Thursday 11 September 2014

back on the blog ... again

This image shows a Continental Standard Typewriter, a front strike, four bank. This machine dates from around 1935 (production started in 1904). It was photographed by Ciarán Walsh and posted by Ghistlebertus, blog of to signal the commencement of development work on ' Tríd on Lionsa' or 'Through the Lens,' the title of a TV series on photography in Ireland between 1880-1900 that has been commissioned by the BAI (Broadcasting Authority of Ireland) for TG4. The series is being developed by Ciarán Walsh of, Niamh Ní Bhaioll of Sibéal Teo and Cathal Watters. Production is scheduled for October / November 2014.

its been a while and its been erratic, the usual blog scenario. However I'm back on the blog and Ghislebertus remains the inspiration for a blog about a new era of imagining, in this case a reflection on the development of social documentary photography in Ireland between 1880 and 1900.

The impetus to blog ... having something to say ... comes from a commission from TG4 for a series on social documentary photography which has just entered the pre-pre-production phase of intensive research and writing: taking apart the history of photography in Ireland - there aren't that many histories of photography in Ireland - and coming up with a blue print for 6 narratives that reveal the unwritten / untold histories of the people through the lenses of 6 photographers who went west in the 1880s and 90s. 

This image shows a blue print of an antique typewriter in which the keyboard has been modified to spell 'Tríd an Lionsa - Photography on TV.'  'Tríd an Lionsa' is the Irish / gaelic for 'Through the Lens' which is the title of a TV series on photography in Ireland between 1880-1900 that has been commissioned by the BAI (Broadcasting Authority of Ireland) for TG4. The series is being developed by Ciarán Walsh of, Niamh Ní Bhaioll of Sibéal Teo and Cathal Watters. Production is scheduled for October / November 2014. The image was sourced in Tumbler and modified by Ciarán Walsh for Ghislebertus, the blog of

Tríd an Lionsa / Through the Lens 
The unwritten history of life in the West of Ireland, 1880-1900.

The BAI (Broadcasting Authority of Ireland) has agreed to fund a six part series for television that will look at the lives of ordinary people in the West of Ireland as seen through the lenses of six photographers

The series is being developed by and  Sibéal Teo, Dingle in association with TG4. Work on the production begins in October 2014.

Friday 21 March 2014

On The Edge of Utopia: Feature by Ciarán Walsh, Irish Inependent Weekend Magazine.

Text of Article:

On the Edge of Utopia 

Utopias have a bad history. Describing a housing estate in a small town in Tipperary as Utopian might seem like a bad joke except that the same development was awarded a Gold Medal at the UN backed International Awards for Liveable Communities (Livcom) in December.

Cloughjordan Eco-Village is being developed by Sustainable Projects Ireland Ltd. (SPIL), founded in Dublin in 1999 with the aim of creating a model community as a template for future development.

“Utopianism at its best is about imagining a future that may look very different from the present ... not in an airy fairy way but in a way that robustly begins to plan for such a future” according to Peadar Kirby, one of the first people to move into the estate in 2009.

Cloughjordan is that future. The project was launched in 2000 and has reached the point where it looks and feels like a living community. 53 homes have been constructed on a 67 acre site just off the main street. A further 30 sites have been sold with 50 sites left to sell.

There is a community woodland, a 12 acre farm, a district energy facility, a solar park, research gardens and allotments, a 32 bed eco-hostel and an eco-enterprise unit.

This has taken 15 years and cost over €7,000,000, only a fraction of which has come from the state. This estate was built by a community, some of whom actually built their own homes.

I spent 24 hours in Cloughjordan being shown around by Davie Philip, a relentlessly forthright spokesperson for the project and a passionate advocate for the ‘oneness’ of community.

Cloughjordan (pop.850) is a settler town, Norman first and Cromwellian second. It was a vibrant market town in the 1800s, boosted by the arrival of the railway in 1864. By 2000 it was in decline, it’s importance as a rural transport hub eliminated by changing demographics.

It wears its history like a threadbare greatcoat, its wide streets and uniform terraces exaggerating the sense of a town that has outlived its purpose. The Eco-Village bought a derelict pub and demolished it, punching a hole in the streetscape to give access to a site it purchased in 2005.

It’s not the best preparation for the shocking contrast between the old and the new. The Eco-Village has ripped up the old order, opting for a cluster model that is reminiscent of a clachan.

The shock is as immediate as it is visual. Sharp contrasts in house-type, scale and material are accentuated by the openness of the site. There are no walls or gates. Paths and play-areas take precedence over cars.

