Written by Silvia Dember
Photography by Gillian Hyland
Globally renown Irish photographer Gillian Hyland stages highly stylized snapshots that voice psychologically compelling narratives. Bridging the realms of visual and written culture, Hyland’s photographs are based on her own poems, written over the past decade.
In her first self-published book, Words in Sight, Hyland will showcase her photographs alongside the poems that inspired them. Following in the contemporary wave of self-publishing, Hyland has launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund her new book. It aims to raise £12,500 by 30 October, offering donors rewards for different levels of support.
Exploring instances of emotional distress and isolation, Hyland’s collection plays with notions of nostalgia to capture, in words and images alike, emotionally charged human dramas.
Words in Sight as a collection, displays stark colour contrast and saturation as well as theatrical mise-en-scènes. These are the result of the meticulous shot composition that is characteristic of Hyland’s work. Her early career as stylist and set designer clearly transpires through her attention to colour and setting. The composition of each individual shot, which may have taken up to three weeks to finalise, speaks to a larger narrative within a single moment. It is the very striking attention to detail that creates powerful symbolic imagery. Often alluding to complex domestic relationships, her work interrogates understandings of gender and vulnerability.
Aesthetically, verse and visual imagery come together to create a complex yet cohesive tale. The terse and poignant rhyming verses mirrors the brevity of the moments they describe; ephemeral, they are fragments frozen in time, suggestive of deeper and often darker truths. Aesthetically, their succinct yet rhetorically rich quality echo the nature of the photographs as mere glimpses into hidden worlds. The poetic style also speaks to Hyland’s interest in art and artifice, in carefully constructed facades and fragile, repressed interiorities.
Amongst Hyland’s most popular images are those resulting from her extensive travels in Cuba in 2016. Her work The Road Less Travelled, featured in Words in Sight, won the Sony Portrait Prize for Ireland. Hyland’s book is in fact as much an exploration of travel and voyeurism as it is one of human bonds. Moving through multiple locations, she delves into cultural and societal tropes, challenging preconceived notions through gripping emotional appeals.