‘I NEVER presumed that anyone else would find me interesting. What I do might be interesting, but I’m not interesting.’
One suspects that Dennis Horgan is being a bit modest. He has, after all, what some would consider to be an idyllic lifestyle combining his twin passions, flying and photography.
‘I like what I do. I’m a photographer specialising in aerial photography and I capture places from a totally different perspective, and some people seem to find that fascinating.
‘People don’t normally get to see places – like the old ring fort in Knockdroum – from above. But, when you are in the air, you can really see the story of its construction, and how it relates to its surroundings, and the landscape.
‘I’ve always felt that aerial photography was like the view you’d get if you were standing on the shoulders of a giant. The aircraft gives me the height of a giant. I get to look down, and, happily, I have been doing this for the last fifteen years.’
Dennis has always been into photography and he has always had a passion for airplanes. ‘I would cycle the seven miles to the airport in Cork when it opened in the 60s, and watch planes taking off and landing. I was just fascinated by it,’ he said.
‘It’s very hard to explain the fascination. There is no other form of transport that can take you out of your natural environment. With sailing, you are still connected to the earth, but when you are flying you are not, you are connected to nothing.
‘I remember the first time I was on a plane. My brother, Pat, won a holiday to Sardinia and he brought me along. He was 24 and I was 17. He must have been between girlfriends at the time. As for me, I didn’t even know what girls were at that age.
‘It wasn’t the best introduction to flying because we ran into the edge of a thunderstorm on the way back and there was a huge amount of turbulence and a lot of praying. I remember the plane was bouncing around the place, and there were duty free bottles flying up and down the aisle. Even so, I loved it.
‘I am not really interesting in flying. I don’t fly myself,’ said Dennis, who then corrected himself saying: ‘Well, I have had a few lessons.’ When he goes flying, it is in the company of a licensed pilot flying out of Cork airport, Weston in Dublin, or Farranfore in Kerry.
Dennis flies two, sometimes three, times a week but not all of it is in search of the enduring images that find their way into his best-selling books, “Cork – the view from Above” and “Dublin – The view from Above”. He also does commercial work for auctioneers, architects, local authorities and private industry, photographing properties and sites.
In the meantime, he is working on another book “Kerry – A view from Above”, and a fourth that he insists is ‘top secret’.
Dennis said the day job is demanding because ‘it is one of the few situations in photography where the photographer is moving and the subject is stationery.
‘When you see small planes and helicopters in flight, they give the impression that they are merely sailing across the sky but they are travelling quite quickly, sometimes at about 100 knots – 110 miles an hour.’
In Dennis’s case, the doors of the helicopter, or fixed-wing plane, have been removed pre-flight to allow him to capture images in an unobstructed way.
Over the last three months, he has been busy flying the West Cork coast, taking many pictures from which 25 images have been selected to feature in his new exhibition “West Cork from the Air”.
The exhibition, opened by Lord David Puttnam on July 28th, will run in the reception area of Skibbereen Town Hall until September. Admission is free, so locals and visitors alike will have plenty of time to see these incredible images of West Cork’s top landmarks.
Dennis is a native of Cork city, and his former job, selling commercial and residential property as well as livestock, meant he became one of the best-known auctioneers in the city.
‘It’s hard to describe the job,’ he said. ‘I loved selling from the rostrum. You would have great banter with the farmers. I also loved the sales at stately homes. The rough and tumble of the whole thing was interesting.
‘But the crash took the air out of everybody’s lungs. I saw pals of mine go down. One day they were very wealthy people, and the next week they had nothing – they actually owed money.
‘The only thing I have ever owned was my own home. I never dabbled in property. I remember the month that the property market crashed and a guy asking me if I’d bought a lot of property. When I told him I only owned my own home, he said: “You are one of the new rich.”
‘I remember what it was like when the boom was on. I didn’t borrow to buy. It wasn’t any wisdom on my part. I was simply afraid to borrow money. I just didn’t want to do it.
‘My income did go way down when the crash happened in 2007. As an auctioneer there was no business. But, if I am honest, I was nearly out of it before the crash because I was doing the flying then.’
Now in his mid-60s, Dennis is as busy as ever taking photographs on a commercial basis, but also for the love of it.
‘I am my own boss,’ he said. ‘It gives me massive flexibility, and the freedom to enjoy living in West Cork. I wouldn’t have it any other way.’