Overview of Summer 2016: Life at Kylemore Abbey

Summer of 2016:

I spent three months this summer living at Kylemore Abbey, an active Benedictine Monastery and the site of the new Notre Dame Centre that serves as an extension of their Global Gateway in Dublin. Situated in the heart of Connemara region, I found myself in the midst of contemplative life that was emphasized by the mountain range, known as the 12 Bens, that surrounds the Abbey on all sides. Landscape-wise this atmosphere was a dream to photograph and I found myself constantly running around trying to capture the looming yet quickly moving cloud covers and setting up time lapses to show how sudden and rather extreme the weather often became in this region. My main purpose for being at Kylemore was less about the external beauty of this castle, however, and more about the internal beauty of the various layers of rooms and passages in various states of renovation or sheer disrepair. In these beautifully aging rooms were my subjects– the Benedictine nuns at Kylemore Abbey. My thesis work, which I began there this summer, is compilation of photos documenting the life and work of the eight Benedictine nuns that reside at Kylemore. Their mantra, Ora et Labora, meaning "pray and work" was a very important saying that I try to reflect within my photos. I shadowed them on their daily routines– be it working in the chocolate factory or soapery, or inspecting different aspects of the building needing repairs, administrative work, and participating in their hours of prayer (morning prayer, noon mass, and evening vespers). This was a truly magical  experience and I am beyond grateful that the Benedictine community were opening to sharing their lives and work with me this summer. The essence of maternity and love is palpable at Kylemore Abbey and not something I will easily forget.

Though I left Kylemore at the end of the summer with hundreds and hundreds of photos to sort through, my thesis was far from feeling finished, and often times I feel as though I left after the three months having not accomplished establishing a consistent and steady relationship with the nuns that allowed me to capture intimate moments more freely because of their comfort with my and my camera's presence. My internship through the Notre Dame Centre was equally as rewarding as my own thesis endeavors, but often times left me more busy than I had expected... well, left ALL of the Notre Dame Centre at Kylemore staff more busy than any of us had expected given this was the very first summer of its operation and we typically had a full house nearly every week. Many kinks and missteps were worked out in the process but this Centre was certainly a labor of love. With all of this being said, I am happy to have been given permission from head Abbess Mother Maire to return this winter to photograph them as a volunteer for the Benedictine community. This means that my interactions with them will not be limited by the rigor and scheduling of the Notre Dame Centre and will allow me to have complete access to their daily live as I will quite literally be working, eating, and praying along side them as their volunteer. I am very excited and honored they feel comfortable allowing me into their homes like this and I look forward to continuing my friendships with each and every one of them. This will also be important because it will also allow me to gain insight into their lives at the farm–where the majority of them reside just down the road from the Abbey. Meals are very important to Benedictine life so it will be an equally educational and spiritual experience to be apart of.

As winter break nears I will continue to sort out and select crucial photos that will be highlighted in my final exhibition, be it in the book or framed and hung on the wall, as well as analyze important texts–such as literature and poetry by important Irish, Female, or Religious literary figures that I have gathered to reflect upon my experience– and the interviews I conducted with many of the sisters. My hope is that by winter break I will have sorted and determined the layers of images I will use, which will be featured in the book and which will be framed and hung, and where my biggest gaps are that I feel I will focus on capturing when I return to Kylemore in late December.

Sacred Heart Statue