PhotoIreland 2013: ‘New Irish Works’ at the National Photographic Archive, Dublin / Reviewed by Sarah Allen / 31.07.13
Nature, landscape and a sense of place are common themes linking the images featured in New Irish Works – the headlining exhibition of PhotoIreland 2013. Now in its fourth year, the festival has spread its roots nationwide with exhibitions taking place in Limerick, Cork and Dublin.
Showcasing the work of 25 artists, New Irish Works is fractured over seven different venues, however this instalment – held at Dublin’s National Photographic Archive – features some of the most arresting projects in the entire show. Dragana Jurisic’s series YU: The Lost Country is noteworthy both for its concept as well as its execution. Jurisic, a native of Yugoslavia, has taken the book Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, authored by Rebecca West, as a point of departure. In the novel published in 1937, West catalogues her experiences traveling across Yugoslavia. Using photography and text, Jurisic has retraced West’s travels mapping her own experience of the country onto that of the famous author. Although West’s book culminated in two volumes totalling half a million words, it was originally intended as a ‘snap book’. Jurisic’s prints are hung directly side by side calling to mind a comic-strip and through this presentation the artist seems to reinstate a certain ‘snapshot narrative’ to their shared journey. A display case containing copies of West’s book with pencil notations made by Jurisic imbues the project with an intimacy as well as refocusing the viewer’s attention on the concept of the journey, thus positioning the project within a rich history of travelogue photography.
Exploring the Romantic fascination with almighty nature, Shannon Guerrico’s body of work transitions between staged and unstaged imagery. Emily Brontë is cited as an influence and something of the author’s wild and macabre undertones are apparent, particularly in a portrait of a woman staring vacantly as if possessed while tugging at her disheveled hair. Courbet is cited as a further influence and perhaps this is most evident in the use of chiaroscuro. Although the contrast of light and shade make for haunting and dramatic images, at times the subject’s struggle to define themselves against the sea of dark shadow – an issue which is exacerbated by the reflections on the frame’s glass which at times hinder their legibility.
Where Guerrico’s vision is surreal, turning nature into something intriguingly un-natural, Robert Ellis’ images celebrate the the rustic in a more straight-documentary mode. Ellis uncovers bohemian hideaways in his exploration of communities living in the West of Ireland. From quaint interiors to idyllic blossoming gardens, the confluence of unique subject matter and a warm colour palette ensure that these images are easily the most picturesque works in the show.
Hanging opposite this series is Barry W. Hughes’ project Metastatic which constitutes a series of photographed scenes from the 1956 movie The Conqueror. Counterpointing Ellis’ tranquil images, Hughes’ work seem to vibrate with energy by virtue of the distorted effect caused by photographing a television screen. The movie was filmed in Snow Canyon State Park in Utah, close to an area where above-ground atomic testing was taking place. It was widely rumored that many of the cast and crew involved in the production died of cancer directly relating to the radiation fallout from the nuclear testing; thus, the buzzy aesthetic of the photographs takes on a further meaning. Hughes’ practice reinforces the importance of the archive and appropriation as important modes for contemporary photography.
With a voyeuristic approach, Dorje de Burgh’s explores the notion of a ‘hyper-mediated now’ through photographing seemingly insignificant and transitory moments – couples embracing, a figure standing in a doorway or an ill-defined American flag. Although the camera may be understood as an instrument which freezes life, these moments remain elusive as if on the cusp of vanishing.
Kevin Griffin’s project chronicles the comings and goings of Pascal Whelan, the sole full-time resident of Omey Island. Through portraiture and still life Griffin pieces together a touching portrait of this lone island inhabitant. One particularly memorable image is shot through a car window and shows Pascal in profile, hands resting on the steering wheel, his eyes fixed on the road ahead; his dog, also seen in profile, sits in the passenger seat staring at the open road with a kindred aloofness.
Equally turning its focus to isolated regions is Lisa Brownlee’s project Achill which documents a group of teenage residents of Achill island and their relationship with the landscape. Avoiding the camera lens, her subjects are photographed as if transfixed, like ornaments superimposed onto the untamed landscape. Brownlee’s images vary in size and are hung at different heights calling to mind Paul Graham’s installation strategy which evokes a stream of consciousness by juxtaposing moments of varying significance, in cloud-like formations, along the gallery wall.
This installment of PhotoIreland with the nationwide exhibition New Irish Works reveals a wealth of talent as well as a diversity of style and technique – a promising indicator of the growing experimental spirit in Irish photography today.
New Irish Works was presented at the National Photographic Archive, Dublin as part of PhotoIreland 2013 (June 21st – August 3rd)
National Photographic Archive, Meeting House Square, Dublin, Ireland