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WELCOME TO THE LEARNING TO FLY BLOG JOURNAL - A DIARY OF INFORMATION, CRAIC, RAMBLINGS, TALES, JOY
Join us on a magical retreat on the north coast of Donegal. We gather as a community to listen and share, laugh and cry, forge new bonds and relight old unions. Our educators are amongst Ireland and Europe’s favourite wedding photographers, they are also part of the community, spend as much time making tea and singing as they do on stage talking and advising. The combined energy of our group heals and enlightens. We talk late into the night, debates and discussions bring new trains of thought, provide antidote to the hardships of modern day business . Laughter is great medicine; we offer craic, the occasional local brew, music and laughter into the night. Early morning sunrise might take us into the wild Atlantic to invigorate the body. We dine together, eat healthy alternative foods as well as good soulful Irish breakfasts.
Learning to Fly was born in 2015 and each autumn hosts positive, creative minds in a cool coastal environment. Learning to Fly offers benefits for business, craft, body and mind...
Learning to Fly is...
"Freedom for the creative mind and a welcome kick up the backside" - Gemma Gilfillan
"A hurricane blast of fresh air through your brain" - Fiona Jamieson
"A space to share creativity and make new friends" - Aoife O'Sullivan
"Good for the soul." - Paula Donnelly
MY FAMILY ... AS PHOTOGRAPHED BY MY HEROES
Learning to Fly is my side project, and it is a project, much more than a business. If it was a business then I'd be all over marketing, sales and growth, so no, it's more of a project. I love it with all my heart - it is the highlight of my photographic year, I yearn for it throughout the summer. When October comes I feel like I felt during those days running up to Xmases in the 1980s. When I see folk arriving in the wee coastal village of Culdaff my heart sings a merry tune. I have met some of the friends I'll keep dear for the rest of my life, had some of the experiences that will make up the story of my life and many, many great adventures involving great people.
We are all on this planet for a reason, we all have ideals and values unique to us. If you don't know what or why right now, you will, our journeys of self-discovery and ongoing, each day, each year is a journey towards our destinies. Learning to Fly has helped me massively on this journey. My soul is nourished, my mind educated, my heart full.
The people we spend time with during our lives are critical to our well-being and happiness. How lucky am I, that's my question every year when I leave Culdaff and make back to the real world. Indeed how lucky am I to have spent time with my photographic heroes. 3 that have helped shaped me more than any others than I have ever met, (I still have to get Brendan Landy up this length) are Paula O'Hara, Dave McClelland and Shane O'Neill. Having shared some unforgettable experiences with these photographers gives me gratitude beyond words. To have had my family photographed by them makes me just the luckiest man ...
My family - as photographed by my heroes
THE BIG FRAME TOUR - Notes from the Road...20 COUNTIES DOWN, 12 TO GO...
The Learning to Fly 'big frame tour chapter 2' came to a halt last night as I dragged my carcass over the finish line in Muff about 1am. 800 miles on the clock, 3 days driving, living, sleeping, washing, laughing, writing a lot and talking to myself in the van - many, many great conversations and cups of tea with friends from down the years and some new cats along the way, my soul was filled with joy and energy for life. I gasped out loud as I walk down a wee path in Co. Clare and witnessed the cliffs of Moher with my own eyes. I had a conversation, massive laugh and a hearty handshake with a 90 year man in a shop in Co. Kerry, I cried twice, laughed sore many times more, I shot a wedding with my photographic and personal hero Shane O'Neill yesterday - after 72 hours living like a nomad in a van - Dave sponsored me a shirt, a shower and a bellyful of scrambled eggs to keep me upright...walking into a full wedding venue to shoot people I had never met was just the most surreal experience of my working life - 'I seriously hope I don't smell'. .
Along the highway I brainstormed and learned to love once again the 'awards workshop' that had been weighing on my mind for the past 3 months - I am energised for this, we have some cooool partners and ideas, it will be such a novel meeting; education, inspiration, group chat, food, coffee roasters, juicers, my ma's scones in abundance, Muff gin, yoga, the Female Photographers network.... I pray I'll see your smiling faces there - 50 tickets sold, 40 left to shift. It will be good, really good, if I survive it I will either never do it again or build it into the greatest photographic project I'll ever do. .