It doesn’t look like a housing estate, in fact it doesn’t look like Ireland at all.  The effect is deliberate. “We wanted make an impact and 15 houses made of sticks in a field was not going to influence anyone” Philip tells me.

Architecture isn’t the only thing that separates Cloughjordan old and new.  The Eco-Village represents a very different way of creating a community.

“Cloughjordan is about a bunch of people coming to a location with the intention of creating a community” says Bruce Darrell who has been involved with the project for 8 years. He spent a year and a half building a house with his neighbour and moved in 3 years ago with his wife Morag and daughter Leontien.

“There is no utopianism here, there are no absolutes. This project was set up 15 years ago and it maintains a huge amount of the ethos of the original vision ... but that matters less to some people, who may just see it as a nice place to live.”

Gregg Allen spent ten years managing the development and agrees that the project has become less utopian and more like an estate. But this not your average suburban estate tacked on to a rural town.

It is a self-organising community and everything is done differently. There are around 130 members of the community, 25 of whom are children. Life is regulated by a system of monthly meetings and work groups.

Pat Malone, a man of intense humanity, is responsible for growing food for all of them. “Families pay up front for fresh produce which is placed in a central depot for people to take what they need. There is no distribution or retail system to distort the coast of high quality, organic produce.”

There is a problem, however. The project is about 30 families short of the critical mass needed to sustain this type of food production. The farm doesn't generate an adequate wage and Malone, and his family, depend on income assistance to get by.

“Research shows that it takes a population of about 2,000 to maintain a fully viable and varied local economy" adds Joe Fitzmaurice, the community baker. He produces 1,000 loaves a week, 160 or so go to members and the bakery is viable  because it has a wider market and a distribution network.

The project has been severely effected by the crash of 2007. There are people who want to live here but can’t sell their houses or can’t get mortgages. 25 people have sites but can’t build and 15 more have paid deposits on sites.

The purchase and servicing of the site required a lot of capital, which was raised through the sale of sites to members. 50 sites remain unsold and this is causing all sorts of difficulties.

Conflict management is a key part of the monthly meetings. “Tensions exist in every community” Kirby tells me “and you wouldn’t have a living community if you didn’t have tensions. It’s how you manage them as a community that matters.”

“Other eco-villages have said that the main points of contention are pets, parenting and parking” Julie Lockett adds, laughing, “but they don’t really apply here.” The flashpoints usually involve expectations; people have different ideas of what they want this place to be and these have to be resolved  through negotiation.”

The same sort of pragmatism can be seen in the approach to education. It is a secular community and religion is a personal matter. Access to secular education is a priority but it will have to wait according to Lockett.

“We have set up an eco-village, we’ve organised the build of our own houses, people are getting their businesses up and running ... you can’t radicalise every area of your life simultaneously, there’s not enough hours in the day.”

And there are bigger problems. There is a skewed demographic in the estate because of the dependence on sites sales and the combined cost of building a home, anything between €180,000 and €300,000

Many members simply can’t afford to live there. Social and affordable housing is regarded as a priority and frustration with local and national government is apparent. “SPIL has always been treated by Tipperary County Council as a standard developer” says Allen.

The Liv Com Award may change that and may help to get the population up to a sustainable level. It’s established that this project is not about alternative lifestyles or some kind of futurology.

This is about technology assisted community systems that are being rolled out in major urban centers across the globe and projects like this need a proactive and imaginative approach by local authorities and statutory agencies in partnership with communities, like the one adopted in Vauban/Freiburg on the French/German border.

None of it matters without jobs according to Pa Finucane who owns Django’s Hostel. “You can talk about sustainability ‘til you’re blue in the face but, if you don’t have a livelihood, it’s not sustainable.”

Tourism linked to education is the mainstay of the hostel. Educating people in the benefits of living in a sustainable community is a core activity and an important source of income.

The potential of web-based eco-enterprise is personified by Una Johnston, an event manager who works Stateside mainly.

I can work from anywhere as long as I’ve got a laptop, broadband and access to a VPN. The fact that there is fibre optic cable underground means that I have got really good quality IT systems. I don’t commute. I work from here.”

Self-starting eco-enterprises got a boost with the opening this week of an enterprise unit (funded by Enterprise Ireland, North Tipperary County Council and Enterprise Board) in which Anthony Kelly and Ben Whelan have created the first ‘Fab Lab’ or digital fabrication laboratory in Ireland.

