07 May, 2009

Photographer Chris Killip’s best shot

Posted by: admin In: Guardian

‘The priest doesn’t want this Irish pilgrimage to feel like a picnic – so he prays for rain’

These people are taking part in an annual pilgrimage to Máméan, a stunningly beautiful mountain pass in the west of Ireland. Although it’s a Catholic ceremony, which takes place by a statue of St Patrick, it’s easy to imagine the spot once being used by ancient tribal groups for meetings, too.

Conducted in Irish, the mass is only really attended by people living nearby. This shot catches the moment when Father Michael McGreal, who is just out of the frame, talks about everybody in the area who died that year. The mood is thoughtful. It can become quite emotional, as I found out when I used to go along between the years 1993 and 2005.

The priest is very intense. He once admitted to me that he prays for rain because he doesn’t want the day to be a picnic. It’s a serious affair. So it was difficult for me to take pictures during this quiet moment: I was trying to be discreet, trying not to destroy people’s concentration. But I also had high ambitions for the photograph. The priest understood this. He wanted the moment documented – and documented well.

I like the little boy looking away. It’s not the most interesting day out for a child. There had already been more than an hour of prayer. I also like the modernity of the image: the bright colours of the clothes, the boy’s anorak. Most of all, I like the attentive woman in the foreground wearing a hat. I used to look at her every time I went along, feeling glad she was still there. She had such a beautiful face, full of thoughtfulness and quiet, religious intensity. The ceremony was very important for her. Even though I don’t speak Irish, I found it very moving.

• Here Comes Everybody: Chris Killip’s Irish Photographs is published by Thames and Hudson.

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