Small Town Portraits, Dennis Dinneen

Dennis Dinneen

Dennis Dinneen was a full-time publican, occasional taxi-man and photographer. A true Macrompian*, Main Streets Dennis Dinneen was hired for particular occasions such as communions, confirmations, weddings and so on, working from his studio in the back of the bar. He was driven by a humble and simplistic love for taking photographs, and a lot of his best work comes from the experimenting and playing around he did in his own free time. When he died in 1985, he left behind an incredible archive of over 20,000 negatives that were never fully, extensively explored, until now. Dennis Dinneen’s incredible archive of negatives commenced a much-awaited emergence into public recognition and discovery when in 2015 David Moore began work with Lawrence Dinneen, son of Dennis Dinneen, leading to an exhibition in UCC which received worldwide recognition. This prompted further exhibitions in Jackson Fine Art in Atlanta, USA, Landskrona Museum, Sweden and The Douglas Hyde Gallery, Dublin – which was voted in the top three best art exhibitions of 2017 by Irish Times readers, behind only Vermeer and Caravaggio.

*someone from or living in the town of Macroom, County Cork, Ireland.

He was driven by a humble and simplistic love for taking photographs, and a lot of his best work comes from the experimenting and playing around he did in his own free time.

In the last few years, these photographs are slowly but surely being brought to the light and recognition that their significance deserves. Dinneen’s Bar was and still is known for its walls being covered in black and white photographs which comprise several decades of local, rural history of the Lee Valley area and its inhabitants. The majority of people in Dennis’ photographs were unaware of how to pose; they remain true to the reality of the time and situation, are genuine and come straight across just as-they-were. These were the people, this was the way.

In 2019 the National Gallery purchased prints for their permanent collection, which were included in the gallery’s first-ever photography exhibition ‘Views of Ireland’ in 2019. This is an incredibly significant feat for the legacy of Dennis Dinneen; to go from being a modest, locally known publican and photographer in the Macroom area to having a collection displayed and kept in the National Gallery Collection – a permanent and historic collection that will outlive us all. Did Dennis Dinneen know exactly what he was doing when he was taking these photos? Did he purposely and carefully set them up in their own unique way like they are? Did he know that they would become so important, famous, even so far as iconic? Imagine him so unassuming and humble, with no idea of the historically as well as artistically significant legacy he would be leaving behind. Perhaps he knew exactly what it was he was doing. Or perhaps he was wonderfully unassuming, just like the people in the many portraits he took; many are set up and look as though they were meant to be used as ID headshots for passports, and so the faces of the people are solemn and unsmiling, yet so striking. Cleverly, Dennis didn’t limit these ‘mug-shot’ style photographs to just the face before an all-white screen or patterned curtain as a background; he used a wide range, including the room and its contents beyond the backdrop. 

Imagine him so unassuming and humble, with no idea of the historically as well as artistically significant legacy he would be leaving behind.

Recently released, a new book ‘Small Town Portraits’, comprises 75 of Dennis’ best portraits, many unseen before. It aims to build on his growing reputation in the photography world and introduce him to a wider audience abroad. While most of the portraits in the book were taken in his small studio in Dinneen’s Bar – images from local theatre productions that he photographed are inter-spliced between. The curtains in particular link the two scenes, but so does the element of ‘performance’. Whether they are in front of Dennis’ camera in the pub or on stage in front of the local community, perhaps the subjects all take on a character when eyes are focussed on them.

The growing legacy that Dennis Dinneen has left behind captures a little bit of local, rural Irish history yet also stands as a body of incredible artwork. It has brought me to come to know the grandfather I never met as somewhat of an unsung legend. This is not just incredible photographic artwork; this is a history, a legacy, a record of a heritage. He captured people, but he also captured a time in history, a way of life, a culturally rich heritage that I believe we, as treasurers of Dennis Dinneen’s archive, and as his family, have the responsibility to protect, preserve, and, at the same time, share with the Irish in Ireland and with everyone anywhere in the world.

