With almost 40 years of experience in the Architectural & Design industry behind him, Alexander is now pursuing his long term interest in photography and is delighted to present a cross-section of his work, which has taken him across France, the USA, Switzerland, Italy, Sweden, Portugal and of course… Ireland.
I left Templeogue College in Dublin in 1979 after 5 relatively unexceptional years there and commenced work with Ove Arup & Partners Consulting Engineers in Ballsbridge Dublin, where I worked for 3 years at which point, having decided I wasn’t cut out to be an engineer, decided to pursue my first love… Architecture, but due to circumstances at that time, this wasn’t to be either, so I studied Interior Architecture, and in 1987, began to specialise in Commercial Interiors, focusing on quality office fit-out projects both here and in the UK.
I currently work as a freelance Design Consultant specialising in, Space Planning, Churn & Move Management supporting companies as they implement and manage their transitions to new workplace scenarios along with
Retail Design & some domestic projects, but this area has been badly hit by COVID-19.
I have also been involved in Design education, Lecturing in Design for many years, and I was for a time, Consultant Editor with Business & Finance magazine Ireland on their Commercial Interiors Publication in the early 1990s when I studied journalism.
I became interested in photography in the early 1980s when I first travelled abroad, and have utilised it throughout my career, and have always enjoyed taking photographs, Since the downturn in the economy, I have taken my photography to the next level, and have staged a successful exhibition with more projects in the pipeline
Hobbies…Jazz, Writing and Classic Cars… (I own a Classic Saab 900 turbo.) I hope to further develop my business as a sole practitioner along with my writing and photography.
Hello Alexander. You have almost 40 years of experience in the Architectural & Design industry, and now you’re pursuing photography, successfully I must add. How did this transition happen?
Alexander: It happened purely by misfortune, as I lost my job in a large firm of Architects here in Dublin in 2008, and although I thought I’d get something else soon enough, I didn’t.
The recession bit hard, and I had to strike out on my own, working as a sole practitioner designing mainly offices, but also some residential projects as well.
To supplement my creative needs, I started taking photographs of buildings and landscapes, purely as an outlet for my creativity. I discovered I enjoyed the stimulating hit it gave me…. To be able to create an image quickly, whereas a design project can take months to manifest, was fantastic! I was hooked!
I didn’t quite know what I was doing initially, but I thought, hey… I’m not bad at this, and I felt I had a good eye for composition, although the technical side still baffled me, and to correct this, I did a Course in Photography here in Dublin, which filled in a lot of the gaps, and introduced me to at least the basics to good photography, which I enjoyed immensely.
I began to take photographs more regularly… taking myself off for a day and perhaps coming back with at least one or two good shots…. as is the way. I then began to talk to people about my work, and eventually, I was fortunate enough to host a small exhibition in the local bookshop, where I sold quite a few pictures, much to my delight!
This led to several other exhibitions, culminating in a ‘Grand Exhibition’ in a City Centre Gallery, where over a hundred invited guests attended, and I sold almost thirty images, including eight photographs to the Arts Procurement Officer of the Office of Public Works here in Dublin. These now hang in several public buildings across the country, allowing me a place on the State Art Register, which makes me incredibly proud, and the procurement officer stated that I had “a unique way of seeing the ordinary and that my images of Dublin city were exquisite…. Something I have been told over again, with words such as ‘ethereal’, ‘evocative’, and ‘moody’ being used.
How do you think your experience in architectural design helps you with your artistic endeavor?
Alexander: I feel my Design training has helped me greatly, especially with composition. Along with years of experience, these traits have combined to assist me to see and capture an image, and to know that it’s good and that it works as a photograph.
I tend to concentrate mainly on buildings as a subject, given my background, although I am also fascinated by both landscapes and seascapes, and have a selection of images relating to these in my files, and on my website.
I also produce mostly Black & White images, as I like the dramatic effects I can achieve. The play of light and dark which adds a certain bleak or austere feel to monochromatic works greatly appeals to me.
I think this too stems from my love of minimalistic design… especially Scandinavian forms, which I have utilized in my own design work over the years.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Alexander: Very different from what it used to be. I work from home these days, and as well as photography, I look after small dogs, along with my wife. That, as well as being great fun and emotionally rewarding, takes up a lot of time, so there is a lot of walking involved. This is an excellent opportunity to get out and about, and I try to take a camera with me when I can, although it’s not easy to balance dogs and camera at the same time!
As I was primarily involved in Office Design in my practice, this has dried up considerably due to Covid 19, as many people are now working from home. My own design work is very quiet, so some of my time is spent trying to drum up business, but I do feel at this stage, it won’t get much better for a good while, and I am glad that I have other avenues open to me to keep me busy!
Each day is now quite different depending on the dogs we have staying, and I try to take myself into the city or the countryside to see if I can gather some shots. I am lucky enough that I live within a short drive of the city, the sea and beautiful open countryside!
Could you walk us through your process? How much planning do you do before you jump into creating photography?
Alexander: To be quite honest… very little, as I tend to see something, and try to grab the shot as I see it. If I don’t have my camera with me… I’ll use my phone, as I feel that this is akin to the small ‘street photography’ cameras that some professionals use, and indeed not dissimilar to the early personal cameras people used when cameras started becoming popular, such as the Kodak Box cameras from the late 1800s.
I’m very much an opportunist when it comes to taking photographs, and this has served me well to date…. If I think about it too much, I’ll ruin it!
Tell us more about your technique?
