Doorstep Wilderness

Doorstop Wilderness1 - book cover

As well as being a perennial topic in the pages of NewsFour, the River Dodder is a source of natural fascination for D4 residents and South Dubliners in general. Along the flow of its course, there are surprises aplenty. We spoke with nature photographer Paul Hughes about the Dodder and took a look at his book of photographs – Doorstep Wilderness – about the river and its denizens.

Doorstep Wilderness, as the title suggests, focusses on the animal life that populates and depends on the river as it weaves through the city. The photos are crisp digital images that recast familiar sights with great clarity and compositional skill, structured after the wheel of the year, beginning with a section on Autumn and ending on the high note of Summer.

There is a brief postscript that shutterbugs everywhere will pore over with great interest, named Equipment and Technique, where Paul describes his routine in capturing images and a precise manifest of his tools of the trade.

The pictures themselves are vividly captured moments of the river’s fauna – herons, foxes, mallards, mandarin ducks to name a few – sometimes in repose and sometimes in the midst of dramatic action.

In his introduction, Paul explains that the triggering event that led to the creation of the book took place on the stretch of river near Lansdowne Road DART station, where he witnessed a fox hunting cygnets. “That was a big moment,” he explains. “I was almost in shock after it.”

Paul has been a nature photographer since before he had a camera, strange as that may sound. “As a kid, I was always drawing and sketching. I would draw birds, and also I loved the David Attenborough series Life on Earth.”

When he was 21, Paul moved to El Paso, Texas and indulged his passion as a hobby. “You wouldn’t think there was much wildlife in a desert but there is actually loads. My best picture was of a rattlesnake. It was coiled up and rattling, getting ready to strike. I thought I was at a safe distance; I didn’t realise they could really spring, y’know? That was close. I learned my lesson there.” He got the shot however; that’s what counts.

Paul has many hair-raising stories like this (“I got my first grey hair after a shark encounter in Key West, Florida”). After all of those experiences he returned to Dublin and ended up living on the Northside, near the Tolka, which sparked his curiosity over time.

One of the most notable features of Doorstop Wilderness is the frank presentation of nature in the raw. Although not at all gory, the images don’t shy away from conveying the violence of the animal kingdom, and of predation. There are striking pictures of herons devouring small rodents and foxes carrying baby ducks. Was this a deliberate decision, we asked Paul, at the close of our interview. “Well, that’s the reality. That’s the truth. It goes on all day long, all around us. I don’t see any villains in nature, I just see nature.” A picture says a thousand words.

The book is available from Collins Press and Books on the Green, Sandymount. See for more on Paul.
By Rúairí Conneely