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Father Joe McDonald, a parish priest in Ballyfermot, Dublin
Ellius Grace for the FT Weekend

Work / Photography

Photographer Ellius Grace captures the ghostly churches of Ireland and the figures that haunt them

Photographer Ellius Grace has always been interested in art and creating visuals – “I used to doodle a lot in school and I was always taking photos on our family point and shoot” he tells It’s Nice That – but he only really got into photography when his Dad bought a DSLR. “I used to steal it away and take photos around the house, and eventually started taking it to school to photograph friends. It was enthralling” he recalls, “and I loved doing it so much, that it kind of took over and replaced everything else.”

Half-Irish, half-Malaysian, 25-year-old Ellius was raised in Dublin, studied visual communications at the city’s National College of Art and Design and, despite a brief move to London in 2017, is based there today. His raison d’être is to “try to make honest, intimate and aware portraits and photographs” and this comes through in his work in buckets.

With published work in i-D, running Junior magazine with his friend George Voronov (a photography magazine and publishing initiative which helps young Irish photographers), as well as working in-house at District magazine, and new endeavours in film directing, Ellius is a busy man, but his one steadfast love is portraiture. It “lets me level with another person,” he reasons, “and I think going into each shoot with that attitude allows me to create something personal for both myself and my subject.” Resolute in his belief that a portrait sitting is a collaborative process and that “takes a certain amount of pressure off”, undoubtedly resulting in a more intimate, revealing image. That combined with the photographer’s focus on faces and hands – “you can tell almost everything about a person from their face and hands” – is the crux of Ellius’ portraits.

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Mark Patrick Hederman, former abbot of Glenstal Abbey, County Limerick
Ellius Grace for the FT Weekend

It’s a recent commission for the FT Weekend, however, that initially caught our eye here at It’s Nice That. Illustrating a powerful piece by the paper’s Ireland Correspondent, Arthur Beesley, which reports on the country’s loss of faith, the project was turned around at rapid speed. “I actually got this job while I was in the queue for the Eurostar from London to Paris,” Ellius tells us; he read the current draft of the article on the train and immediately started planning the shoot.

Shot at a number of different churches and holy sites around Dublin City, Limerick and Trim, the following week was a sleep-deprived blur for Ellius, getting up early to shoot, then scanning the images until late at night, but it was “a dream commission” nonetheless. The resulting images are beautiful, often haunting, filled with imposing figures of faith and infused with a light that seems, almost, as if the heavens are opening up above. A combination of banal details – wash basins, water bottles, plastic chairs and gravel driveways – with more majestic minutia – holy water, statues of the Virgin Mary, freshly-pressed clerical gowns – humanises the usually aggrandised institutions and the people that frequent them, serving as an apt accompaniment to a piece that explores the Catholic Church’s fall from grace.

While Ellius never considered himself religious, the commission opened his eyes “to the many different ways that people interact and live with religion” at both ends of the spectrum – both positively and negatively. “Plus, I got to visit some churches which are amazing to behold even just aesthetically and architecturally” and, regardless of his own beliefs, he captures them in all their glory – as seen below, along with some exclusive outtakes from the story.

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St Patrick’s Church, Couraguneen, County Tipperary
Ellius Grace for the FT Weekend

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Exterior of St Patrick’s Church, Couraguneen, County Tipperary
Ellius Grace for the FT Weekend

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The cross in Dublin’s Phoenix Park
Ellius Grace for the FT Weekend

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Statue of Mary with flowers in St. Patrick’s Church, Couraguneen
Ellius Grace

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Holy water in the hallway of Kiltale Church, Dunsany, County Meath
Ellius Grace for the FT Weekend

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Kiltale Church, Dunsany, County Meath
Ellius Grace for the FT Weekend

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Pews in the Church of St Nicholas of Myra, Dublin
Ellius Grace for the FT Weekend

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Back room in St. Matthew’s, Ballyfermot
Ellius Grace

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Hallway in the house of Father Joe McDonald, parish priest of St. Matthew’s, Ballyfermot
Ellius Grace

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Mark Hederman, former abbot of Glenstal Abbey
Ellius Grace

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Candles and statues in Church of St. Nicholas of Myra, Dublin
Ellius Grace

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Statue in garden, Church of St. Nicholas of Myra, Dublin
Ellius Grace