Reg Gordon - documenting Galway’s contemporary tribe

EVERY TOWN and city has its movers and shakers, its characters, people everyone knows, people who are judged to contribute to local social and cultural life, and help give the place a special character all of its own.

Tribe - a portrait of Galway, a magnificent new publication by Galway based photographer Reg Gordon, is a work which celebrates people the photographer feels meet this criteria and make Galway a unique place to live, through 90 imaginative and striking full-colour portraits.

Within these pages you will see the Kenny family taking a paddle by the sea; Rev Gary Hastings playing the flute within St Nicholas’ Collegiate Church; journalist Olaf Tyaransen shrouded in shadow; seamstress Cherie White in thoughtful mode; Cava owner JP McMahon looking dapper and dandified; Ollie Jennings looking mirthful and mischievous; and the Róisín Dubh’s Gugai adopting a Jesus Christ pose. There’s even a photo of me about to go in swimming in Blackrock.

Tribe is the result of almost a year’s work by Reg and now the book, as well as a major exhibition of all 90 photos, is to be launched in Atlanta House, just off Lower Dominick Street, tomorrow at 6.30pm.

Getting started

Reg is originally from Coolock in Dublin’s northside. It was here his interest in photography was first stimulated.

“When I was 13/14 I had this dream my grandad gave me a camera and it stayed in my mind for a couple of years and at 16 I bought one,” Reg tells me as we sit for the interview on a Monday afternoon. “My friend Peter Murphy, who designed the Tribes book, and I, then went around Coolock at two o’clock in the morning trying to take shots on the camera. It’s not the safest place and I remember we got chased home!”

Reg became more fascinated by photography and moved to Prague for a while to pursue it there. Unfortunately his camera was stolen while in the Czech capital and for a time he found himself without the means to do photography.

Reg moved to Galway about 10 years ago and it was here his wife Laurie encouraged him to take it up again and pursue his dream of being a photographer.

“It was Laurie who told me to go for it. She was the chief mover in this,” says Reg. “She said ‘Why don’t you make it your career?’ Then in 2003/4 I set myself up and I have been doing it since.”

It was in January of this year that an idea came to Reg that would eventually culminate in Tribe.

“The ideas for these photos had been rattling around my head for years and in January I started taking a portrait a day just to keep busy but it was when I took the photograph of Stephan Griesbach, the fishmonger [the first photo in Tribe] that I realised I had something special.”

Reg then began to create a series of portraits of people, who he felt, would capture the best of the city and the essence of contemporary Galway.

“The criteria for Tribe was it had to be of people who did things for the love of it; who contribute to the character of the town, people who make Galway something of the place it is,” says Reg. “It’s my view of what makes this town unique.”

The photos

As well as celebrating Galwegians - be they sportspeople, artists, musicians, journalists, business people, or just characters - for Reg there is a story behind every photograph.

“When I shot the photograph of the Kennys I wanted to get them altogether,” says Reg. “I found out that they were originally from Salthill so I took the photo in Blackrock of them paddling. I don’t know who stepped into the water first but it gets across the idea of the return to Salthill, holidaying in Salthill, days at the beach.”

Another striking photo is that of Yoshimi Hayakawa, who runs the Wá Café and the sushi stall at the Galway Market. She is pictured in traditional Japanese dress and with cherry blossoms.

“Cherry blossoms are important to the Japanese as they only bloom for two to three weeks of the year and symbolise transience and impermanence,” says Reg. “She wanted the photograph to feature cherry blossoms as she felt it was important given the year the Japanese have had.”

One of the most fun photos in Tribe is of the Galway Arts Festival’s John Crumlish and Paul Fahy, standing together barefoot.

“It’s the bare feet that make the shot,” says Reg. “I had this idea about the absurdity of art and commerce being interlinked and I suggested it to them and they were up for it. There was a bit of hesitation when I asked them to take their shoes off, but they went for it. I must say everybody did what I asked them, nobody said no.”

Reg is proud of what he has created with Tribe and he looks upon it as something that will be a major part of his legacy.

“I’m relieved to have got it done and a little bit proud,” he says. “It’s my legacy and that’s a strange feeling. I got a call from the British Library, which receives copies of all books produced in Britain and Ireland, so it’s amazing to think that after me the book will still be there. I love Galway and now my view of Galway is on record.”

Tribe - a portrait of Galway, the book will be for sale for €44.95 in Easons, Dubray, Charlie Byrne’s, Amazon, and from www.tribe-aportraitofgalway.com The exhibition will run throughout December, up to Christmas.

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