So many folk asked me on the road what and why was I on this insane journey. The reasons are many - it felt like the right thing to do, it felt like the kind of thing I would do if I stopped giving a fuck and stopped looking at what everyone else was doing. I undertook a big personal project on the road too, and met many non-photographer friends on the road, skateboarded in every county I visited, and will one day say to my grandkids 'aye, I've been in every county in Ireland'. I think success is great, but I know deep that even a smaller amount of success that is a product of something that is unique to you, that only you could endeavour is true success. In a world of digital connectedness I feel a serious air of disconnect among the human race - I see the luxury that is a real face to face conversation over a kitchen table and a long lingering hug. One of my personal goals in life is to give as little of my life to social media - to leave the phone down, to keep the eyes looking at the sky, tasting life in real time....no matter what the business world is suggesting, hows about this - 90% of my followers are photographers, yet only about 3% of my income comes in from other photographers. I'll dip into fb and insta for 5 minutes a day just to maintain visibility and relevancy though, I'm self-aware enough to realise that the cynic and the countryman in me is usually very opinionated on such matters....and usually full of shit too. .
A few wee notes before I sweep up here and pull the shutters - have a wee juke on the blog for some photos from the road and updates on the awards
Ticket sales via : https://getinvited.to/jay-doherty-1517323583/learning-to-fly-awards-irish-wedding-photographer-of-the-year-ceremony-and-workshop/
There's a wee sign on my wall just above this computer, it reads 'live with intensity, live with integrity' - that's the fuel for the big frame tour and for almost everything I put my mind and pedal too in life...
THE BIG FRAME TOUR - notes from the road...
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ A welcome to Inishowen trip, for those travelling from all over the land and the UK to spend 3 days of education, inspiration and community union in our most beautiful part of Ireland. Fáilte go hInis Eoghain - seoid na tíre
I guess I could begin with an attention grabbing outburst like ‘social media is the root of all evil’, and although some days I feel like that I don’t hold that extreme a view. I use facebook and Instagram to spread the word on what I am bringing to this planet – it’s a grand tool, it has revolutionised how we market.
I’m a busy man, I have a photography business and a fledgling education project that require a consistent investment of my energy and time. I also have a pair of children, a cooler wife than I can believe and a respect and hunger for living. We adore the gifts of life on Earth, adventure, the hills and the coast, the woods, our many animals, flying down hills on wheels. Holding all this in some kind of balanced way has its difficulties. I could sell my family and human time for cash, I could milk my weekends and evenings shooting and marketing more, more.
A few years ago I took more wedding bookings than perhaps I realised, and I near drowned. The money was grand, the feeling was not as grand. I used to have to go to the pool alone and just float on my back trying to regain some kind of antidote to the constant onslaught. I was always dizzy. I spent an afternoon in the woods on my own sleeping in amongst the ferns – picture a grown man lying like a carcass in the depths of the woods fast asleep, drooling down his cheek – not pretty, and not that much fun. I couldn’t even find solace in sleep, my brain was running a full speed throughout the night. I once heard the word ‘the greatest thing I ever learned is that I know nothing’. I carry that with me, and I see lessons in daily life, I am open (albeit sometimes very slowly) to change and welcome new experiences where I can.
This said I declare openly, I have no answers, I am searching myself and trying to heal and implement where I can. Yesterday afternoon, around an energetic and social table of amazing food, drenched by a lush Irish sun we had a wee chat. Instagram, social media, the value of hugs and real human connection and favourite types of humus.
If you’ll permit a ramble here I’ll unleash my thoughts. I think many photographers, me in there too, are investing their good time on this earth bringing gifts to the gods of social media; swipe and clicking, answering the bleep whenever it should decide to summon. A girl announced that she heard we must now all reply to all our comments and engage in conversation with anyone that makes the effort to add a few words. 100 hashtags per daily post are simply not sufficient anymore, #bride, #instagood, #dress, #white, #hello, #pleaselikeme, #whendidmylifeturnintobathofhashtags.
In my eyes Instagram is like facebook on speed, it’s more addictive, less real, more depression inducing that its parent company ever was. We consume content at a shocking rate. I love the documentary photographers of the mid to late 20th century, yet all I can offer them of my attention is 2 seconds, then I’m back in gear and off to the next microgram on creative ingestion. I have a library full of Magnum photographers work behind me in this room right now, I ignore it. It’s insane, it’s…..insane.
