A few years ago I read Finnegans Wake by James Joyce. I had already read Dubliners and Ulysses, though I obstinately refused to read Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. I don't know why, maybe it was because people who had only read that book of Joyce's and not the others kept telling me to read it. I can be stupidly stubborn and arrogant like that sometimes.
Anyway, Finnegans Wake is incredibly dense, difficult to follow and one of the most entertaining and humourous books I have ever read. Ask me what happens in it and I could barely tell you, but it had a profound impression on me, in a very indefinite but certain way.
Chris Killip's recent publication 'Here Comes Everybody' is titled in direct reference to the main character in Finnegans Wake - in so far as the book contains characters in the traditional sense. This character is signified by the initials HCE, and is known by a variety of pseudonyms with 'Here Comes Everybody' being one of them.
It is perhaps a fitting title for Killip's book. This mercurial title and it's direct and stated reference to Joyce's work mirrors the content and style of these photographs. The thread that ties these photographs together is the two pilgrimages at Croagh Patrick and Máméan. In the introduction (under the once again Joycean heading of 'AND BUT AND OF') Killip very simply states his connection to Ireland and the outline of what where and when these photographs contain, leaving out any metaphysical or theoretical explanation and subsequently allowing the viewer to fill in the gaps - gaps that are very pointedly referred to in the title of the book itself.
The fact that it is also stated clearly that this publication is a facsimile of an album that Killip made for his mother further heightens the intrigue; this is most definitely an intensely personal work. The reproductions are small - often one 6x4 on pages almost 11x14, which also increases the feeling of intimacy while looking at these photographs.
Beyond that they follow no real narrative, the people and places are the same but different. The pilgrims making their way through the mists and rain are all one, yet distinctly individual. The landscapes contain repeating motifs yet each is unique. There are even a few pages in which the same scene is shown at different times, perhaps minutes, perhaps years apart, yet each is again the same but different.
Just like Joyce's HCE is known by many names, as if every aspect of his nature requires a different reference, so here the character of the people and the land is tugged at until it unravels. All pieces cut from the same cloth as it were, yet each piece a slightly different size and shape.
One of my favourite spreads from the book shows a black and white photograph of pilgrims huddled together as they make their way up the slope of Croagh Patrick in bad weather and opposite is a set of four photographs of stone gates, the jumbled rocks of the gates perfectly echoing the people opposite. Here Comes Everybody, rocks and people, solid and serious, flippant and funny, everlasting and transient.
Many of photographs themselves are - like much of Killip's work - deceptively simple. The look so casual, but they are not snapshots. There is a subtlety and sophistication in these photographs. Many photographers work very hard to make their work look so casual and offhand and the results are predictable and forced. In an interview, Killip stated that "A lot of the pictures were taken just for pleasure, as a souvenir to commemorate the joy of being in this particular place at that moment". This could explain why they seem to be so effortlessly wonderful - and I mean that in the sense that when I look at these photographs I can feel the same sense of joy that Killip is looking to record.
It is as if he is simply stating 'Look at the way this road looks with these stone walls running alongside it, the grass growing high and the wet surface from the recent rains; isn't it fantastic?'
After looking through the book I pulled my copy of Finnegans Wake off the shelf and opened it at random, hoping that what I saw on the page would be a fitting match for Killip's photographs. Here is what I read:
did ye ever, filly fortescue? with a beck, with a spring, all her rillringlets shaking, rocks drops in her tachie, tramtokens in her hair, all waived to a point and then inuendation, little oldfashioned mummy, little wonderful mummy, ducking under bridges, bellhopping the weirs, dodging by a bit of bog, rapid-shooting round the bends, by Tallaght's green hills and the pools of the phooka and a place they call it Blessington and slipping sly by Sallynoggin, as happy as the day is wet, babbling, bubbling, chattering to herself, deloothering the fields on their elbows leaning with the sloothering slide of her, giddgaddy, grannyma, gossipaceous Anna Livia.
He lifts the lifewand and the dumb speak.