One of my favourite photographs in the Dennis Dinneen Archive.
It is a portrait of my aunt and Dennis’ sister-in-law, Olive.
A portrait of John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy can be spotted in the background.

This is not just incredible photographic artwork; this is a history, a legacy, a record of a heritage.

This piece was originally published in the Lee Valley Outlook magazine, Vol. 17 Edition 23, on Thursday 19th November 2020.

Time

I was curious – really curious; a genuine curiosity that I acted upon as opposed to just thought about. I’d pass a magazine laying on the counter, one of the ones that come with the New York Times in that blue plastic wrapper and left at the foot of the steps each morning, and instead of thinking to myself, oh I should take a look at that some time, I would pick it up and flick through the glossy images of beautiful homes and stunningly pristine people, and I would read the words, whole articles from start to finish – imagine that; in a world where attention spans have been curtailed by constant instantaneous information I was taking the time to indulge in the written words again, long-form, therapeutic, escaping; and learning, enriching my experience of the world from the comfort, confinement, of my quarantine at home.

Some Good News

It’s been a tough year. That, I think we can all agree, is putting it lightly. We are living through a global pandemic, the likes of which no one alive today has lived through before. For other on-top-of and further reasons, it’s been a tough four years in the US. That, again, is putting it lightly. And there are some things, these years being among them, that cannot be made light of. It’s serious stuff. That being said, there is light in that there is always hope, and good will, and the perseverance of human nature to survive and overcome. With respect to the strange, difficult, heartbreaking, disappointing, devastating, life-changing, world altering (I won’t go on) times we have gone and continue to go through, let us focus for a moment on some good news.

Downtown, San Francisco
February 2020

On November 7th 2020, Joe Biden secured the required 270 electoral college votes in the US presidential race to officially become the President-elect and be sworn into office on Inauguration Day, January 20th 2021. This will mark the official end of Trump’s tumultuous and devastatingly disastrous four years as president of the United States. Kamala Harris, Vice President-elect, will be the first woman Vice President, the first Black Vice President, the first Asian American Vice President. And, as Kamala Harris powerfully declared herself, she will not be the last.

“While I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last, because every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities.”

Kamala Harris, US Vice President-elect 2020

A record number of people voted in this election. While percentage-wise the number of voters in respect to overall population doesn’t quite break records, more people – a projected 161 million – showed up for and voted in this 2020 US Presidential Election than at any other time in the history of the United States. That’s something.

It is important to look at and to acknowledge the demographics of the voting – to think about the people and communities that made the difference. Deciding states boiled down to Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Nevada, Arizona and Georgia. Each of these states have at least a 39% Black population. Stacey Abrams in Georgia, founder of Fair Fight Action, is single-handedly responsible for the registration of over 800,000 new voters since 2018. LaTosha Brown, co-founder of Black Voters Matter along with Cliff Albright, explains just how significant and influential the voting of the Black community is –

“The fact that we have matched and topped white voter participation and done that while going through voter suppression in new and old forms every year, we are extraordinary.”

LaTosha Brown, Nov. 7th 2020, in an interview for NBC by Janell Ross

It cannot be overstated, and must not go unacknowledged, the influence of Black voters – always, and in particular their definitive significance in this presidential election.

Joe Biden received almost 75 million votes. This is more than any other presidential candidate in the history of the United States. That’s something. At the time of my writing, Biden has over 4.5 million more popular votes than Trump; Biden has 290 electoral college votes, while Trump has 214. That’s something. America – more specifically and importantly, the American people – have said no to four more years of Trump in office.

I am not making the mistake of believing that this is anything more than a mere step in the right direction. We’ve got far to go, and much to do.

But, along the way, we can – in fact, I feel it is important and worthwhile to – celebrate all worth celebrating; the steps, big and small, towards something better, the instances of light in otherwise heavy moments, the little victories in a world that feels a relentless muddle of hard times, tragedies and bad news.

