This week I met up with photographer John Fagan from Dungannon, John has many passions in his life, one of which is being a storm chaser, and if you have ever watched the film twister you would know that its one pasttime that is not for the faint hearted.
John is also an Avid stargazer and Aurora chaser, leaving the light pollution of Dungannon to explore the dark areas of tyrone were he can witness the true Majesty of the night sky and its heavenily bodies in all its glory.
This lively thirty-one year old also enjoys fishing and Motor racing and with the help of yet another passion, Photography, each facet of his life has been systematically Documented through the eye of the lens.
As we chatted, over a cuppa in the front living room of his family home, John began the conversation by saying I have lived in Dungannon all my life. My father is called Brendan, but everyone knows him as brendy, my Mother is called Donna and I have an elder Brother Neil.
I asked John what he enjoyed doing when he was younger and he said " I played with friends around the area mostly Dalriada park and I jioned the 1st Tyrone scout unit when I was 6 year and i finished when i was 14. I really enjoyed being in the scouts, we went camping in Gosford and other forest parks, we learned survival techniques, for example building bivy shelters, Bivey shelter? I re-iterated and john said Yes its a make shift shelter made from branches grass and leaves. he continued we also learned cooking techniques and bush craft. he added, I really enjoyed the scouts everything we learned was very informative. but luckily I haven't had to call on my survival skills yet, we both laughed.
John then talked about his education. I went to St patricks Primary school in Dungannon then to Castlecaulfield where I completed my primary education. I then went to the Integrated college in the town and then i attended the south west college where i studied Joinery and i served my time with my Uncle Pakie Quinn.
I then chatted to John about his Hobbies, Beginning with his photography. he said " I always enjoyed taking photographs and then in 2010 My mother bought me a DSLR camera for Christmas. the first thing I did was to find as many tutorials that i could on photography the majority of which were on youtube. Mike Browne being my Favourite he learned me alot and I also bought a few of his dvds such as the five building blocks of photography. I watched these tutorials over and over again at night and didnt stop until I had it right, and within a short space of time I was relatively proficient at using my camera.
John was very articulate and thoughtful throughout our conversation and as each part of his life unfolded in front of me I was thankful that I had got the opportunity to talk to this extraoridinary young man.
John then said another part of my photography Is Night/Astro Photography Mum was very Knowledgeable and on a clear night as wee stood in the garden she would point up into the heavens and show us the stars. My Mother showed me my first Aurora display and my first comet Hale bopp. watching hale bopp was the lynch pin that thrust forward my enthusiasm into the night sky and ive been looking up ever since. he continued to talk about the aurora
I have been Aurora hunting from 2013 my first time seeing the aurora was way back when I was a young. My mother took me out the back garden to see it but was too young to have any memory of it, My first real experience of it was back in 2002. while I was out walking my dog, I was just on the outskirts of town when I could see faint green and red lights right above my head, I sat and watched it for about half an hour rushed back home and got all my family out to watch it. it was amazing. I only started photography in 2010 so I never captured it. I have talked to a few people about that very display and they witnessed it from dark location and said it was the best aurora display they had ever seen. I was on the edge of town and what I saw was amazing so I can only imagine what it was like from a dark location.
ever since I lifted a camera back in 2010 the Aurora was on my bucket list. I was into astromony and had my own telescope so photographing at night was a thing I wanted to learn. I went through endless youtube videos to sharpen up my skills. when I was ready I was more focused on photographing Night sky objects with my telescope than observing the aurora until 1 night I was out fishing on the coast with a few friends and seen a G2 display form ballintoy in 2013. it was totally amazing and as usual no camera. so that was it I vowed that night I would start searching for the aurora. I went to google and searched for sites and forums to give me an Idea when the next aurora was due. at this time I had no Idea there was anything on facebook. so learned the basics of aurora hunting through space weather. there was a g2 storm due one night so went up the back fields got my tripod set up and the aurora appeared in all its glory. I was chuffed to bits. I have now seen over 50 displays here in Tyrone and the North coast.
John capturing his first aurora in dungannon, 2013
He added in 2012 I bought a telescope with an automatic mount and i was able to see the planets in Great detail, Jupiter, Saturn and I was able to see the Cretors on the surface of the moon- and with the camera in my hand i was able to photograph the beauty I witnessed. I am also on the lookout for meteors. But with the light pollution in Dungannon it is sometimes hard to see the stars succincity, so id travel down to Beaghmore stone Circles just outside cookstown Why? I asked and John replied. Because at night that is the darest spot in tyrone and at night the dark sky lights up like candles on a black canvas.
I asked John what would you do if you seen a large bright meteor falling from the sky?? he replied, In that situation If it was bright enough, Brighter than venus or the full moon there is a possablility that it will fall to the ground, we are there for duty bound to report it to the Armagh observatory and furnish them with all the rlevent information which is easy done through there website. He continued, In fact one night we were t lough fea outside cookstown and there was a meteor brighter than the full moon and left an ionised tail that hung around for about 10mins after the the meteor had gone, I contacted the armagh Observatory that night.
John also captured his the 2nd comet he witnessed. Comet panstarrs 2013
It would possably surprise many people that very few of us actually look up to the sky at night, on a cloudless night just above our heads is a wonder to behold and John Fagan realised that fact and started documenting it, taking multible photographs as a reminder to others that beauty can be found in the simplest of places.
