Mary O’Connor

MaryMary O’Connor (Kazakhstan)

First I am an artist, in the last few years inspired by the beauty of Central Asia my camera has become my constant companion.  Living here I love the lakes and mountains so swimming, skiing, mountain walking and exploring have become addictive hobbies as here every day is a visual feast.  Another love is exploring the endless markets and craft fairs.  Textiles and embroidery have also captured my imagination and I am building my collection of Suzan’s and Tutskies with great enthusiasm.  As a friend said to me, ‘better somebody buys them, to save them from getting cut up’

I am from Ireland and have a close connection with my culture and family there, every summer we spend two months there, I find a lot of similarities between the people of Kazakhstan and Ireland.  I have been living in Almaty now since ten years in Central Asia I have come to adore the people and the diverse culture, the longer I stay, the more I love it.


Illustration to “Head over Heels”



Head Over Heels – a stunning collection of photographs of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan by acclaimed Irish artist Mary O’Connor

From the soaring mountain peaks to the lonely desert landscapes, from the people and places to the textures and tastes,  Irish artist Mary O’Connor has got behind the lens to capture the spirit of Central Asia. The result is a new book of mind-blowing photographs that takes you on a journey down the Silk Road, winding through the entrancing lands of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.

The book is entitled Head Over Heels – in a nutshell, how Mary feels about her adopted homeland of Kazakhstan and the surrounding region. She is head over heels with the Silk Road, and her enthusiasm, fascination and fondness shine through in the images in this collection.

The lushly-designed book contains photographs shot by Mary’s perceptive eye during her travels through Central Asia. The images are grouped by concept rather than country, providing the reader with new insights and fresh perspectives with every turn of the page.

“Honestly, I can only say that it was like magic how one event led to the next to make this book happen,” Mary said. “Building a portfolio of beautiful photographs with such inspiring nature, cities, history, and above all people was a labour of love.”

Mary has lived in Almaty since 2003 (see her biography below). As an artist, her work is inspired by her life in Kazakhstan – from the awe-inspiring landscapes to the day-to-day pleasures. It was her love for the region that motivated her to bring these photographs together in this new book.

“This region is exciting and different for me, a new world that seems head over heels from our world,” she said. “I also wanted to give something back to the people of Kazakhstan and the wider region, who’ve given so much to me.”

All proceeds from the book will go to the Dara Foundation, an Almaty-based non-profit charity that serves under-privileged children by supporting medical institutions and organisations for orphans and children with disabilities.

“I really wanted to use this book to help children in Kazakhstan,” Mary said. “With my admiration for everything that the Dara Foundation does for children, it was a natural partnership.”

“It is incredibly generous of the creator of the book to donate all proceeds from the launch of the book to our foundation. This will help us fund a wonderful project for our football team at the boarding school for hearing-impaired children,” said Assel Izbassarova, president of the Dara Foundation.

“Apart from being immensely grateful for the donations that this wonderful book will generate, we are happy that this fundraising effort sets a great example of how many of us can help those in need in so many creative ways. All of us at the Dara Foundation are thrilled to know that this book, which shows the beautiful nature, people and life of Kazakhstan, will help Kazakhstani kids with disabilities explore sport opportunities that they never imagined possible.”

Mary has collected an eclectic and talented team of writers with strong bonds to Central Asia to add context to the images, which are divided into nine sections: Icons, People, White, Textures, Taste, Rush Hour, Fishy Business, Remember, and Bliss. Most of the writers hail from outside the region, hence the book’s subtitle: Central Asia Through the Eyes of Foreigners. The accompanying texts are in three languages: English, Kazakh and Russian.

In Icons, Birgit Brauer brings to life the emblematic images of the Silk Road, while in People Joanna Lillis recalls the spontaneous acts of kindness that make Central Asia a special place. The section White is accompanied by a verse by Kazakh national poet Abai, and in the next chapter Laline Treherne Pollock unveils the Textures in the work of Kazakh artist Marat Bekeyev. Nadine Kassas gets a Taste of village hospitality, while Paul Bartlett has a humorous take on Rush Hour. Oktyabr Dospanov reminisces about a disappearing sea in Fishy Business, and in Remember Lucy Kelaart takes a warm look at a nostalgic day of commemoration. Finally, Mary O’Connor tells us about feeling the Bliss of Central Asia.

Erbolat Dossaev, Kazakhstan’s minister of the economy and budget planning, wrote the foreword and Peter Foster, president of Air Astana (one of the book’s sponsors), contributed an overview. Philip McDonagh, the ambassador of Ireland to Kazakhstan, wrote the introduction and also contributed his own poem to the book.

Head Over Heels came about thanks to the generous support of the sponsors: Air Astana; Scot Holland CBRE; PM Lucas; Bolashak Group; Aedas; La Tartine; Max Petroleum; Intercontinental Almaty; Renaissance Atyrau Hotel; Heineken; Zhiguli; Pago; Vittel; and Perrier.

Head Over Heels is initially available in a limited print run of 800 copies, obtainable for a charitable donation

(Written by Joanna Lillis)