Skip to main content
Photography (MA)

Hilary Kennedy

Hilary Kennedy is an Irish photographer based in London. Prior to attending the RCA, she worked for almost a decade as an Art Director, collaborating with brands such as Nike, Virgin, Burberry, and Lush.

Her work is a combination of film and video, drawing inspiration from both the landscape and the myths and rituals of the people who inhabit them.

"My work always takes root in nature, and from there, I allow my intuition to blindly follow the direction it takes."

In 2019, Hilary released a documentary entitled 'Ramon: Notes from a Beekeeper,' which garnered significant attention. The documentary was screened at multiple film festivals, including the Cork International Film Festival and the Richard Harris Film Festival, where it won an award for Best Editing.

Image of a harbour looking back at a mountain

My work explores the significance of Irish and British folk rituals and their interconnection with people and nature in our modern landscape. Using delicate materials like straw and wild grass, the work intricately weaves together different structures and forms using practices inspired by ancient Celtic techniques. The fragile and ephemeral nature of these materials serves as an allegory for the waning relevance of age-old rituals in our modern era.

Once synonymous with Irish and British culture, these festivals and ceremonial practices have gradually faded from bustling metropolises and found refuge in rural and coastal towns. Through my work, I have explored the mountain towns of the Mcgiddy Cuddy Reeks during Imbolc and ventured to coastal towns like Penzance where these ancient festivals still hold significance. Yet their true meaning and the remnants of their rituals, which once connected us to our ancient ancestors and the cyclical movement of nature, have all but vanished into the depths of antiquity.

Through the construction of masks and busts made from resin, my practice engages in a dialogue with the remnants of these folk traditions. Informed by my own likeness, these sculptural pieces encapsulate a multifaceted and powerful female figure, who transcends normative gender boundaries and embraces both masculine and feminine energies. I seek to honour and evolve the very idea of folk masquerade and in doing so, breathe new life into ancient symbols and help redefine them for a contemporary audience living in a world increasingly disconnected from nature.

Within the piece, we see a lone, isolated figure standing in both a rural and urban landscape — these images attempt to capture the juxtaposition between the modern and the ancient, the urban and the untamed, pondering where, if anywhere, rituals’ natural habitat now lies.

A lone figure of straw and masquerade standing in a rural landscape
blurred image
A lone figure of straw and masquerade standing in an urban landscape
A lone figure of straw and masquerade standing in an urban landscape
A lone figure of straw and masquerade standing in an urban landscape
straw waving to camera

— Writing field notes while on location became incredibly important for my work. I would hastily scribble down details about recces, the optimal times of day for shooting, and the reactions of strangers when they engaged with the project. These notes became an integral part of the creative process, almost as crucial as building the costume or selecting the film. The brief interactions we had with both people and animals are woven into the fabric of the performance.

effigy in a cage
weaved straw
effigy closeup

— An effigy is a sculptural figure made of straw, commonly found at harvest festivals. The exact origins of this tradition remain unclear, but its presence has been documented throughout history. The significance of effigies varies across different regions. In some places, receiving a straw effigy is regarded as an insult, while in others, burning an effigy symbolises the transition from one season to the next, marking the passage of time.

Over time, many of our folk traditions and the underlying reasons behind why we practise them have been lost. Deconstructing Myth visualises this folk fragmentation and its confinement within our modern landscape.