When in Dublin a visit for any photographer must include the Gallery of Photography in Temple Bar but the current exhibition of Bangor photographer Simon Burch's work on the peat bogs of Ireland had particular draw for me. I got there in the afternoon and the place was definitely busy and it was great to have to squeeze my way around the bookstore. An interest in photography alive and well in Ireland. Burch's exhibition titled 'Under a Grey Sky' looks at a delicate landscape that has become heavily industrialized due to the cutting of turf for fuel. It includes some beautiful muted landscapes and portraits of people from local communities. At a time when the environment and talk of saving our natural heritage is everywhere it's a timely show and an important one. The peat bogs of Ireland are a unique landscape and it was good to see this element of our landscape being explored by a photographer.
Over at theNational Photographic Archive gallery which is a stone's throw from the gallery of photography, there's a great exhibit of 1950's and 60's photos by photographer Elinor Wiltshire. The show called "If you ever go to Dublin town' depicts street scenes of the Dublin of the era. Scenes from everyday life, children playing, all Ireland football fans, beachgoers at Sandymount strand. She also shot scenes of evictions of tenants from York St to the new developments which later became notorious for their own social ills, the Ballymun flats. Some of my favorite shots were of the Monaghan poet Patrick Kavanagh at this home in Iniskeen. Kavanagh a friend of Wiltshire's, although one of the great Irish poets is often neglected visually and you'd hardly ever see a picture of him anywhere, whereas pictures of Joyce, Yeats etc would be almost permanently imprinted on our brains. Wiltshire who shot with a Rollieflex brought to her work a sensibility which reminded me of the type of work that Cartier Bresson became famous for. She had a great ability to recognize the value in the observation of the 'everyday'.The National Photographic archive is part of the National Library and contains 630,000 images relating to Ireland and it's past including important historical events as the 1916 rising. The library is currently in the process of digitizing the entire collection(many glass plate negatives) in an effort to get it all online thereby facilitating public access to the collection.
Sticking with the National Library. There's a fantastic exhibit of one of our greatest writers WB Yeats' work and life on there. Now I never knew Yeats had an obsession with the occult, with getting married, that his wife was 20 years younger than him nor that Thoreau was one of his greatest influences. When I was in school he wasn't my favorite but I have learned in my later years to have a deeper appreciation for his use of 'flowery' language which used not resonate with me. It's a beautiful exhibit with the Verse and Vision room being my favorite where you can listen to renditions of some of his poetry being read by some well known Irish artists whilst images of nature appear on lightboxes. The online exhibit at the National Library site is notably good as well.
Last but not least over at the Sebastian Guinness gallery is ever controversial American born David LaChapelle's exhibit titled 'American Jesus'. Anyway Chapelle is I think always worth checking out whether you believe or not like journalist Gerry McCarthy when he described Chapelle's work in last week's Sunday Times Culture magazine as a"brand of kitsch" having "passed it's sell-by date".
Well with all the talk of cutting arts funding in Ireland and of cutting the artists tax exemption status we may be heading into miserable days for the cultural fabric of the country. Certainly when I went to a production of Frank McGuinness's 'Someone who'll watch over me' at the Garage theatre in Monaghan last month it would seem that most people couldn't give a toss about the arts in their community. I think I counted oh about 18 people there. At 15 euros a pop it's not cheap and I've been told 'it's the times that are in it' meaning apparently nobody has any money. But on any given night out on the weekend the pubs are heaving. I'd say it's less the times and more a case of what we choose to spend our money on. Anyway I'm not here too talk about the future of the arts in Ireland and how much we Irish are fond of the drink. We could write a book on either of those subjects. Just here the last few days in Dublin I managed to catch a couple of exhibits that fortunately would give one strong hope for the appreciation of the arts and it's place within Irish culture. That said there's no accounting for what the current administration will do to the arts when cuts that have been referred to as 'savage' by a govt minister are announced in the December budget.