We have been very fortunate at ExploreLight to have Daragh Muldowney as one of our lead instructors on workshops in diverse locations from Ireland to Siberia. Daragh has just launched an incredible book and virtual exhibition. The work is entitled ‘Beacons’ and it’s truly an imaginative, visually stunning, and thought provoking look at the out worldly landscape and culture of Lake Baikal in Siberia.
We have a great interview and lots of images below and we are also delighted to offer an invitation to attend a virtual tour and discussion of Daragh’s new work on March 31st at 730PM GMT. It’s totally free and all are welcome to attend via zoom. It’s a great chance to see a beautiful body of work and talk through the details of how the work was created. Simply register using the button below on Eventbrite or email us directly at email@example.com. Once you have registered we will provide the zoom link. Hopefully, we will see lots of you there.
This exhibition is based around Lake Baikal, in Siberia. Can you tell us about your first trip there and what inspired this work?
I have a fascination with ice. I find it to be infinitely beautiful and have photographed it many times. One of my previous projects is titled ‘Out of Thin Air’, a study on the glaciers and icebergs of Greenland with the concept that they are formed from the tiny snowflake. I was looking for a new project and in November 2017, Lake Baikal came across my consciousness 6 times from as many different sources. As I mentioned I love ice so I followed these signs and booked a trip to visit Baikal in February 2018.
It was an awe inspiring trip and the ice certainly did not disappoint. Stepping onto the frozen expanse of the lake in winter is a multi-sensory experience. A vast icy plain stretches out before you, surreal and otherworldly, beckoning you to explore. Cracks run in every direction across the ice, a myriad of interwoven lines spanning hundreds of kilometres. Labyrinthine ridges, made of jagged shards of ice known as hummocks, glow sapphire blue under freshly fallen snow. Melodic and disconcerting sounds of popping and grinding accompany your every step reminding you you that this ethereal landscape is in constant flux. Howling winds whip across the lake causing your eyes to water and then freeze, giving your face an icy coating that the locals call ‘Baikal makeup’.
I look for a deeper narrative in which to bind the images together. It was only when I came upon a small pine tree in the middle of this giant frozen expanse did I realise what the nature of my project would be. The tree was ‘planted’ in the ice which was a surreal and minimal vision but when I learned that it had a profound purpose of guiding travellers from one side of the lake to the other the concept of ‘Beacons’ was formed.
Who told you of the significance of the trees growing in the wilderness, the Beacons what gave the exhibition its name?
I guess it was our driver ‘Dima’ and guide ‘Aleksey’ that passed on the information. There are two ice road systems on Lake Baikal: the official one that crosses the Small Sea, a frozen inlet that separates Olkhon Island from the mainland, and the unofficial road system that locals use to cross the Big Sea, the vast icy interior of Lake Baikal. This normally goes from the village of Uzury in the West across to Ust-Barguzin in the East.
Crossing the Big Sea can be a hazardous journey. The surface ice can become unstable due to wind, temperature shifts, underwater currents and large methane bubbles. The ice, 60 centimetres to 2 metres thick, can come under huge pressure causing the ice slabs to either break apart exposing the frigid water below or crush together creating large jagged hummocks. Both are impassable and in order to help travellers across the ice, the locals mark out the road by drilling holes and ‘planting’ small pine trees that act as markers, ‘beacons’ guiding the way.
I was instantly captivated by the surreal beauty of these beacons and I returned to Baikal over the course of three winters in the hope of documenting them. It fascinated me to see their organic forms emerging from the mist or appearing unexpectedly on the distant horizon in such a stark and alien landscape. Each tree a benign presence in an otherwise barren world, offering hope and safe passage. Beacons is a metaphor for guidance within our own lives. If we stray from our chosen path we all need help and guidance to find our way back. Each Beacon is an essential sign guiding travellers along their road.
Are you one of those people who always carry a camera with you, just in case you see something that inspires you? Or is your work more structured than that?
It’s funny, I just gave a workshop on Saturday discussing this very topic and many photographers will say ’The best camera is the one you have with you’. I personally believe it is important to not always be looking through the lens. It is important to connect with your heart and soul and I believe it’s good to leave your camera behind…sometimes. This helps me to connect to the elements without looking to photograph a subject. This, of course, means I miss moments photographically but I don’t miss the moment and it is stored in a deep place that helps me to ‘drop into the zone’ easier when I do take my camera with me. I normally like to work with a project in mind. It helps to anchor my workflow. I do sometimes go out for the joy of shooting and become spontaneous and reactionary to what I see.
What would you say to someone interested in getting involved with photography? Where is a good place to start?
Shoot all genres…its hard to know immediately which genre will resonate with you the most. So it really is worth experimenting with different genres, different shooting styles and different processing techniques. Follow the photographers that interest you but follow others too…you never know when you’ll see a style or technique that might work for you.
From your work, it is obvious that travelling is a large part of your life. How has your life changed since the lockdown? Are you focusing on things closer to home?
Absolutely, travelling has ceased so life is all about Ireland which is a wonderful place to be. I spend plenty of my time in the Dublin mountains, hiking or mountain biking. For much of 2020 I was working on getting Beacons ready. Read That Image (Vinny Gregan and Kasia Kaminska) were the designer’s on Beacons (and Out of Thin Air) and I thoroughly enjoyed the design process. I managed a crowdfunding campaign on Fundit so all in all kept pretty busy. I am working on a new project on the Aran Islands but I need the travel restrictions to be lifted before I get to go again.
What camera gear did you use and any suggestions for shooting in these kind of conditions ?
Canon 5DMKIV and a back up 5DSr. Lenses: 16-35, 24-70, 24 T/S, 100 Macro, 100-400. I used the MKIV for the cold out of the van shooting. It was best to keep one camera and set of lenses in the bag and they remained cold all day. This prevented them from fogging up when used inside the arm van. I kept the 5DSr in the van which stayed warm and I could use that for a few shots from the interior. I kept all my batteries in an inside pocket of my down jacket…this helped to extend their life in the cold.
You have an abstract online course coming up for download soon. Can you give us any insights about the new course ?
Yes indeed…It will feature abstract and minimal photography and some tips on how to shoot in this way using lens selection and compositional techniques. I believe that part of taking a good photograph is being connected to your environment and your surroundings. We all have felt that experience of ‘dropping into the zone’ where we are completely absorbed by what we are doing, loving the moment and experiencing pure connection. I try to outline some techniques that work for me to help me experience the moment and consequentially improve my photography. I will also go through things like the importance of a narrative, some processing techniques like focus stacking and luminosity masking…and much much more!
Cheers mate we’re looking forward to the course being ready to download and massive congrats on a stunning project!
Sign up for our newsletter to stay updated with our latest images, workshops, and online courses.