For the good of our souls, let us share some good news.

Hey, I’m still here

It’s been a while, but I made it explicitly clear in my last post that I wasn’t going to make any promises about more or regular posting – I said I would post when I post – so, here you go. A post, as not promised, and perfectly timed for no particular time.

How are you doing? Just checking in, like everyone is right now. Naturally, I’ve been thinking a lot – again, like most at the moment. (It probably isn’t very journalistically honest or accurate for me to make these generalisations, but I trust you’ll take it in the colloquially loose way that I intend for it). WordPress updated and so my font is different to the one it used to be when drafting posts. I like this one. It has an old-school, typewriter feel to it, and is slim, which I like in my words. I’m not one for bolding. Italics, yes, I do love a nicely placed italic text, but I’m not a huge lover of the bold text, at least in the literal sense. Bold words – yes. Bold text – meh.

Do you have a daily routine? Have you fallen into one, or was it consciously and intently laid out by you, for you, during shelter-at-home? Either way, I hope you’re happy with it and that it provides you with a healthy mentality of structure and daily ritual. If you don’t have a routine, I hope you are thoroughly enjoying not having one and that the freedom of each hour of each day to do with as you wish in the moment provides for you a sense of excitement about all the little things you do do, whenever it possesses you to do them.

I took this picture on one of my evening strolls. This street is Judah, and the tracks are those of the N Muni line that runs from Ocean Beach to the Ball Park and Caltrain. It’s off-centre, needs to be tilted slightly, but the colours are gorgeous, the ombre sky created by the angle of the setting sun so ideally centred on the point in the horizon where the two streets converge – it will do. Evening strolls have slowly, after much should-I-shouldn’t-I mental deliberation and risk considerations, become part of my daily routine. I maintain, at the very least, 6ft distance from the few people I do pass by and stick to the quieter streets – I’m feeling so very grateful for the neighbourhood I live in in San Francisco; the sunset is known for it’s suburban, beach-town vibes which is just what my soul needs, it being a perk that social distancing is relatively easy here, at least easier than other cities, and other parts of this city.

I’ve been reading a lot. Have you? What have you been reading? I would like all the recommendations. There are two books I read recently, two little books, in which I found such welcome comfort and powerful perspective that has really helped me to hone some ease and serenity during all of this. One was David Foster Wallace’s This is Water; a delightful little book made up of snippets from a commencement speech given by David to students at Kenyon College in May 2005. It takes, literally, twenty minutes or so to read – I recommend it to any and everyone. The other little book was Epictetus’ A Manual for Living. Again, a short but profound read; I want to share some of Epictetus’ messages here in the hopes that they will be welcome sources of wordy comfort for some of you, too.

In speaking with a friend recently I was explaining how it’s difficult not to talk about the very thing we’re all probably so tired of and anxious and worried and bombarded and overwhelmed and frustrated about talking about right now. We’re all doing what we can to take our minds off a very heavy context, which can be difficult, when that context is so very heavy and literally global – it is touching, affecting, and happening to absolutely everyone. So, while these notes on the comforting words I’ve read recently are particularly poignant and helpful and applicable to the current situation we all as humans of a humanity are in right now, they can be honed into our approaches to so many different things that we do and will encounter in our lives, during and after this shelter-at-home when we will press resume on a life that will have catapulted into an entirely changed context, a shift in functioning and atmosphere that we will all need to adjust to and once again settle back into, changed.

In A Manual for Living, Epictetus says,

“When something happens, the only thing in your power is your attitude toward it; you can either accept it or resent it.”

Epictetus, A Manual for Living

It sounds simplistic to say that you cannot change what is happening, or what has happened, but when you really truly understand this it is a huge weight off your shoulders, a heaviness in your mind being eased and relieved. No amount of thinking, pondering, worrying, fretting, is going to change what has happened or what is happening, so let it go. What you can control, however, is how you deal with what is happening. We all must figure out our own ways, the ways that work best for us, the ways that allow us to go on with grace and a sense of calm acceptance and optimism for the relief that will come, eventually. This too, shall pass.

