Artistic License: Niall Meehan

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Meehan’s new collection of prints feature photographs taken while swimming in Wicklow, Dublin and Co Clare …

Tell us about “Atelier”, your new collection of images – where and when were these photographed?

My “Atelier” range is the result of an ongoing process to communicate my sea experience. They are an intimate look at aspects of the sea, focusing on details encountered during my morning swims. They are also intimate in size, smaller than my main collection, deliberately inviting the viewer closer to consider one facet of the sea. The majority of the images were taken during the first six months of 2020 after a period of reflection, that while not quite on the level of soul searching, made me understand that I needed to trust myself more and show the authentic side of my sea story. It was also a period where I learned that while my process can be described as a creative one, I am not really creating anything. I am making images that reflect an experience in the sea, the sea is doing the creative work. My job is to show up with an inquisitive mind and faithfully record what I see. I have learned that my images communicate best when they are truly of their place – and my images are taken in the Irish Sea.

How and where do you work?

The work happens in two stages. Stage one is in the water with the camera, usually The Cove in Greystones, Co Wicklow. Tide, weather and sea conditions will set the agenda, as will the time of year. My morning swims follow sunrise, so in June I can be up at 4.30am. The second stage happens after the swim when I return to my home studio and review the images I made that morning. Once I have made my selection I set about the post-production or image editing process. I generally then share the final images on social media. If there is an image I am particularly happy with it will go to one side and be edited for print, print tested and then maybe added to one of my collections on the Sea Studio website. I also design and produce products like greeting cards and calendars for Sea Studio. There is always some collaboration with other artists or musicians on the go too, I find these very rewarding.

Setting up Sea Studio sounds like a passion project …

Yes, absolutely a passion project, yet it took a while for me to figure out that this was what I wanted to do. I went to art college and worked as a designer so I have always been interested in image making. For years I had a subconscious creative itch that needed an outlet – at one time, I thought it might be stone carving. So while I was wondering what my medium of expression might be I realised that it was already happening during my daily morning swims. I lived in Australia during the 1990s and while there I was introduced to surf photography – I never got the surfing bug but was, and remain, intrigued by the challenge of making images that put two dimensional form on the energy of the sea. The process of visually journalling my daily swim progressed from a photo taken from the shore after the swim, to taking the photos while swimming.

I then became interested in making images that did more than just record the conditions on any given morning. The motivation to produce personal images expanded to a desire to connect on an emotional and experiential level with the viewer. I want my images to take the viewer right into the sea. I love hearing from people how my images make them feel, they allow people reconnect with their own relationship with the sea, either through a location or a shared experience. I was quietly chuffed one day when someone told me my images made them sea sick. So, about two years ago it dawned on me – at dawn, in the sea – that I had found what I didn’t know I was looking for. Taking the images from the relative security of social media and putting them on a website – with price tags – was more than just the external signal of notions, it was an internal commitment to strive to find a visual voice that represented my experience of the sea and to seek out people that understood my language.

Where are your favourite swimming spots?

There are fantastic swim spots all around the coast of Ireland but my favourites are the ones where I have a connection with the location or people. I grew up in Sandycove, Co Dublin so the 40 Foot is very (very) close to my heart. I swim daily in The Cove, in Greystones, Co Wicklow, it is my daily bread (and during the above period of almost soul searching I finally permitted myself refer to it as my home water, in as much a tribute to the people I swim with as the joy it has given me since my move across the county border). The Vico and White Rock in Killiney, Co Dublin are spectacular and it’s hard to beat a sunrise over Magheramore in Co Wicklow. Fanore, Co Clare; Kilmurvey and Trá na Ladies on Inis Mór; Cahore, Co Wexford; Meenogahane; Co Kerry all have special memories of great swims and great times.

Need To Know: The limited edition Atelier photographs are unmounted from €42 each. Niall also has a range of greeting cards and postcards and the Sea Studio 2021 Calendar will be available from November. To see the full collection visit www.seastudio.ie.

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