Thursday, June 08, 2017

PORTRAIT OF A CENTURY


Imelda May 1974

There is an exhibition in Collins Barracks, now part of the national Museum of Ireland, which is well worth a visit. I'll venture it has something for everyone and the closer you are to being a photographer the more you will appreciate it.

Gemma Tipton sums it up in the Irish Times:
Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best, and Kim Haughton’s project Portrait of a Century is genius in both its simplicity and impact. The Irish photographer and documentary maker has photographed 100 people, one born in each year since the [1916 Rising]. The result is a compelling exhibition and book that, quite literally, shows the changing face of Ireland. Haughton’s own career as a press photographer had already taken her to Angola, Lesotho, Mozambique and the Congo, and more recently to New York on a three-year contract as an associate photographer at the United Nations.
I had been meaning to check it out for some time. The idea intrigued me and it was clear from the previews that this was no mere mechanical exercise. The exhibition continues till the end of 2017.

In this post I am just commenting on some of the photos that caught my eye for one reason or another in a fairly rapid tour around the exhibition. I'm sure if I had more time I would have dwelt on others also. There is a book on the exhibition which I'm sure adds some more depth to individual photos but it's €45 and I'm not in the market just at the moment.

I started with Imelda May, above, as I am a fan, not so much of all her music, but because of where she came from and her dogged slog before she hit her wider fame. She is no flash in the pan. She has a lovely voice and her more recent style in music is more to my taste. I would love to hear her sing Irish ballads, particularly the more challenging ones like She Moves Through The Fair.

My people, on the Ma's side, are from Dublin's Liberties (just about) and I worked with her uncle.



T K Whitaker 1916

T K Whitaker is the earliest born of the subjects. Sadly he died just one month after his hundredth birthday in January last. He was an icon for public servants, and civil servants in particular.

He was my boss's boss's boss's boss when I entered the civil service in the year following Admiral Nelson's demise. He was Chairman of the National Industrial Economic Council when I was on the Secretariat and you'd learn a lot from just watching him operate. The Official Secrets Act, which I habitually ignore at this stage, warns me to be careful here. So in deference to Dr. Whitaker I will say no more, for now.



J P Dunleavy 1926

J P Dunleav may have written many wonderful books. But for me he is always The Gingerman. I have been caught in strange places laughing aloud as I read it. It was sort of like Woody Allen's film All you ever wanted to know about Sex. Sort of vicarious, like.

It was banned in Ireland and I would have included it in my banned book import certificate except that I had already read it by then.



Rowan Gillespie 1953

I only heard of Rowan Gillespie late in life, and that was because I was curious about the elphin figure perched delicately on the pediment of a building in Mount Street Crescent just beside the Pepper Pot Church.

Then I realised he had done the Famine Memorial on Custom House Dock. And he was responsible for Jersey Girl flying free in St. Helier. If you look on his website under public sculptures you'll probably recognise a few from having passed them by in your travels.



Máire Mhac an tSaoi 1922

Máire Mhac an tSaoi will be familiar to those of us with connections with the Irish language. She will also be familiar to others as the widow of Conor Cruise O'Brien. And to some very few others as having been a diplomat in her own right. And going even further back, as the daughter of Seán McEntee.



Panti Bliss 1968

To me, Panti Bliss is part of a new world I haven't quite fully got used to yet. The casual acceptance and unremarkability of homosexuality and same sex marriage is great but it is so far removed from what I was raised on that it is more a question of conscious acceptance than unremarkability on my part.



Shane MacGowan 1957

I love Shane MacGowan's New York song with Kirsty McColl, but looking at him spoils it for me. This portrait is unusual. I didn't recognise him but then my visual is seriously out of date. Perhaps this photo is reflecting the inner man rather than just his appearance, if that's not too strange a thing to say of a photograph.



Ruth Negga 1982

I had never heard of Ruth Negga until recently when she was mentioned in connection with the Oscars, or suchlike. I liked the photo.



Denis O'Brien 1958

Denis O'Brien I had heard of but had better just leave it at that.

Finally I noticed that Pádraig Ó hUiginn didn't figure, but he won't be too upset as he's already got his marble gong from Denis.

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