When I first saw this portrait I wondered why I was so drawn to it, and why these women – looking like this – somehow demanded my attention? Is it because, all three, equally but differently, are walking with such a posture of confidence? Is it because they are not posing or smiling for the camera? Or is it because the three somehow seem bound together, in their own world, inward looking and not available?
Found in amongst a jumble of loose photographs randomly left in our family album, I then discovered that this particular photograph is one of my mother’s favourites, chiefly because of what it conceals. She is the young woman in the middle of the picture. Since what she remembers, what is kept from the viewer, is not a fond reminiscence, of a day out in Dublin with one of her sisters, nor is it the reminder and memory of her dearly beloved ‘mama’.
No, what is missing, in this 1950’s little black and white image, is the context. On this day, my mother is ‘escaping’ – her own term – to England and her sister and mother are accompanying her to the ferry to catch the boat. “I was very happy, nervous and delighted to be getting away and couldn’t wait, in fact, I found it hard to find a tear” She mischievously told me. My point is there is often another subtext in these seemingly everyday images. Probably in many family albums there are such portraits with hundreds of ‘back stories’ that never surface and that create their own hidden histories.
VULGO was fascinated by this beautiful 1952 photograph, attributed to Arthur Field, a street photographer on O’Connell street, which was part of Margaret Fitzgibbon‘s installation ‘Transient Retrieval’ recently at The Warehouse, 35 Barrow St, Grand Canal Docks, Dublin 4. Here, Margaret tells us some more about her show:
Some time ago my mother gave me a cache of over thirty letters she had kept in the dark recesses of her wardrobe for over fifty years. Inspired by my dad’s handwritten letters to my mum as much as by the content – with their very detailed descriptions of everyday life – I set about reconfiguring this archive of letters into an interactive artwork. The letters map both my father’s desire to be reunited with his ‘sweetheart’ but also his initiation as a recent Irish emigrant to England in the early 1950s. By re-working a classic walnut veneer bedroom dresser into a museum type ‘furni-sculpture’ I tried to retain the letters’ tone of intimacy and secret longings while creating a new encounter with them for a wider public. By creating subjective and imaginative labeling system to accompany the seven letters laid out along the top I wanted to comment on to rethink, play with and somehow reverse ‘official’ ideas of how to correctly cite the origin of these feelings, observations and locations. The Seven top letters were transcribed, typed and laminated and made available nearby in metal trays by The Dresser. For example:
109 Colwyn Rd.
going for an interview today Northampton
will write again tomorrow – C Monday
My Dearest Sweetheart,
I just got a room here in this house for you + that’s why I’m dropping your these few lines to let you know the news. I’m really relieved darling ‘cause you hear some terrible talk here about the “goings on” in digs. This house is dead safe, there are only a few married couples here + believe it or not everyone is the house is Irish. You can have your grub with May and boy does she be able to get terrific grub. We had pork chops yesterday + today for our dinner and every evening for our tea we have something to fry. So it’s just going to be home here for us love. May has a big front room + we will be able to use that any night we like for the winter. It’s really a grand cosy room, with carpet + chesterfield suite + radiogram.
So love we will really be able to enjoy our winter evenings here that is the ones we wont be out. So I hope you will be happy about that now love + seeing that you have the room all ready now you could come whenever you like. If you feel like it darling you have no need to wait ‘till August, but if you go to Dublin + go via Liverpool you would not have any change from Liverpool to Northampton. That’s a direct run, but please yourself. You know how I feel. The sooner I see you the quicker I’ll be happy, ‘cause you are the only happiness I know or ever will know, Just you + your love to keep me happy forever more. So darling (+ my lips are just parching now) – you know what I mean – I think that will be very good news for you + I hope it will make you happier coming over to know that this will almost be just like home for you + me.
Write more often love just not letter for letter. Write when you are lonely or when you have the smallest bit of news.
So my darling sweetheart till I write again (probably tomorrow) good-bye and god bless you.
XXXXXXXX XXX image of love heart XX Your lover forever.
XX XX Christie
The street photographer, Arthur Fields, b.1901 d. 1994 was an immigrant himself. He was son of a Ukrainian refugee from Kiev in Russia. In his heyday, before the availability of cheap, point and shoot cameras, there were many such snappers in European and American cities. You were given a docket with a number. This allowed you to later retrieve the printed image by paying over a few shillings either in person or through the post. Field’s particular pitch was O’Connell Bridge, the epicenter of Dublin, once quite a fashionable thoroughfare, claimed to be the widest in Europe.