Panel 1: Vernacular and Material Histories
Gail Baylis (Ulster University)
‘Delving beneath the purely Visual Surface’
Allan Sekula in a highly influential article on the photographic archive signposts how the entry of a photograph into the archive leads to a loss of meaning which is further extended by the extraction of the photograph from the archive where new meanings come to be affixed to it.¹ Added to this, archival protocols, in the Foucauldian schema, produce knowledge that acts to direct how photographs are understood. With the digital archive we engage, it is claimed, merely with ‘viewing the visual surface of an image’ and consequently its material history becomes effaced.² While taking on board such critiques I also want to suggest that the archive can provide a starting point for rebuilding both the initial cultural context and material base of the image.
I take as my example the ‘Irish Rebellion, May 1916’ postcard series. Research on these postcards leads to the commercial firm of Keogh Brothers’ glass-plates, a collection housed in the National Library of Ireland and available to view online. Viewing the collection by this mode reveals that the majority of the postcards have as their source Keogh Brothers group portraits, which have been worked on through processes of dodging, masking, overdrawing, cross-hatching, cropping and enlargement to produce the seemingly singular head and shoulders shot appearing in the postcard. Access to the collection online allows these aspects of material production to become readily apparent and in turn provide an example of how ‘[n]early every kind of manipulation that we now associate with Photoshop was also part of photography’s pre-digital repertoire’.³ This not only sheds light on photographic practices in Ireland at the beginning of the twentieth century but also the mass media context of the Rising.
Interesting questions are also raised about how photographs serve in memory culture and why, in this instance, the singular portrait fulfilled the needs of a culture of commemoration. This paper argues that while the online archive produces a visual relationship, it can provide the researcher with an inroad for further exploration of issues of materiality, photographic veracity and memory culture.
¹ Allan Sekuka, ‘Reading an Archive: Photography Between Labour and Capital’ in Wells, L (ed) The Photography Reader, London and New York: Routledge, 2003, 443-452
² Joanna Sassoon ‘Photographic Materiality in the Age of Digital Reproduction’ in Edwards E and J Hart (eds) Photographs, Objects, Histories: On the Materiality of the Image, London and New York: Routledge, 2004, 190
³ Mia Feineman, Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop, New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012, 5
Margaret O’Brien Moran (Independent Researcher)
‘Eyes Fixed on the Past’
As the current emphasis on the digitisation of photographic archives, and in particular the digitisation of glass plate negatives, accelerates throughout the world, it presents a distinct possibility that the importance of the photographic archive will, for future generations, be located exclusively in the image content. By focusing on the Poole photographic print archive, this paper addresses the importance for the researcher of an engagement with the physical archive. The Poole photographic archive, which was produced by the Waterford photographic firm of A.H. Poole & Co. between 1884 and 1954, is one of the largest collections of early Irish photography housed by the National Library of Ireland. The collection consists of c. 65,000 glass plate negatives as well as nine large boxes and twenty seven small boxes of original Poole photographic prints. The whole plates and imperial plates have been digitised and are available to view online.
Through a case study of a number of original Poole photographic prints the paper explores the twin topics of materiality and digitization. Identifying historical photographs and the subjects in them with any degree of certainty can be difficult. Likewise retrieving the story behind a photograph, its provenance and function, is often impossible. Nevertheless through my research into the Poole photographic print archive and Poole’s detailed annotations written on or attached to the verso of the prints, I have succeeded in excavating many of these narratives. The Poole print archive provides a social history of a specific era in Irish history and the prints and their related notation can be seen as cultural texts. Through a discussion of the researcher’s experience of undertaking archival research and in particular the failure of online access to provide the necessary contextual/photographic evidence, the paper argues that an informed analysis of the image, as a result of the insight afforded by Poole’s original notation, is quite different from an understanding based on the caption attached to the digitised version of the photograph.
Finally, the paper demonstrates that when the researcher engages with the archive, through a succession of tactile actions of opening, touching, reading, cataloguing and restructuring, the archive in its turn communicates, and helps to bring as Edwards and Morton suggest, ‘[its] distinctive history to the analytical surface.’ (2015, p3).
Erika Hanna (University of Bristol)
‘Studio Portraiture and Social Norms in Mid-Twentieth Century Ireland’
For much of the early half of the century, family photography was confined to occasional trips to the local studio portraitist for most Irish people. Familial milestones were commemorated by photographs of people in their Sunday best, posing stiltedly in front of painted backdrops depicting domestic anywhere-spaces. This paper surveys the social power of the portrait studio in mid-century Ireland, through a focus on the output of Annie Brophy, who ran a studio in Waterford between 1922 and 1978.
