Pandemicking: a photographic year in review

A good friend once said to me that as we would get older it would be the years we travelled that would stand out in our memories, not the years spent staying at home. Of course he is right. It is hard to disagree with that, but 2020 has been different. Staying at home took on a whole new meaning in this never-to-be-forgotten year.

Besides one quick weekend trip to Scotland in January, it has been mainly a year confined to home. Like so many of us I had plans to travel in 2020. Trips were booked to Japan, Korea, Norway, Turkey, Greece and Bulgaria. But after Scotland, the farthest I ventured was to visit family in Dublin. Writing this now in December, I would love so much to be able to visit Dublin again and wonder when that might even be possible.

I’ve been doing these end-of-year reviews of my photographs for as long as I can remember. For a nostalgic soul like me it is a lovely way to look back at another year of travels, relive the moments and to begin to dream about new adventures in far off places to come in the new year.


In past years, I approached this review chronologically selecting one favourite image from each of the past 12 months. This year let’s scrap that. Let’s scrap the idea of 12 photos also and just pick what are my favourite photos from 2020.  As you can predict most of the photos I have chosen for this review were shot in my hometown of Cork.

When we first entered lockdown back in mid-March we never thought we would be counting them. Here we are in December just heading into lockdown number 3 and not knowing if we will need a lockdown 4 or 5. Back in March, what now seems so long ago,  I cycled into the city centre in Cork with my iPhone. I had some half-baked idea that I would document what was happening; to capture and document history, but the atmosphere of fear; of the unknown was disturbing and I couldn’t bring myself to photograph. I didn’t get off my bike. I just cycled straight back home. It would be towards the end of May on a glorious early-summer’s day before I would venture back into the city on my bike. I cycled up to one of my favourite places in Cork, up to Bell’s Field between the top of Richmond Hill and Patrick’s Hill. Socially-distanced small groups of people sat in the sunshine and the steeple of Shandon stood sentry in the distance.

Social distancing in spring sunshine in Bell’s Field, Cork.

As restrictions lifted I got back out shooting on the streets of Cork. One of the great things to emerge in Cork in the past year has been the Ardu Street Art initiative. Throughout the city a series of murals created by artists have popped up. As a photographer, these present challenges to see how they can be seen and to do justice to the work of the artist. I love the colour they have added to our city.

Shane O’ Driscoll’s mural
Peter Martin’s Rising to the Bait
Maser’s mural
Achesdub’s wonderful An Puc mural
Deirdre Breen’s mural

My day job is in University College Cork (UCC). On March 12th, we stopped working on campus and pivoted to the delivery of our programmes to fully-online. Almost 10 months later and we are still not back working on site. However, it still is one of the places I will head to for a stroll. The wild summer flowers in bloom framed behind the railings told its own story.

Wild summer flowers in bloom in University College Cork.

Whenever I got the chance, I hopped on my bike and headed into the city centre to shoot some street photography. As the pandemic took hold more and more people wearing masks when out and about became evident. I really look forward to the day when these will once again be something surprising to see on the streets of Cork.

Selfie in a mask

Here are some of my other favourites from the streets of Cork city during 2020.

Cork city
Cork city
Cork city
Cork city
Cork city
Communion girl in Cork
Cork city
Cork city
Cork city

None of us could have predicted how things would change in 2020. I have been offering mobile photography workshops for years now with two Irish galleries (Gallery of Photography, Dublin and Cork’s Glucksman Gallery). I would have found it hard to believe that these workshops would have to stop this year, and probably found it harder to believe that these workshops would then become so popular online. One of the highlights for me this year were the online mobile photography workshops I ran in conjunction with the Gallery of Photography to raise money for the ISPCC back in April. We originally had planned to offer just one workshop, but when we reached 100 participants for the first workshop we had to put on another the following week. Over two workshops we raised €5,200. I was blown away by the response. If you are feeling generous, here’s a link to make a donation for a very good cause.

I have continued to offer the workshops online and while I must say that I am looking forward to the day we can return to face-to-face workshops, online does allow for very good one-to-one feedback on participants’ photos and makes it that much easier. Another great thing about doing them online is that it brings people together from all over the world. One of the challenges of delivering online photography workshops is that you do not have the opportunity to hit the streets together on a photo walk. To overcome this, I encouraged participants to shoot in their immediate surroundings in and around their homes and I have seen some wonderful photographs they have produced. It has been a challenge for myself to shoot creatively around my own environs too. We are all guilty of feeling that to get great shots we need to get to exotic locations, but that really is not the case. I have enjoyed making portraits of my kids and trying to find interesting scenes around where I live.

My daughter Sumi-Anna
A location on my evening walk
The Lough

In one of my workshops I was demonstrating how to create double exposures and randomly selected this combination of two photos from my camera roll. Those on the workshop thought I had it planned, but sometimes things just fall into place. I was delighted how this serendipitous moment worked out.

A double exposure created in Snapseed

There is a lot to be thankful for in 2020 and we need to be optimistic about 2021. It might be a cliche but the really important things in life like health and family became so obvious in 2020 and this year allowed me to appreciate both very much. I have been blessed in that I can care for my elderly parents, Maurice and Carmel, throughout this time.

My parents – Maurice and Carmel

We might be in another lockdown, still stuck at home, but 2021 will be better. I will leave you with this final scene I came across on the back roads of Carrigaline, Cork.

My next series of online mobile photography workshops with the Gallery of Photography, Dublin starts on Tuesday, January 12th. All details here.