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"Magnum Ireland: A Major Exhibition of Photographs"
2006-04-19 until 2006-06-18
Irish Museum of Modern Art
Dublin, , IE

A major exhibition of photographs taken in Ireland by members of the celebrated Magnum group of international photographers opens to the public at the Irish Museum of Modern Art on Wednesday 19 April 2006. Magnum Ireland comprises some 150 photographs taken over almost 60 years by some of Magnum’s best known photographers, including Henri Cartier-Bresson, Elliott Erwitt, Josef Koudelka, Martin Parr, Eve Arnold and many others. The exhibition presents an evocative and arresting visual history of Ireland, North and South, with particular emphasis on the strong influence of rural life in the earlier decades, the Northern Troubles of the 1970s and ‘80s, the rapidly-growing confidence and prosperity of the past decade and, throughout, the hidden lives of ordinary Irish men and women.

The exhibition is presented decade by decade starting with the 1950s, where the predominantly rural nature of Irish life of the time can be seen in some marvellous images by Henri Cartier-Bresson of a typically wide cross section of people at a race meeting in Thurles, Co Tipperary, and in Inge Morath’s vivid colour photographs of Puck Fair in Killorglin, Co Kerry, depicting an Ireland which scarcely seemed to have changed since the turn of the century. These are shown alongside Erich Lessing’s vintage black and white prints of workers in Belfast’s Harland and Wolff shipyard and several photographs of a Dublin, described by Anthony Cronin in Thames and Hudson’s publication Magnum Ireland as having “the same aspect of past elegance and present decline that it had in 1904”, reflecting, perhaps, “the suffocating conformity and stasis”, which Cronin observed in the wider society.

Elliott Erwitt’s photographs of the 1960s show a still staid and conservative country, enlivened by visits to the Dublin Horse Show and the eagerly-anticipated arrival of Duffy’s Circus, whose combined exoticism and shabbiness is brilliantly captured by Bruce Davidson. In Northern Ireland the annual Twelfth of July celebrations, photographed by Philip Jones Griffiths, provide a day out for both communities, prior to the eruption of the Troubles at the end of the decade.

The ensuing conflict occupies most of the images from the 1970s and ‘80s, in hard-hitting black and white photographs by Abbas, Ian Berry, Philip Jones Griffiths and others. As Eamonn McCann puts it “the gloves were off and the guns were out”. The streets of Belfast and Derry are thronged with British soldiers as public demonstrations, funeral processions and the vestiges of everyday life continue around them. Particularly striking are Chris Steele-Perkin’s pictures of terrified funeral goers fleeing a gun attack in Milltown cemetery in 1988. Martin Parr’s 1980s images, by contrast, draw attention to the continuing run down state of much of rural Ireland, highlighted by the occasional architectural excesses.

The images from the 1990s show a country in transition, from burnt-out cars in Darndale in Dublin and an abandoned house in mid-Ulster to immaculately-dressed young women in a gospel hall in Northern Ireland and a fashion shoot in Connemara. By the 2000s the party is in full swing, literally in photographs by Stuart Franklin of the Trinity Ball and other scenes of revellery, and, metaphorically, in the growth of middle class housing estates and upmarket hotels. Even the Troubles have taken on a changed identity, in Donovan Wylie’s pictures of an almost pristine Maze prison, soon to become a sports and leisure centre for both communities.

Magnum Photos is a world-renowned photographic co-operative owned by its photographer members, who chronicle and interpret world’s peoples, events, issues and personalities. Through its four editorial offices in New York, London, Paris and Tokyo, and a network of 15 sub-agents, it provides photographs to the press, television, publishers, the advertising industry, galleries and museums across the world. The Magnum Photos library is a living archive updated daily with new work from around the globe. There are approximately one million photographs in the physical library, with 350,000 images available online.

Magnum Ireland is curated by Val Williams, Professor of Photography at the London College of Communications, and Brigitte Lardinois, Cultural Director at Magnum Photos, London. The exhibition is organised by the Irish Museum of Modern Art in conjunction with Magnum Photos, London.

An illustrated book, published by Thames & Hudson, with an introduction by John Banville, award-winning novelist and former Literary Editor of The Irish Times, and essays by Anthony Cronin, Nuala O’Faolain, Eamonn McCann, Fintan O’Toole, Colm Tóibín and Anne Enright, accompanies the exhibition (price €29.95).


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