The Times We Lived In: a tale of two Micheáls

Published: December 22nd, 1952. Photograph: Dermot Barry

They say every picture tells a story – but sometimes, photographs need a champion to tell that story for them. Such is the case with this shot of the actor Micheál Mac Liammóir, taken to publicise a production of the play Ring Around The Moon, in which he played two very different brothers, good guy Frederic and cold-hearted Hugo, at the Gate Theatre.

Mac Liammóir’s body language as he portrays the supercilious Hugo, on the right, and hangdog Frederic on the left, is something to behold. With its stark lighting and sinister shadows, the picture is clearly a very special piece of work: sitting in our newspaper archive without any explanatory background material, however, it was also something of a mystery.

So we’re grateful to Jack McManus – well known to readers of this column as a photographer from this parish, now retired – who got in touch to put us, as it were, in the picture.

Barry, he explains, used a glass plate camera, placed on a tripod, with a single light source and a totally black background. “The subject was put on one side of the viewing plate; he set the exposure; then, while the lens was sealed, he got Mac Liammóir to shift to the other side, so that he had the two images on one plate.”


McManus points out that the expertise of Barry and his contemporaries was quite remarkable. “They worked with Heath Robinson bits of equipment, and they produced marvellous photos,” he says.

In 1952 Jack McManus was a photographic apprentice at The Irish Times. "I wasn't allowed out on jobs at that stage," he says. "I was fascinated by Dermot Barry's picture and made some prints of it."

One of which, more than likely, is the physical print which we have reproduced today. Meanwhile the camera Barry used to take the photograph can be seen in The Little Museum of Dublin.