Megan Doherty’s Portrait of Coming of Age in Northern Ireland

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Stoned in Melanchol
Stoned in MelancholPhotography by Megan Doherty. Courtesy of Setanta Books

Photographer Megan Doherty talks us through her debut book, Stoned in Melanchol, which documents her adolescence in Derry

Teenage years are often marked by fantasy: dreaming about the future, and the kind of life you could be living if you were somewhere, or indeed someone, else. For photographer Megan Doherty, this sense of longing was particularly intense – growing up in Derry, Northern Ireland, Doherty felt overwhelmingly “restless, bored, and claustrophobic” treading the same far-too-familiar streets “a million times”, with little to do but while away the hours with friends, hanging out and “wasting time”.

Doherty’s escape was photography. Picking up a camera in these teenage years, she began to document her friends, capturing real-life moments as well as staged scenes inspired by her favourite cult films on the streets of Derry, largely at night. Representing a “search for beauty in the mundane”, these images – which are at times reminiscent of Larry Clark’s films, or Davide Sorrenti’s photography – are now brought together in her debut book, Stoned in Melanchol.

“[The book was] born from an insatiable hunger for a world beyond the monotony of small-town life,” says Doherty of the part-documentary, part-fictional monograph, which deftly blurs the lines between fantasy and reality. “It follows the shared experiences between myself and the people I grew up with – our relationships, the high and lows, as well as the adventures we had together. It’s essentially a visual diary of my life at the time; framed as cinematic stills from the fantasy world I allowed myself to get lost in.”

An immersion into Doherty’s teenage days and daydreams – and a tender portrayal of adolescent friendship – the book sees the photographer’s friends wander through supermarkets, hang out in deserted car parks, and play games together late at night. “I wasn’t aware that I was creating a series at the time,” says Doherty. ”Photography was my outlet, and I was spending my days hanging out with my friends so it became an organic process. Sometimes I would have an idea for an image in my head that I would want to create, and of course the people around me became the subjects. Other times, we would just take to the streets with no plan, and I would document our time spent together ... What began as staged scenarios, quickly became a documentation of our lives and the relationships that we shared.”

Doherty says this creative practice brought her purpose in an otherwise bewildering time; “It felt like myself, and those who surrounded me, were all feeling a sense of emptiness to an extent, whether we were aware of it or not,” she recalls. “We came together during a daunting period where we were leaving our teenage years and entering adulthood – the future was uncertain, and we had no concrete plan. We were navigating this period together, exploring our identity, celebrating what each of us had to offer … We took solace in the unity of the universe we’d been building for ourselves. Alone, together.”

Though very much a personal account of Doherty’s adolescent years, the escapist yearning which brought Stoned in Melanchol to be – and which is intensely felt in its dream-like universe – feels pertinent in this current era of Covid-19, which too has been defined by uncertainty and a longing for better days. “I hope the book will provide a means of escape for those that need it, just as it did for me,” says Doherty. “I hope others look at the photographs and get lost in our world.”

Stoned in Melanchol is published by Setanta Books and is available now