Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Abraham Feldman

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This is Abraham Feldman. He is Jewish and lived in Dublin, but you won't find him listed among the prominent members of the Dublin Jewish Community. He is not mentioned in Asher Benson's book, for example.

Yet he practiced his trade for 50 years in the city centre, in constant contact with the widest and most varied public imaginable. His output can be seen in hundreds, if not thousands of Dublin homes. But while people remember him, he remains anonymous.

In 1885 his parents had fled the Ukraine to escape the persecution of Jews then severe in that part of Europe.

He started with a box camera in the 1930s and, as you can see, later graduated to 35mm.

and eventually to Polaroid.

Now you get it.

He was Arthur Fields, the man on the bridge.

In a career stretching from the 1930s to the 1980s he is reputed to have taken almost 200,000 photographs.

But no negatives survive, and, of course, it's the people in the photos or their descendants who have the prints.

This inspired El Zorrero Films, who are making a film about Arthur, to attempt to compile an archive of his work, and of that of some of the other street photographers who plied their trade in the O'Connell St. area during that period.

So they have put out a call to the public to send in, or bring in, any street photographs they may have, along with as much information as they have about them. The intention is to include as many as possible of these in the archive as a tribute to Arthur and his colleagues.

I have sent in three photographs. The one above is of myself and my sister taken (I think) on O'Connell Bridge, or if not, at the Pillar, around 1950.

The second one is of the mother (Ellen) and daughter (Mai) of Alderman Patrick Medlar. This was taken in 1939/40 somewhere around the Carlton Cinema. Ellen was to die, aged 79, at her brother's funeral the following year, and Mai died, aged 90, in 2011.

The third is of my mother and myself taken in February 1945 on the west side of O'Connell Bridge, looking towards the GPO.

Scanning and storytelling in Raheny library

For those who were not in a position to scan photos themselves, the project has been going round some of Dublin's public libraries over the last weeks and scanning photos which people have been asked to bring along.

These are not just static photos as the project is also recording much of what is known about the subjects - background stories.

They were in Raheny on Monday (7/4/2014) and had their busiest day ever. People were queueing up right through the day and over 300 photos were scanned. Over 2,000 photos have been collected so far.

The last library scan day is on Saturday (12/4/2014) in the Central Library (Ilac Centre) between 10am and 5pm.

You can get more information about the project on this website and about Abraham Feldman, aka Arthur Fields, here.

Update - 12 April 2014

I'm including two additional photos below which have also been submitted.

The first is of some members of my school class, snapped outside Clery's in 1956/7. Ronan Murphy had a copy which he passed on to me and which I sent in. The second is of my cousin, Gerry Fleming, which he had the nerve to send in himself.

Coláiste Mhuire pupils who performed in Jack and the Beanstalk at the Feis in the Gate Theatre. Snapped at corner of Clery's on way to post-Feis treat. L-R (front row) Brian Ó Loinsigh, Cormac Ó Gráda, Colm Ó Muircheartaigh; (back row) Gearóid Ó Caomhánaigh, Seán Ó Catháin, Rónán Ó Murchú, Concubhar Bushe, Alan Diúic, Éamonn Ó hAirís. And Br. C. R. Ó Maitiú.

Brian Ó Loinsigh is the writer Brian Lynch and Alan Diúic is former Finance Minister Alan Dukes.

The second is of Fr. Gerry Fleming who was renowned for his Irish dancing skills and his four grandmothers.

Update - 2 August 2014

I will be giving a talk on Gordon Brewster, artist and cartoonist, in the National Library in November and in this connection I have been in touch with members of Gordon's family in England.

They have sent me some photos from the family album, two of which are street photos taken in O'Connell St., and I have submitted these to Man on Bridge.

Gordon with his daughter, Dolores, on the left and son, Richard, on the right, taken during a shopping expedition in 1939.

Gordon, on his own, probably taken around 1930.

Links to the photos as they appear on Man On Bridge.

Mai & Granny 1939
Me & Mam 1945
Me & Martina 1950
Gerry 1950
Daltaí 1956
Gordon Brewster 1 1931?
Gordon Brewster 2 1939

Two additional aspects which might be of interest:

I originally thought Abraham's birth certificate, was reported for civil registration by the synagogue, but I'm told that Ada Shillman was the community midwife, and now that I can read it, her listed qualification for reporting is "Present at birth", a common qualification for such.

Arthur with the Floosie in the background, taken from the Man on Bridge Facebook page.

Update - 19 May 2014

A further local aspect to this project was provided by the appearance of two of Arthur Fields's sons, David and Philiip, in Raheny library this morning where they filled in some family background for a small but highly interested audience. The family had lived at 602 Howth Road, Raheny.

Their stories were followed by a lively Q&A.

In response to a question, I gathered that, while he and all his siblings changed their names from Jewish to English versions, Arthur did not break off all connections with the Dublin Jewish Community nor did he depart from some of the traditions of his forbears.

I suspect that the name change, rather than being caused by any incident in this country, was a hangover of family memories from Kiev, from which the parents had been driven.

Dublin City Council's Aileen Doyle presented the brothers with momentos of the occasion.

The family photo album was then on show for any and all to inspect. Here Philip takes Joan Sharkey, from the Raheny Heritage Society, through it.

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