Background to Innocent Landscapes

In 1999, as part of the Peace Process in Northern Ireland, the IRA finally admitted the ‘killing and secret burial’ of ten people from a possible list of fifteen missing people. At the end of May they released a roll call of locations that were said to be the burial places of nine people from this list. The twist in this inventory of place-names and one of the main factors that drove me on in the project was that all the locations were in the South of Ireland. These people had been exiled in death, somehow uniting North and South in relation to the conflict – a dark stain lurking under the ‘peaceful’ landscapes of the South.

That Summer I set out on a short journey from the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in County Monaghan to visit and photograph my first ‘site’ where, three weeks earlier, the remains of Brian McKinney (22) and John McClory (18) had been found. They had disappeared on 25th May 1978 from West Belfast and were thought to have been abducted, murdered, and secretly buried by the IRA. Throughout the history of the recent conflict in Northern Ireland where grief and trauma were visited upon so many people across all communities, these young men were part of a disparate group of people who became known as ‘the disappeared’. Nothing was certain in relation to these people, even their exact number was difficult to ascertain. Virtually all were Northern Irish Catholics and were thought to have been victims of internal IRA ‘policing’ of the movement and the wider catholic community.

I followed the searches that were carried out in 1999 and 2000 and the resulting photographs were published in a volume entitled Innocent Landscapes in 2001 as a result of winning the European Publishers Award for Photography. However I couldn’t walk away from this work – for one thing there was the unresolved nature of the searches, as only three remains had been recovered. So, every year, usually towards the end of the Summer I would revisit these locations making photographs of a ‘healing’ landscape. In the back of my mind I had said to myself that I would try to do this for ten years. This blog will outline my intended final visits to these haunted places.