Daragh McDonagh grew up in Ireland but spent years living and working as a professional photographer in Manhattan. But eventually he became disillusioned by the fast pace of life in New York, and decided to go home.
Feeling the need “to reconnect with the natural world” after his time in NY, the Belfast School of Art graduate turned to a book that would have a profound effect on him. “The Modern Pagan by Brian Day laid out practical methods for a more natural lifestyle in our current modern times,” explains the 46-year-old. “What struck me most was that I was already practising 80 percent of Day’s advice. I began to trawl the internet to see if others were doing likewise, and made contact with druids, pagans, white witches and shamans, with whom I felt very comfortable. When you feel this connection, I believe you should follow your instincts and go with it.”
The Dublin-based photographer began to research shamanism in Ireland, establishing links with people who would become the subjects for his MFA photography project – Sha~man. “Shamanism is not a religion, and people can take what they want from it to suit their needs,” he says. “It can provide practical methods to reconnect with the natural world, aid self-development and the healing of past mental wounds. There are two main groups of shaman in Ireland, so I went to meet them, and began to attend gatherings more regularly. Since I was interested in shamanism on a personal level I was able to build trust and friendships quite naturally.”
McDonagh spent several months with the groups before taking out a camera, which meant he could build strong relationships with his subjects. When making these portraits,he worked outside to take advantage of north-facing light, and used silver reflectors to bounce a soft glow back across his subjects.
“I wanted to see if I could produce compelling portraits with no background or environment – to try to relate to the sitter and to bring them to a place where they felt comfortable,” he says. “I slightly overexposed each picture, initially to make sure the eyes were well exposed but over time I liked the effect it added. [The images] rely heavily on the gaze – an attempt to produce a compelling presence that in some way reflects the inner spirituality of each sitter”.
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