01 April 2020
01 April 2020 - Written by Colin Pantall
Between 2013 and 2016 Dublin-based photographer Eamonn Doyle made three books based on the street life of his hometown. This catalogue of his exhibition (curated by Niall Sweeney) gives an overview of these books, and how they fit into a wider world view that unites mourning, music, landscape, legend, and the intimate connection of Ireland to the Iberian Peninsula and beyond.
The UK coronavirus lockdown is in full swing. The shops are allowing in one or two customers at a time, the local supermarket has a made a barrier of shopping trolleys between the tills and the customers and, apart from a scattering of people waiting their turn at the butcher’s, the baker’s and the veg shop, the streets are almost deserted.
We’re in a world of social isolation, of people stepping into roads to keep their distance, of queues where people keep metres away from their neighbour. Everyone is distant, everyone is separate, everyone is apart. Of course we’re not as the virus proves. We breathe the same air, we walk the same streets, we share histories and geographies and livelihoods. We have a stake in each other. That is the point of the lockdown.
Lockdown life is the opposite of life on the streets as one usually imagines it. The hustle and bustle of city life has disappeared, people avoid each other, there are none of the tapestries of faces, the interchange of glances, the mingling of bodies and limbs that one usually experiences in an urban setting.
The cover of this catalogue of Doyle’s exhibition could be straight out of the lockdown. There’s a man in overcoat and trilby hat standing on a street corner. It’s shot from above, the man stands in isolation, he’s alone on the street, and he’s old. His stance is echoed in other images from the series (from Doyle’s first book, i) where hunched shoulders and headscarves, shuffling feet and dandruff backs are laid out against the cold tarmac of Dublin’s O’Connell Street.
It’s street photography, but this survey is there to give us an idea of the broader concerns apparent in Doyle’s work, and to tie that work to Doyle’s life in music and design. It’s a survey that is not just about his three Dublin books, but about how images tie in to a far wider cultural, emotional, and physical world. This world is mapped out from the outset of the book, with the isolated nature of the top-down images of i echoed in a series of shrouded sculptural figures made as Doyle struggled to come to terms with the death of his mother.
These shrouded figures emerged from Doyle’s wanderings along the ethereal landscapes of the Connemara coasts, from his investigations into migrations from North Africa and the Iberian peninsula to Ireland, from his work in the music industry, from how all these elements of his life have fused in a way that go quite beyond the limited notions of photography. It’s a book of images, but it’s not about photography. It’s about much more.
So the book, and the exhibition, is a redirection of Doyle’s work from the ‘floating world’ stagedness of his Dublin street work into something altogether darker and more personal. It’s work about how music, emotion, family, landscape and loss feed into and from the images that he made. It’s an interweaving of different elements to elevate the images, but also to move away from them. As they come to life and become part of a larger whole, so they diminish in importance. And you get the feeling that is not accidental.
This interweaving of non-visual elements was also apparent in Doyle’s hugely successful 2016 Arles exhibition. Also curated by Sweeney, this showed work from the Dublin trilogy in immersive avenues of grids and panels that were accompanied by a score by David Donohoe.
This exhibition included work from Doyle’s On and End; On showed the raw energy of Dublin’s streets in stark black and white images shot from low, heavily cropped and with a focus on compressed bodies and faces of a multicultural Ireland. End, in contrast, was a hugely ambitious book where graphic design elements layered into disjointed geographies of Dublin’s streets. It’s a stream of creative consciousness comprised of images, design, and music, all wrapped in a yellow cellophane wrapper.
That ultimately is what this survey is about, collecting a multitude of elements together and creating links between music, grief, literature, migration, textile, photography and design. It comes with texts which take you down different alleyways, some of which are autobiographical, some musical, some just great stories that thread and weave between image and music and history and life. Some lead nowhere, some connect back to images, to music, to loss, and both lead you away from the images into another world altogether but then somehow refresh and reinvigorate those images with words, with sound, with emotion.
It’s also a tremendously collaborative book, one where Doyle’s images are centre stage but are surrounded by the words and thoughts of musicians, designers, historians and anthropologists. It’s a book that reminds us that there is a whole world out there that exists in multiple dimensions and that our images are not abstract entities but connect to our pasts, our presents and our future in a multitude of ways that form the basis of who we are and what we can be.
Colin Pantall is a photographer, writer and lecturer based in Bath, England. His latest book, All Quiet on the Home Front, focuses on family, fatherhood and the landscape. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.