June Butler takes a snapshot of Ciara Nic Chormaic’s exploration of fashion photography as an artform through the work of internationally renowned photographer Perry Ogden.
In 2005, Perry Ogden, by then a renowned photo journalist and fashion photographer, directed Pavee Lackeen, a humorous and at times harrowing tale of the Traveller Maughan family. Initially, Ogden had decided he was going to concentrate on Patrick Maughan, one of the offspring of Rosie Maughan, the family matriarch. Perry had encountered Paddy Maughan through the children’s courts. However, Ogden chose to switch his attention to ten-year-old Winnie Maughan whom he described as an ‘old soul’. The film won plaudits around the world and young Winnie was nominated for Best Actress in a Feature Film at the Irish Film and Television Awards from that same year.
The tables were turned in 2019, and Perry Ogden became the focus of a documentary based on his life’s work. Directed by Ciara Nic Chormaic, Skin and Soul narrates the trajectory of Ogden’s teenage years, when he first decided that photography would be his chosen profession, onwards and up to the present day.
Born in Shropshire, 1961, Perry Ogden grew up in London and moved to Dublin in 1985. He attended Eton College and during his final year published one single edition of a college magazine titled Lipstick. Incredibly, Ogden managed to obtain interviews with Diana Vreeland (described as faultlessly generous). Vreeland offered to intercede on Ogden’s behalf in seeking an interview with Andy Warhol. Warhol said yes. So did Marie Helvin, David Bailey, and Joe Strummer. There is an early image of Joe Strummer with arms crossed, looking tense, standing on Edgeware Road in London – the image was taken in the weeks leading up to the making of London Calling, widely tipped as one of the greatest albums ever recorded. For most, this would be the pinnacle of their life’s work. For Ogden, it was simply accepted as another day closer to fulfilling his dreams.
In 1999, having spent two years taking photographs in Smithfield horse market, Perry Ogden published a book of photos titled Pony Kids. This book was behind his interest in Traveller culture and prompted the film Pavee Lackeen. Later, two brothers, boxers Paddy and Liam Doran who were from a Traveller family living in Celbridge, modelled for a number of fashion shoots. Ogden subsequently used these images in his book Paddy and Liam (2018).
Ogden is magnanimous in his approach to others – grateful and unstinting in praise for those who supported him along the way – business-like and direct when the job needs to be done. He is a naturally gifted photographer, as remarked on by the many models and stars who clamour to work with him, and has an expert eye for knowing what will entice curiosity and make viewers want to know more of the story behind what they see. Ogden sees Connemara as a perfect back-drop to his work, enjoying an artistic landscape produced by the scenery that is both raw and sensually charged. He considers the coastal Atlantic akin to his studio and once shot a series of photographs for Elle magazine in the mid-nineties with Helena Christiansen as a circus girl. Ogden is also clever enough to know that the narrative behind the photographs is whatever the watcher wishes it to be – his special skill is persuading the viewer to invest in their own unique, panoramic zeitgeist.
Ciara Nic Chormaic has done an astounding job in gaining such insight into Perry Ogden and this beautiful and enlightening documentary does a terrific job of capturing Ogden’s immense talent – a mantle he wears lightly and humbly. He gives the impression of merely chancing upon his career when it would be fitting to conclude the opposite. Albert Einstein once said “the secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.” Ogden makes little attempt to hide his sources, rather he freely gives advice and help, which makes his determined kindness all the more remarkable.
Ogden is no stranger to his metier and is adept at producing transcendent stills of mystical beauty – fearless in the pursuit of images that pique and challenge, Perry manages to bestow his aesthetic with an ease that belies a level of understated virtuosity. He brings to mind the image of a swan – upward, majestic, and elegant – yet beneath are the creature’s webbed feet, peddling furiously and diligently, propelling the swan forward into a kaleidoscopic aspect of serene beauty. Ogden’s talents are a metaphor for excellence – real genius is when one person can make quiet determination appear painless and unproblematic. Rendering sublime into straightforward requires immense skills, of which Ogden has mastered every single one.
Skin + Soul screened on 3rd March as part of the 2020 Dublin International Film Festival.