The Brophy collection consists of thousands of images, while thousands more studio portraits remain in archives all across Ireland. But with account books lost many of the sitters staring out of the frame are anonymous, and the analytic potentials of this mass of material remains unclear. There is almost a knee jerk response to ask ‘who is it?’ of these photographs. This paper resists this temptation, and instead uses the anonymity of many of the subjects as a way of pushing at the archive with more difficult questions. An exploration of themes running across the collection—rather than simply viewing photographs in isolation—reveals new details about familial self-fashioning. The repeated, patterned similarities between images, in particular, the recurrence of objects and clothes, shows how photographer and those within the frame used props, furniture, and background in order to restage their lives in front of the lens for display both within the home and to circulate amongst extended family. Moreover, close examination of the marks on the negative, shows how blemishes were removed, hair was thickened, and skin was smoothed. These marks reveal how the photographs were manipulated in order to remove physical traces of poverty, aging, or hard work and create appropriate families for display and viewing. In foregrounding these processes of production and adaption, an exploration of the construction of the studio portrait provides a way to explore how ordinary Irish people conceived of social norms, and both their aspirations and their failings to reach these standards.
Mhairi Sutherland (Dublin Institute of Technology)
‘Re-imagining Treason: The Riddle of the Photograph’
Robert Erskine Childers was executed by a National Army firing squad in Dublin, November 1922 following a hasty trial and conviction by military court. The charge of treason was based on his being found in possession of a small handgun, at his family home in Glendalough. This contravened a prohibition on firearms during the Civil War.
Childers’ cultural identity as both British imperialist and Anglo-Irish nationalist is well documented. Guns used in the 1916 Rising were brought from Germany by Childers and his wife Molly Osgood in 1914, commemorated in the exhibition Asgard: The 1914 Howth Gun Running Vessel Conserved, National Museum of Ireland, Dublin, opened in 2014. Childers is also the author of The Riddle of the Sands, a singular classic and the original ‘spy’ novel, published in 1903. Regarded as a quintessentially British novel, the author’s meticulously evoked scenario of a German invasion via an undefended North Sea, was powerful enough to effect defensive changes in the policies of the Admiralty and the War Office.
My paper originates from a standpoint of arts practice based research in the Childers photographic archive¹ in which I used hand drawing and photograms as the means to explore and interpret the original photographic images and ephemera. I will argue that the oscillation of Childers’ cultural identity, shifting between the worlds of imperialism and nationalism can be traced through these overlapping and contradictory photographs of siblings, silhouettes and a gun-running sea journey. These ambiguities of the archive, I will propose, are in themselves a form of visual code, a ‘riddle’ ultimately and irreconcilably fatal in the life of Erskine Childers.
The hauntology imbued in some early historical photography is present here in the images of young sisters, the burning of a ‘Big House’, small images of a plot of land, one marked with a cross. As Barthes suggests, the paradox inherent in the photograph shows us both ‘the return of the dead’ and that ‘every photograph is a certificate of presence.’ From these revenants of the archive, between the paradox of memory and of propaganda, who decides what may return to the present?
¹ The photographs in the Childers collection date mainly from the time of Robert Erskine Childers (1870-1922) Manuscripts and Archive Research Library, Trinity College Dublin.
Panel 2: Producing Collective Identities
Eimear Walshe (Van Abbemuseum)
‘Future Archive: The Young Queer Irish Photographers of Püssys Collective’
Photography has had a pivotal role in the preservation of queer culture, marking moments of historical significance, mourning lives lost, and inspiring hope for future generations. This paper will present the work of young queer Irish collective named Püssys and will investigate the influence of the archive, both as a resource and a mode of organisation, on this group. The collective comprises people working in a variety of fields including art, publishing, fashion design, music, and thematic events. In each of these, photography plays a central role in drawing together a very wide range of cultural production, and distributing it across a variety of platforms, including exhibitions, publications, websites, and social media.
As well as creating their own effective archive through online documentation, Püssys collective is also actively engaged with existing historical archives. An exhibition in 2016 involved showing new work by young queer artists alongside posters and flyers from the Irish rave scene from the years 1970-2000. These were sourced through the Irish Queer Archive, the collection of LGBT material at the National Library of Ireland. Club photography is a prevalent genre in the collective, and this aesthetic pervades in all of their creative output. The images document the creation of new communities, specifically testifying to an acceptance of transgressive sexuality, gender non-conformity, and drug culture. I will argue that this tenor of celebration, pride, joy, and liberation emerges specifically from the period after the 2015 marriage referendum; a time during which decorum and proprietary was demanded from queers in the political climate, and respectability politics dominated.
