Moving images: Ross McDonnell

Photo from the series ‘Joyriders’.


New York-based Irish photographer and film-maker Ross McDonnell’s ‘Joyrider’ series began in Ballymun around 2005. At the time that area of Dublin was synonymous with bad planning, drugs and gang violence, and a byword for urban deprivation. McDonnell documented a young generation who were coming of age during a highly publicised urban renewal project. The regeneration was never completed; some space ended up as part of NAMA’s portfolio and the project was eventually wound down.

A new Ballymun plan is currently in development, so it is timely that Joyrider is now being published in its complete form. Exhilarating, unflinching and at times poignant, the book’s beautiful black-and-white images portray a generation asserting their place and identity at a time of failed state policy and neglect.
McDonnell moves between the still and moving image with grace, edge and insight, and his flair is also on show in several recent film projects. With four Emmy Award nominations, The Trade is a series that explores illicit industries, from opioids to human trafficking, and tells the stories of those affected. Besides co-producing, he has a personal nomination for Best Cinematography.

He also co-produced and was director of photography on The First Wave, due for release by National Geographic. The film goes inside a New York hospital during the initial Covid-19 outbreak. Also opening this autumn and recently screened at Galway Film Fleadh, his company’s Love Yourself Today features singer Damien Dempsey and delves into the concept of music and healing.

Meanwhile, his extraordinary photo series ‘Limbs’, shortlisted in 2019 for the Prix Pictet, is now part of a touring show. ‘Limbs’ documents and humanises a collection of improvised prosthetic legs at Jalalabad’s orthopaedic hospital in Afghanistan. The startling images provoke reflection on individuals who are caught up in war, ravaged yet resilient. McDonnell’s approach both compels and unsettles as he explores human fragility and tenacity.

Prix Pictet is at the Gallery of Photography until November.

Stephanie McBride