I had a bit of a breakdown a few months back, I declared in public how tough I was finding balancing the real world that I adore, with the call of 4 social media accounts and that fear that had to be forever connected and ready to answer the call. I’m glad I did, for as embarassing as that was in retrospect I think it cleared the air, and gave me the energy to start afresh. I now check fb and Instagram about twice a day. I use later.com to update my Learning to Fly - at one stage I was running competitions, asking for tags and likes, using time I simply did not have. I am only one person, I value my mental wellbeing. I gave it up to an app that will help it to tick over, albeit in a diluted way, until such times as I have the balls to delete it or hire a professional to take care of my marketing. I am a small cottage industry, I like it that way, full control, only answerable to the edjit in the mirror, always willing and able to belch out spontaneous creations and madness without a seconds notice.
Learning to Fly, like my photography business will have to learn to fly with the energy that providing a great experience and offering a massive value to the people sign up – if that is not enough then I’ll sign out and walk away. You’ll find me at the roadside in Muff selling bags of turf with a big smile on my face. If there is a reason for these words I would hope it might stimulate a conversation, I’d love to hear your tale and advice, I’d love to try to help where I can. I hope Learning to Fly and the community it has fostered can help heal others as much as it has me. Do we need this masculine one-upmanship, do we need to be bowing to making daily offerings to gods of s.m ? Is it all just a heap of canned spam, come judgement day will the almighty land at your door with a lorryload of hashtags and say thanks but no thanks, will I lie on my deathbed and say ‘man I’m glad I got into the notion of hashtags and making conversation for the sake of feathering my own nest. Does quality still beat quantity ? Might we be better gathered around a table discussing projects and humus. Might we be better walking the earth with a single lens to practice our art and document our days and the folk we encounter in print. Does the 10,000 hours notion still apply ?
We are living in a great time of growth and creation in our craft – some of the photographers of our wee green land, in my mind, rank up there with the best on the planet. I adore my art, I enjoy the click and the energy between me and the folk I am photographing, I enjoy seeing a massive print making its way onto my wall. To have a creative idea, bring it to life and to see it through to the finish is my idea of nirvana. I think for the next few years I’ll keep walking that path, and you know what, I honestly doubt the world will crush my business because I have, for a large part, tuned out of the white noise of social media. Breathe, create, share, love, expand, contract…..
4 YEARS OF LEARNING TO FLY
Learning to Fly will be 4 years old this autumn. I taped a few memories together that you might enjoy and reminisce. I had a tiny, chance conversation with a girl at a workshop in Dublin 5 years ago, little did I know it was Paula O'Hara, little did I know that this would help change my whole future.
My hero Jim Rohn once said 'say yes to all new experiences, for you never know which one will turn everything on'. I live by this - charging forth into the unknown, tip toeing through every wee window of opportunity, saying hello to random folk on the street, nodding to any offer, allowing life and love in wherever possible, challenging yourself, walking towards real fear, leaning into the discomfort, using every single day as an opportunity for self-development and awareness.
Learning to Fly has given me the very best memories and feelings in my working and personal life, it has brought so many new friends in and led me down many enlightening paths. It has also taken me to places I'd rather not visit again, grim days of loneliness and frustration that I'd not wish to visit again - but as the mighty Savo said 'there is beauty in all emotions' and if we learn to understand them then they will be of great use. Furthmore, all our mistakes are a great education.
Thanks to you all, the believers, the folk that offered their good energy for this cause. Learning to Fly will never make me a rich man but it will forever bring me a warm soulful wealth that I will be forever grateful for. See you all soon...
