Arts: Limerick's past meets its future - Sophie Gorman
The milk bottle glasses are an appropriate accessory for Hannie McLoughlin as she attended the Milk Market in Limerick. Hannie McLoughlin looks like a lady with a keen bright eye for a bargain and the market, every Saturday, was a place for haggling.
All corners of the county would weave their way in to argue the price of a live chicken. This life in a face has been captured by Limerick photographer Gerry Andrews and features in a truly remarkable exhibition Shaped by History currently on display in the National Photographic Archive in Dublin's Temple Bar (nli.ie).
These photographs were all taken by Gerry between 1970 and 1978. Gerry took his time because he realised the real way to capture people rather than simply put images on film was to know your subject, so they were comfortable with him. People like Old Moll, or Mary White as she would have been on her birth certificate.
Old Moll lived in the same remote farmhouse for almost a century, alone once her unmarried brother died. Every Friday, a neighbour drove her to collect her pension from the post office. Once collected, she indulged herself in a pint of Guinness followed by a glass of whiskey. And every Saturday, she left her home to make the five-mile journey into Limerick.
"The Saturday market was her favourite place, the only link left to her past," says Gerry. "Within those gates she was a different person, and every week she wore a stylish hat. Her tall, thin frame weaved its way through the stalls and she discovered her voice when it came to negotiating a bargain. She had a keen eye and knew quality when she saw it.
Many a farmer crossed her at his peril and she would only buy from those who earned her trust. Those who knew her best would call her Moll. She once told me that her mother was born just after the Milk Market opened in 1857, a short few years after the Great Famine killed one million people in Ireland.
"I started taking these pictures when I was 19 years old. I did always have it in my mind that this would all come together as a collection. I knew there was something important to record at the Limerick Milk Market, these character extraordinary.
It was also very obvious that the market would soon close, it was in such a state of disrepair and the corporation was talking about shutting it down. And once gone, these characters would never be seen again.
"I suppose I was always aware of the pace old Ireland was vanishing and knew that these people shouldn't be forgotten and couldn't be if I photographed them."
Gerry was working at that time with the Limerick Leader as a photographic engraver, though never as a photographer itself. "I was always determined not to work as a photographer. I wanted to keep my photography on a strictly amateur basis because I enjoyed it so much. I figured that if I became a professional photographer my days would be filled with the mundane, pictures of weddings and shop openings, and I would lose my love of photography."
However, Gerry did give it all up for many years. "I'm either into something 100pc or not at all, that's just how my mind works. So it was either all about photography or no photography at all, and the latter won for many years when my primary objective became my family and supporting them with my business."
Gerry's wife died in 2004 and he returned to photography. Since then, he has travelled hugely with it, documenting the vanishing tribes of Ethiopia and other remote locations. "But my theme has always remained the same as it was in the Milk Market, even if the locations vary dramatically. I just love photographing people."
It must be very interesting for the current Limerick generations to see such intense portraits of their fathers and mothers in this special setting. "I have been overwhelmed by the positive response, the next generation can see the hardship and struggle written into these faces and realise they owe an awful lot to their parents."
Gerry was diagnosed with a rare blood cancer last year.
"It came as bolt out of the blue. I'd never been sick a day in my life, but I was so lucky that a consultant in St Vincent' hospital detected a tumour in my spine just before it would have paralysed me. Everything started crashing down, my kidneys failed and I thought that was going to be it.
"But one year on, they've stabilised all that and I am getting ready for a stem cell transfer next week. I'm one of the lucky ones who can benefit from all the cutting-edge technology. We don't know how long our time is, but I'm planning to go to Japan in 2015 to take photographs."
1 Sometimes we are divils for overlooking and taking for granted the gems we have. How many of you have visited the Francis Bacon Studio in the Hugh Lane Gallery on Parnell Square? It is a huge triumph that it was secured and brought here. It is also a wonderful glimpse into the workings of an eccentric mind. hughlane.ie.
2 Tiger Dublin Fringe launches next Friday with a gender-bending race-playing high-fashion bang. Over eight hours, Canadian artist 2Fik (left) will transform into more than 80 characters from the famous Daniel Maclise painting The Marriage of Strongbow and Aoife. George’s Dock near CHQ is the viewing spot. fringefest.com.
3 Sticking with Fringe, first play, sort of, off the blocks to highlight is Rough Magic’s production of How to Keep an Alien in Project Arts Centre, previewing on the 4th and 5th. Generally brilliant funny person Sonya Kelly is back with a comic tearful memoir about securing an Irish visa for her Australian partner. fringefest.com.
The language of art can often be its own worst enemy. Nothing is worse than a serious critical essay for intentionally excluding everyone who hasn’t studied serious art criticism.
Take, for example, this quirky green tea pot with two spouts by Chuck Webster. It has a natural joy and whimsy to its tea fountains, but that is at least partly drained out by the tagline for the exhibition it is part of.
Vase, Vessel, Void in the Oliver Sears Gallery (oliversearsgallery.com) is described as “a group exhibition curated by Brian Kennedy exploring the evolution of the functional to abstraction through figuration”. It is just a short sentence but I fear it is one that will have enough people firmly deciding this is not for them. When really it is. Trust me.
Curator Brian Kennedy has brought together both Irish and international works, paintings and ceramics, to show how art has moved from the very precise still life reproductions of objects to more abstract representations. It responds to works that gallerist Oliver Sears has either collected or been interested in during the last 20 years, and the results form a kind of conversation between Kennedy and Sears through the art works.
Chuck Webster is an American artist known for his playful quasi-abstract paintings and drawings. His works are exhibited here alongside paintings and sculptures by such artists as Jason Ellis, Ben Nicholson and Hughie O’Donoghue. It’s not as highfalutin as it might sound — some of it might make you laugh, some might make you think about vessels, us humans being them too.