Paul Gaffney's debut photobook is lyrical, soul-lifting and beautifully contemplative, finds Gemma Padley
It is testimony to Dublin-based photographer Paul Gaffney’s considerable photographic skill that the landscapes in his images, which are devoid of activity, command attention through their minimal appearance. Nothing much is happening in the images and there are no people in sight, yet everything is happening; knotted, overgrown roots catch the light and weave in and out to form complex networks; a craggy cliff-side reveals an intricate patterned texture; windswept vegetation exposes an inviting pathway. Gaffney’s sensitive handling of the landscape allows his subjects to breathe, and through their very subtlety the images sing.
We Make the Path by Walking is the University of Ulster graduate’s first self-published photobook and contains photographs taken in rural Spain, Portugal and France. In 2012, over the course of the year, Gaffney walked more than 3,500 kilometres on foot. The idea he explains was to explore long-distance walking as “a form of meditation and personal transformation.” The 40 images in the book deftly record the smallest details yet simultaneously offer an overview of each scene that lifts the soul; looking at Gaffney’s images is akin to stepping back and breathing in a beautiful, expansive view. Understated and lyrical, the images – whether they depict a woodland clearing or misty dew-covered gorse and heather – possess a quiet poetry that resonates softly.
In some of the images especially, nature and signs of industry vie for attention: in one, lush vibrant green vegetation beneath an overbearing motorway takes centre-stage; in another, spindly branches reach up and engulf concrete pillars as they support the highway above; elsewhere, hazy mounds of gravel appear to have formed naturally while manmade structures look as though they have sprung from the ground.
We Make the Path by Walking, which has been nominated for this year’s Kassel Photobook Award and was shortlisted for the European Publishers Award for Photography is well paced and thought provoking. The edit is slick and each image effortlessly flows into the next; linking all the images is a beautiful muted colour palette. It is a book that deftly avoids cliché and invites quiet contemplation. Gaffney does not seek to prescribe emotions to the viewer; instead, those flicking through the pages can ascribe their own feelings to the images. In a fast-paced, hurried world Gaffney somehow manages to pause time. A great achievement.
We Make the Path by Walking by Paul Gaffney. Self-published, edition of 1000 copies. Swiss-bound softcover with photo-illustrated slip case. Visit www.paulgaffneyphotography.com.