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Posts Tagged ‘Studio Portraits’

James Joyce was an astute observer of both male and female fashions. Within Ulysses he repeatedly mentions the uncomfortable nature of the stiff collars worn by men and also notes how various styles of necktie signified class and status. I’ve gathered together some contemporaneous Irish images from Dublin, Belfast and Kilkenny photographic studios illustrating the type of attire that Joyce was referring to.

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“Always know a fellow courting: collars and cuffs. Well cocks and lions do the same and stags. Same time might prefer a tie undone or something.” Nausicaa

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“Bloom stood behind the boy with the wreath looking down at his sleek combed hair and at the slender furrowed neck inside his brand new collar.” Hades

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“What caused him irritation in his sitting posture? Inhibitory pressure of collar (size 17) and waistcoat (5 buttons), two articles of clothing superfluous in the costume of mature males and inelastic to alterations of mass by expansion. How was the irritation allayed? He removed his collar, with contained black necktie and collapsible stud, from his neck to a position on the left of the table.” Ithaca

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“He rustled the pleated pages, jerking his chin on his high collar. Barber’s itch. Tight collar he’ll lose his hair. Better leave him the paper and get shut of him.” Lotus-Eaters

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“Master Dignam walked along Nassau street, shifted the pork steaks to his other hand. His collar sprang up again and he tugged it down. The blooming stud was too small for the buttonhole of the shirt, blooming end to it.” Wandering Rocks

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“Dull eye: collar tight on his neck, pressing on a blood vessel or something.” Hades

 

 

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This series of portraits shows members of the rural vocational organisation Muintir na Tíre (People of the Land). Established in 1937, it aimed to counter societal breakdown in rural Ireland. It followed the teaching of the Catholic Church’s encyclical Quadragesimo Anno which hoped to challenge the threat of communism through strong lay and vocational organisation. Eoin Devereux’s 1991 article on Muintir na Tíre noted that it reflected the strong anti-urbanism which prevailed in Ireland during the period and that persists in certain quarters to this day.

The following quotation from the organisation’s 1941 handbook is very revealing: “Country life is not dull. It is the city life that is cheerless and stupid and vapid, degenerate, futile and foreign with its narrow conventions, its artificiality and its purchased amusements.” Despite the organisation’s antagonism towards the urban, Devereux notes that many of its leaders were urban-based professionals.

This accords with the location of the photographer’s studio. J. Dunne worked from 36 Leinster Road in Rathmines, a suburb of Dublin. These portraits are more informal than official passport photographs and more revealing of the sitters’ personalities. From a sartorial point of view their clothes are typical of the 1950s as tweeds and woollens dominate. Tank tops, wide neck ties, thickly framed horn-rimmed glasses were popular with the men. Some wear the pin of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association of the Sacred Heart (PTAA), an Irish organisation for Catholic teetotallers.

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There is more variety in the women’s outfits. One wears a fitted dress with a fur-ruffled collar while another has a broad-shouldered fake fur coat. Tweed is also popular with the ladies as were knitted tops and twin sets. These are adorned with pearls, brooches and lace collars. All wear badges with the organisation’s logo featuring a cross superimposed on a plough, thus linking the rural and the religious.

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The portraits were most likely taken at a function room or in Dunne’s studio in suburban Rathmines where he operated for a short while from 1954. The series is interesting in that it shows a certain cohort of middle-class, respectable, Irish people of a variety of ages. These portraits were instigated, not by the usual familial ties which cause a visit to the photographic studio, but rather by membership of a vocational organisation.JDunne-Portraits-7JDunne-Portraits-9JDunne-Portraits-10 JDunne-Portraits-11 JDunne-Portraits-12

Further reading: Eoin Devereux, ‘Saving rural Ireland – Muintir na Tíre and its Anti-Urbanism, 1931-1958’ in The Canadian Journal of Irish Studies, 17, 2 (December 1991): 23-40.

Maurice Curtis, A Challenge to Democracy: Militant Catholicism in Modern Ireland. Dublin: The History Press Ireland, 2010.

