Five objects and a piece of nature – a self-portrait

My efforts at describing what I do or what I’ve achieved have been met with comments like pathetic, weak, dismal. I suffer hugely from that Irish weakness that leaves us selling ourselves short. Blame it on the nuns, the brothers, the Irish mammy, it’s something that a lot of Irish people can identify with. Ireland in the 1970s was replete with phrases like ‘that wan has airs beyond her station’ or ’tis far from that he was reared’, which did a great job of reining us in lest we get carried away with ourselves.

Self-promotion is something I’m pitifully bad at. I always have been and no doubt always will be. My attempts at Internet dating were disastrous. My CV I had to treat as if it were about someone else. And while I can (and do) write excellent letters of reference, I struggle with a 150-word description of what I do myself. Mad, isn’t it?

Enter Liz Handy.

I first met Liz in 2008. I was introducing one of her husband’s books at a conference in Budapest. I remember being particularly chuffed because author/journalist Paul Lendvai sought me out after my presentation and told me that, second to Charles Handy himself, I was by far the best speaker at the gig. I was mega impressed. Ten years later I still get a warm glow thinking about that day.

Liz is well known for her portraiture. She asks her subjects to display five objects and a flower that symbolise what is important to them in life. I was struck by this at the time and made a note to myself to ‘paint my own portrait’. But I never quite got around to it.

Back in 2016, the Handys were in town again, for another book launch, and Liz told me of her twins project. She described it as a photographic exploration of identical twins in later life. She would choose 8 sets of twins (including the famous Happy Pear from Ireland) and ask them three questions which they would answer with photographs. Question 2 is whether the same things matter to them. Again, she used her still-life approach and asked them to select five objects and one flower or piece of nature, things that represented what best described them. It’s a fascinating exhibition of insightfulness that Liz has made available online. Check it out and share the link.

It got me thinking, yet again, about what my choices would be. And rather than put it off any longer, I quickly looked around, hmmmed and hawed, swapped and changed, and this is what I came up with.

The book on old Cuba captures my love of travel, of old places, and old stories. My glasses represent an innate curiousity that makes life interesting and a peculiar perspective which shapes my world. The cross signifies spirituality, my relationship with my God and my faith in tomorrow. The pen needs little explanation. The Eskimo girl reading, a treasured souvenir of life in Alaska, speaks to a love of solitude and reading. And my piece of nature – some blessed straw from the church crib in Clane – is equal parts tradition and superstition – both of which I lay claim to.

It’s a challenge. And no doubt, were I to do the same in twelve months’ time, I might choose differently.

Check out the twins exhibition and if you know any identical twins, forward the link to them.

And if you’ve any Irish in you, Liz’s Ballymun People project is worth a look.


3 Responses

  1. Non-visual people like me prefer the Desert Island Discs approach, but that’s no help for portraiture.

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