Wren Boy – Andrew Nuding

Posted 3 months ago in Arts & Culture Features

Andrew Nuding is drawn home to our landscapes, folklores and traditions.

“These festivals are like theatre shows with set designs, when I show the work to people in the fashion industry, they are like ‘who did the set?’ and it’s like some local primary school’s work on the back of a tractor.”

Photographer Andrew Nuding is reflecting on his photobook – Hunting the Wren – one which reflects and is inspired by two great Kerry traditions, namely Puck Fair held in Killorglin every August and the Wren pageant which occurs on St Stephen’s Day.

Both traditions are unbroken in living memory and are incredibly important to their own communities,” writes Aoife Granville, UCC lecturer in Folklore, in her introduction.

“Four rival Wren groups parade around the town… Each group has a band of musicians, strawboys, hobby horse, its own respective colours as well as enthusiastic followers and dancers. The tradition developed around a wren bird being hunted but in living memory, the bird has not been hunted in Kerry. Money is collected for local charities during the festival and much roguery and fun abounds throughout the town. They say in Dingle there are two seasons: six months before the Wren and six months after the Wren and many of the participants in the tradition today are 5th/6th generation Wren members, all healthily obsessed with the tradition.”

A Fine Arts graduate of NCAD, Nuding was quick off the mark gaining attention and acclaim for his work even before graduation. I remember him doing a cover for Le Cool, an online zine I previously worked on. I still have the issue in my inbox – edition 251 from November 2014 – and it includes a pull quote from his collaboration with stylist Kieran Kilgannon, “Do some research, grab some clothes and go up a mountain or something.” When I remind him of it, he laughs how, “it hasn’t really changed”. Of course, he may well have some additional assistance for that mountain climb now.

“My concepts have stayed the same but you need a certain level of production when you work with somebody who isn’t your best friend or sister,” he says on a Zoom from Paris where he is attending Paris Photo, the renowned annual art fair dedicated to photography, the hustle where you look for the next rung up in your career.

Nuding split to London after college and has resided there for the last eight years but is finding himself edging closer to Paris where more fashion related work emerges from. However, it’s his homeland which is most frequently cast as the backdrop to his ideas.

“l love living in London but I don’t find it that inspiring in terms of the landscape of it. I always seem to end up shooting in Ireland. Even subconsciously I am drawn to it when pitching ideas – locations are fresh and the people incredible.”

One such example is work for The Travel Almanac which came about after meeting its fashion director in New York. “I was telling her about a story I wanted to do about oyster farm near my granny’s house in Cromane, having garments inspired by oysters and seaweed. It’s a place I’d never seen photographed in a fashion way.

Nuding has worked with Irish designers such as Simone Rocha and Róisín Pearce, two designers who remain finely attuned to their homeland in terms of their work and their shows. He’s just after shooting campaign imagery for Michael Stewart’s new collection.

Circling back to his festival work, Nuding considers the process. He ended up attending Puck, which was an annual tradition for his family, and the Wren over a number of years. He made some connections over time and got to a point where he would request things such as, “I really want a picture of the girl that is marrying the goat.”

“When I looked back at what I shot and started laying it out, I realised there were things I was missing. I started wondering how I was going to add my own take on it. That’s when the idea to stage aspects of the festivals in a studio came about. I worked with Kieran and a set designer to create images I couldn’t capture at the festival. We cast a girl for the role of the Queen. When you are staging you have control.”

His Wren project came after Making Strange back in 2019, one which ended up with him being a finalist in the Hyères International Festival of Fashion and Photography (2019). He describes it as, “a series about staging things, turning the everyday into the unfamiliar”. When we featured him in our In the Frame section, he referenced, “a McDonald’s paper bag becomes a vase, jumpers become hats; tights immerse shoes and jackets forge monolithic mounds.” This became another personal calling card to stand out in the competitive sphere he works within.

When it comes to the editorial game, Nuding is under no illusion about the realities. “Budgets are being slashed with less being put into print publication…I see editorials as marketing, it gives you visibility, that is what the clients look at which might lead to that crazy day fee. You have to invest but need to be smart about what you invest in.” This in turn is counterbalanced by the work which may not make the Grid but sustains his career and independence. “If I shoot something for say an insurance company it’s not necessarily the work I want to be doing but I am grateful for it because it funds the passion projects.”

Long may the passion and those projects borne out of it continue.

Words: Michael McDermott


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