Anna Rackard began her career in 1992 working as an art director on international films, including Braveheart (1995) and King Arthur (2004). Later she won Irish Film & Television Awards for her production design work on Stella Days (2012) and Ondine (2010).
Alongside her film career she became interested in documentary and photographic art. With the publication of the book Fish Stone Water: Holy Wells of Ireland (2001), with Liam O’Callaghan as a co-author, Anna Rackard has visited some of the most ancient places of pre-Christian worship in remote parts of Ireland. The book discovers how ancient rites are still alive, albeit changed, mixing with the Catholic faith over centuries of history passed.
The strong evocative power of the images lead us into a primordial religious dimension made up of rites and ancient symbols that have been handed down over time by uniting and mixing until completely melting with images of the Christian tradition.
The works of Anna Rackard are all marked by her continuous will and desire to investigate the archaic origins of each image that surrounds our world. In one of her first photographic series entitled Postcards (2005) the photographer recreates the typical style of colour postcards of the 1950s and 60s produced in Dublin by John Hinde Ltd. where the landscape and the physical characteristics of the people depict an idyllic Ireland. These postcards satisfied not only a tourist commercial operation, but they were appreciated by foreigners and diaspora who recognized a nostalgic and idealistic version of Ireland in those vibrantly coloured images populated by typically Irish looking people.
In contrast to the typical desire for approval of John Hinde’s postcards, Rackard questions what is the current real identity of the Irish people, since now they have “compromised” their physical integrity with immigration during the past years. Although she maintains the typical natural backdrops of the island, she places foreground subjects that are in complete discord with them because they are Irish in adoption. People immigrated temporarily or permanently in Ireland become the new protagonists of these postcards that want to show a representation of a new nation through the creation of new social figures.
“The essence of all photography is the documentary manner” pronounced August Sander (1876-1964) in 1931 during the radio broadcast Westdeutscher Rundfunk, Anna Rackard continues her investigation through the figurative and social study of images of women in an agricultural context noting that in Irish society people never talk about women as “farmers”, but always subordinate them to the roles of “farmer’s wife or daughter”. The women represented in the series Farmers (2007) consists of a series of photographs which nowadays we consider the best synthesis of this kind of picture initiated by Sander in 1924 with the collection of People of the 20th Century. By analogy, Rackard collects portraits of these women who demonstrate their commitment and their presence within the farming families. By continuing to work the land with diligent perseverance they demonstrate how a woman’s subordinate role is now only a hangover of a vernacular culture that is slowly evolving but it remains in the linguistic definition of these social figures.
Under into Somewhere (2011-2016) is the latest series of photographs made by Anna Rackard, the fruit of five years research, during which time she investigated the scientific and artistic point of view of the sleep state. She took her inspiration from the painting by Francisco de Goya El Sueño (1790 c.), which now is in the collection of the National Gallery of Ireland and was part of female paintings’ series painted by Goya in the end of 18th century. The photographer has used the same stylistic setting through her pictures, in which it is possible to find the same lighting contrast of the painting and also the human presence asleep. The dream is a subject that has always fascinated scientists and artists; it is a transitional situation in which the subject appears as a “still life” in the true sense of the term. These photographs, therefore, could be defined as “still images” in which the human figure is depicted during sleep through the uncontrolled shooting by the artist who has the will and the desire to capture these moments of unconsciousness. To obtain this result the artist set up a large format camera and a light in the sleeper’s bedroom. The room was blacked out, the camera shutter stayed open all night and the image was made when a light came on during the night. The sleeper woke in the morning in a completely dark room and closed the shutter. For each image the photographer had no control of where the person was in the frame and also whether they were in focus or not.
Beyond this technical process, the images have the quality to want to explore the dreamlike phenomena thanks to the random association of the dreams reported by each protagonist at the end of those experiences.