I then turned my attention to Johns facination with storms and as it turned out it was another aspiration that ws passed on by his mum. he explained, " I remember when I was very young my Mum would wake up Neil an I to see the lightning and listen to the thunder on a stormy night.
John continued, every year we went to Portstewart for our summer holidays and sometimes there were Atlantic storms and the waves would have been thrashing of the beach - it was in those early days when i witnessed the absolute power of nature that I knew i wanted to Know more about how they formed and more importantly see more occuring.
Are you a storm chaser?? I enquired and john nodded his head and said yes I am, I built up My experiance over the years and in 2012 started documenting storms.
John then Paused and said in 2007 I spotted a Tornado of the shore of Lough Neagh, Tell me more about that I said nd John Replied, I was coming home from work along the Portadown to Dungannon Road when I noticed a massive funnel cloud coming down a few miles ahead. Honestly at the time i wasnt aware that Northern Ireland was capable of producing severe weather such as this at that point. I immedetly ripped out the phone from my pocket and recorded it. when I stopped the lorry to record the excitement got the better of me. I was jumping at the side of the road and shouting. it was an amazing site to behold. However the distance ment i couldnt confirm it touched the ground or not and if it dosnt touch the ground its not a tornado. I have Talked to other storm chasers that witnessed the event that day but they also couldnt confirm but we are pretty sure it did. He added either way that rush of witnessing such a phonomenal weather event was the turning point for me, that is when my passtime became my passion.
Storm chasing is self explanatory. and when unusual weather is coming John goes to meet it, with his camer in his hand. As we discussed his Innovative hobby John Mentioned a few other People who share his appitite for storms.
He said I go out with Nightskyhunter Martin McKenna from Maghea and Tyrone skies Paul Martin from Omagh. What is the worst storm you ever witnessed i asked and john replied Its hard to pick one but the worst one in recent years was when I went to Downhill along with Martin Mckenna a few years back, there was a shelf cloud, the meanest one ive seen in years. and there was lightning splinteing the air behind it it was an amazing site, John added as the cloud got closer to the shore there was an errie silence this was followed by a feeling of static electricity running up my hands. Martin and I ran to the safety of the van and the lightning started flashing right above our heads. That certainly sounds frightening I said, John replied it was eletrifying, yet I enjoyed every second of it. John added its the rush of danger seeing mother nature at its best lightning thunder and cloud structure all in one, This is what I want to see every time im out but it rarely comes together but it did that day. it was amazing
Johns image below of Lightning over lough neagh. and classiebawn castle Mullaghmore county sligo
John then said My photography was always about things you dont witness every day, I see it as a challenge to capture those things weather it be storms, meteors, aurora and other Atmospheric phonomena. thats what drives me and when I mange to capture any of those things My reward is the final print. My photography is hard because you never know were these things can occur, Other landscape photographers can pick a place wait on the light and they have an image. but with storms you never know were they will pop up so its hard to be in a nice location when storms kick off. more often you will be in the country side flat fields telephone cables and pylons in the way. so I see it as a real challenge to get a great storm with nice foreground. when it all comes together the reward is amazing.
It is Johns attention to detail and his love of his pastime , that allows us all to see the wonderment of the storms and night skies which then he freely Publishes on his website and facebook page.
Each time I asked John If he had any more hobbies, he had and it seemed at one point he had an endless list of pastimes as he said, I enjoy fishing, sea fishing , pike fishing. My father would take us to the river blackwater when we were younger fishing for pike, the craic and stories from that time were mighty. My grandfather paddy also was great craic and started us fishing aswell.
He continued. when I wasnt watching storms in Portstewart, Over my holidays my brother and I normally go fishing with my Uncle Martin Armstrong along the shore. we normally fish along the Northcoast county antrim and Derry in search of Bass, pollock, Plaice and flounder. Have you ever fished further a field I queried and John said yes. in 2011 my brother and I decided to fish off every coastal county in Ireland. and over the next three years we did Just that. You must of caught some strange fish on your travels I commented and John replied. over the years we caught trigger fish, Bull huss and Neil caught a 15 pound conger eel. I asked do you take photographs when you are out fishing? I do said john continuing, I love taking photos of animals all shapes and sizes My dogs are my favouite muse and taking photographs along the shore is great too. I also take photographs of wildlife clsoser to home.
John and his brother Neil Sea fishing while the aurora blazes behind them.
I asked where do you take photos of wildlife around home?? At coalisland Canal (Torrent River) said John I take shots of Kingfishers, badgers and owls, There is an absolute tresure trove of wildlife all over our local areas and its a shame that more people dont take advantage of watching them in there natural evnviroments.
do you have any other hobbies?? I enquired, waiting for John to say no thats it. wasnt on the cards just yet as he replied I follow Formula 1, I support Lewis Hamilton at Mercedes. F1 was another passion of my granda paddys and trickled down to martin Armstrong then Me and Neil. I have been to silverstone 3 times for Grandprix weekends and also been to Monza and Morrenello home of Ferrari.
John Fagan has an unparalleled Passion for Photography and through that medium he has opened up a world of unrivalled consonance which brings together the stars of night, storms and wildlife each seperate but yet perfect in harmony, he has shown us what is right infront of our faces, a devine beauty that we each have the ability to witness.
THANK YOU JOHN
you can check out his web page www.chasingtheelements.co.uk and his facebook page chasing the elements by John fagan