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Linda Brownlee's Achill Island

Opening at AA Gallery tomorrow, the photographer presents her new book and exhibition of photographs shot across the secluded island off Ireland's coast

Achill is a naturally secluded island off Ireland's west coast, the kind of place where the last shards of land become lost to a receding skyline. Having spent 13 summers there as a family holiday destination, Linda Brownlee returned for the fourteenth time as a photographer, rather than a tourist. The artifacts of her photographic exploration are shown in a new exhibition which opened on Satuday November 20 at AA Gallery. Having shot fashion stories for Dazed & Confused, Dazed Japan and Vogue Russia, Achill falls under what she calls 'personal projects". The series is an oeuvre of youth and a portrait of place: locals scattered around their landscapes, teenagers ambling along their adolescence one hazy summer. The accompanying publication, designed by graphic artist Wayne Daly, is published by EightyOne Books, London.

Dazed Digital: What sparked your interest in photography?
Linda Brownlee: It could have been a royal blue plastic kodak camera on a school tour on a farm when I was eight.  I've always been into recording stuff I love or things I’m curious about. I used to draw and paint a lot growing up, then I studied radio at university, and somewhere quite late along the way, I discovered photography was a brilliant excuse to get to know more about something or some-one.

DD: Why did you choose to focus on teenagers for this series?
Linda Brownlee: Adolescence is a crazy old time and it’s a particularly interesting time for these kids on the island as they are at a real turning point in their lives. I wondered how Achill looked from their point of view, how they all felt about growing up on the island, how they related to the place and to their landscape.

DD: You've been going to Achill every year for 15 years,  this series only represents three trips over two years, what was your favourite summer there? Are there any moments you remember that you wish you captured on film?
Linda Brownlee: My favourite summer was probably my first summer when I was 16, I had zero expectations about Achill, I was madly impressed by the landscape, and there was a ‘cool’ little scene of teenagers my age who would go there on holiday every year and who were all snogging the heads off each other. I’d love to have started this project then! 

DD: The Darryl shoot you did for Dazed was in the snow and 'Achill' is in the heat, also both are portraits but the background is a big part of the frame; does weather / the elements form an important part of your work?  
Linda Brownlee: Yes very much so, the background is usually pretty vital to me. I'm always interested in people's environments, how they relate to it, and what it communicates.  The weather on achill over the three trips was key to the feel of the images, the crazy weather and drama of the weather it's what drew me to concept of achill project in the first place. The sky would spill rain and blow gale force winds one day and be bright blue & sunny the next. I loved shooting on the more overcast days when the light was moody and the wind did interesting things with the teenagers clothes and hair. With the Darryl shoot the idea was to shoot him in his home, the massive snowfall was just brilliant timing, although we nearly didn't make it to Manchester as a result, and Darryl's dad's car got stuck in the snow when we were driving about.

DD: What was the idea behind your shoot 'Darryl' for Dazed?  
Linda Brownlee: The idea was to document something of Darryl’s real home life through a series of relaxed portraits in and around his house and neighbourhood. We went to Manchester with very open minds, and wanted to keep things very spontaneous on the day. Celestine’s styling was intended to reflect Darryl’s own style.  I always hope something special that I can’t plan will happen on the day of a shoot, and in Darryls case, it was definitely himself and his family’s unbelievably warm welcome.  They were so enthusiasitc.  Darryl’s dad was chauffeur, entertainer and chief toast and tea maker for the entire day, and his little sister didn’t leave his side for the entire shoot.

DD: What is your favourite photograph?
Linda Brownlee: It changes all the time, but today it's Robert Voit's New Trees Series.  I saw a couple of them at Paris Photo this weekend, he has photographed mobile phone antenna masts camouflaged as trees, made out of steel, fibreglass and plastic.  I didn’t know they existed, they’re brilliant and quite bizarre.

DD: Plans for the future?
Linda Brownlee: I’m organising bringing the Achill exhibition to Ireland in the spring, and planning a trip to Columbia for the month of January which I’m extremely excited about, and I haven’t really thought past that!

'Achill' runs at the AA Gallery until the December 15, 2010. Architectural Association (AA) School of Architecture, 36 Bedford Square, London WC1B 3ES