“What really frightens and dismays us is not external events themselves, but the way in which we think about them. It is not things that disturb us, but our interpretation of their significance.”

Epictetus, A Manual for Living

Things are what they are; it is what it is.

So, while…

“We cannot choose our external circumstances, … we can always choose how we respond to them.”

Epictetus, A Manual for Living

We’re all choosing our own ways. Some are reading, some are writing; some are cooking, some are baking; some are working, some are not; some are working out, some are walking slowly; some are meditating and practicing yoga, others are napping with their children at nap time and doing their best to home-school; some are using their time to organise their belongings, clearing out cupboards and wardrobes and the attic, while others are using the time to clear out their minds, to decompress and digest all that has happened in their lives over the last few years, and while it is a necessary and enforced pause, it is a pause none the less. A healing. A re-set. A rejuvenation, A rest.

We will be going back. We will be pressing un-pause on the world and our lives. It may take some time, but we will be lifted back into the chaos of a once-again dizzyingly fast-paced world. We will suffer huge losses – the loss of lives, of livelihoods, of jobs – and much will need repairing and take time to be built back up to where it once was, but we will get there; we will get there, and further again.

“TAKE GREAT CARE WITH WHAT YOU HAVE WHILE THE WORLD LETS YOU HAVE IT, JUST AS A TRAVELER TAKES CARE OF A ROOM AT AN INN.”

Epictetus, A Manual for Living

Yours, Ciara D.

Productivity is Subjective

We beat ourselves up for not being productive, or for not being productive enough. I should be doing this, I should be doing that, I should be doing something that’s not just what I’m doing –

and while yes, sometimes we could be doing something different or something more, there is an important note about productivity that we need to remind ourselves of, and that is that productivity is subjective.

What is productive for you, isn’t for another, and what isn’t productive for you, is for another, and so on. What’s more important than being generally ‘productive’ is knowing what you want, and how you’re going to achieve it – only then can you determine, for yourself, how to be productive, for yourself.

Applying oneself productively means something entirely different for everyone, and is oriented around what each individual wants to achieve. You yourself can decide what is productive for you, and what isn’t.

Before beating yourself up generally for not doing anything, letting yourself fall into a cycle of unproductive self-criticism, ask yourself what it is you really want – get clear on what it is you really want –

because it is only when you are clear on what it is you really want that you can decide for yourself how you’re going to achieve it, and therefore how to apply yourself productively, with the little steps you take everyday making the biggest difference in the long run.

The Psychology of Attraction

Attraction is a funny thing. It isn’t a choice; we don’t really get to decide who or what traits and characteristics we are attracted to. This isn’t a problem if you happen to be attracted to what’s good for you, but interestingly that isn’t always the case. Strictly defined as “the action or power of evoking interest in or liking for someone or something”, the reputable Urban Dictionary describes attraction as “easy to avoid but impossible to ignore”, and as “a force that pulls two [or more] people together regardless of their own will”. This is all too true.

You’ve surely wondered why it is you like someone, or asked yourself what it is about that person you like. When you are asked to justify your feelings for someone, friends asking “why them? What is it about them?!” your mind tries to pinpoint the reasons you are attracted to that particular person; you try to construct a list of sorts of all the things about that person you like. Why do I like them?

Attraction isn’t merely inexplicable and based entirely on personal preference; there is an evolutionary and scientific basis to explaining attraction and attractiveness. Interpersonal attraction refers to any type of positive feeling towards another, which can include liking, friendship, love, lust or even just admiration. There are many different influencing factors, but the main ones can be summed up under 4 main categories; physical attractiveness, proximity, similarity and reciprocity.

