Saturday, September 16, 2017


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I was very much looking forward to this exhibition but having visited it, I suppose I should set out where I was coming from, as I found it very disappointing.

I was involved with the Eblana Theatre in the early 1970s when Amalgamated Artists were putting on stuff there. I did sound effects for The Ginger Man, The Singular Man, Little Red Riding Would and Look Back in Anger.

So I was approaching the exhibition from a nostalgic theatrical angle. I realised that Gavin Murphy's interest was primarily in the use and quality of space as opposed to actual performance but I did expect to find enough of interest in the exhibition to make it worth a visit.

The principal space in the exhibition itself was a purpose built cinema/theatre for the screening of Gavin's video on the Eblana. But let me just comment first on the space that first came into view as I entered the premises.

On the right hand side were nine representations of a spinning top with slightly varying shapes and textures. Facing me was a series of stencils projecting at right angles from the wall and side-lit by a spotlight.

On the left hand wall were three vertical brackets housing curved structures at right angles to the wall and a tantalising picture of a small auditorium where just a few seats were highlighted.

I gathered that the curved structures were intended to be reminiscent of the curves in Busáras and that they were arranged to represent a timeline of activity in the Eblana Theatre.

The timeline had a peak around the middle to lower end of the central element and it quickly flattened out in the right hand element, representing the abandonment of the theatre space and its neglect ever since.

The stencils when read in sequence, either directly or from their shadows, formed a quotation but there was no angle from which the full text could be read at a single go.

This highlighted a problem that, while there all the time, became more evident in the photographs than to a person actually present and looking at the objects. The placing and shape of the spotlights here and in the timeline tended to produce hotspots making the peripheries problematical.

The video, or at least half of it, turned out to be more interesting but there did not seem to be a lot to it.

Michael Scott's own description of the genesis and construction of Busáras was interesting. I liked the use of domestic and foreign magazine articles of the day to illustrate Scott's voice. But I thought an opportunity was missed to reinforce the points by the addition of some forcefully presented contrasty black and white shots from the present.

Des Nealon's commentary on the Eblana itself was interesting but again the visuals were slow and unadventurous. The bookshelf in the Dublin City Library and Archive was over-used and the presentation of the theatre programmes was a bit too fast for my liking. I would have liked to read a few of them in detail rather than having them simply pass before me with their speed of movement representing the inevitable passage of time.

This segment has, however, whetted my appetite and I will be paying the Archive a visit in the near future to peruse them at my leisure.

I have said where I was coming from and maybe this was not the exhibition for me, so you should probably go to the Temple Bar Gallery + Studio site's page and read up on it for yourself.

And the spinning top.

I think it was still spinning as I left.

Friday, September 15, 2017


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So, who are these Photo Detectives and what do they detect.

Well, the National Library of Ireland has thousands of photos in various collections. Some, like the Lawrence Collection, have been around for more than a century and others have been donated to the library in more recent times.

Wonderful as the images may be, a major lacuna in many of these collections is that they are often not fully documented. Sometimes they are hardly documented at all. So it can be a mystery where the photos were taken, when they were taken and who were the subjects. That's where the Photo Detectives come in.

Little incidentals in the images can suggest a place or a time and, at the end of the day, the subjects may be someone's granny or auntie or suchlike.

But how is the Library to get to know these hidden facts?

The answer is to shoot the photos out into the street and hope that some member of the public sees them, recognises something in them, and comes back with the goods.

So mystery photos are put up, one a day, on Flickr with appeals for information and the result has been stunning.

Some are spotted by people with connections, direct or indirect, to the photos but in other cases complete strangers set about trying to unearth the answers from old newspapers and other historical sources. All are detectives, but the obsessive nature of some soon turns them into Special Agents.

This initiative has been going for a number of years now and the Library thought to celebrate it and get it even wider publicity by having a year long exhibition at the Library's National Photographic Archive in Temple Bar.

I went along to the launch on Wednesday (13/9/2017)

The A Team: (l-r) Maeve, Carol, Sandra, Sabina & Nicola

Let me introduce the team. Maeve Casserly, Carol Maddock and Nicola Ralston are on the staff of the Library, and with the assistance of some others, it is they who have put this wonderful exhibition together.

Sandra Collins is the Director of the National Library of Ireland and Sabina Higgins has come to formally launch the exhibition. Sabina is an actor and artist in her own right. She was a founder member of the Focus Theatre. But she also happens to be the wife of the current President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins.

After taking Sabina around the exhibition, of which more later, Sandra opened the proceedings by welcoming all to the Archive.

On behalf of the Library she thanked all those whose work contributed to the success of the initiative and made today's exhibition possible.

She was particularly pleased that much of the audience was made up of those who had become part of the Photo Detective Squad, some of who had travelled long distances to be here.

She looked a very happy lady.

Meanwhile, the First Lady was patiently waiting to take the floor under the watchfull eye of Photo Detective Photopol.

Sabina had brought a script with her and she launched into it, punctuating it with unscripted remarks reacting to the exhibition itself which she had just toured.

Soon her ad lib remarks had made the script redundant and she gave a wonderful, and impromptu, emotional speech on the importance of history and of people connecting with one another.

She drew on the examples on the wall around her and I would have been shouting my support were she not the President's wife and a certain modicum of decorum on the part of the audience was appropriate to the occasion.

You can hopefully sense her involvement and the intensity of her remarks from the images below, not forgetting the glint in her eye and her well developed sense of humour.

In her earlier tour, Sabina was introduced to some of the amazing results of the work of the Photo Detective Squad. This was Seán O'Casey's house, pinned down through a myriad of sources.

