Interview: Johnny Crisp
This is not a happy photobook. When the economic crisis hit, like a lot of people in Ireland, Ciarán Óg Arnold lost his job and returned to his hometown. There, he fell into a claustrophobic and slowly crushing routine: a weekly journey to the bars and clubs he remembered from his childhood. Weekend after weekend passed in “empty bars and pubs with a load of young men hanging around doing nothing, drinking… trapped in a loop that keeps repeating itself over and over: the same places, the same things, the same people.”
What started off, in Arnold’s words, as “just taking photographs of what I was doing”, eventually developed into a brutal and suffocating photo project – “I Went to the Worst of Bars Hoping to Get Killed, But All I Could Do was to Get Drunk Again” – that, to his pleasant surprise, was nominated for and subsequently awarded MACK Books’ prestigious First Book Award in 2015.
It is not about happiness, says Arnold, but about the longing for it. It is a portrait of “what happens to disaffected men when there is a lack of happiness“ and the recourse to total oblivion that results from its absence.
In these grainy photos of empty clubs, bloodied men, and beleaguered young girls “with eyes filled with disgust”, we glimpse a weekly ritual: an ever more unlikely bid for emotional connection that explodes into violence at around 2am before dusting itself off and coming back a week later.