Physical attractiveness is, naturally enough, what primarily determines romantic attraction. Especially in the early stages of dating, people are attracted to people that are physically appealing to them. Research shows that this applies even more to men than it does to woman, with men paying more attention to looks and valuing physical attractiveness more than woman. Within the concept of physical attractiveness is what’s been coined “the matching hypothesis,” whereby people tend to go for people that are a similar level of attractiveness as they see themselves to be.

In the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, an article entitled “The Big, the Rich, and the Powerful: Physical, Financial, and Social Dimensions of Dominance in Mating and Attraction” by Angela D. Bryan, Gregory D. Webster, and Amanda L. Mahaffey, outlines some interesting insights drawn about attraction from an evolutionary perspective:

“Physical attractiveness preferences shared by both sexes are typically cues to physical health, including hair quality, oral health, lively gait and movement, facial averageness, and fluctuating (bodily) asymmetry. Men’s physical attractiveness preferences for women are typically cues to reproductive fitness, including youth, developed breasts, lower waist-to-hip ratios, lower body weights, and lower body mass indexes. In contrast, women’s physical attractiveness preferences for men are typically understood as cues indicative of gene quality and healthy testosterone production, including height, higher shoulder-to-hip ratios, high shoulder-to-waist ratios, and lower waist-to-chest ratios.”

Proximity and similarity are fairly comparable, and are pretty self-explanatory. Naturally, we tend to befriend people that are geographically close to us, and also who are similar to us in terms of age, background, likes and dislikes, etc. and these connections often form the beginnings of romantic relationships, and so would be considered an influencing factor in attractiveness. Reciprocity is also self-explanatory: more often than not, people like people who like them – simple as.

Romantic love can be separated into a category of its own, and further split into two main types that don’t always come hand-in-hand; passionate love is the lustful type, the intense one based on sexual desire, and compassionate love, which is a little less intense and a lot more practical, based on intimacy and commitment, being warm and close and having a genuine intent to maintain and put effort into a relationship.

Many may argue that there is a difference between genuine attraction and physical, sexual attraction. This is because sometimes, we may feel sexually attracted to someone we don’t particularly like as a person. This seems strange, but it happens. Why do we sometimes find ourselves being attracted to people we don’t necessarily like? In other words, why is it we find ourselves attracted to assholes or to people who may not be treating us the greatest?

I found an interesting theoretical approach to answering this question in an academic article by Pat Love (ironic enough) and Sunny Shulkin entitled “Imago Theory and The Psychology of Attraction”; The answer lies in the imago (im-ah’-go)— which refers to our unconscious image of love. This is based on a theory developed by Harville Hendrix, Ph.D. and his wife who worked together on a book they called Getting the Love You Want, in which they revealed that “we come into relationships with expectations of love that have been influenced by our early experience with caregivers”; as [Pat] Love and Shulkin explain further, “we are attracted to the person who brings us the form of love that feels familiar, for better or worse”. Well, this is pretty heavy and deep if you consider what it is implying. So, there’s a whole lot of truth in “we accept the love we think we deserve”.

I mean, you would think it only natural to be turned off by any negative traits, anything that wouldn’t be the best characteristic in a partner, but that isn’t the case. Unconsciously, you are sometimes drawn to traits or characteristics not because they are good or appealing or positive in any way, but just simply because they feel comfortable and familiar: we have seen them in other relationships, whether between our parents or those that surrounded us as we grew up. It’s the subconscious memories formed in childhood that have a significant influence over what it is we go for in a partner.

So there you have it, a few interesting facts about attraction that may or may not answer a few of the questions that boggle your mind when you catch yourself falling for someone.

