When Miriam Hurley started taking candid snaps of performers backstage at the Cork Opera House, she knew she was in a privileged position. “It was just this unique perspective. I knew it was very special, not many people could see that,” she says.
In her role as the site’s marketing manager, Hurley was responsible for internal production plans, but when she started taking her camera backstage to capture candid shots of the performers waiting backstage, the real magic happened. is produced.
A selection of the images have been turned into photographic prints by Hurley and feature in an exhibition called Standing By, currently on display at the Opera House. It was something of a homecoming for Hurley, who worked on the site for nine years, until 2006.
A visit to Cork Printmakers during Culture Night then led Hurley to embark on an artistic journey which saw his work acquired by the National Gallery of Ireland. At the Creative Collective, Hurley found a community that nurtured his latent talents.
“I’ve been doing photography since I was a teenager. I always liked him. When I left school it was like “finding a real job”, it was never about being a photographer – never mind a woman, forget it, it didn’t exist. When I went to Cork Printmakers they were so welcoming and inclusive which for someone who never went to art school was great. Valerie Byrne, who was a director at the time, told me to bring some of my footage. It went from there. Entering the engravers, you could experience forever. It’s a unique place from a perspective that everyone I met there was so keen to share.
Hurley worked from her own photographs, first doing screen printing before falling in love with the photoengraving process. “I took a course in photopolymer, which is really photoengraving, and that’s where I went, that’s for me, I love it.”
The photoengraving technique allows artists to produce photographic and digital images in the form of original prints with the qualities of a hand engraving.
“The process is very similar to film development. The way you develop film, you have your negative strips, you have to go through the chemical process, and then you have to expose that on a piece of photographic paper. With photoengraving, it is exposed on a plate, which is exposed to light. It then has to grow in sunlight and there are so many different variations. What I loved was that I got to be in a dark room again, I got to see that image come back to my plate, it’s like magic,” Hurley says.
The collection of images exhibited at the Opera was created in two parts. The first was shown at Cork Printmakers studios in 2018 and Hurley completed the entire work in 2020/21. Using different printing techniques, inks and papers allowed Hurley to play with tonal range and texture to capture the particular mix of adrenaline and fear that is in the air as the performers prepare to to get on stage.
“You could feel the nervous tension. It just fascinated me to see how different people were dealing with it. I loved to catch people off guard—for example, there’s a photo of actor Olwen Fouéré in the dressing room where she didn’t even notice me. I love the intensity of this one. She is so alone in her thoughts. These artists are so vulnerable. The capacity of the Opera is about a thousand people. Show up in front of a thousand people, I don’t know how they do it. I just loved seeing that and capturing that.
Hurley became a full member of Cork Printmakers and her work has been exhibited in Italy and London, and acquired by collections including those of the Office of Public Works and Eli Lilly.
“These opportunities… I never would have thought in a million years that if I joined the Cork Printmakers this would happen. It has truly been an incredible journey for me,” Hurley says.