Strabane photographer Raymond McCarron has opened his debut exhibition Hiding in Plain Sight
at the Alley Theatre in Strabane. Made up of 80 black and white images, the photographs are a brief glimpse into humanity, snapshots of lives with all their contradictions laid bare.
A baby faced, army-clad punk looks disarmedly into the camera as he walks towards the Central Bar in Belfast; an elderly woman stooping against the wind is watched over by a sun-kissed twentysomething, smiling impeccably out at her - a contradiction, glaring or more discreet, is at the centre of nearly every image, making them unmistakably true to life.
The faint regal appearance of a east European man caught outside a continental cafe is thrown off balance by the open gutter at his feet; a girl beams at the camera as she queues to see Santa Claus in Strabane, while the adults around her look disgruntled at having to pay for the privilege.
The exhibition, says McCarron, tracks life’s stages from youth on the verge of early adulthood, through to death and rebirth. It opens with a young boy in a box wearing a mask. His metal ear stud can be seen peeping out of the mask - one of many masks people adopt almost involuntarily through adulthood, says McCarron.
'We lie benevolently,' he explains. 'It becomes necessary to life.' But true to form, the exhibition seems to convey the exact opposite, the unmasking of people as they are caught raw, unaffected. Men and women cheer on cage-fighters from one photograph, while a girl throws herself up into a handstand outside a row of houses in another.
In one particularly catching image towards the end of the exhibition, a Tolstoy-like figure looks out from his wispy white beard. His face is assuring, grandfather-like. McCarron reveals that he saw him standing among a group of alcoholics in one of Edinburgh’s 19th century side streets in 2008.
'He was with a group of alcoholics, but he was cleaner than the rest. His hands were very clean, I remember noticing that. I was just passing him and I took the shot.' A picture of an abandoned grave site, overtaken by weeds, hangs beside it. 'In 200 years from now, no one will remember you existed,' says McCarron, pointing to the picture with a smile.
McCarron was once told he was 'an emissary of emotion and empathy'. And his photographs scream emotion - literally and in a subtle, more clever way. You cannot help feel empathy with a sunken wheelchair-bound woman, as she stops for a quick cigarette outside Derry’s Richmond Centre.
'Of course I do judge,' says McCarron. 'Everybody judges ... but it’s about light on surface and that’s it.' His advice to budding photographers is forthright. 'Be your own biggest critic and look at the masters. Henri Cartier Bresson, he would be the people man, and Ansel Adams. If you are going out, waiting for something to happen, then it won’t happen. Just bring your camera with you everywhere.
'I think I decided pretty early on I was not going to listen to anyone, or follow anyone, or copy anyone. Yes, of course, I follow certain people, you would be a fool not to, but I have learned to trust my own instinct.'
Since he started taking photographs in 2006 - some his first photographs were taken with a mobile phone - he has captured thousands of images in towns and cities across Northern Ireland. The diversity of everyday scenes keeps him inspired, he says. 'I like the different juxtapositions. I just go where there are people, where there is life.'
Hiding in Plain Sight runs at the Alley Theatre, Strabane, from August 14 - September 11. Click here for full details.
This article, by Anna Maguire, originally appeared in the
Strabane Weekly News. Set to images by CultureNorthernIreland, the podcast with McCarron was originally recorded by Nathan Flatman at the Alley Theatre. Check out the Alley Theatre Podcast by clicking here.