Water Towers of Ireland is a research project undertaken by Jamie Young and ongoing since June 2010. The project began with an urge to draw people closer to these objects which seem to permanently sit on the horizon, and it quickly grew into an obsession. Part inventory, part photographic essay and part history, the work now includes maps, anecdotes, drawings, polaroids, large prints and a series of exhibitions.
Exploring water towers through photography, the images of Bernd and Hilla Becher quickly come to mind. The Bechers’ studies of industrial typologies were strictly documentary in nature and were often exhibited by type, laid out in grids. Each piece of industrial architecture was photographed in black and white, in flat light and in isolation of its surroundings. This approach meant that similar forms of structure could be easily compared, while also leaving them devoid of their individual character.
Stepping away from the hard documentary style of the Bechers’ series, Young’s images look to give an emotive value to these objects, these erratics of our everyday landscape. His photographs convey their personalities and act as portraits, while accounting for a lack of uniformity in scale, surroundings and weather conditions.
Jamie became interested in water towers because of their form, singular use and roles as landmarks. While researching and cataloguing the towers, he also found that they could indicate a timeline in the history of the country – from the oldest water towers of railway stations, through the progression of concrete construction, and on to the need for larger reservoirs in recent times, when communities have simply outgrown their elevated supply. While these angles all helped to form a long inventory and map nearly two hundred towers, the most interesting route to discovery was through property websites. In this instance, the vital role of the water tower is stripped away and it now stands only as a landmark – “…and take the last exit to the left before the water tower”.
The work has culminated in a series of exhibitions in the past year; as part of the RHA’s Annual Exhibition, as a solo exhibition during PhotoIreland Festival 2012. What Young found through these exhibitions, is that once the images are placed in front of an audience they themselves start to notice and value the water towers they encounter. As well as contact from photographers doing similar work in other parts of the world, people often send photos of water towers from their travels. This has lead recently to the project’s new blog, which allows for more interaction and discussion on the work. It will also be, for each month of 2013, where Young will give away framed prints of work from the project. More details of this will be available on the blog in January.
The project is ongoing and currently seeking further funding to complete the research and ready the work for publication.