Maurice Curtis, “Miraculous Meddlers: The Catholic Action Movement.” History Ireland 18, 5 (2010): 34-37.

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I was delighted to write a piece for the Gallery of Photography’s current project and exhibition The Photo Album of Ireland. The exhibition was opened last Friday by Professor Diarmaid Ferriter and it explores the history of photography in Ireland through the family album. It runs at the Dublin gallery until the 31st August and you can also view the publicly sourced photographs at the project website here.

The following text and image appear in the exhibition and relate to a photograph from my own family’s collection. It tells the story of female emigration from Ireland to the United States and also explores the role photography plays in the construction of family narratives.

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I collect photographs and write about them on my blog. Most of the people in these photographs are anonymous and will remain so. Sourced from online auctions, charity shops and even skips, the images have become separated from the families who once valued them. I look for interesting faces, extreme fashions and unusual formats or studios. I then research and write short pieces which I hope illuminate a moment in Irish social, photographic or fashion history.

Naturally, I know and understand my own family photographs in a different way to those that I write about on my blog or within an academic context. Their value comes from the telling and re-telling of stories which transform sometimes unremarkable images into something special. Would I buy these photographs if offered for auction on eBay? Probably not! But they do mean a great deal to me.

My love of photographs started with my grandmother, Roseanne, whose mother is shown in the above image. No visit was complete without a thorough examination of the box of photographs which she ceremoniously brought down from the ‘upper room’. An act which intensely annoyed my grandfather who declared that ‘no-one wants to look at that old rubbish.’ She ignored him and commenced her guided tour. She held each photograph, dictated the viewing order and seldom deviated from her script.

Mingled amongst the images of her daughters at dinner dances and snapshots of haymaking were the American photos sent across the Atlantic by a previous generation of emigrants. Different in format, they included tintypes and photobooth pictures, neither of which were prevalent in Ireland. The American photos felt and looked different to Irish photographs.

One such example, is this photograph of my great-grandmother Susan Smith and her cousin, taken not in her native Cavan, but in the Massachusetts city of Brockton. It is the only evidence of the ten years that she spent in America between 1895 and 1905. We hear little of Brockton now but during the time that my great-grandmother lived there it claimed to offer the highest industrial wage in the world at $3.75 per day. At one stage ‘shoe city’ had over 100 factories and it was booming.

Put into an historical context my great-grandmother’s tale was typical of Irish emigration during the period. More single women than men left. Some stayed forever. Some like Susan Smith emigrated for substantial periods of time, in her case ten years, during which she earned enough to provide herself with a dowry. This and her husband-to-be’s earnings as a copper miner in Arizona allowed them to buy a house and farm upon their return. My great-grandmother’s tale, mirrors that related by Diane Dunnigan in A South Roscommon Emigrant: Emigration and Return, 1890–1920 (2), in which she tells how these independent women worked, saved and sometimes returned to Ireland bringing with them different life experiences.

When my great-grandmother and her American cousin entered the studio of D.T. Burrell at 68 Main Street, Brockton, they commissioned an image which adhered to the well-established conventions of studio portraiture. They wear their ‘Sunday best’ of fashionable lace high-necked blouses and choker necklaces. They have piled their hair into ‘Gibson Girl’ pompadours so prevalent during the period. Presented in cameo upon embossed paper, the two young women stare confidently at the camera. Her cousins, Mary, Kate and Rosalie were the American-born children of Cavan parents who had emigrated in the 1880s. Like them they worked in shoe factories, however, they had advanced from manual positions to jobs as clerks and stenographers.

