Richard Gilligan has photographed some of Ireland's biggest stars, created outstanding books of photographic work, and exhibited throughout the world. Having studied at the University of Wales and the University of Ulster in Belfast, his career began in the world of skateboarding which then turned into a four-year passion project that resulted in the critically acclaimed book "DIY."
Gilligan has since gone on to create "Rituals," a raw and gritty portrayal of his native Dublin. Last year, he made the move to Brooklyn with his family to continue his successful career. We caught up with Gilligan to find out the motivation behind making the move to New York.
You can catch his work here in New York on June 7 at the Half King Photography Series.
Date you got here:
February 28, 2015.
You have traveled, photographed and exhibited all over the world. What drew you to not only visit New York, but to move here and bring your family with you?
I have always had a fascination with New York from an early age. Initially I was drawn to the rich history of skateboard culture, obviously music and just the overall vibe of the city that I would have seen in movies growing up in suburban Dublin.
I can remember visiting the city for the first time on my own when I was 19. It was one week to the day before 9/11 and I just spent hours wandering around the city taking photos and having these thoughts that I would some day come and live here somehow. There was always a weird magnetic draw to the city for me.
Did you come to New York with ideas already in mind, or hoping for inspiration once you got here?
The basic plan was to move everything, what myself and my wife Petria Lenehan (a clothing designer) were already doing, from Ireland to here and just see if we could push ourselves out of our comfort zone into a much bigger market. As we were both self-employed we didn't have the luxury of coming over to "a job" as such. We just got here and immediately started putting in the groundwork.
Moving from Ireland to New York often comes with a pretty heavy culture shock. What are your main cultural highlights – and lowlights – since you got here?
The highlights have been the openness that lots of people have here. It's a busy, hectic city but there is an energy and a positive "can do" attitude that exists here and that has been really inspiring. In saying that it can be a harsh, tough place to live too, but overall we are really enjoying the adventure so far.
Both your books shed light on groups of people that are often marginalized or misunderstood. Are you hoping to work with similar communities in New York?
I have always been drawn to documenting subcultures so I am currently planning a few new projects of personal work based both in and out of New York City.
In "DIY," photographs of skate parks in Northern Ireland stand alongside photographs taken in Portland, Oregon. Now that you have moved to New York, what are your thoughts on the longstanding connections between Ireland and America, and how that can be represented in photography?
The connections between Ireland and America are really obviously strong and this is something that I find increasingly interesting now that I am based here full time. I think before I moved here I was, at times, almost cynical about these connections, but now that I am living on this side of the Atlantic it is actually really comforting to still feel that sense of community in a city as huge as New York.
The Irish have always traveled far and wide. I think it's in our blood, but how to represent that rich history through photography would be a huge challenge that I would love to explore in a way that possibly avoids the obvious nostalgia of what it means to be Irish. I am more interested in what this means in this day and age.
You’ve said before that it was skating that initially inspired you to pick up a camera. What is it that inspires you now, later in your career?
Skateboarding was what first gave me an excuse to pick up a camera and start trying to make pictures and in lots of ways it still is, especially for a lot of my personal work, but in saying that I was always conscious of not letting the skate stuff define or dictate the kind of photography I look at or produce. I am consistently drawn back to the early work of Robert Frank and Jim Goldberg. Both these photographers had a huge impact on me and still do to this day.
Right now, in terms of contemporary work, I think what is happening in Ireland is really amazing. There seems to be a fresh voice in Irish work that is getting international acclaim which is really exciting. I love the work of Ciaran Og Arnold, Linda Brownlee, Eamonn Doyle, Noel Bowler and Dragana Jurisic.
As someone who studied photography, what do you make of the new wave of iPhone photography, apps like Instagram and VSCO and how they are shaping the contemporary conception of what photography is?
I think it is really amazing. I really enjoy using Instagram! It's a simple visual tool that is really powerful. I think it is important to embrace this all but at the same time not take it all too seriously.
It seems that editorial and celebrity/portrait work is much more prevalent and, of course, lucrative in New York. Does that ever tempt you away from independent projects like "DIY"?
Not at all. The commercial and commissioned work always just feeds the projects I want to work on. I have no issues mixing art and commerce at all. I need to make the personal work as that is what really interests me.
There was a lot of travel involved in the creation of "DIY." Do you feel that New York is a more permanent fixture or do you plan to travel a lot while in the U.S.?
For the time being we are feeling very settled here in Brooklyn, but who knows? We always try to keep and open mind so who knows where we will end up.
Any advice for new photographers beginning their careers, particularly in Ireland? Is it important to travel, move, get out of your comfort zone?
Getting out of your comfort zone is crucial. You don't always have to move to the obvious places (London, New York etc.) to be successful or inspired. Find your own voice, read "Beauty in Photography" by Robert Adams and make work that genuinely interests you.
Finally, what do you miss most about home, and do you plan to return to Ireland in the future?
We really miss our immediate family and close friends so that side of things is obviously really hard at times, especially with a two-year-old, but we have so many visitors and we try to get home a lot so we just make it work.
Long-term we may return to Ireland, but we just have to see how we all feel in few years time. For the time being we are embracing New York City with open arms and making the most of it.