Gorgeous queer Irish photobook ‘INTIMATE’ to launch on June 29

‘INTIMATE’ is written and managed by Ella Bowler and designed and photographed by Aoife McGrath.

an portrait from INTIMATE, a queer photobook that explores people's intimate relationship with Dublin.
Image: via Aoife McGrath

‘INTIMATE’ is a queer photobook that aims to explore queer intimacy and to deconstruct objective queerness. 

I sat down with the minds behind the project, Ella Bowler and Aoife McGrath to talk about the creative process behind their upcoming photobook and how they brought their ideas to life. 

Ella is a writer creating space for the queer and gender subversive and Aoife is a photographer and graphic designer who is always seeking to evoke feelings of nostalgia and euphoria through art.

Before we get into it, I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed this conversation with Ella and Aoife. I was fascinated by the project and loved learning about how it came to be. They are both tremendously talented and it was an honour to talk to them so without further ado, let’s get started! 

So I’m curious to know, how did the idea come about for your ‘INTIMATE’ queer photobook?

Ella: It was an idea that I originally was supposed to do with one of my friends in 2020. I was in a place where I was surrounded by a lot of older creative people so I felt really behind. I was publishing a lot of things and interning in a lot of different places but in my mind, I needed to pursue a project like this. The concept was originally formed around people’s intimacy within Dublin so how they felt intimate and connected towards Dublin. I felt unethical about that at first because I’m not originally from Dublin but then I was thinking about it for a while and was like, What is something that is very inherently intimate towards me? And then I thought about, queerness and that’s how it came to be.  

Thinking back then, before, ‘INTIMATE’, I was not an openly queer person. I was definitely gay but, I didn’t like really celebrate queer culture or anything. I was very straight passing. Throughout the project, and throughout exploring, queer journalism, I got into queerness as a culture and exploring the otherness of queerness and queer identity.

Aoife, talk to me about why you wanted to be involved. What drew you in?

Aoife: Yeah, I mean, Ella came to me with this idea saying they needed someone to document it.  I’m very much based in photography. Film is what I focus on, as far as photography is concerned, and the majority of intimacy is based in film photography. It is special in the sense that it does capture the air of a moment and the essence of an individual which is hard to replicate digitally. It’s quite rewarding, I’d say, it’s probably the most rewarding project that I’ve been a part of, just because it did give me an opportunity to learn and to provide space for individuals in a place where it’s like, okay, this person isn’t a musician, they’re not a model, let’s sit down and talk to them about really intimate parts of their life, let’s give them space to look and feel and feel comfortable in themselves and to capture them authentically. 

I’m curious like what was the day to day process like while you were shooting for this, what did the daily routine entail?

Ella: It wasn’t day to day at all. Most people came to me because I did call outs for the queer photobook and then we ended up with nine people taking part and two of them were a couple. Three of them were people that I sourced because they were friends of mine, who wanted to be a part of it so, besides the people who were my friends, I brought out for a coffee or like a drink beforehand and I talked through the fact that we would maybe be talking about trauma or sex, and we talked through the concept of what type of shoot they wanted, because some of them wanted some sort of curation in the shoot where we needed to buy some props etc. 

For the first shoot we did, we set up a picnic in the Botanic Gardens, and we bought a heart shaped cake which was very fun. Those moments were really nice looking back on, because we had some really nice conversations with people and people were very open with us, which was super nice. We went to some really nice locations as well. The shoot wasn’t like day to day. It took a long time to get everyone to do the shoot and then just going to the locations and then doing the shoot and then in the background, taking photos etc. I would ask the questions and depending on how long people want to talk, that would depend on how long the shoot for the queer photobook was.

Aoife: Ella did a lot of the prep work and obviously, the call outs and things like that so then it made my job really easy. But it was interesting in a way that Ella was talking to each individual and they found a space for locating where they would want to shoot. We asked them to pick a space in Dublin, where they felt most intimate with themselves. So each shot is in a completely different place all over Dublin. A lot of it was tied to the interesting individuals that Ella got to connect with. People would choose a space or a concept and we’d go in, and Ella would give me a brief on what each individual was looking for. I feel like having someone in a space where they’re comfortable, really just allows them to relax and I do feel that they will feel as well that they are being truthfully represented in a place that mimics or is a part of them.


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A post shared by Aoife McGrath (@aoifemcgraath)

Was there a location or someone that you had a conversation with for the queer photobook that had a profound impact on you both? 

Aoife: Yeah. I think as far as shoots are concerned, probably one of my most memorable ones would be Lucy’s one. The idea behind the shot was that Lucy felt most herself in a room full of people. She felt that by being around other people she felt a solitude with her inner identity. We decided for the shoot that we were going to put her in the middle of Grafton Street, and then have this long exposure shot of everybody moving around her. And then as that progressed, we were like, okay, maybe this shot particularly isn’t working so we’ll go to Stephen’s Green and then Ella had this idea where they essentially just asked Lucy to dance in the middle of Stephen’s Green. So Ella plays their music, I think it was Lorde and then Lucy just started to dance. Stephen’s Green is full of people so we have these lovely shots. The original idea for the photos was that everybody else would be moving and look blurred but for the dancing shots, Lucy’s blurred. So it’s an opposite effect so you have both, which people will see in the magazine.

What can people expect from the launch night?

Ella: It’s going to be really nice. It’s going to be a celebration. It’ll take place at Hen’s Teeth Studio, the 29th of June, from 7 until 10pm. We’re going to have select photos from the queer photobook on display as well as having some smaller prints as well on display.  There will also be music from Rudy and Sarah Crean which is going to be really lovely. You can buy the photobook on the night. It’s going to be cash only, so 10 euro to buy it. Following the launch night, the photobook will be available to buy in the library project and then it’s going in the NCAD archives after that.

Is there anything you’re most looking forward to about the launch?

I’m excited if not terrified to have my photos, because again I’m someone who’s quite involved in photography circles in Dublin and I’ve been to exhibitions before. This is obviously in collaboration with Ella and is going to be my photos on a wall for people to look at and enjoy. It is a very full circle moment for me, I’ve known that I’m queer for a very, very long time and it’s been, for me, being a teenager, coming into myself, and then going back out of myself, and then coming back into where I am now, in a sense of, you know, comfortability but it’s going to be such a pleasure to showcase my photos because it’s not only that, but it is, you know, allowing other people to be seen as their authentic selves and in a place where, you know, they were vulnerable with us in turn and I think it’s time for us to be vulnerable too. I think it’s something, at least, that my younger self would definitely be proud of, for sure.

Thank you so much for your time Ella and Aoife! 

For more information about ‘INTIMATE’ and the launch night, be sure to check out Ella and Aoife’s instagram accounts. 

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