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Wexford roots evoke unique photography

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People of the Mud

People of the Mud

People of the Mud

People of the Mud

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People of the Mud

A book of photographs by the Berlin-based American photographer Luis Alberto Rodriguez has captured the lives of County Wexford people in a unique way.

Luis, a graduate of the Julliard School in New York who has a background in professional dance, spent two months last year on an art residency at the Cowhouse Studios in Rathnure.

The resulting photographic book titled The People of the Mud, has been published by Loose Joints, London and was due to be launched at the Library Project in Temple Bar, Dublin last Saturday, following a launch two days earlier in London, with an official release at Dashwood books New York in April on April 23.

It focuses on the sport of hurling, traditional dancing and Wexford's agricultural roots.

Born and reared in New York of Dominican descent, Rodriguez had never been to Ireland before when he arrived in Wexford for the residency, hosted by PhotoIreland Festival and co-funded by the EU Photographic Platform FUTURES.

His brief was to create a project about Irish cultural heritage and initially, he was uncertain about what to photograph.

Doing research and talking to Irish friends about their culture, he became intrigued by their stories of family, how close they were and how extensive they could be.

'Despite close emotional proximity to each other, there was a general unease with being physically close to one another', he said.

When he discovered hurling, which is considered to be the fastest sport played on grass, he was struck by the intense physicality and the forms that take shape during play.

'There is a lot of intimacy that happens during those moments that I'm not even sure they are aware of', said the photographer who started watching videos of hurling games on YouTube.

Hurling seemed to him like a religon with many of the local teams have played together since they were young boys. In a way, it's like a family, he said.

Inspired by his experience as a dancer, he worked with players from Crossabeg/Ballymurn GAA Club, directing them into compositions that reflected the tight camaraderie they have on the field.

While watching slow-motion footage of hurling, Rodriguez saw that within seconds, the players would go through pushing, shoving grabbing, hugging, knocking each other down and then lifting one another up in a collective effort, functioning as a unit.

He decided to use the physicality of hurling as the backbone of the photo series, to highlight relationships of trust and intimacy.

Rodriguez worked with the hurlers to reform these gestures, creating sculptures out of their bodies, directing and literally layering players upon one another.

Through his connections with the team, he expanded the idea and turned to local traditional Irish dancers and members of the farming community, whose lives are also depicted in his book of photographs.

He paired dancers with various textiles and materials to create voluminous bodies. For one photograph, he used tiered Irish dancing costumes to create a strange new national totem.

He photographed members of the agricultural community in Rathnure. Using common farming tools and domestic items, he sought to show how the body and tools are not independent from each other but form an alliance as a unit for survival.

'In the end, it became a large portrait of the community', said Rodriguez who is a former dancer for the National Theatre in Germany.

The title 'The People of the Mud' is inspired by Wexford's Viking name 'Waesfiord', meaning 'inlet of the mud flats'.

The photographer described 'The People of the Mud' as a geographical study of both land and body, identifying points on a map as well as melding bodies, an opportunity to talk about roots, history, heritage, land and the tools used to subdue it'.

His photographic work has been published in various art and fashion publications. He won the Prix du Public and the American Vintage Prize at Hyeres Festival of Fashion and Photography in France in 2017.

He is currently working on a group project with the International Olympic Committee.

Loose Joines is an artist-run photography publisher and design studio exploring progressive approaches to image making in book form.

Wexford People