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Susan Wood's snapshots of Ireland: 'I love photographing the clutter of people’s real lives'

US photographer Susan Wood has been capturing Irish life for the last 50 years.

THE AMERICAN LOVE affair with Ireland is well documented, and US photographers are not immune to this particular crush. From Dorothea Lange to Annie Leibovitz they’ve all pointed their lens towards Irish shores. 

The latest addition to this collective is a new photo-book, Ireland by Susan Wood.

Photo-books or artist books as they are known, have become increasingly popular in recent years. Mostly they focus on a particular subject matter, over a particular time frame. 

Wood’s, however, is a slightly different beast. In Ireland she depicts some of the country’s best known and influential figures over the course of four decades.

As we turn the page we see them mature and grow, and the bond that has developed between subject and photographer is obvious. 

Susan Wood 1 copy Garech Browne, 2013, Susan Wood.

Wood is best known for her work with Vogue, New York magazine and a cover story on John Lennon and Yoko Ono for Look magazine. She’s won numerous awards, and Ireland is her third book. 

It was her work with British Vogue in 1968 that first brought her to the country. Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Wood said she immediately felt at home:

They sent me to Ireland on assignment to go and put together my impressions.

Everyone was open and anxious to share their experiences with me. Friendships developed and I kept coming back to visit.

Wood’s book is an intimate view of historians, writers, artists – and the Guinnesses. 

How do I explain why I have this gaggle of Guinnesses and Paddy Malone and Tim Pat Coogan?  

They all were in their mind Irish patriots working to preserve its culture, music and history and so on.

Wood brings us beyond our normal view of these well-known faces, into their homes, their kitchens and even their bedrooms. 

“I love photographing the clutter of people’s real lives,” she said. 

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Susan Wood 3 copy Tim Pat Coogan, 1993, Susan Wood.

One of Wood’s favourite images in the book is of writer and historian Tim Pat Coogan, in his writing room, standing on a sea of books, surrounded by mountains of notes.

One of the more unusual series in the collection, is a photo essay of Desmond Fitzgerald’s wake and funeral at Glin castle in 2011.

Fitzgerald was the 29th Knight of Glin, and President of the Irish Georgian Society. Ireland is dedicated to both Fitzgerald and the society. 

TheJournalPic1 Source: Susan Wood

The people included in the book, all became friends with Wood and as the artist herself said, “friendship is an intimate thing”. For Wood the collection is a “Valentine” to a country she has come to feel at home in, and a book she hopes her friends will enjoy.

I think they’ll like it and get a kick out of seeing how some of these friends of mine live, their messy kitchens and workrooms and the beauty of them.

Published by Lilliput Press, Ireland is available now. 

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