I arranged with JP on the phone that I’d call up on Tuesday. Called into him two days earlier and he was glued to the TV watching the rugby (Ireland V. Scotland). The TV was so loud and he engrossed in it that I took my leave. Tuesday at 2pm I called up again, and the TV was on again, turned up so much that he didn’t hear me come in. He was at the cooker making dinner and seemed glad to see me. As I couldn’t really hear him, I turned the TV off. He was asking me if I wanted some food, saying how good the tinned salmon was that he was having, because it was wild. He never took any slop when it came to food; he would always peel the skin away from sausages. ‘Rotten’ he called it. He was making salmon, spuds and a sort of pork gravy and carrots. It looked and sounded very strange but on eating it, turned out to be actually lovely. During dinner I recorded our conversation, which was mostly around his pack of wild cats getting it on in the back garden. After dinner I set up my light. The shot was a retake from the last one only I wanted a spotlight shot of him with the cable release and the empty room without him in it. This was my third visit photographing JP. The more I do with the spotlight the more I like it. I love the vigenetting around the edges – shadows and darkness have their own connotations. The polaroid back screwed up all my polaroids. The very last shot we done, he made a joke, perched on the table, before he pressed the cable release and was grinning as he took it. He winked at me with that smile on his face, after the flash had fired and said “That’s the one!”. After I pulled the equipment down, I had tea with him – some queen cakes and a small kitkat. I’m probably finished photographing JP now. I brought him the latest photo of him in his waistcoat. He loved it.
I have this photo hanging in my house now, in the spare room. He beams smiles at anyone who walks in. The funny thing about that shoot was the one he called ‘the one’ really was the one. I don’t get to see him very much anymore as I don’t get to Donegal as much as I would like. I called in very briefly on New Year’s Eve to say hello before I hit the roads back to Dublin, getting ahead of the snow. Attempting to replace a bulb on a stepladder a few months earlier, he had a fall. Ever since then, he has been in and out of hospital and his health hasn’t been great. A relative was there with him getting his medication together. His reply to my question of how he was doing had his usual jokey answer. “I’m fucked” he said with a bit of a smile, straightening himself up a bit, but in it, for the first time, I think I saw resignation in his eyes. He’s 96 going on 97.
In the making of Wearing Purple, the relationships that I have reconnected from my childhood have been the best bit of that whole process. Meeting and really getting to know JP again for example, who lives just a few doors up from me, was almost a blessing. You encounter people like that in your life and they inspire you. His positive and outward looking life is something we can all aspire to have as we grow old, something that can inspire others, something that says ‘growing old is OK’.