This paper will also position Püssys collective in relation to other queer photographers who use archiving as part of the presentation of their practice, including exhibitions such as Wolfgang Tilmans at the Tate Modern and Nan Goldin at IMMA (both 2017).
With the stated aim of blurring the lines between art and life, the collective are inspired by the nostalgia for a queer history they weren’t a part of, in turn creating their own documents for future inheritors, generating a loop between the archive, club culture, and back again.
Aileen O’Carroll (Maynooth University)
‘Visualising the Irish Working Class: Photographs and the Dublin Docker’
This paper draws on a research project on the occupational history of the Dublin docker. Dockers might be considered the quintessential Irish working class occupation – yet very little has been documented about the dock worker, the work that they did and the communities they created. The Dublin Dockworkers Historical Society has compiled one of the few sources of information on dockers.
The paper first outlines how this last generation of dock workers have used photographs and the creation of community archives as a tool to facilitate the maintenance of occupational cultures, long after the occupations have declined. The strengths associated with community-led archives are outlined. Secondly it describes challenges associated with using community archives in academic research. It argues that despite these difficulties, photographs have an important role in the production of ‘history from below’ and in shaping our understanding and perspective on previous generations of Irish workers.
Vukaŝin Nedeljković (Dublin Institute of Technology)
‘Asylum Archive: An Archive of Asylum and Direct Provision in Ireland’
From April 2007 to November 2009, I was housed in Direct Provision Centres while seeking refugee status. The Asylum Archive grew from that experience. I kept myself intact by capturing and communicating with the environment through photographs and videos. This creative process helped me to overcome confinement and incarceration.
Through Asylum Archive I examine the notion of Direct Provision, constructing a theoretical framework for issues of memory, power, authority, detention and supervision. Asylum Archive originally started as a coping mechanism while I was in the process of seeking asylum in Ireland. It is directly concerned with the realities and traumatic lives of asylum seekers. Its main objective is to collaborate with asylum seekers, artists, academics, and civil society activists amongst others, with a view to creating an interactive, documentary, cross-platform online resource which critically brings forward accounts of exile, displacement, trauma, and memory.
In an essay that accompanied the first public display of Asylum Archive in Galway Arts Centre in January 2015, Charlotte McIvor wrote:
‘The Asylum Archive resists the convention of storytelling. Instead, this online archive of photographs, essays, interviews, reports and ephemera related to the lived experience of asylum in Ireland foregrounds a visual aesthetic based around absence. Primarily the work of one creator who remains anonymous at the time of writing, the photographs are devoid of people to emphasize the dual burdens of visibility and invisibility experienced by those seeking asylum in Ireland as a psychological, social and legislative process’.
Asylum Archive is not a singular art project that stands ‘outside of society’ engaged in an internal conversation; rather, it is a platform open for dialogue and discussion inclusive to individuals that have experienced a sense of sociological and geographical displacement, memory loss, trauma, and violence. It has an essential visual, informative, and educational perspective and is accessible, through its online presence, to any future researchers and scholars who may wish to undertake a study about the conditions of asylum seekers in Ireland.
Panel 3: Roundtable Discussion, The Place of Photography in Irish Public Archives
What types of photographs are held in public archives in Ireland? What are the processes and politics of acquisition, de-accessioning and preservation which shape these collections? What discourses relating to nationhood do these image collections foster or circumvent? How have these collections negotiated and managed the current economic realities facing Irish cultural institutions? How successfully do archives balance the need to protect holdings with the provision of public access? Is digitisation the solution?
All of these questions were both implicit and explicit in the abstracts we received from archivists, conservators, curators and managers of photographic archives. As a result, it was decided to create a roundtable discussion between a varied group of professionals caring for photographs within Irish public archives to address these questions. Each panelist will firstly introduce aspects of their own particular collections.
The panelists for the roundtable are:
Joy Carey, Digitisation manager and Gareth Montgomery, Archive photographer, will introduce the diverse photographic morphologies within the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland.
Elizabeth Kirwan, Curator/manager of the National Photographic Archive (National Library of Ireland), will consider the strategic objectives of the NPA.
Zoë Reid, Senior conservator in the National Archives of Ireland, will discuss the 375 albumen prints included in the Fenian Suspect Files (1866-1872).
Crónán Ó Doibhlin, Head of research collections at University College Cork Library, will discuss the recent acquisition of the photographic collection and archive of John Minihan by UCC.