Here are some more interesting facts about attraction for those interested:

  • Apparently we tend to be attracted to people that look like us… This could just be due to the “matching hypothesis”.
  • We also seem to be attracted to people who remind us of our parents, a strange one, but again possibly related to the imago effect; being attracted to what’s familiar. If this rings any bells, you may want to google “Oedipus complex.”
  • If you’re already physiologically aroused (e.g., from having just exercised) you are more likely to develop an attraction for anyone you may meet shortly after, as you may mistakenly attribute the source of your elevated heartbeat to the stranger instead of the true source of that arousal.
  • Drink does have an influence: “Beer goggles” really are a thing. Research has found that the drunker people get, the higher the attractiveness ratings they give to strangers. Alcohol also changes how attractive we perceive ourselves, which could explain that particular boldness drunk people seem to adopt, regardless of how shy or reserved otherwise.
  • If you’re looking for a long-term relationship, playing hard to get seems to work. But you need to be careful with this one as it can backfire. Researchers Dai, Dong, and Jia (2014) investigated the question, “When does playing hard to get increase romantic attraction?” and they found that, while playing hard to get might increase feelings of “wanting” in others (a desire to pursue the aloof person), it might also decrease “liking” (positive feelings about the person).
  • When it comes to pick-up lines, it has been discovered that opening with a simple “hi” or “hello,” or leading with an innocuous question are the better and more effective strategies.
  • Attraction is a multi-sensory process. We aren’t just attracted to looks and traits or characteristics, but also to smell, and taste (how their mouth tastes when you kiss), and so on…
  • The things that heterosexual women find attractive in men vary depending on where they’re at in their menstrual cycle. Specifically, when women are at peak fertility, they tend to be attracted to “manlier” men (e.g., muscular guys with deep voices). (I came across a very funny tweet once, a girl asking how she could explain to a guy that the only reason she found him attractive and came on to him was because it was coming up to her period and now it’s over so… there you go, this is an actual thing, apparently.)
  • Heterosexual men tend to find women wearing red clothing more attractive than women wearing any other colour. Why? Some theorize that men have evolved a tendency to become aroused by this colour because women’s bodies naturally become red/pink during sexual arousal (e.g., many women experience a “sex flush” or reddish rash that appears primarily on the chest during arousal). 
  • Our patterns of sexual attraction appear to change seasonally. For instance, heterosexual men report greater attraction to women’s bodies and breasts in the winter months than they do in the summer months. (Must be a comfort thing?)

This article by me was originally published in the University Express newspaper in October 2017.

damn right

I spent far too long starving my body, my mind and my self, shivering and putting every ounce of what energy was left into resisting, restricting, fighting my self –

so damn right I’m going to go out dancing and drink wine and get copious cups of coffee and stay up late smoking and eating ice cream and being happy living life.

cd

Journaling. 18/11/19

I haven’t published anything in a while, but I’ve been writing a lot. I write at least a little bit every day.

Moving from a small town in Ireland to San Francisco in the big US of A, not being in school anymore and having a full time job in an industry I never had any previous experience in, other than being the guest at a restaurant, has meant that I’ve had to really push myself out there, to meet new people and to establish myself as a part of a place I’m so new to. I feel like that major change in my life and my adjusting to it has had an affect on my writing. Not in a negative way; I’m still writing, and as long as I’m still writing, regardless of what or how, that’s the main thing. But my writing has become a lot more introverted. My journals are, of course, like most, for me and my eyes only.

Going for coffee in the morning before work, to sit by myself with a latte and write in my journal, has become a ritual of mine, and one I intend on continuing. It’s the little rituals we have and continue to practice that are the heartbeat of our everyday lives and the power and importance of them shouldn’t be underestimated. I know that everyone has their own thing, their own way of unravelling themselves, of winding down and grounding and bringing themselves into the present, to analyse where they’re at and how they’re feeling and what is going on in their lives right now, and I’ve come to realise the power that journaling can have in that sense.

Journaling not only allows you to release and let out what it is that is going on in your mind at any given point, it helps you to gain clarity over where you’re at and how you’re feeling while also holding yourself accountable for your day-to-day movements and progress.