“This is the last leg of the Eco-Village story; people have places to live, we have the farm and people now have a place to work” says Kelly. Resilience, optimism and determination characterise this community. They will finish this model village, this “beacon” of community living.

Utopia hangs in the balance, however. Will the new Cloughjordan go the way of the old Cloughjordan? Or does this experiment in sustainable living in the heart of rural Ireland offer new ways of maintaining old communities. Only time will tell and time is running out, fast.

Wednesday 20 November 2013

Timothy H. O'Sullivan (1840 - 1882) Pioneering Irish / American photographer


Litle is known is known of O’Sullivan’s biography. He was born in Ireland in 1840 and came to the United States with his parents two years later. His family settled in Staten  Island and he is thought to have learned his trade from the famed portrait photographer Matthew Brady. By the 1860s he was working in Boston with Alexander Gardneer, documenting the cvil war. He spent much of the conflict in the field with the army of the Ptomac, and is best known for his photographs of dead soldiers on the field at Gettysburg.

After the war, he worked as a photographer for two of the most ambitious geographical surveys of the nineteenth century. He traversed the mountain and desert regions of the western United States under the command of Clarence King and Lt. George M. Wheeler for six seasons between 1867 and 1874.

O'Sullivan developed a forthright and rigorous style in response to the landscapes of the American West. He created a body of work that was without precedent in its visual and emotional complexity, while simultaneously meeting the needs of scientific investigation and western expansion.

“I think that the camera itself, its lens and its ground glass, accounts in part for the modern look of some 19th century photographs,including many of O’Sullivan’s. There is an abstracting activity in the use of this tool. One studies light and dark shapes projected on to a flat rectangle upside down and recognises a picture.”

Mark Rudell On O’Sullivan’s photographs of the Colorado River expedition:

“There is a drama in the expression of space, it’s about being able to position yourself  within a larger view of the landscape and then organising the information in a pictorial way that is compelling, we’re seeing the landscape as unified, but also as dissected: how it is built up vertically but also how big it is vertically.”

Terry Totemeyer

Tuesday 29 October 2013

Briseann an dúchas ... nature will out.

Lucinda Creighton and Peig Sayers take a stance.  

Creighton was expelled from the Fine Gael parliamentary party in July 2013 when she defied the Fine Gael party whip by voting against the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill 2013.

Peig Sayers struck fear into the hearts of generations of second level students who had to study her account of life on the Great Blasket Islands. An exhibition of photographs from the the Great Blasket Island opens in Killarney tomorrow (30.10.2013) and, by chance, Peig's portrait has pride of place. It gets the usual reaction. People recall the long shadow she cast over their teenage years and they stress the fact that Peig's Ireland was another country, the perceived miserablism of her account making the distance even greater.

It's tempting to regard both as representing a particular sense of 'Irishness,' socially conservative and regressive, the Ireland of long ago. Peig maybe off the syllabus but her spirit lives on in the stance adopted by Creighton. Briseann and dúchas trí shúilabh an chait or, in English, the cats real character breaks out through its eyes. The English translation doesn't quite work as well but Aesop put it more succinctly when he said that the cat's "Nature will out." 

El Keegan took the photo. She is a  freelance photographer who covers lifestyle and fashion for a range of press titles. Was she thinking of Peig when she composed the photo? Is this a case of projection...  a deeply ingrained idea of what conservative Ireland looks like?  A case of Briseann and dúchas trí shúilabh an chait?

Fairscin Inise / An Island Portrait
Grianghrafanna den Bhlascaod Mhór / Photographs of The Great Blasket Island 1892 -2010
Roinn Ealaíon, Oidhreachta agus Gaeltachta / Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht
Cill Áirne / Killarney
Opening 30.10.2013 @ 6.30pm

Sunday 6 January 2013

Pandaemonium: Is the idea of surveillance by camera or CCTV as old as the idea of photography itself?

Ideas from the  Christmas book pile no. 1:
Is the idea of surveillance by camera or CCTV  as old as the idea of photography itself?

'everything would then take place under the eye of the Police'

Use of the Camera Obscura, 

The Glasgow Mechanics' Magazine, No. XXXII , August 7,1824

The following article is contained Humphrey Jennings' Pandaemonium 1660 - 1886:

An occurrence originated in a Camera Obscura exhibited here during the Fair week, which shows the important use to which this amusing optical apparatus may be applied. A person happened to be examining, with great interest, the various lively and ever shifting figures which were pourtrayed (sic) upon the white tablet during the exhibition, when he beheld, with amazement, the appearance of one man picking another man's pocket. Perfectly aware of the reality of this appearance, he opened the door, and recognising the culprit at a short distance, ran up and seized him in the very act of depredation. It is, perhaps, unnecessary to add, that he was immediately handed over to the Police. From this circumstance, the utility of placing such apparatus in all places of public amusement and exhibitions, must be obvious.