Incidentally, you can view the photos used in the exhibition in a custom Flickr album here. Just click on the shot you want to examine and you'll get it as part of a slide show with the Library' comments beneath and also the interplay between the Library and the Photo Detective. Click on the photo again to enlarge it and again to return it to its original size. There is a link at the top left of the screen which brings you back to the original album.

Nicola is explaining the background to the moving Bollards at the junction of Parnell St & O'Connell St to Sabina.

Sabina emerges from the Tardis on St Patrick's Hill, Cork City around the year 1900.

But it's not all serious stuff. There's buckets of fun and enjoyment to be got out of the exhibition and you might even be encouraged to become a Photo Detective yourself. Mind you, detective work is 90% hard work and 10% luck, but when it all comes together there's no beating that buzz.

There is a serious side to it, of course.

I don't know what Sandra was expostulating here but Sabina looks receptive. A word in Michael D's ear these days though is not what it used to be when he was Minister for Culture and the Arts with a pot of real gold at his disposal.

One of the Library's strong points these days is catering for young people. I noticed this at their recent birthday party and it's evident here again today.

They are not always this young, but you're looking at a span of four generations here from two month old Finn to his great grandfather Tadhg Devane in the picture on the wall.

The photo above is how I lined the family up.

Mark Stedman

Enter photographer Mark Stedman and the dramatic content shoots through the roof.

This is Mark's line up. I've commented before on Mark's ability to organise a shot. Unfortunatly I was not best positioned to exploit it to the full.

As I said, they're not always that young and the Library caters for a spread of ages at these events. This is a drawing of a lady from one of the exhibition photos ready for colouring in.

For the more analytically minded child there is a maze, also themed on the exhibits.

And for the trainee junior Photo Detective a fold-out quiz based on searching the exhibition, finding the relevant exhibit, and answering questions about it. A sort of a photo treasure hunt.

And I shouldn't forget to mention that the above materials, and the exhibition signage and panels is in both English and Irish.

After expending all that energy you must be hungry and thirsty. The Library's own Café Joly is on hand with the catering.

The Mortimer's Grocery and Confectionery Shop is part of the exhibition and it particularly caught my eye. Mortimer is not all that common a name. My own grandfather Mortimer was in the grocery trade and rose as far as manager of Lipton's store in Birr, Co. Offaly.

However he dirtied his bib, the how I don't know, ended up back in Dublin as a canteen assistant in Richmond barracks and, within a few years, his corpse was fished out of the Liffey on Eden Quay. I'm sure Mr. (Waterford) Mortimer above had better luck.

But let's not spoil the day that's in it. You want to see a very happy Director. Well, there you are.

Photo: Bríd O'Sullivan

And as for me?

I'm guaranteed a year's immortality on the wall in the company of all the other Photo Detectives.


This was my first and only theatrical portfolio shoot.

It was shot in Donaghmede in the 1960s.

The subject is Dearbhla Molloy, then more or less at the beginning of her acting career, a career which has been enormously successful.

I was recently going down memory lane, reflecting on my very limited connections with the theatre, and thought I'd like to share these images.

Subject: Dearbhla Molloy
Photographer: Pól Ó Duibhir
Director: Bríd Dukes

Thursday, September 14, 2017

An Ghaeilge faoi Bhláth

I have already commented, in my post on the Jacobs Archive Exhibition, on the creative use of Irish in the presentations.

I am so fed up with seeing dull, repetitive use of the language as a token genuflection to the first national aim, or, perish the thought, its total misuse and distortion to the point of strangulation.

People seem to forget that the reader will have English, that they will read this in preference, and that repeating the English in Irish simply debases the language and makes its token status crystal clear.

Now this exhibition is a breath of fresh air and understanding. In almost every case, advantage is taken of the Irish to complement the English header, or, as in the above case, to put a bit of jizz into it once the English has done its duty in conveying the factual information.

If I had any influence in the matter I would be recommending Monica in the City Council's Irish Language Unit for a medal. In fact, I would take the medal that Bertie loaned the exhibition and give it to her on the spot. Perhaps Bertie could be persuaded to gazump me on this one.

Regarding the header above: Biscuits at the front is one thing. Brioscaí i mBéal an Chatha has a resonance of biscuits under fire and in the heat of battle.

The Irish here reminds us that the Jacobs archive is now in the permanent possession of the Dublin City Library and Archive.

Here, the Irish reminds us that the missing operative, Jim Figgerty, has not been reported to the police as the operation was simply an advertising campaign by the company, and, a hugely successful one, I should add.

This one evokes the Poet Raftery's long trip west to the Promised Land. It brings a smile to the Irish speaker, or even those just barely familiar with the poem from their schooldays.

For me, there is a wee hint here of keeping up with the Joneses, and Jacobs various Royal selections/assortments would seem to bear this out.

This natty little phrase applies not only to the long saga of the invention and marketing of the perfect cream cracker, but to many things in life, even Beckett's fail and fail again or GK Chesterton's if a thing is worth doing it's worth doing badly. You don't always have to hit your target to get some good out of the effort.

The word impact is sort of neutral. The strains and tensions implied in the Irish give you a sort of preview of the event and its aftermath even before you read the rest of this excellent display.

This is what my primary school teacher, Pimple, would have called píosa filíochta i ngan fhios dó féin or as the English of the day would have it he's a poet and he doesn't know it.

Again the Irish puts a bit of life and humour into a pedestrian English header.

The Irish spells out the health and recreation elements implied in the English title.

Finally, the Irish hints at the necessity for Jacobs to split up into two separate companies to survive the complexities of Irish independence. Interestingly, the problem was to occur again, in slightly different form, with the threat of Ireland's withdrawal from the British Commonwealth of Nations many years later.

And Brexit?