August 28, 2019 § Leave a comment
My subjects, a new era is about to dawn. I, Bloom, tell you verily it is even now at hand, let yea, on the word of Bloom, ye shall ere long enter into the Golden City which is to be the new Bloomusalem in the Nova Hibernia of the future.1
One evening in the summer of 1998, I was standing on a doorstep having a conversation with my elderly neighbour, Kathleen. She described how her granddaughter, the first in five generations, could not afford to live in the area where she was born. The location, one of the oldest neighbour- hoods on the north side of Dublin, was experiencing the initial stages of a process, marking the urban evolution and impact of the so-called ‘Celtic Tiger’ economy, a period since characterised in the description of the appearance of countless cranes elevated across the city skyline 2. Over the following month, in response to that conversation, I began to make portraits of children and young people in the area.
Possessing no front gardens, the street was the primary setting to gather, converse and play. So, at first, I approached those people I knew, made a request and then photographed each—always approximating eye level, gaze directed towards the lens—as they presented themselves to the camera. The timing was always at dusk with cranes in the background. An impulsive reaction using photography to ask questions about the economic circum- stance, and who benefits? And mindful of the significance of the age of those portrayed—critically, whose future?3 I would not then realise that this was really the beginning of a cycle of research projects, which themati- cally addressed the predatory context, resulting from flows and migrations of global capital, that continues to the present day.4 As the Irish poet Theo Dorgan would later state of this time: ‘I was born in a Republic to realise that I live in an Economy’.
Mindful of Dorgan’s stark declaration, and wishing to acknowledge the significance of hindsight when critically reflecting upon a project that began almost two decades ago, I discuss here the context and rationale for SOUTHERN CROSS, with reference to the theoretical role of documentary photography and the photographic portrait. In turn, I position the project as a critical document that questioned the sustainability of the economic circumstances of the Republic at the turn of the new millennium.
Completed between 1999 and 2002, SOUTHERN CROSS was a critical response to the rapid economic development witnessed in the Republic of Ireland. The official Irish economic policy of attracting Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) had over several decades brought about the largest transformation in the history of the country. Focused on Dublin and its county region, the project critically mapped and sur- veyed the spaces of development and finance. The project comprised two series. The first is ‘Site’, which explored the transitory spaces between the construction sites, which I described at the time as ‘what was’ and ‘what will be’, viewing them as the ‘birthing grounds of the New Ireland’. As a counterpoint, the series ‘Prospect’ surveyed the State’s first financial district, the International Financial Services Centre (IFSC). Since the 1990s, the IFSC had been a flagship for global capital and is itself the architectural embodiment of the ‘New Ireland’.5 The title of the project was inspired by the motorway of the same name, which now encircles Dublin. Originally, it was proposed to be built in the early 1980s, near where I lived by the Dublin Mountains. However, due to massive local objection (including my parents), it was postponed for almost twenty years. Thus, I was drawn to the title partially as result of this personal understanding but also because the project was made in the Republic, the South of the island, so ‘Southern’ was geographically relevant. The reference to ‘Cross’ asked whether the new religion of the Republic was embodied in Capital. Representing the economic aspirations and profound changes of a country on the western periphery of Europe, this documentary project presented this area and those who inhabited it being transformed in response to an influx of global capital.
1. From James Joyce’s Ulysses, as quoted by the then Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Charles Haughey at the launch of the Custom Docks Redevelopment in Dublin, the future location of the International Financial and Services Centre (IFSC) in June 1987.
2. I worked in Canada and Ireland as a social worker. While in Canada, the focus was very much on issues of empowerment and self-advocacy, another defining personal influence. I was also involved as a volunteer activist working with First Nations youth and on educational projects related to the Anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa and Frontline States in Southern Africa. Following my return to Ireland in 1995, I decided to take a career break which became a career change. I bought a camera and went on an extended trip to Southeast Asia. On my return, I continued to live in the city suburb of Stoneybatter, one of the oldest parts of Dublin.
3. This initial undertaking was short but would provide a technical and critical framework for the completion of a substantial part of the SOUTHERN CROSS project. The project was recipient of the first Development Bursary/ Artist’s Award from the Gallery of Photography, Dublin in 2000 and presented as a solo exhibition there in 2002. The publication included support from the Construction Branch of the Irish Trade Union, SIPTU and included an essay by Justin Carville, titled ‘Arrested Development’, and a poem by the poet Philip Casey, titled ‘Implications of a Sketch’, a critique of the role of the architect. The intention for the publication was to create a discursive space for a criti- cal dialogue between the textual and visual. It was subsequently exhibited internationally including in Cologne, Germany (2003), Aleppo, Syria (2003), Brussels, Belgium (2004), Lyon, France (2004), Paris, France (2005) and Limerick, Ireland (2015).
4. SOUTHERN CROSS was followed by The Breathing Factory, the outcome of my doctoral research. The latter addressed the role and respresentation of labour and globalised space in Ireland’s newly indus- trialised landscape. AUSSCHNITTE AUS EDEN/EXTRACTS FROM EDEN (Arts Council of Ireland 2011), sited in a declining mining and industrial region of the former East Germany, evidenced the uneven- ness of globalisation. My current ongoing transnational project, THE MARKET (2010–), focuses on the functioning and condition of the global markets and the role of financial capital.
5. In 1987, the Customs House Docks scheme was launched on the North Quays in Dublin with a view to developing a shopping and residential complex around an international conference centre. This idea would ultimately fail but did lead to the development of what is now known as the International Financial and Services Centre (IFSC), the Republic of Ireland’s first financial district.
End of Extract
The title of the chapter is indebted to Colin Graham and his essay, ‘Motionless Monotony: New Nowheres in Irish Photography’, addressing projects which charted the impact of the Celtic Tiger, including SOUTHERN CROSS, and who observes in relation to the project:
‘evidence of the rasping, clawing deformation of the landscape, the visceral human individual in the midst of burgeoning idea of progress-as- building, propped up by finance-as-economics…it stands as an extraordinary warning of the future that was then yet to come (2012: 15).
Further information on SOUTHERN CROSS here.
Further information on publication here.