Two years ago, one of the brightest lights in our firmament was extinguished with an abruptness that left us gasping for air.
To a mother she was a devoted daughter. To two brothers, an only sister . To a lucky few, the best of friends and to many, whose path she enlightened with her vivacity, her wonderful and even wicked humour, and her irrepressible enthusiasm, she was simply Emer.
Though a bright star in a busy galaxy, Emer exuded her own gravitational pull. You drifted into her orbit, and too late we realised that only by leaving us, could our engagement with Emer dissolve. And she did. Not, undoubtedly, in a manner or a time of her choosing and I am not persuaded that the arc of her true life called for an end just then.
She did not need the onslaught of illness to belatedly embrace life, for her smile was rooted in a heart which overflowed with an infectious desire to enjoy the here and the now.Carpe Diem should read as an anagram for Emer Lovett.
Not alone did she seize the day, but she seized the night. When I think of her, the ambience is nocturnal. Each molecule of her being was a note waiting to be played.
If I could say one thing to Bernadette and Alestren, it is this, standing as we are on the cusp of her second anniversary and her 40th birthday, don’t let Emer’s passing deny you the amazing story that went before. Emer left my world less than a year after my father: I can’t pretend to know what’s on the other side, and when it comes to religion I am in the limbo of uncertainty, with a faith in the divine that is impecunious.
And yet, free thus from the straitjacket of doctrine and belief, I can honestly say that people like Emer and my father live on in the love we hold for them.
Upon first looking at Alestren’s photographs, viewing them not in isolation but as a collection, more introspective than retrospective, and being acutely aware of the magnitude of the presence that is his sister’s absence, I found myself struck dumb.
It was as if I was observing the metamorphosis of a wounded soul, the despairing flight of a bird with a broken wing, and then I realised that there was nothing static about this collection. I was being brought on a journey.
Alestren, it appeared to me, was emerging from a chrysalis only he could define, was using his art to unravel the gossamer of restraint, was using his inspiration to reverse an invisible paralysis.
He was closing one door and opening another. He might, of course, say this is rubbish: he simply liked the look of the fish with the gaping mouth fatally beached by the retreating tide. To be a visionary, you have to throw caution to the wind and profess your faith in the possibility of art as a cathartic influence.
I see photography of this scope as a form of meditation, or contemplation, but in our quest to understand the empirical power of a
photograph, to put into words why we have an empathy with a specific image, it would be remiss not to admire the technical and aesthetic prowess of the photographer.
Heraclitus said you can never enter the same river twice, but I think we can safely agree, depending on the weather, that a river today might look the same in the morning.
Alestren’s canvas, the beach at Rosslare, however, is unforgiving as it has the shelf life of a May fly. The sea does not repeat itself and between the ebb and the flow is a terra firma that is anything but stable. With the pulse of the sea ever present, I imagine a photographer has to work quickly.
I think it is an oversimplification to say that Alestren’s eye is exclusively drawn to the unusual, the surreal, instances of life and death on the periphery of oblivion, which is the sweep of a wave away, but rather he is summoned by the truth. He makes a photograph, but he does not interfere.
He portrays something as it is and not as we would like to imagine it to be, for he knows that the sea treats alike the living and the dead, and does not discriminate. Isn’t it strange that the dramatis personnae of these images, so near and yet so far, should appear almost alien to us.
The sea and its eternal intercourse with the land summons the photographic poet in Alestren: perhaps the magnetism is best summed up by TE Lawrence, when asked why he liked the desert. ‘it’s clean,’ he replied.
For the sake of brevity, I have earmarked one photograph which demonstrates Alestren’s calling as a photographer of nature. It is too early to decide if photography is his vocation or an inclination, for the former is ten per cent inspiration and ninety per cent perspiration.
I adore that photograph which resembles a crustacean graveyard, for the writer in me is drawn to its narrative powers: limbs and carapaces strewn like the aftermath of a defeated army’s retreat, claws protruding like Stonehenge. It could be a beach in the Iliad, the Achaeans punished by a vengeful God.
Walt Whitman said the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. This exhibition is Alestren’s verse, and your being here contributes to the powerful play of life.
Tom Mooney's Opening Speech at "By the Sea, By the Shore"