I think it was important and beneficial for me to take a break from publishing for a few months, to just focus on writing for myself, but I’m starting to feel that bubble of restlessness again – I’m ready to start on writing projects outside of my personal journals. I’ve applied for some freelance writing positions and got myself a marketing internship with a start-up company that I’m really excited about working with and being a part of in the beginning stages of development.

That’s what’s up with me right now. Lots more posts, updates and other miscellaneous writing pieces to come.

Much love, Ciara D. x

A chat with Hayden Strong, of Manus Lux Tattoo

You know when you meet someone, even just briefly, a friend of a friend, and you’re left thinking damn, that person – they leave you feeling curious, happy, interested, a mixture of all these things, about your own life as well as themselves. That’s what it was like meeting Hayden, 26 year old SF based tattoo artist with an attitude towards life so relaxingly positive that I got thinking about why we feel almost surprised when we hear people saying how happy they are with where they are in their lives in any given moment – no complaints, entirely content. Why is that unusual? It shouldn’t be, because it’s what we all thrive for. Anyways, that’s a vain for another post.

Before parting ways (glass of wine at my favourite wine bar, Fools Errand, finished), I asked Hayden if I could have a chat with him some time, do an interview for the blog, and he agreed. So I visited Hayden at the studio, Manus Lux, which means ‘light hand’, beautiful name, yesterday, and not only did I get to sit down for a chat with Hayden, I got a tattoo – myself and Hayden designed it together, and Hayden drew it up in a matter of a few minutes (no easy task, as the design included two of the hardest things to draw – straight lines and a hand). It was exhilarating, deciding on, designing and getting a tattoo all within a few hours, and while some would argue that it’s irrational and impulsive, it didn’t feel like it. It isn’t a random design, it very much means something to me – a floating violin bow over an open palm hand – and it is clear from his work that nothing about Hayden’s art is rushed.

@haydenstrongart

Why tattooing?

“I’ve always been an artist – painting, drawing, traditional art. I went to art school for a little bit but it’s just so expensive, it didn’t work out, so I left that. That was in New York City, I was living there, learning traditional art, but I saw the writing on the wall with money, it’s so hard to make a living in this country as an artist, at least a traditional artist. So I saw tattooing as a good way to support myself – it’s a good job, it’s pretty cush, pretty plush y’know – it’s hard in a lot of ways, like taxing mentally, but physically it’s pretty good. I don’t have to break my back all day to make a living.”

@haydenstrongart

You get to make a living from doing what you love.

“Exactly, and it means so much to the people getting the tattoos – it’s cool dealing with that interaction all day. Most jobs you’re dealing with such a minimal interaction, like thirty seconds, ‘hey how are you doing’, and that’s it – but even if it’s just a little tattoo, we’re getting beyond that, I at least get to know a little nugget of their life. I really appreciate that part of it and the impact it has on people.”

And I imagine it isn’t a nine to five job, you make it work around what suits you?

“I’m pretty flexible. What’s cool about my shop is I just pay rent, whereas in a lot of tattoo shops it is more strict, like you have to be there at exact particular times. I still do like to hold hours, to be there and be available for people if they wanna come in and talk, but yeah, if I really need to take a day off it’s not an issue at all. I definitely don’t like waking up early too, so it’s good because I can sleep in until eleven everyday if I wanted. I don’t start work till noon – I’m never going to be in before that.”

@haydenstrongart

Have you ever tattooed yourself?

“I have. I have what I call a junk leg, it’s just experimental, like my first tattoo I did on there, and I’ve just been layering like crazy abstract black shit all over it – it’s fun to have a leg that you’re not as attached to, like a lot of my other work is really nice and refined but this leg is just like crazy experimental stuff.”

Have you ever regretted a tattoo?

“Not really. I’ve blacked out some stuff, so I have stuff covered up with just intense black, but I don’t regret anything. Every moment has led up to right now, so I can’t live with regret.”

Every moment has led up to right now, so I can’t live with regret.

