). I ended up meeting Peter Woods and that resulted in us doing the book”.

He enjoys photographing people, and this can be seen throughout the work that is on show. The images in this exhibit provide a close and personal insight into those he captures whether it be a musician deeply taken by the music they are playing, or a singer lost in song.

“I started making pictures because I saw things as a musician and I knew what annoyed them because I was one of them. So I had to find a way of capturing what was going on without it being overtaken by me, so to get into the essence of it. In many cases it’s very intimate because I’m part of this community and family,” he said.

Christy explained that being a musician himself has allowed him access to photographs which otherwise he would not be in a position to capture. He is known for taking the picture of many of the great musicians of our time, many of whom can be seen in this exhibit.

“A lot of the older people in these images are legends like Paddy Canny, I’m very privileged to have known them and spent time with them. I wouldn’t have these images without being part of what was going on, because I would be playing in the midst of this. The exhibition is really about connecting place. There’s a lot of the older people in this [exhibition] who are dead and gone. While some of these images have never been seen before,” he said.
He explained that taking photographs while someone is playing an intimate session is “a very delicate process”.

Christy shoots only on a film based camera in black and white and never uses flash, and this is part of his craft.

“They are shot on film, I never use flash, so I have to find ways of capturing without interrupting what’s going on. I like the craft of it, and it’s not broken. I think film is very sympathetic in how it sees things. If you see something that you can capture that’s a gift. I don’t feel the pictures are about me, they are something that I am lucky enough to bring people into the intimacy that I get to see,” he said.

Music is something that has been very important to him and his family and one such image which captures this passion for it is one which features his two aunts Bridie Callinan and Kathleen O’Loughlin dancing in Bridie’s kitchen. The picture was taken in the early 1990s, and was one which caught the eye of Brad Pitt.

“Music was part of our growing up. I went to visit them [Bridie and Kathleen], They were both widows and they used to visit each other. They were very close. They asked me had I an accordion with me, and they asked me to play. If something moved them they would dance, so they started to dance. I was sitting on the edge of Bridie’s kitchen and I saw the picture. I didn’t have my camera with me, it was in the car, so I thought how am I going to engineer this, so I went out to the car and I brought in a cassette and I brought in my camera and I sat where I had played. I put it on and asked what do you think of that, then they started dancing. The amazing thing about it is that it is one of those images that people find their own thing in,” he said.

Christy explained having been a guest in Brad Pitt’s L.A house some years ago he said the actor fell in love with the image of his two aunts and it is now hanging on his wall.

“Within my family it’s the one thing that remained intact – music. It truly expresses who we are. Music links us directly to our ancestors it’s an unbroken voice if you like. I love music, I love the people in music. It (photography) is my response to what’s around me, and it helps me tell the story of people around me. I’m just an observer, but I’m also a participant as well. It’s a view from within. I’m very privileged that I can share what I do. It’s a way of telling a story, the tunes are the narrative, as are images. They evoke conversation and tell us who we are. I’ve been lucky that it’s not a view from outside,” he concluded.


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