4 years of Learning to Fly wedding photography retreat, Ireland
--------------------------What I know right now is Steven Rooney will be travelling across from Liverpool to walk amongst us, teach and inspire and blow our heads off with his magic wand, Paula O'Hara will grace us with her gentle ways and charm, Paul Mongan (of Moathill photography and RAW podcast) will set fire to our minds with hearty wit and acute intelligence and Michelle Prunty will take to the stage and share her journey and offer a guiding hand It has been a 3 year quest, and I believe in the real life-changing power of this retreat and the community that are involved - it is the best endeavour I have even been a part of, I am a better bein' for it. I welcome suggestions and ideas from you guys, we are open to new things and always trying to refine the recipe (speaking of which, the wife will be on frying pan duty too, mmmmm)
Steven Rooney will be riding his Raleigh Chopper all the way across from England to join us this autumn in Culdaff on Donegal most beautiful north-west coast. Steven was ranked number 1 UK Fearless photographer in 2017, he is too most highly adored and sought after teacher. The man is a wizard with light, with creative displays of photographic genius and fun...I cannot wait for this...
LEARNING TO FLY WEDDING PHOTOGRAPHY RETREAT 2017, Super 8 video...
“Now we rise and we are everywhere…”
The Learning to Fly 2017 project will now be referred to in the past tense, we have lived and loved it. A small community that once breathed photographic adventure and social union into a tiny village on the North West coast on Ireland has dispersed, leaving only echoes of what was. The words stream from my head onto the screen via my hands – there is no such writer’s block now, only a river of memories and gratitude flowing steadily.
I remember so much and will be reminded of more in the days to come; when the photos begin to emerge from the 4 corners of the land, when my roll of black and white film appears from the developing tank, when the stories begin to be retold. I am grateful for the times we got to spend together – old pals reunited, new friendships forged as we walked across the sands, sat in dark pub corners, ate around an open dining table. Grateful too for the help I received and the goodwill. Evelyn and Colette were the engine behind the whole ‘weekend’ –their work continued behind the scenes kept me focused and sane. The music flowed from the fingers and mouths of many involved, the composition offered by Peter can only be described as heroic, nothing less would serve justice, the musical corner on Tuesday night shared rhythms that were often haphazard and playful, with occasional blasts of genius in there. To those that came and ingested without holding back, to those that offered the hand and hug of friendship, those that cared for their neighbour, shared with their brother, the brave that felt the fear and continued.
To those that shared their photographic tales, your courage will serve to inspire. Our speakers, every one already my hero, I thank you – for the massive work and the raw honesty with which your stories were presented. Tomorrow I begin work on a bronze statue of Dave McClelland above Culdaff beach for he has surely touched all our lives more than he will ever know – imagine having him as your daddy – 2 lucky souls will know this feeling in just a few month’s time. Shane O’Neill was more than just a photographer, but a friend and a mentor for the entire journey. Truthful, kind, motivated, genial – a fellow polaroid lover, a photographer with deep roots. Paula O’Hara, I know only as a person whose simple words and ways can bring peace to the heart of us all. She is a professional of the highest esteem but a girl of true modesty, grounded and humble. There were none before and there will be none after – the seas rose and the skies danced at her command. To anyone that witnessed the dawn shoot with Collette, I hope you will carry this experience with you forever – for it was earth moving, those that stayed into the rainstorm felt the true essence of her very soul. It sent shivers up and down my spine. Our forever models Andy and Yasmin, our new friend Alise, who came ‘home’ to share her heart with us and take a bit of the green country home with her. My most beautiful wife and my energetic children, my healers and my reason.
This year’s retreat was difficult to organise, the stars often refused to align like in years before.There were so many peaks and troughs this early autumn that almost left me close to throwing in the towel, but there was always a voice within that said ‘keep breathing, keep believing’. What became was better than I could have ever wished. I make only a small amount of money from this project, and there are times that I wonder if I should revise the strategy, but for now I am fulfilled more ways than a full purse could bring. Those involved get well paid, the extra treats and bounties are plentiful, the local economy got a welcome out-of-season boost and my soul and my mind are in a very good place. I could possibly walk away from Learning to Fly now and feel complete, content, not proud – for it was the combined efforts and energy of all involved that made it what it was, not just me. I could close the book forever and sleep happy….but I do believe there are many more chapters to come. I will always be learning to fly.
So I thank you all again, my friends new and old, the unlikely heroes. I offer this toast to you : Here’s to the music makers and the dreamers of dreams, may your good energy flow forever, may your presence eternally bring nourishment and companionship to those whose paths you cross…
(self-portrait, Culdaff Beach, 24th October 2017, 4am)
Learning to Fly wedding photography education retreat, Culdaff, Donegal, Ireland - 22-23rd October 2017
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