Last summer in Arles, France, visitors were paying €12 to see the work of a Dublin-born artist at the oldest photography festival in the world. Landskrona, a small town in Sweden, hosts an ambitious festival that has dedicated a major exhibition on the history of photography in Ireland.
Yet, in Ireland, little is written or discussed about the photography. Few journalists or critics venture into the medium – and of those who do, hardly any manage to avoid the usual cliches about the eye and the camera.
The situation is similar in the various specialised art periodicals: other than mere listings, there is rarely a review of a show, publication or festival. The Visual Artists' News Sheet, a free bimonthly run by Visual Artists Ireland, voices "the diversity of contemporary Irish visual arts practice". But it is rare to find in it the excitement of the growing number and increasing quality of Irish photographic exhibitions.
One would have to grab a copy of the latest Source magazine, or occasionally Irish Arts Review, for even a distant sense of what is happening on this island. I don't recall a meaningful review of the PhotoIreland Festival in the past seven years, with the exception of Colin Graham's article in issue 87 of Source. For many readers and listeners, it may not even exist.
We have become used to this lack of information about photography, because it has been going on for years. Yet so much has happened in the past decade that deserves to be shared and celebrated. There is now a sense of urgency around the medium; if we don’t share and keep a collective record, we will miss key moments in the contemporary history of this artistic practice in Ireland.
A festival highlight
"The amazing street photography of Eamonn Doyle, " as Sean O'Hagan put it last July in the Guardian, was on show at the Rencontres d'Arles festival in Arles, which attracted more than 100,000 visitors. The formidable presentation (soundscape by David Donohoe and design work by Niall Sweeney, who also curated) meant that many listed it as the festival's highlight.
Doyle's show, called End, is the final dot on a trilogy that was preceded by i and On; these are diverse and unique observations of a modern yet intrinsically Beckettian Dublin.
Magnum photographer Martin Parr, il Padrino of photography and, in particular, photobooks, has lauded Doyle's work from the beginning. The Dubliner is now represented by the Michael Hoppen Gallery in London. His work has been featured in the New York Times, the Financial Times, the British Journal of Photography, Juxtapoz, i-D, Collector Daily, American Suburb X, Art Daily, and Wallpaper* magazine.
Would Doyle not deserve a few lines in the Irish media?
Landskrona, a quiet town across the sea from Copenhagen, hosts the annual Landskrona Foto Festival, which is quickly becoming Sweden's main photography event. Among the many well-curated exhibitions, it presents an historic overview of photography from a particular country. In September, it launched View Ireland: Beyond Picturesque Views of the Irish Landscape and the Representation of the Troubles.
Working for more than a year, curator Jenny Lindhe brought together a rather impressive selection of work that presented an accurate view of photography in Ireland – something never attempted here before. It presented a selection of historical material, including work by Mary, Countess of Rosse, alongside contemporary works by Doyle, Dennis Dinneen, Trish Morrissey, Anthony Haughey, Paul Seawright, Seán Hillen, Jan McCullough, Bertien van Manen, Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin.
To accompany the exhibition, Landskrona Photo published a catalogue of the works with key texts by Justin Carville, Ciara Hickey and Orla Fitzpatrick, among many others, making it a must read for anyone remotely interested in the arts in Ireland. Landskrona invested some €35,000 in this exhibition, including artists' fees. Some 18,000 visitors flocked to it.
Blow Photo magazine, based in Dublin, has been shortlisted for the Lucie International Photography Awards, essentially the photography Oscars, for three years in a row. Eamonn Doyle's D1 Publishing was also shortlisted this year. And PhotoIreland recently presented work by 20 Irish artists at the Centre Culturel Irlandais in Paris.
The lack of media and airtime given to photography is dangerous and puts the discipline at risk. I wonder if politicians and civil servants involved in the arts are remotely aware of what has happened in regards to photography in the past decade.
Does the Arts Council know how important it is for practitioners to publish photobooks? Should it not then be acknowledged in the funding opportunities? How can you motivate artists to develop a fearless practice if you don't appreciate their complexities?
When it comes to photography, it is about time we celebrate what we have, just as we do so well with other disciplines. Learn to value the hard work of these artists, of the many curators and administrators involved, the designers, the editors, the framers, the printers . . . and talk about it.
Or am I the only one in Ireland excited about Irish photography?
Ángel Luis González is founder and director of the PhotoIreland Festival (photoireland.org).