"I haven't paid my tax, have you?"
In 2014, the introduction of water charges was announced by the Irish government as part of the National Recovery Plan. The metering of water for all households was proposed, but to date this has not happened and it is very unclear what the the future of this initiative will be in the long term.
The metering of mains water supplies to domestic users was heralded to bring in revenue of €15 billion to the State. Money was required quickly to manage the economic losses of the Crises that followed the Celtic Tiger years. But the establishment of the water company, Irish Water, has itself reportedly cost of €180 million, a cost that was going to be covered by the taxpayer in Ireland.
This did not settle well with everybody. Soon, it was clear that public opinion was not all for water charges at any cost. Organised protests against water charges began and privately people declined to pay the bills that began to arrive well before the network of meters and was even installed nationally. People took action locally and blocked access to roads and pavements when sub-contractors tried to install meters. But the action of simply not paying the bill that incrementally rose to 260 euro when it was send out was more quietly more radical. This is more than paying tax on a one litre car per year.
Other European countries pay for their water for the past decades and it's completely normal to do so. In some parts of Germany, local government goes so far as billing for the rainwater that falls onto private land, adding up to about €25 euro per square meter per year. So owners can pay less by taking up incentivised schemes to prevent water run off into drains. I really questioned the reasons for the metering of water in Ireland. I could see by learning more about the subject that a growing global movement was building up to counteract the privatisation of water - perhaps the endgame of Irish Water. The privatisation of water is something I find very inhumane and cruel, especially in the parts of the world that have less infrastructure and climate crises than those in Western societies.
My own believe is that clean drinking water should be free to all people as a Human Right as basic need for a happy and healthy life. So how to represent this in a image, a single photograph, more to the point? What is too obvious and literal that it may just as well be piece of text? Will people understand what I want to communicate whatever their political point of view ?
This had me puzzled at first as I researched the ways image and text can work so well together, especially when researching work from Barbara Kruger. Finally one Thursday evening on my way to the skatepark, while stopped at traffic lights in Athy, I watched as a group of Nigerian women performed some positive vibes around the gloomy town. Someone from the group walked over to my car and handed me a brochure. I took it and drove on. When I stopped I looked to see what the brochure was about. It showed a hand holding some dollar bills with the caption: “What's the value of your soul?” designed in a typically thrifty way, using stock images. I thought about this. What's the value of life? What does it cost to live in society today? All good questions.
The metaphorical meaning of the photographs I went on to make in the studio relates to how people are generally squeezed to make ends meet and they squeeze everything out of what they have; when water is accessible only through companies or interests operating for profit it will be squeezed, limited until the supply runs dry. Infamously, the Irish politician Phil Hogan said of people who did not pay their water bills that their water supply would be reduced to a trickle as punishment. He is the current EU Minister for Agriculture.
I shot the photographs in my home studio using a black backdrop and two speed-lights, one diffused with a softbox and the other un-diffused to give a harsher highlight on the side of the hand, to make the appearance of the water more dynamic. My mother is the hand model. She performed as a technical assistant also, pouring the water over the money in her hand to get the running water affect that I wanted. It was very quick shoot and I only took about 15 images in total. It was enough and an excessive amount of water on the banknotes risked damaging them. An expensive photograph that would have been. I remained clear as this issue unfolds in Ireland and has become a political mess that it is simple, that access to clean drinking water is a human Right.
I’d like to Thank my Family for the great support throughout the years of study. Especially Mum&Dad for investing into my Education and Equipment. It really helped me grow as photographer.
Ott, M. (2017) Running water, Available at: (Accessed:___).
I live near Portlaoise, County Laois, and have being studying photography in different contexts for 6 years, including my current studies. I was at first more interested in video and film, but in the end it is the still image that really held my attention as a creative spark. I describe my photography as usually staged or constructed, influenced by documentary and portraiture.