Quietly breathtaking and nostalgic photos of a small town that doesn’t exist

18 October 2019
Interview: Nadia Beard

In her series Stoned in Melanchol, Irish photographer Megan Doherty turns her lens onto her friends, with whom she explores subcultures and identity, isolation and the solace of unity, and ultimately the joy of finding moments of authenticity and beauty amongst the mundane.

Megan Doherty is a photographer taking part in the Futures Platform, co-funded by the Creative Europe Programme of the European Union.

Being from Europe, and more specifically, from Ireland, has shaped the subject of my work in terms of location and character. So much of the content I create is heavily focused on place and using location as a backdrop. Irish streets are used again and again within the work. The characters featured are born and raised within Ireland and are a product of their culture, and I feel a lot of these specific mannerisms and quirks can be seen within the work. As well as that, being European has prompted me to look at life and culture outside of my own, to experiment with an aesthetic that was foreign to me growing up. To take on board what had to be offered outside of my own experience, and use these different elements to create my own version of what I’d seen and what I was used to. I used these as tools to build my own world within my work.

This series was born out of the mundanity of living in a small town. I was feeling low at the time and living with my parents. I had all these big ideas but I felt trapped and was unsure of my future. Spending time with my friends and watching movies were my only forms of solace until I began combining the two within my photographs. I began projecting my daydreams on to the landscape of my hometown. I re-imagined my friends in the narratives that I was creating in my head. Eventually the line between what was staged and what was documented became blurred, as we began to inhabit the world we’d been creating.

My inspiration comes from a variety of mediums, including painting, photography, film and music. However, the actual themes depicted in my work come from my own experiences — the relationships I have, dreams, a moment witnessed between two strangers across a room. It’s my own experiences that fuel the content within my work, real or imagined.

I believe the times we’re living in have led me to create a series based on escapism. While a lot of photographers use their practice to observe and depict issues at hand (political or otherwise), my practice goes in the opposite direction. I depict a world separate from on-going issues and instead provide a means of escape. A refuge, something to get lost in rather than being forced to look at reality.

The image titled ‘Stoned in Melanchol’ (above), which also became the name for the entire series, was an image that existed in my head for a while. I mentioned the idea to a few of my friends and explained that I needed to stage a house party scene in order to capture it. While that was initially the case, as more people started to show up the ‘staged’ house party naturally became real. While creating this image I placed my friend Charlotte in the forefront of the photograph. As I was looking through the viewfinder, just before hitting the shutter, a tear started rolling down her cheek. It isn’t visible in the photograph, but knowing that tear exists makes this image so much more powerful to me. It became the first in the series and is still the one that resonates with me most.

I don’t like coming across images which are void of emotion and life, as if it was made to fit a particular aesthetic or style rather than photographers putting something of themselves into the photograph. I personally believe authenticity should be at the root of an image.

Inspiration is the thing that mostly keeps me motivated. Looking at the work of others that offers me something. A feeling that I can get lost in, that’s what motivates me. It never lasts — it inspires me to keep creating and I find myself constantly chasing it.

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