Fergus Bourke (July 31st 1934 - October 8th 2004) has been regarded for over forty years as Ireland’s greatest photographer. Born in County Wicklow, south of Dublin, he heard the artist’s calling early in life. Using his eyes as his camera he would create images by closing his eyes and freezing the moment in time for a few seconds. He would later say that he had been a photographer long before he ever held his first camera.
Throughout the sixties he walked the streets of Dublin capturing that essential moment, a student of the work of masters of the craft such as Henri Cartier-Bresson. Then, following his heart and on the advice of the great photojournalist Andre Kertesz, Fergus brought some of his work to the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In 1966 seven of his photographs were accepted for their permanent collection, dramatic streetscenes of a Dublin that no longer exists.
He then spent some years perfecting his knowledge of the art of theatre photography, working for many Dublin theaters including the Abbey, Ireland’s National Theatre. Continually looking for new avenues for expression, his portrait work in the early 1980’s with the Sunday Tribune newspaper led to a major exhibition and book of two and three person portraits titled “Kindred”. Working in the natural light of a back yard studio, he chose not to pose his subjects, but let their familial or personal connection become known through their body language as they arranged themselves.
It had long been his dream to move to the West of Ireland. This was realized when he was asked to join Aosdána, an association of people in Ireland who have achieved distinction in the Arts. Fergus was the first photographer to be inducted into this elite group whose membership is limited to 250. Artists of every discipline are involved and they receive a stipend which enables them to concentrate on their work full time. This was all the motivation he needed. Having begun to take journeys into the Wicklow mountains west of Dublin to take landscape photographs, he would now hike the hills and mountains of Connemara, a particularly rugged and beautiful part of Ireland’s magical West and record the land that he felt such an inseparable connection to.
In August of 2003 Fergus put on a major exhibition, a 40 year retrospective entitled "Eye, Hand and Heart, Photographs 1963 - 2003" at the Gallery of Photography in Dublin's Temple Bar. Soon after, he was diagnosed with leukemia which took his life after a short period of illness. But it is Connemara where he left us, and where he described through photography his vision of the reciprocity of light & shadow created by the skies that are so prominent in the images that he created there and showing us through eye, hand and heart his love of the land that he was a part of.