‘To take good photos, you need to learn geography’

Capturing the beauty of Galway in the photography of Dr Chaosheng Zhang

Dr Chaosheng Zhang. Photo:- Mike Shaughnessy

Dr Chaosheng Zhang. Photo:- Mike Shaughnessy

SOMETIMES IT takes an outsider’s eye to see what is special about a particular place, to recognise, and discover anew, the beauty which locals take so much for granted that they hardly not notice anymore. Through such people, we see our city with new eyes.

Dr Chaosheng Zhang’s photographs of the Claddagh, Salthill, Galway Bay, the Long Walk, and the River Corrib, can make these locations seem as though we are viewing images from another city, somewhere new, somewhere we would like to visit.

Dr Zhang sunset

Photo by Dr Chaosheng Zhang.

Forty-eight of his photographs of Galway are now on display in the Eyre Square Shopping Centre, in what is the first exhibition under the Government’s art and culture ‘Getting Through Covid-19 Together’ campaign.

From China to Galway

Dr Zhang is originally from south west China, and studied physical geography at Peking University in the Chinese capital of Beijing. “We still use the old name of Peking for the university,” he tells me, during our Tuesday morning interview. “It’s an extremely competitive place.”

Dr Zhang NUIG

Photo by Dr Chaosheng Zhang.

Dr Zhang moved to Galway in 2000 and is today a senior lecturer and director of the International Network for Environment and Health at the School of Geography, Archaeology, and Irish Studies, NUI Galway. He has also carried out important work on the soil types in Galway and on the pollution which has afflicted South Park, in the Claddagh.

Galway is also a place Dr Zhang is very much in love with. “It’s a very beautiful place,” he says, “it’s big enough to have a good quality of life, but it also has a tranquility, a quietness - it’s perfect.”

'You need to know where you can find beautiful sceneries, and you need to be at the right place at the right time, and this is really challenging'

Indeed, the exhibition in Eyre Square is a splendid way to mark his 20th year in the city. “I’m delighted to have this exhibition,” he says, “and the reaction to it has been very positive. It’s a very different feeling to see my photos on a wall, as I post my photographs on social media. They look really good. I hope my photos are helpful to people, especially during the current pandemic.”

Right place, right time

Dr Zhang Swans

Photo by Dr Chaosheng Zhang.

What is surprising is that photography is only a recent interest for Dr Zhang - he began taking photos in 2017. Yet, his photos have been used in various publications at NUIG and by business groups, and are also widely shared on social media. “It is fairly recent,” he laughs. “Before that I only took photos of my family.”

Yet Dr Zhang’s photos are remarkable, often breathtaking, in how they capture Galway, and make us see it anew. Above all, it is his interest in light, and how it affects a landscape - not just in natural terms, but also our perception of it, and reaction to it - that is key, both to his approach to photography, and to what gives his work artistic quality.

'Besides a relatively good camera, three important factors happened together: sunrise, the highest tide, and no wind. It is not so easy to have all three factors happening at the same time'

“To take good photos, you need to learn geography! This is my personal experience,” he says. “Geography is about people and space, as well as time. First and most importantly, you need to know where you can find beautiful sceneries. In Galway, there are several locations: the Claddagh; Salthill, especially Blackrock Diving Tower, Silverstrand, Woodquay, NUI Galway, Connemara...but you need to be at the right place at the right time, and this is really challenging!”

Dr Zhang winning photo

Photo by Dr Chaosheng Zhang.

Dr Zhang outlines this approach by referencing his winning photo [featured above] for the Galway Advertiser’s ‘The Best Things in Life are Free’ competition, which captured The Long Walk, and the Claddagh Basin.

“Besides a relatively good camera, three important factors happened together: sunrise, the highest tide, and no wind,” he says. “It is not so easy to have all three factors happening at the same time. Therefore, it is hard even for myself to take such beautiful photos again. Another example is the recently taken full moon rise over the Blackrock diving tower. You need to know the exact full moon rise time and the exact direction - the geography jargon is ‘azimuth’, and the photography jargon is something related to ‘perspective’ ).

Dr Zhang cathedral

Photo by Dr Chaosheng Zhang.

“Of course, in Ireland, you need to be lucky, have the right weather, or relatively clear sky on the horizon. You only have a couple days in the whole year to see the full moon rise exactly over the Blackrock diving tower, as the space to move around on the beach is very limited, with one side the golf course and the other side water. “

Keeping it simple

Dr Zhang cathedral II

Photo by Dr Chaosheng Zhang.

Regarding photography skills, Dr Zhang only uses a mobile phone App called Snapseed for simple editing. “It is good enough for me at present time,” he says. “I will need to learn more skills, perhaps in the future when I have more time. Many people may not believe it, but indeed I only use the very simple editing tools of the App.”

Outside of the Eyre Square exhibition, Dr Zhang’s photography can be viewed on his Facebook page, but despite many requests from people seeking to buy his work, he is not selling.

Photo by Dr Chaosheng Zhang.

“I always allow them to feel free to download and have them printed,” he says. “It is my great honour and pleasure that they like my photos. During the most serious period of the current pandemic, on June 27, I made 10 top photos taken during the pandemic publicly available for free download via Google Drive. I then added the winning photo of the Galway Advertiser in the list.

“At the beginning of the photo exhibition I decided to make all the 48 photos available for free downloading. I trust when people use them publicly or officially, they will credit me. For private use, just feel free to download and have them printed and framed, of course, if you like.”

Dr Zhang’s exhibition runs at the Eyre Square Centre until the end of October. See also creativeireland.gov.ie

 

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