Out of the Dark Room, PhotoIreland 2011, Various Locations, Dublin

Text by Rosa Abbott

Following on from thesuccess of last year’s inaugural edition, the PhotoIreland Festival returned toDublin in 2011 with a bolstered programme and the duration doubled from twoweeks to a month. The festival seeks to promote photography from all levels, withparticipating artists ranging from internationally respected photographers tonew graduates and amateurs – perhaps the most egalitarian event being theun-curated was Homeless Gallery, in which would-be photographers are given theopportunity present their work wherever they see fit in a sizable exhibitionspace with no gallery fees. The result of this all-encompassing approach is afestival programme that is difficult to navigate for the sheer volume ofevents. There are far worse complaints that could be made about a festival,however – especially considering that even some of the smallest, leastpublicised exhibitions I’ve attended were of a high standard. The gap inquality between the big names and the emerging artists being satisfyinglysmall.
By far the biggestname on the bill was the controversial Magnum documentary photographer MartinParr. Unfortunately, though, none of Parr’s own photographic works are ondisplay. He is instead exhibiting items from his own collection, presenting hisfavourite photo books from the past decade. Parr’s critical opinion on thismatter is probably well worth heeding to: an avid collector of the medium, Parrhas traveled to far-flung corners of the globe to source these books, and theselection on show at the National Photographic Archives is diverse andengaging. The exhibition excels in its interactive nature: each book, thoughattached to the display with wire, is meant to be picked up and flickedthrough, introducing a kinetic and textural element usually unattainable in artexhibitions. The physical qualities of photography books – from paper type topage dimensions – are of course carefully selected, and form a central part ofthe overall aesthetic. By presenting a selection side by side, thesedifferences in tactile qualities are fore-grounded – the rough, grainy pages ofScrapbook create quite a differenteffect to the ultra-silky gloss paper of the adjacent Temporary Discomfort, for example.
Scrapbook also appears in an exhibition in the nearby Gallery of Photography aspart of The Long View, which ran until 28 August 28. This time, it isdismantled, and it’s pages arranged faux-chaotically across a long white wall –the pleasing textural qualities of the book in Parr’s exhibition giving way tothe visual dynamism of this alternative arrangement. Despite Scrapbook’s nostalgic title andhippy-ish floral cover, its subject matter is subversive and politicallycharged, dealing primarily with The Troubles (this element of deception createdby the cover gives the book format seen in Parr’s exhibition an edge over thewall-mounted version, if you’re interested in comparing display formats). Thetheme of Northern Irish conflict appears in many of the works in The LongView, a group exhibition of six Irish photographers making an impacton the international photography world.
Despite expectationsthat may arise from the name PhotoIreland, this is actually one of the fewexhibitions running as part of the festival to focus specifically on Irishphotography. The exhibition programme is predominantly very internationallyfocused, with other ‘headline’ exhibitions including a retrospective of Spanishpress photographer Luis Ramón Marín; a showcase of twenty-five Mexicanphotographers in Mexican Worlds and an exhibition of works by the Polishartist Zofia Rydet. Though it would be nice to see more Irish photography onthe billing – particularly from more established names – the opportunity tocatch stellar displays of international photography like these are fairly fewin Dublin, so PhotoIreland still doesn’t disappoint. Rydet’s The Arc ofRealism in particular was well worth visiting – her oeuvre is an ambivalentmixture of simple documentary style photographs, usually of lowly Europeanpeasants in their domestic environments, and dynamic, surrealistphoto-collages. Though it’s the latter group of works that are the most instantand visually arresting, the subtleties of Rydet’s photographic sociologicalstudies add layers of depth, especially when presented alongside their moreexperimental counterparts.
Happily, PhotoIreland this year also sees Dublin’s acquisition of noteworthyphotographic works on a more permanent level. The Irish Museum of Modern Art’soffering, Out of the Dark Room, is an exhibition of the extensive collectionof Dublin-born physician David Kronn. It includes photographs by the likes ofIrving Penn, Robert Mapplethorpe, Diane Arbus and Herb Ritts, with works fromthe collection to be donated to the gallery on an annual basis – beginning withan Annie Leibovitz portrait of Louise Bourgeois. So not only will Dubliners beable to look forward to ever-bigger editions of the PhotoIreland Festival eachsummer (going by the success of this one), there will be a new piece from theKronn bequest to visit each year as well.

PhotoIreland ran from 1 – 31 July. Many of the individual exhibitions are still running. See individual websites for further details.

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