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The Irish File

The Irish File
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Published by Rizzoli in 2002, The Irish File / Images from a Land of Grace was a gift, almost out of the blue. Other than a given format and length, Rizzoli gave me carte blanche with the images, chapters and quotes. I would have liked more captions and text, but the book was nevertheless beautifully produced and printed in Italy.

The late great Irish writer, Nuala O’Faolain, wrote a stunning introduction. I was fortunate to be able to visit her in New York before she died in 2008. She was a great soul; read her books.

Excerpts from Nuala O’Faolain’s Introduction:

Nuala O'FaolainJon Michael Riley talks of thanking the land and people of Ireland for the gift of grace that came upon him when he was with us, making this record. But how to thank him for the gifts he has showered on us in return? Here is Ireland fully escaped from literary or historical text – pounced on by a lover who has had the patience to wait for it to reveal its secret, visionary self. These are the private beauties of an apparently plain and muted landscape, displayed for him, the lover, because he has stalked the angle, the light, the moment, when the beloved could be shown to best advantage.

No one could feel for Ireland as sensitively as this photographer does who does not know about sorrow and loss. In his images of derelict things half gone back to the earth – a rusting gate, the dried-out paint of a door, the corner of a ruined house already embraced by ivy – Jon Michael Riley adds his note to the lament for Ireland’s tragic history of emigration and depopulation. Yet it is not these but the celebratory photographs that are the most touching of all.

This is the first time that I have seen photographs that say, “Oh, Ireland! You are sumptuously beautiful!” The sheen of the bay in a Connemara landscape, the exquisite tresses of water splayed on rock at the Powerscourt waterfall, the dynamic greenness of a tree in a field in Cavan in high summer – these are the images where grace abounds.

Jon Michael Riley’s Ireland is unified by one man’s discipline: It is an Ireland presented not with passion so much as passionate control, as if the photographer had subsumed his ego to the spirit of the place and given himself to the particulars of its reality as his way of saying that he loves it.

© 2011 Jon Michael Riley