When Francisco Goya etched Yo Lo Vi across the bottom of one of the harrowing images from his Disasters of War series (1810-12), he was making a declaration about the primacy of presence in the authenticity of narrative. “I saw it”, says Goya, therefore you must accept this as truth. These days we realise that it’s not quite that simple. We bring our own agendas to understanding what we see.
Paul McKinley’s Operation Turquoise turns on these dynamics, where seeing isn’t necessarily believing, and each new piece of knowledge changes how we view what is in front of our eyes. Working from photographs, taken in Rwanda, by Trinity College ecologist, Shane McGuinness, McKinley’s closely observed images of this beautiful country are of lush forestry, active volcanoes and exotic flora and fauna: including rare gorillas and the prehistorically knowing face of the ancient shoebill. They are also meditations on the impossibility of ever truly knowing a place.
Today, Rwanda is usually understood through the prism of the 1994 genocide; a framing knowledge that infects every image. Did something terrible happen in this place? Under these epiphyte-hung trees? In this clearing? Dark tourism is a booming industry, but what can going in person reveal? And what do travellers hope to discover or to feel? We bring our own stories to the places we visit, and a tree is nothing more than a tree until it is shaded by our own imaginations. Paul McKinley’s paintings are beautifully wrought, stunning reflections on seeing and meaning.