Alexander: Much, I am sure to the horror of professional photographers, my technique is quite ‘Point & Click’… if I see an image in my head once I’ve spotted a subject, I will generally line up the shot, and take a few shots until I’m happy… sometimes it’s the first one, sometimes not!
That being said… I have been commissioned to take photographs by several people and organizations, including the Maritime Museum in Dublin, who had my images produced as cards.
I’m not incredibly technical, and that’s why I did a Course in Photography some years ago… and it did help, as I have a greater understanding now of F stops, exposure and lighting, but as I said earlier… I am still very much an opportunist!
What motivates you as an artist? Is it curiosity, the search for beauty, or meaning?
Alexander: Initially…. The need to create images grew from a need to fill a void left when I lost my job back in 2008. I was busy on a Friday, and on the following Monday, I had nothing to do, except look for another job, little realizing they were not to be had in the devastation that was 2008. It was my wonderful wife who encouraged me to get out and about and take photographs, as she said… ‘you’re good at this, and you need something to occupy your mind and fulfill a need to create’, and so I did.
I started taking photographs of details in my own locality…. Doorways, old walls, railings… details, and anything that caught my eye, and worked on from there.
I like to look at things differently…. I like to capture the details of a building or structure, rather than the whole thing, as this is the area that appeals to me. Trees too catch my eye, and I love the ‘architecture’ of a tree, as this is a beautiful thing to behold, and is to me, the basis of all design. I look into something, and not just at it!
I suppose I have developed a particular ‘look’ by following this ethos, and by capturing something which perhaps others don’t immediately see, and I am happy to keep exploring this.
What are you currently working on?
Alexander: I am currently hoping to get another exhibition going, as I have had several shows in the past, and all have yielded some modest success, and I would like to repeat this again, as I feel the best way to show my work, is to get it out in front of people. A tangible object you can hold in your hand and examine is more attractive than an image on social media or a website.
I am also getting back out into the field, and taking new photographs, as I haven’t done this in some time, and I am excited about doing this, as I want to expand my portfolio and look at new ideas going forward!
What is the gear you have used in the past and present?
Alexander: I started taking photographs ‘properly, and by this, I mean neither for my work nor holidays, with a fairly simple, but effective Fuji FinePix S5800, which I was quite happy with, as it managed to do what I wanted. I then took up a Course in photography with the Institute of Photography here in Dublin and realized that my little Fuji was quite outclassed by the very fancy cameras the other students had, and couldn’t do a lot of the tasks as set by the lecturers. So, I went out and did some research, and purchased a Canon EOS 450D, which was streets ahead of the Fuji, and I must admit… intimidated me a bit until I got used to it and realized what a better camera could do. I used the Canon from about 2010 up to quite recently, when I traded it for a Nikon D5300, which I really like. It has helped me to create some really interesting images, and I am looking forward to experimenting with this particular camera more in the near future, although I do still stand by the quote which says…. “A camera did not make a great picture any more than a typewriter wrote a great novel”.
Your art is very unique. What is the most challenging part of your artistic process? And how do you overcome it?
Alexander: I suppose the biggest challenge is to create something new, but in the same vein as my previous style, which is very much me…. And this does come, but maybe I’ll get one good shot out of a dozen or more, or maybe the first one is the one…. It depends.
I’d like to photograph people at some point, as I tend to shy away from that subject, although I am quite comfortable with taking candid shots of people… those who are unaware of me doing this, but we’re into a whole ethical area there, so I don’t do it….
A big thing for me is that I don’t consider myself a ‘Photographer’… I take photographs, and that’s me!
I haven’t done a master’s degree in photography, nor worked in a studio… and could never compete, nor try to, with the professionals, and have had very little formal training, but I am confident enough in my work to put it out there with the best of them!
What artists have influenced your work the most?
Alexander: I like the work of Robert Frank very much and admire his book ‘The Americans’. I also like Diane Arbus’ work, Lee Friedlander Cartier-Bresson’s wonderful Black & White work, and I suppose I harken back to this golden age of photography before everyone who had a phone could take reasonable shots, much as I yearn for the days of drawing boards, ink pens and tracing paper which has been overtaken by computers…. I’d really love to try film, and have a dark room, but I have neither the space nor the funds to do this at the moment, but I’d love to try it.
Share some interesting facts about your art with us.
Alexander: My work was purchased by the Arts Procurement Officer of the Office of Public Works here in Ireland, and this was a huge thing for me, as mentioned above, as it puts me on an important list in this country, although few people are aware of this unless I tell them. What I really like is the fact that my work is appreciated amongst the creative community, and many of my photographs have been purchased by architects, designers, authors, journalists, and even an actor! To be accepted in this exacting and aesthetic community is a wonderful feeling! I do however love it when someone buys a piece because it evokes a feeling or a memory within them. It’s most gratifying to be able to be part of this, and pleases me greatly!
What’s next for you?
Alexander: As mentioned…I’d like to do another exhibition either domestic or abroad soon, as Covid has been devasting for many of us…. And perhaps now it’s time to get back out there. I’d also like to get my work out to a wider audience, although it’s never going to be easy selling images in a world where capturing one’s surroundings is possible and immediate with a phone camera, but nobody would do anything if that was the case, so I will keep taking photographs.
I’d also love to do a book, and have several ideas in mind, or even illustrate a book for an author… one of my photographs has already appeared on the cover of a novel a colleague of mine wrote some years ago, and that was a thrill to see!
I’ll keep taking photographs until I’m told to stop…