@haydenstrongart

You just turned 26, happy birthday, and you were telling me that you feel the mid to late 20’s are the best years – why, and how so?

“I would say 25, 26, 27, like those are the best years. I wouldn’t say 23.”

How do you know, if you’re not done them yet?

“I just get a feeling – you get these blips of self awareness, like there was one very hard at 23, I got this blip of reflection, like a separation from my own ego and self – you realise something about your life and where you’re at. I got a lot of that at 23. When you’re 23 you develop this sense of respect for all the adults around you, and you’re old enough where you’re not like 18, when you can’t and are too young to relate to 30 year olds, but at 25, 26, 27 you’re in that nice golden period where you have enough experience with your job where you’re not clueless but you’re also still very young – and you’re still getting better looking everyday, you’re not yet on the decline.”

Have you longer-term plans or goals, are are you totally and completely content with where you’re at and are heading right now?

@haydenstrongart

“I think tattooing is good for now, for where I’m at in my life. I mean, long term I definitely want to keep pushing other artistic projects – I’m not single-facetted. Tattooing isn’t the only way I express myself. I wouldn’t say it’s how I express myself at all; it is a big part of my art but I have so many other projects.”

What are they?

“Basically I use all of my artistic skills for whatever project I’m working on and that could be any scale of painting, what people would call traditional art making, but it also translates to building stuff, so furniture and woodwork. Beyond that, bigger design projects on any scale – it’s limitless, it could be anything.”

@haydenstrongart

Do you think doing some kind of design course is on the cards, or are you not considering going back down the education route at all?

“I might consider it some day, but I’m a little cynical about the art school industrial complex in the US – it’s a little bit of a money scam. I’d have to get a crazy scholarship to the best school ever. I would totally consider it, though – I’m keeping an open mind. I’m concentrating on the present and not tripping out about what’s down the line. I’m a multi-facetted artist – I’m not like ‘tattooing is everything’ – it’s a good medium to work in but it’s not the end-all for me.”

Any general life advice?

“Find the right mentor. Listen to them, and be open to the process. Find something that’s going to work for you. Try and get over your fantasies as quickly as possible. Be ambitious, but be realistic too. There are a lot of fantasies pushed on kids by their parents, parents trying to live vicariously through their children, but you need to find something that’s going to work for you.”

Be ambitious, but be realistic too.

@haydenstrongart

Write letters to friends and family

A few days after moving to San Francisco, I wrote some letter to friends back home in Ireland. There was something about the whole process, physically writing out the words as opposed to just typing them in text, and knowing that it would be at least a week if not longer before my friends received the letters, as opposed to instantly over messenger or whatsapp or snapchat. I really enjoyed it, sending little cards or postcards or stickers that I’d found and thought would make a friend smile.

There’s something about writing. Beyond the therapeutic element, there is an intimacy, that goes deeper than any whatsapp call, than any text or snapchat message could ever go. You’re receiving written words that have been carefully thought through and pondered over and written out in a unique hand that nobody else but the person who you’re receiving the letter from could replicate, at least not exactly. A text message is a digital flick of generic type sent out into a virtual abyss, whereas a letter, words written on pen and paper, is the unique ink of genuine thought – there’s heart in the literally written word that cannot be captured in any other form of communication, not even face to face.

Often people write the things they wish they could say in person, or the things that they wanted to say but couldn’t. That’s why we have infamous love letters, sonnets, songs and poems, all things written that couldn’t be as well said. Sometimes, really a lot of the time, writing can tell us more than verbal speech itself. Even writing personal accounts of events or experiences can help us make sense of our own feelings about them.

I’ve written a few more letters and cards since the first batch. I’ve been sending bits back home to family and friends every once in a while, and I intend to keep it up. It’s a really nice thing, definitely for me, and, I hope, for those that receive the letters too.

Here’s just a little note about the importance of reaching out, about getting and staying in touch with the people that are important to you, whether they are in your life currently or were at some point before.