Monday 20 November 2017

Framing Dublin... Fr Browne's photographs

The verdict on a book of fascinating photographs by Fr Browne which captures a shabby but proud Dublin in the early decades of independence

Father Browne's Dublin: 1925-1950, edited by EE O'Donnell SJ. Published by Messenger Publications
Father Browne's Dublin: 1925-1950, edited by EE O'Donnell SJ. Published by Messenger Publications

Frank Coughlan

They are, in many ways, Dublin's forgotten years, in photographic terms at least. We are well-versed in images of a shattered city from the time of the 1916 Rising, through to the War of Independence and the Civil War.

And we know Fr Browne, too, most readily for the pictures he took on board the Titanic as she made her stately way from Southampton, via Cherbourg, to Queenstown.

While the Jesuit life was always to take precedence for the rest of his days, Browne seldom left home without his camera and the world is the richer for it.

In 1916, the 36-year-old Cork-born priest was sent to Europe to join the Irish Guards as a chaplain.

Browne was wounded five times during the war, serving in the Somme and Flanders amongst other infamous theatres of war, and was awarded the Military Cross for his bravery.

One photograph - Watch on the Rhine - is considered a classic image of the Great World.

In his lifetime he took over 42,000 photographs, leaving very few prints behind.

He died in 1960.

But in 1985 a treasure trove of negatives was found in the Jesuit archives in Dublin. Since then, various exhibitions and publications have added to his worldwide reputation and he has often being compared to contemporary masters like Henri Cartier Bresson.

This new volume captures Dublin in its quieter moments and freeze frames ordinary Dubliners as they go about their daily business or take pleasure in simple pastimes. It's a compelling record of a vanishing - or already vanished - Dublin, full of ghosts and faded memories.

Father Browne's Dublin: 1925-1950, edited by EE O'Donnell SJ. Published by Messenger Publications, €14.99

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