Category Archives: b+w

Dublin in the 1980’s, by Gerry Smith

(c) Gerry Smith. Screen capture from Blurb

I knew my friend, Gerry Smith, was into photography. I have seen some of his prints over the years, but not that many. We have lost touch in recent years, save for occasional contact. I knew that he was working on a Blurb book of some of his old work, and this evening he sent me a link to the book on Blurb and a youtube video of some select pieces. I have to say that I was blown away by the work, it really is excellent.

The work depicts Dublin in the 1980’s, and while I remember it murkily from my childhood, the photographs really represent a town from another time. Gerry says in his introduction

During the early 1980’s in Dublin, the inner city area was enveloped with half demolished buildings, unkempt sites and a general sense of disregard for the architectural heritage of the city. This was a manifestation of the overall depressed economic condition prevelant within Ireland at the time.

The wider richly layered social, commercial and architectural heritage represents the ‘soul’ of the inner city, which has developed over the centuries to establish the core of Dublin as unique in the qualities of scale, diversity and character of place.

The inner city on both sides of the River Liffey encompassed a rich diversity of uses and architectural quality, some of which have been regrettably lost to ‘development’ oppotunity, however the refurbishment of some areas has helped preserve and enhance much of the original quality of Dublin’s historic buildings and cultural content.

Some of the market activities that have survived to this day albeit in revised formats include the Moore Street market, the Smithfield Horsefair and the Dublin Corporation Wholesale markets on St. Michan’s Street also in the Smithfield area.

Many of the places captured in these images have become unrecognisable over the years due to redevelopment, however this collection provides a view of some of that which served us well for decades, but no longer remains.

While Gerry discusses the changing architecture of the city in his introduction, what really grabs me is the people in the photographs. The older men and women in particular, but also the children, are from another time and place – somewhere in the past, in history books, no longer present. And yet I need to remind myself that the children in the photos would have been a similar age to myself at the time – it’s not quite the ancient past!

I haven’t seen it in printed form yet, but this looks like a beautiful book that will appeal to a wide audience, not just to Dubs and the Irish.

– Rory

Link to the Blurb Book

Link to the youtube video

Link to Gerry’s website

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Manzini Madness

(c) Rossella Manzini

Manic Manzini

(c) Rossella Manzini

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(c) Rossella Manzini

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(c) Rossella Manzini

Irving Penn Portraits @ The National Portrait Gallery London until the 6th of June 2010.

Review By Padraig Spillane.

It may be a bit obvious to say that Irving Penn is one of the biggest innovators and stalwarts of portraiture. However, it is the truth and that’s something that’s always a bit thin on the ground. Irving Penn Portraits showing in the National Portrait Gallery in London is a timely reminder of his work, how his practice influenced photography and also the grace of the man behind the camera.

This exhibition is divided in to the decades of his work from the forties to the noughties, the decade of his death.  These divisions illustrate the shifts in his practice and what he is trying to garner from his subjects. Penn’s subjects are from the world of art and celebrity coming mainly from his time working at Vogue.

Penn remained predominately a studio portrait artist. However, there are shifts in style and structure through the decades. In the forties and early fifties his work took place in what seems to be a studio without a cleaner. The studio is minimal almost borderline austere and threadbare. The word neutral does not seem to do it justice. It has its own aura it but never takes away from the people being photographed. Old carpets used as amorphous props, and cigarette butts on an unswept floor add to an air of almost an in-between place.

Within this dishevelled space Penn constructed a corner. This is the centre for most of the forty’s studio work where his subjects stand, pose and play. What emanates is the person in the glory of singularity. It’s like wrapping a ruby in old newspaper. The effect of rarity is heightened. It’s not all paparazzi flash bulbs and glitter. It is a place away from all that. What is captured is: gesture, the finest details of the person and perhaps an inner drama laid bare.

By Irving Penn

By Irving Penn

By Irving Penn

“Sensitive people faced with the prospect of a camera portrait put on a face they think is one they would like to show the world. … Very often what lies behind the façade is rare and more wonderful than the subject know or dares to believe”.  Irving Penn.

There is a move from the fifties toward capturing more (and less) of the subject. Penn closes the frame in around the face allowing only the head and shoulders to be visible. This move heightens the drama of a gesture or a particular posture, as seen in his portrait of Richard Burton and perhaps more famously of Pablo Picasso. Penn is seemingly a master at putting his subjects at ease and getting what he wants. There is nothing showy about these photos while at the same time the subjects do not seem to be restrained. What seems to be given (dare I say it) is honest, whether the person is at play or just being as they are.

By Irving Penn

The quality of the prints is, well, quite high. I found myself nearly with my nose to glass looking at the textures of clothing and faces. Although the studio shots have an air of asceticism there is vigour at work. The pose of Truman Capote must be down to leaving him let rip and exploring his space in the corner.

The portrait of sculptor Alberto Giacometti is my personal favourite. The symmetry, the texture, Giacometti’s presence in the photo and the chiaroscuro are all so beautifully structured. There is seriousness and a sincerity thats captivating. There is a little mystery there too. The light falls on a wall of a man with his arms folded (if I’m being glib it’s a pose that is in contrast to Giacometti’s own sculptures). Is there a reticence to being photographed?  Is he tired? There seems to be an anxiety while everything is still. This tension obviously does not make it less of a portrait. It makes it even more. Giacometti seems to be what he is, a man being who he is. Irving Penn’s grace is to allow his subjects to be who they are.

By Irving Penn

I urge anyone who is heading to London to go to the National Portrait Gallery and find something wondrous in the eyes of Irving Penn’s portraits.

– Padraig

From Affection

From "Affection" by Padraig Spillane

These images are from Padraigs solo show, “Affection“, in Wilton library last year

From "Affection" by Padraig Spillane

From "Affection" by Padraig Spillane

From "Affection" by Padraig Spillane