Edenderry woman is developing a bright future in photography

The Edenderry photographer Shona Ellen Connolly (pictured above) says some of her best work has been from random moments of people in real life situations, and not posed. It is fitting then that her shot in the new journal, Paper Lanterns, is such a moment, though it is just one piece of work from an expanding portfolio that is already winning recognition and awards from a broad audience.

Shona is a student of photography at Pearse College, Crumlin, and her main interest is documentary photography, street photography and portraiture, she told the Offaly Independent this week.

"I love capturing candid and real moments, it is important to me to create imagery that has meaning and significance," she said.

"Photography is how I express myself, and I love sharing that with the world."

Shona's photo as used on the front cover of the Paper Lanterns journal.

Having seen an open call from Paper Lanterns (a publication that focuses on teens and YA – young adult – literature, creative writing, artwork, photography, and book reviews) for people to submit their work, Shona decided to try her hand.

"I wasn’t too aware, honestly, of Paper Lanterns before, but I had a look on Instagram and I really liked that it was a collaborative effort, so I just submitted a few photos and lo and behold they picked one. I was surprised!

"I selected a few photos I thought would fit with poetry and literature. I took a random guess about the photos I thought they might like," she said.

The photo that Paper Lanterns chose exemplifies Shona’s work. She took it on a visit to IMMA (the Irish Museum of Modern Art) with her college group.

"We were walking around and one of my friends stood in front of the light, and I noticed the silhouette. I thought it looked moody, so I took the photo, and I just really liked it.

"I thought it would fit well with poetry, as it’s an ambiguous shot.

"That’s usually how I get my best photos, when they’re not posed, they’re people in real life situations and it turns out in a beautiful way. I try to take photos that are more natural."

As she goes to college in Dublin, Shona and other students on her course spend a lot of time in the city. They are encouraged to look for what she described as "candid photography, where the people I’m taking the photos of are not too aware" [of the camera].

She would usually approach the subject and has found that most people are willing to be photographed or for the images to be published. She says she wouldn’t post something online if she thought the person didn’t want to see it, so she secures permission or "it’s ambiguous enough that you wouldn’t know who the person was".

The friend who features in the Paper Lanterns photo is Jessie Byrne from Drimnagh, and another friend, Niamh Bowyer from Edenderry, is the subject of one of Shona’s shots that has appeared in the Irish Times.

"That’s at a field near Edenderry. It’s rapeseed flower. I was driving by one day and I had an idea for a photoshoot, so I asked Niamh if she would let me take a photo of her, and she said yes.

"So I had the photo and then someone told me about a competition in the Irish Times for summer photography, and they said I should enter that photo. I thought ‘why not’ and I did, and they ended up publishing it among their favourite photos one week."

All entries were in with a chance to win a camera, and while Shona didn’t win the prize, she was delighted to be shortlisted.

As it happens not winning the Irish Times camera isn’t that important to Shona, as she has inherited equipment that once belonged to her grandfather, Michael Farrell from Leixlip, who was an accomplished hobby photographer.

She credits Michael and one of her aunts (Joan O’Brien from Edenderry) with engendering her early interest in photography, and says: "I’ve always been really visual and loved taking photos. I used to take photos of my friends, of nature, and I’d go up to Dublin for the day and I’d take pictures. I think I always just had it in me, it’s my natural passion and interest.

"Over the years I thought may I should try to make it into a career, and that’s what I’m working on now, by going to college and building my skills."

Though her grandfather Michael passed away more than 20 years ago, Shona’s uncle recently gave her a bag of his old film cameras. "So I started doing film photography. I study that in Pearse College as well, so it’s helpful to be able to use the darkroom there. My uncle didn’t use the cameras and he said I might as well have them, so it’s nice to be able to carry it on.

"They’re old Canon and Olympus cameras but they’re in mint condition. They came with a number of lenses in the bag and I’m still figuring them out."

Shona has a year left on her course and plans to return to Edenderry to open her own studio after it finishes. "I was working in a pub locally and I decided I wanted to go back to college. I was 29, and it was probably one of the best decisions I ever made, to go back and work towards a career that I would enjoy and it would be my own."

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