Dublin from another angle: visual records of the changing inner city

After 20 years as a DJ and techno record label boss, Eamonn Doyle has gone back to his first love, photography. His second photo-book of Dublin street scenes shoots an increasingly multicultural space from below


Eamonn Doyle has experienced the highs and lows the music industry has to offer over the past 20-odd years. He started out as a DJ and founded D1 Recordings, a techno record label that spawned a club night, record shop, distribution company, recording studio and festival.

D1 is considered one of the most important chapters in recent Irish music history, but the young Doyle had quite a different plan for his life. He studied commercial photography in Dún Laoghaire College of Art and Design, and after completing his degree, took off to Central and South America for a spell, photographing everything he could find.

“In Ireland it was still pre-internet, so it was still quite exciting to go photograph South America, the Caribbean and then come back with photographs people had never seen,” says Doyle. “While I was over there I always felt like, ‘What am I doing here? I should really be back home photographing in Dublin’.

“There’s a great Nan Goldin quote; she said you can really only photograph your own tribe. I don’t think it’s necessarily correct, but for me there’s a certainly a ring of truth to it. I felt like I should be doing this back home. Then, when I got home, I had notions, great plans to be a working photographer but just fell into music really, really quickly.”

He was immersed in electronic music for the next 15 years. D1 Recordings started in 1994, and by the time the associated festival, the Dublin Electronic Arts Festival (Deaf), wound down in 2009, Doyle was burned out in the music business. He picked up a Leica film camera and began to feel his way back into photography.

In the 1990s, he had a darkroom in his basement and shot exclusively in black-and-white, but as he started taking photos again, something wasn’t right. “I just didn’t want to start off where I’d finished 20 years ago,” he says. “It just felt a little bit stale to me. I didn’t really quite know why. I traded the Leica in for a digital version of the same camera and, for the first time, I was shooting in colour. Also, I decided I’d start shooting upright as opposed to landscape, just to push myself out of that zone I had been in.”

The results of all these changes were surprising, enigmatic photos of people on the streets of Dublin’s north inner city, collected in Doyle’s first photo-book, i (2014). In an interview around the time of the book’s publication, Doyle mentioned the writing of Samuel Beckett, and there is a similar sense here of the individual pared down into something small, impoverished, and yet almost monumental at the same time.

They’re also distinctly uncomfortable photos, shot from what Doyle says has been called a “mugger’s-eye view”. The people – most of them old and hunched – seem isolated from the city around them. Their faces are hidden, and they cast shadows on empty streets: aged, fragile yet dignified. They possess a sense of something fleeting being captured, frozen and exposed from a whole new angle.

“You can really only go out and photograph what’s in front of you,” says Doyle. “That could be determined by your mood or what you’re reading at the moment or what film you saw last night. Then really interesting things happen. I could decide to walk down O’Connell Street, spot someone in a purple coat who is turning the corner on to Talbot Street, decide to follow them for a minute. All of a sudden I’m on Marlborough Street, and then I come across a photograph of something and it just would never have happened if I’d pre-planned it.”


Everyday emotion

Doyle’s latest book, ON, is a striking change from i. The photos are shot mostly from hip-height or below, and far more of the street creeps in. The photos capture crowds, buildings, buses and street signs. The people are more diverse, their faces showing a vast range of everyday emotion.

“The last thing I wanted to do was a follow-up book to the first book, the same style of photography,” says Doyle. “It was suggested that maybe I could go photograph in maybe India or eastern Europe with the same idea, and it was just the last thing I wanted to do. This book, it’s still the same person out taking photographs, it’s exactly the same streets, the same time, the same era, but you can see the environment has opened up a lot more and you’ll see the multicultural aspect of the area, of inner-city Dublin, a lot more in this book.”

One key difference is a return to black-and-white shooting, which gives the photos a dramatic, high-contrast look. Although still digital photos, the feel is closer now to the classic Magnum photographers of old, and also to Daido Moriyama, who Doyle says is a key influence.

“My second book feels a bit closer to that style because it’s a lot grainier,” he says. “Also just this approach that the photo has to be completely unposed, completely unacknowledged. A very different kind of thing happens when there’s an acknowledgment of the camera. Some of the greatest street photography is that kind of work, where something has happened between the photographer and the person in it, but it’s not the kind of work that I like to do. It becomes a very different kind of thing and, for me, the photograph kind of dies.”

Doyle has put considerable effort into the physical presentation of his work. Although many of the photos have appeared online in various ways, the full-size prints are entirely different. He says that the photographs “don’t really exist” for him until they’re printed, and the book format is an ideal way to create a sense of context around the work.

“There’s a sort of a cottage industry that has been built up around photo-books that feels very like what happened when we were running the record label, and it was one of the things that kept us interested,” he says. “Now I’m putting out the photo-books under the same name as the record label. It’s the same thing. For me there’s really not a lot of difference, I’m still calling it D1 Recordings. They’re visual recordings of sorts, it’s just that we’ve flipped and changed the media.”

  • ON is published by D1, in a limited edition of 999. eamonndoyle.com. It will be launched at the Library Project, Temple Bar on Friday, as part of the PhotoIreland Festival 2015, running throughout July
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