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Monday, 5 September 2011

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

Text by Rosa Abbott

Following on from the success of last year’s inaugural edition, the PhotoIreland Festival returned to Dublin in 2011 with a bolstered programme and the duration doubled from two weeks to a month. The festival seeks to promote photography from all levels, with participating artists ranging from internationally respected photographers to new graduates and amateurs - perhaps the most egalitarian event being the un-curated was Homeless Gallery, in which would-be photographers are given the opportunity present their work wherever they see fit in a sizable exhibition space with no gallery fees. The result of this all-encompassing approach is a festival programme that is difficult to navigate for the sheer volume of events. There are far worse complaints that could be made about a festival, however – especially considering that even some of the smallest, least publicised exhibitions I’ve attended were of a high standard. The gap in quality between the big names and the emerging artists being satisfyingly small.

By far the biggest name on the bill was the controversial Magnum documentary photographer Martin Parr. Unfortunately, though, none of Parr’s own photographic works are on display. He is instead exhibiting items from his own collection, presenting his favourite photo books from the past decade. Parr’s critical opinion on this matter is probably well worth heeding to: an avid collector of the medium, Parr has traveled to far-flung corners of the globe to source these books, and the selection on show at the National Photographic Archives is diverse and engaging. The exhibition excels in its interactive nature: each book, though attached to the display with wire, is meant to be picked up and flicked through, introducing a kinetic and textural element usually unattainable in art exhibitions. The physical qualities of photography books – from paper type to page dimensions – are of course carefully selected, and form a central part of the overall aesthetic. By presenting a selection side by side, these differences in tactile qualities are fore-grounded – the rough, grainy pages of Scrapbook create quite a different effect 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 as part of The Long View, which ran until 28 August 28. This time, it is dismantled, 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 to the visual dynamism of this alternative arrangement. Despite Scrapbook’s nostalgic title and hippy-ish floral cover, its subject matter is subversive and politically charged, dealing primarily with The Troubles (this element of deception created by the cover gives the book format seen in Parr’s exhibition an edge over the wall-mounted version, if you’re interested in comparing display formats). The theme of Northern Irish conflict appears in many of the works in The Long View, a group exhibition of six Irish photographers making an impact on the international photography world.

Despite expectations that may arise from the name PhotoIreland, this is actually one of the few exhibitions running as part of the festival to focus specifically on Irish photography. The exhibition programme is predominantly very internationally focused, with other ‘headline’ exhibitions including a retrospective of Spanish press photographer Luis Ramón Marín; a showcase of twenty-five Mexican photographers in Mexican Worlds and an exhibition of works by the Polish artist Zofia Rydet. Though it would be nice to see more Irish photography on the billing – particularly from more established names – the opportunity to catch stellar displays of international photography like these are fairly few in Dublin, so PhotoIreland still doesn’t disappoint. Rydet’s The Arc of Realism in particular was well worth visiting – her oeuvre is an ambivalent mixture of simple documentary style photographs, usually of lowly European peasants in their domestic environments, and dynamic, surrealist photo-collages. Though it’s the latter group of works that are the most instant and visually arresting, the subtleties of Rydet’s photographic sociological studies add layers of depth, especially when presented alongside their more experimental counterparts.

Happily, PhotoIreland this year also sees Dublin’s acquisition of noteworthy photographic works on a more permanent level. The Irish Museum of Modern Art’s offering, Out of the Dark Room, is an exhibition of the extensive collection of Dublin-born physician David Kronn. It includes photographs by the likes of Irving Penn, Robert Mapplethorpe, Diane Arbus and Herb Ritts, with works from the collection to be donated to the gallery on an annual basis - beginning with an Annie Leibovitz portrait of Louise Bourgeois. So not only will Dubliners be able to look forward to ever-bigger editions of the PhotoIreland Festival each summer (going by the success of this one), there will be a new piece from the Kronn 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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