Spirits in the sky over Northern Ireland, in photos

Belfast photographer Stephen ST Bradley looks to the heavens for a dash of ‘magic’

Stephen S. T. Bradley
Friday 14 December 2018 19:23
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‘Silent’: a jet plane flying through a dramatic cloud formation high above Newtownabbey, Co Antrim
‘Silent’: a jet plane flying through a dramatic cloud formation high above Newtownabbey, Co Antrim

Inspired by the moody skies of painter JMW Turner, photographer Stephen ST Bradley has captured a world of grandeur and scale, depicting spirits that guard, hunt and play against dark and brooding blue blackness where cloud, light and vapour are backdrops in an ethereal otherworld.

Interspersed with imagery of mankind’s engagement with the skies, as aeroplanes and their jet streams cut through or become subsumed by this expansive brooding world, Bradley’s imagery enables us all to see nature through a new set of eyes.

Drawn to dramatic intensity, Stephen began his journey when introduced to the surreal and intricate paintings of Salvador Dali, during a visit the Dali Museum in St Petersburg, Florida.

But it was only after experiencing the Mike Leigh movie Mr Turner that a seed was planted deep in this Irishman’s psyche that germinated with his discovery (both planned and organic) of the drama and lifeforms in the skies above his Northern Irish homeland.

After living and working in Atlanta, Georgia, as a lifestyle photographer for advertising, design, editorial and corporate clients, and where sunshine on an almost daily basis was a given, returning home to Belfast reminded Bradley that exterior photography in Northern Ireland can be a bit of a lottery – it’s not unusual to experience the four seasons in one day.

Realising that living under inconsistent weather has its advantages, when it comes to photographing the skies, the depression began to lift. Here’s how the man himself explains it.

Nature shows me the way

“I find it invigorating that interesting cloud and light patterns can occur at any time, meaning I react to that presented to me by nature (natural and man made), rather than sitting at pre-planned locations and waiting for the sky to stimulate me.

“My fine art prints do not reflect what I see, but are my interpretation of it. After bringing the raw digital images into my MacBook, the magic happens.

“As I’m not a chocolate box photo kinda guy, I go for contrast and drama within that work.

“Bringing each one to life allows me to time travel back to my early twenties when I watched in anticipation as my first black and white prints came to life in the developing dish in the darkroom at Belfast College of Art.

“As I continue on this exciting creative adventure, I find myself moving from creating images that are obviously landscape to imagery that is more abstract, allowing the viewer to make their own interpretations and connections with my skyscapes.

‘Miniscule’: an aeroplane and its vapour trail are dwarfed by the beauty and grandeur of nature. Newtownabbey, Co Antrim

“Nature often offers its beauty to me at unexpected times. It can happen when I’m sitting having coffee in my back yard, driving in Belfast where I live, on holiday, travelling through the Northern Ireland countryside, or when socialising with friends. It’s not so good for those with me at the time, when I see something in the sky that I must photograph and race for my camera and to the spot to take the best images – where I can get lost in my image-making for much too long.

“Three years ago I went an a day trip to the north coast of County Antrim with some amateur photographer friends. While my friends were photographing the countryside with expensive Nikon and Canon cameras, I decided to test my creative mettle using the camera in an old iPhone 3GS. An image created during this trip is now in the Manhattan apartment of art collector and movie producer Carrie Comerford.

“While the first of my skyscapes were close in style to the sky paintings of Turner, my instincts drove me to develop my art to a simpler form, where shape, direction and tone drive the creative process, resulting in fine art photographs that allow the eye to follow. While I could have jumped on nudes, people or landscapes as an art-related subject matter, I was drawn organically to the skies because they present a beauty that connects with the emotions on a deeper, almost primordial level.

“Because I get easily bored, I needed to work on something that would allow me to create strong and dramatic imagery in a style I haven’t seen before. A style depicting fascinating worlds and journeys that connect me with my audience on multiple levels.”

Stephen ST Bradley’s images can be seen on his website stephenstbradley.com

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