Panel 4: Landscape and Landwars, Legacies of the Colonial
Feargal Fitzpatrick (National College of Art and Design and Maynooth University)
‘Ground Lens: Henry Craigie Brewster’s Cork Calotypes’
This paper extends the ways in which the practices and discourses associated with photographic representations of Irish geographical spaces can be culturally and politically located. It advocates expanded critical approaches to photographic landscape imaging that can productively contest restrictive readings of ‘Anglo-Irish’ visual culture as a colonial binary. Addressing photographs made during the Winter and Spring of 1842-43, it engages with their contexts of production, consumption and archiving through a postcolonial and Marxian analysis – using a conceptual lens shaped by W.J.T. Mitchell’s assertion that landscape imaging is “the dream-work of ideology”, which is simultaneously a “symptom of the rise of capitalism” and a “screening off” of violence perpetrated within the spaces concerned.
This paper’s focus is on six Calotype images produced by Captain Henry Craigie Brewster while he was stationed as a British army officer in County Cork. They are among the oldest known surviving photographs shot in Ireland. Brewster’s images feature in the Brewster Album, a collection assembled by his father and mother, Sir David Brewster and his first wife Juliet at St Andrews in Scotland – now held at the Getty Museum in Malibu, California. Its Irish images have been described as a ‘mini-chapter’ in the early history of experimental photography. Brewster’s landscape images function as disruptive visual counterpoints to the cultural backdrop of romantic landscape painting and the political context of rising Irish romantic nationalism – a nascent ideology driving agrarian violence and separatist agitation, and shaping Irish political identities for the next 150 years. In this schema, Brewster’s landscape images do not simply reflect history – they are history.
Emily Mark-FitzGerald (University College Dublin)
‘Poverty, Photography, and Performance: Eviction and Intermediality in the Late 19th Century’
The photographs of Irish evictions featured in the Lawrence Collection of the National Library of Ireland are some of the best-known visual representations of Irish poverty from the later 19th century. Yet, as this paper will argue, they are far from unique, and are in fact emblematic of an emerging (and extensive) mass visual culture of Irish poverty whose production and reception has yet to receive sustained attention.
This paper will adopt an intermedial perspective to address how visual representations of Irish poverty were transformed and disseminated between 1870-90, as new visualization technologies were developed and refined. Focusing on what was itself a radical subject for depiction – eviction – the paper will explore the impact of two specific forms of technology: the invention of dry plate photography in 1870, and the mass mobilization of eviction photography via the magic lantern in Ireland and Britain during the Home Rule campaign of the late 1880s.
The aim of this paper is twofold: (1) to argue how radically interpellated forms of visual media in the later part of the 19th century transformed how experiences like eviction, emigration and poverty were received, understood, and remembered by audiences; (2) to demonstrate continuities between forms of singular visualization (such as painting), serialized forms (engraving and photography), and performative modalities (spectacle, proto-cinema such as the magic lantern, and film) – as well as overlaps with other representational media (including theatre, fiction, etc.).
Declan Sheehan (Curator)
‘The Glass Album: an Experiment in Curatorial Insurgence’
James Glass was a commercial photographer based in Derry City from the 1870s onwards. The Glass Album is his 1870s/1880s album of photographs of the Gweedore area in County Donegal, which was commissioned to inform the defence in a landmark murder trial during the Irish Land Wars. Its graphic images of the bleak conditions endured by poor rural tenants were instrumental in swaying a potentially hostile jury to sympathy. One original version of The Glass Album is in the collection of NMNI and at least one more is in a private collection.
This paper examines the curatorial and artistic approaches developed within a recent art project which specifically engaged with The Glass Album photographic archive. It deconstructs the methodologies adopted by commissioned artists and by myself as curator, in order to discuss how these practices can re-engage a photographic archive, both as a general approach within the practice of contemporary museological display and specific to the contexts of contemporary Northern Ireland and Ireland.
Themes addressed include:
how can an institutional and private photographic archive can be re-presented to function not solely as a construction of heritage but rather to promote an engaged and ethical spectatorship, wherein agency for the role of the spectator is a subject of experiment and wherein photography can function as a space of political relations which treats spectators as informed and ethical agents;
assumptions of ‘the real’ within the mediation and reception of photographic technology in a photographic archive;
the hegemonic power of vision and photography as a surveillance technology, in relation to the ethics of photography, and photography as a form of aggression and domination;
the ethics of photographic portraiture and relations between photography, temporality and mortality;
postcolonial critiques of contemporary museological display and explicit/implicit meanings within the museological display/classification of The Glass Album – as a display of a particular landscape and population within the postcolonial frameworks specific to Ireland north and south;
the use of The Glass Album in its various contemporary re-presentations within the broader public realm independent of the institutional archival/museum context as a construction of a collective narrative, a collective memory, a collective identity.