One on every corner: Alfred Werner's camera of 1893 gives an idea of the scale of the camera obscura used in 1824 (photo: Eddie Chandler).

Whether it might be proper to erect it in the streets of a populous city like this, and to place it under the inspection of an officer for the detection of mischief and crime, is a matter worthy of the consideration of the local authorities. Would it not be an eligible plan, indeed to employ the Camera Obscura of the Observatory, (which is not otherwise in use) to take a view of what is passing in the streets in town, and communicate the result, if necessary, to the Police Office, or the Jail, by means of a telegraph? If the Observatory be considered too far off, the apparatus could be fixed up near the top of the Tron or Cross Steeple.  By this  means, the necessity of sending out emissaries to reconnoitre the conduct of the lieges could be superseded, since every thing would then take place, as it were, under the eye of the Police; and, if any impropriety or misconduct were observed, it would only be necessary to send a posse to te particular spot where it happened.

Humphrey Jennings was a British documentary film-maker who died in 1950 when, at the age of just forty-three. He fell from a cliff in Greece when scouting film locations. Jennings was a socialist, a champion of surrealism and one of the founders of Mass Observation. He was also a pioneer of neo-realism, coaxing extraordinary performances from non-professional actors in several of his works. His best known films are Fires Were Started, The Silent Village and A Diary for Timothy.  Lindsay Anderson described Jennings as ‘the only real poet that British cinema has produced’.

Jennings first started the Pandaemonium project in 1938, initially as a series of talks for miners in South Wales when filming The Silent Village. But the anthology was not completed until nearly forty years after his death, in a collaboration between his daughter, Mary-Lou Jennings, and his former Mass Observation colleague, Charles Madge.

The title is taken from Milton's Paradise Lost:

There stood a Hill not far whose griesly top
Belch’d fire and rowling smoak; the rest entire
Shon with a glossie scurff, undoubted sign
That in his womb was hid metallic Ore,
The work of Sulphur. Thither wing’d with speed
A numerous Brigad hasten’d. As when Bands
Of Pioners with Spade and Pickax arm’d
Forerun the Royal Camp, to trench a Field,
Or cast a Rampart. Mammon led them on,
Mammon, the least erected Spirit that fell
From heav’n, for ev’n in heav’n his looks and thoughts
Were always downward bent, admiring more
The riches of Heav’ns pavement, trod’n Gold,
Then aught divine or holy else enjoy’d
In vision beatific: by him first
Men also, and by his suggestion taught,
Ransack’d the Center, and with impious hands
Rifl’d the bowels of thir mother Earth
For Treasures better hid. Soon had his crew
Op’nd into the Hill a spacious wound
And dig’d out ribs of Gold. Let none admire
That riches grow in Hell; that soyle may best
Deserve the precious bane. And here let those
Who boast in mortal things, and wond’ring tell
Of Babel, and the works of Memphian Kings
Learn how thir greatest Monuments of Fame,
And Strength and Art are easily out-done
By Spirits reprobate, and in an hour
What in an age they with incessant toyle
And hands innumerable scarce perform. 

John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book 1, 1667

Tuesday 24 July 2012

Synged In Aran

"Je suis Synge, pas Singe" is how John Milington Synge introduced himself to a fellow Irishman on Rue D'Assas in Paris. Last Thursday the sun came out and I got singed in Aran. It was a glorious day, summer had happened all of a sudden and I was caught out with lots of rain gear but no sun block.

The scene on Cill Mhuirbhigh beach reminded me of the photograph, taken by Synge, of horses being landed on Inis Oírr, the sharp sunlight glistening on the waves and giving enough exposure to catch the movement  of a horse as it came ashore through the surf. Here is how Synge described it:

The horses have been coming back for the last few days from their summer's grazing in Connemara. They are landed at the sandy beach where the cattle were shipped last year, and I went down early this morning to watch their arrival through the waves. the hooker was anchored at some distance from the shore, but I could see a horse standing at the gunnel surrounded by men shouting and flipping at it with of rope. In a moment it jumped over into the sea, and some men, who were waiting for it in a curagh, caught it by the halter and towed it to within twenty yards of the surf. Then the curagh turned back to the hooker, and the horse was left to make its own way to the land.

This is my version.