University College Cork Library is delighted to announce an exhibition of John Minihan photographs taken on Skellig Michael.
The Opening Reception takes place on 26 October 2023, 5:00pm in our Exhibition Space, Ground Floor of the Boole Library,
The exhibition runs from 26 October through 21 December, open to the public every day from 7:30am to 1:30am
The silhouette of Skellig Michael holds a mystical fascination for many of us. It has been a pilgrimage destination long before the release of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens in 2015. John Minihan has photographed on and around Skellig Michael since the 1990s and as the monks before him, who populated the island beginning in the 6th Century, Minihan has sought solitude and peace on this secluded land.
In the photographer’s words: “Skellig Michael was the perfect assignment for me and my Rolleiflex Camera, loaded with black and white film. There’s a spiritual presence that fills me with peace and hope.”
Accompanied by poet Paddy Bushe Minihan photographed Skellig Michael extensively and repeatedly, capturing it’s natural and manmade beauty. Bushe writes:
I tell you the thing does not belong to any world that you and I have lived and worked in: it is part of our dream world. (George Bernard Shaw, in a letter dated 18th September 1910)
Silex Sancti Michaelis, as it is termed in a medieval text from Germany, is a place of liminality, of betweenness. What Shaw further characterised as “the most fantastic and impossible rock in the world” is at once intensely material and intensely spiritual. Its aspiration towards the eternal could be realised only through visionary but practical engineering, and long and arduous physical work by the monks. It is the best preserved early Christian site in Europe, but its historical record is meagre: three or four annalistic references, five or six names. Yet its presence in folklore, literature, travel writing, music and visual art is longstanding and insistent, both in Ireland and Europe.
John Minihan’s photographs artistically capture this intersection of the physical and the spiritual. The hardship and backbreaking work of the monks blossoms into stone cells, crosses, stairways and oratories. I know, from accompanying John on his visits there, how much the stony yet ethereal beauty of Sceilg Mhichíl impressed him, and spoke to his own sense of a spiritual world. A photographer perhaps more usually associated with urban and social settings, his pictures in this exhibition are a fascinating and valuable addition to the artistic heritage of Skellig Michael, and a testament to its continuing importance to us.
UCC Library proudly houses the collection and archive of John Minihan’s oeuvre. The collection is comprised of more than 30,000 original photographic negatives and prints, featuring iconic images of Samuel Beckett, Seamus Heaney, Francis Bacon, Edna O’Brien and many other literary and cultural figures–from Jimi Hendrix or The Who, to Lady Diana Spencer.
Born in Dublin in 1946 Minihan spent his early career in London and became an apprentice photographer with the Daily Mail. At 21 he became the youngest staff photographer for the Evening Standard. Minihan's work has been exhibited in many exhibitions in museums and galleries around the world.
In 2022 Cork University Press published The book of the Skelligs edited by John Crowley and John Sheehan.