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Ireland in Focus: Photographing Ireland in the 1950s

Races, Thurles, Ireland, June 1952 Henri Cartier Bresson
  • Featuring rare images of a forgotten Ireland by world renowned photographers Henri Cartier Bresson and Dorothea Lange, and anthropologist, Robert Cresswell

  • Largest exhibition of images by Henri Cartier Bresson to be displayed in Ireland, many of which have never been on public display before

12 November 2019: A major exhibition of important photographs which were taken in Ireland in the 1950s will go on display this week at the National Museum of Ireland - Decorative Arts & History, Collins Barracks, Dublin 7.

The exhibition explores the way in which three photographers, from France and North America, saw and portrayed Ireland through the people they photographed and the places they visited, during what is generally regarded as one of the more challenging decades in twentieth-century Ireland.

The Exhibition features:

  • 50 images by Henri Cartier-Bresson, considered the most important photographer of the 20th century
  • 20 images by renowned American photographer Dorothea Lange, taken in Dublin and Co Clare in 1954. 1952 and 1962.in circa 30 of which have never been exhibited previously. His photographs were shot in Dublin, Kildare, Westmeath, Galway, Kerry, Cork, Tipperary, Kilkenny, Waterford, and Wexford

  • 30 by Robert Cresswell, the Paris-based American anthropologist, who spent over a year living in Kinvara, Co. Galway in 1955 and 1956, with return visits in 1957 and 1958

The photographs featured in the exhibition give a rare insight into everyday life in 1950s rural Ireland; families working together shearing sheep and killing the pig; Corpus Christi processions; punters at the Racecourse; and families gathered around range cookers, are amongst the scenes depicted.

President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins will formally open the exhibition at an event in Collins Barracks this evening.  Amongst those in attendance will be members of the Brogan family from Kinvara, Co. Galway whose photograph was taken by Robert Cresswell in 1955-1956 and forms part of the exhibition.

Henri Cartier-Bresson: Considered the most important photographer of the 20th century, Henri Cartier-Bresson was a pioneer of street photography and photojournalism. On assignment from Harper's Bazaar magazine, he visited Dublin in June 1952, and returned later for a holiday in October 1962. He travelled throughout the country during both visits, taking photographs in Dublin, Kildare, Westmeath, Galway, Kerry, Cork, Tipperary, Kilkenny, Waterford, and Wexford. His images include landscapes, street scenes, portraits and public events, and this is the largest number of his images to have been displayed in Ireland. 

Dorothea Lange: Dorothea Lange is a renowned American documentary photographer whose portraits of displaced farmers during the Great Depression greatly influenced later documentary and journalistic photography. She travelled to Ireland in 1954 on assignment from Life magazine and while here captured more than 2,000 images. Mostly of Co. Clare, 20 of which will be on display as part of this exhibition.

Robert Cresswell: An American anthropologist who was based in Paris, Robert Cresswell lived in Kinvara, Co. Galway during 1955 and 1956 and took more than four hundred photographs in the area, including an exceptional set of Kodakchrome slides. The photographs were taken as part of his fieldwork on a 1950s' rural community in transition and his findings were published in what is now regarded as a seminal anthropological study of rural life, Une Communauté Rurale de l’Irlande

Chair of the Board of the National Museum of Ireland, Catherine Heaney said:

The photographs in this exhibition give us a unique opportunity to consider how we were viewed across the world, when Ireland was still finding her place in the world as a new Republic.  They also allow us to consider how much of ourselves we have left behind, and taken with us, in the intervening 70 years. With images from all over the country, this exhibition will connect with so many communities and families.”

Lynn Scarff, Director of the National Museum of Ireland, said:

It is an honour and a privilege for the Museum to display this wonderful collection of photography captured by Henri Cartier-Bresson, Dorothea Lange and Robert Cresswell in what was a very different Ireland to the one we know today. These exceptional photographers frame a variety of aspects of Irish life at that time and, in doing so, implicitly reflect elements of our society that were known, but often unseen. We are particularly grateful to the Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson for working with us on what will be the largest ever exhibition of images by Henri Cartier-Bresson in Ireland.”

Audrey Whitty, Head of Collections and Learning at the National Museum of Ireland, said:

This exhibition provides a very special insight into the Ireland of yesteryear. This was a time when smart phones and social media had not even been conceived, and photography was still a relatively rare commodity, so these images give us a rare insight into what life was like in towns and communities right across the country during what was a very challenging time for Ireland.”

Curator of the exhibition, Dr Fidelma Mullane, said:

Cartier-Bresson, Cresswell and Lange had no family connections with Ireland. Each one photographed the country with an outsider’s eye. Cresswell lived for 15 months in the Kinvara community as a working anthropologist. His photographs of the people shot in the street, farm or home, are premised on mutual trust, often giving the impression that the images were captured without the presence of a photographer. Cartier-Bresson and Lange were professional photographers whose work as street photographers and photojournalists created exceptional images such as those on show in this exhibition.”

Ireland in Focus: Photographing Ireland in the 1950s will open to the public in the National Museum of Ireland, Decorative Arts & History, at Collins Barracks, Dublin 7, on November 21 and will run until April 2020. Admission is free.

Ends//

Notes for Editor:

  • Media contact: Q4 Public Relations: Sinéad McGovern 087 6411725 sinead@q4pr.ie  / Deirdre Geraghty 086 6031969 deirdre@q4pr.ie

  • Photography from the launch: will be issued by Julien Behal Photography 087-9782542 – from the photocall at noon and also from the evening launch event.

  • Images: A number of high res images that feature in the exhibition are available here (Please note the credit requirements)

  • Hashtag: #IrelandinFocus


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