A day in the life: Olga Klofac

EARLY DECISIONOlga Klofac started photographing her neighbours’ babies “and fell in love with them”.

FACTFILE
Name: Olga Klofac
Age: 41
Since: Czech republic
Lives at: charlestown
Occupation: Portrait photographer

It was the summer of 2004 when I packed up and with my husband (then boyfriend) flew to Dublin, and from there a bus to Charlestown.
I remember sitting on the bus in a padded jacket and through the raindrops on the window, watching people jump over paddles in flip flops, thinking they were crazy, it was 15 degrees! I was soon to learn that this was normal summer weather in Mayo, and I too am now wearing flip flops in August – I am now an Irish citizen after all.
We left behind two sets of parents, heartbroken of course to see their children leave for another country, which I didn’t realize until I became a parent myself. But we assured them that it would only be for one year. 18 years ago there were no smartphones, we didn’t even have laptops, so the phone booth in Charlestown Square was the only contact we had with our families for a while .
It was lonely at first, but we met and soon started making friends through work. Fresh out of college, ink barely dry on my master’s degree, I wasn’t sure what kind of job I’d like to settle into, so over the course of four years I tried a few -a different one – retail and office jobs, my last job was with Mayo County Council – before I got pregnant and never went back to work again.
Once I had kids, I knew I wouldn’t be happy leaving them in daycare all day. And since we had no family here who would help us take care of them, I decided that I had to start working for myself while taking care of the children.
But how I got into photography was a complete coincidence. My husband’s hobby has always been landscape photography, and one year I decided to buy him a “real” camera for Christmas, the perfect gift! I don’t even know how or why I started playing with this device myself, all I remember is I started taking pictures of neighbors babies and I’m fallen in love. So I started practicing on our children, and on the babies and children of all the parents who wanted pictures. They told their friends and those friends told their friends and before I knew it I was running a photography business.
It is however not easy for a blow-in to start a business in Ireland. As an immigrant, you have no social capital. The longer I live here, the more I realize how connected everyone is in a small town – everyone is someone’s cousin or they went to school together.
I was never an insider in these circles, I had no in-laws pushing me and recommending me to their wealthy friends. I didn’t have four siblings showing my work to all their friends. I was nobody. I don’t think people who have never left their small town realize how hard you have to work when you don’t have a support network. No one will become your customer because they know you; the only way to have customers is to be better than everyone else.
As Steve Martin once said, “Be so good they can’t ignore you”. So that’s what I did. Sometimes I have to pause and pinch myself when I think back to where I started, what I’ve built, and who I’ve become, an internationally acclaimed portrait photographer with amazing clients who travel around the small town Charlestown from different parts of Ireland because they love my work.
People ask me why I don’t move to Dublin, that it would be better for my business, but I like the quiet life here. We have several beaches within an hour’s drive, we don’t get stuck in traffic for hours every time we want to go somewhere, we hear birds singing when we open the bedroom window… maybe just the donkey singing its serenade at 5am is something I’d happily miss, but kidding aside, it’s good to live here.
It’s bittersweet to have two countries that you call home, because you don’t feel like you belong 100% to one of them. Here in Ireland, as soon as people hear my accent, they ask me ‘Where are you from?’. Despite my Irish nationality, I will never feel 100% Irish. And when I visit the Czech Republic, even though I am also a Czech citizen, I also feel out of place; there’s too much irish in me now.

– In conversation with Ciara Moynihan.

Just briefly…

What was the hardest thing about leaving the Czech Republic?
Hot summers.

Which traditional Czech cuisine do you miss the most?
I love to cook, so whenever I miss Czech food, I go there and cook it.

What’s the best thing about living in Mayo?
Having lots of beautiful beaches within an hour’s drive and not being stuck in traffic for hours every time we want to go somewhere.

What aspect of life in Mayo do you find difficult?
Having to travel to Dublin by car for certain services that are not available locally (children’s hospital, airport which offers return flights, etc.)

What is your favorite place to visit in Mayo?
Keem Beach

Who is the most famous Mayo person you have met?
I don’t care about fame when I meet people. There are more important things than the number of fans and followers a person has.

What is your most precious possession in the world?
Big big file of my favorite recipes that I haven’t stopped enriching since 1996.

What is your favorite hobby ?
Cooking, dancing, getting a massage – these are the things I look forward to every week.

Where is your “happy place” where you live now?
I strangely like to stand in front of the kitchen sink and look out into the garden while doing the dishes, there’s something therapeutic about that.

What is your favorite guilty pleasure?
Buy my favorite chocolates and hide them from the kids!

What phrase or saying do you hear the most in Mayo?
Fair play.

Sum up living in Mayo in three words?
Tea and cookies.

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