The anthropologist Daniel Miller’s survey of the possessions owned by the residents of a single South London street focused not upon their aesthetic qualities but instead he revealed that objects, such as photographs, often matter to people because of the relationships they signify. The meaning attached to the above photograph cannot be deduced by an analysis of its image content alone instead it is integral to a story known only within a family context. My grandmother’s relationship to her family photographs and in particular to this image reminds me of what Miller referred to as the ‘the sadness of lives and the comfort of things.’(2)

When my grandmother talked about this photograph she was not considering emigration trends nor the role of the returned Yank. Instead she used it as a vehicle to discuss a very personal event: the death of her father less than ten years after his return to Ireland. Although not included in the photo, he was the focus when this portrait was examined. The story of her parents’ hopeful return to Ireland starts with this image. His premature death from silicosis, the result of his work in copper mines, was naturally a major blow to his only child and this photograph allowed her to raise the subject sixty or more years after the event.

(1) Dunnigan, Diane, A South Roscommon Emigrant: Emigration and Return, 1890-1920, Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2007.

(2) Miller, Daniel, The Comfort of Things, Cambridge: Polity, 2008.

Orla Fitzpatrick
June 2014

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This little girl, Ada Josephine Cowper, was born in Dublin in 1865 and her family lived at 29 Fitzwilliam Place. Thanks to the online availability of church records I have been able to find out something about her life. Her marriage, at the age of twenty-seven, to Ernest Henry Knox resulted in a move to his family home Greenwoodpark, Crossmolina, County Mayo where he was a land agent. The house which was built in 1814 is now a ruin.

Ada had two children, Ada Eveleen and the exotically named Zinna Ethel! Zinna married into the Toler-Aylward family of Shankill Castle, Paulstown, County Kilkenny and it was there that Ada senior died at the age of 71 on the 6th of November 1936!

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The grandly named Royal Panopticon of Science & Art was run by James Simonton. It opened to much fanfare in 1862, five years’ before Ada’s photograph was taken. Simonton had been involved in several photographic partnerships prior to this solo endeavour. Before establishing himself at 70 Grafton Street (note the typo on the card above), he was based on Dublin’s other main thoroughfare, Sackville Street (now O’Connell Street).

Simonton spared no expense on the decoration and design of his new premises and an article in The Irish Builder of July 1862 elaborates upon the studio’s mahogany fittings, spacious staircase adorned with sculpture and ‘encaustic tile pavement and richly ornamented soffet.’ In addition to the photographic trade Simonton also displayed paintings, dioramas and scientific inventions. At the time of his marriage in 1859 to Frances Isabella Harricks he listed his occupation as ‘artist’ so it is no surprise that he was to host discussions on artistic matters.

Simonton’s business thrived during the 1860s and early 70s as he benefited from the carte-de-visite craze, however, he announced in 1875 that he was retiring from the ‘fancy goods’ trade and filed for bankruptcy in 1876. He attempted to open a public house in the 1880s but his application for a licence was not successful. Instead, he reverted to photography and entered into partnership with a man called Edwards with whom he ran a business at 28 Grafton Street until 1883.

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This portrait shows Elsie Thompson Harrison of Brighton Square, Dublin in her nursing uniform and it was most likely taken during World War One. Her family are listed on the 1911 census as owning a hardware business and as being part of the Plymouth Brethern – an evangelical movement established in Dublin in the 1820s. Her brother had the unusual name of Gordon Trizzant Harrison and I was able to discover that her sister studied at the Dublin Metropolitan School of Art. I have located her on the online registers for the college: an excellent resource which is available through the website of the National College of Art and Design.

The portrait was taken by a firm called Lloyd’s of Dublin. Directories show that they were based at 30 Grafton Street from ca. 1910 until 1939. It was run firstly by E. Henry Lloyd and then by H. Lawrence Lloyd. The format is sized between a carte-de-visite and a cabinet card and has beveled gilt edges. The printing process is quite like those which were popular with Fine Art photographers for their grainy and painterly effects. Whatever the process used by Lloyd, its warm hues and the soft focus add to the subject matter and lend a sombre atmosphere to the portrait.

In contrast Lloyd also traded under the name of Mr Stickyback! See here for an overview of the sticky back photographic craze of the 1910s.

It is not clear whether or not Elsie was a fully trained nurse. Guilds and voluntary groups met throughout the country to prepare packs for soldiers or to take basic First Aid lessons, however, her decision to go to a studio in her uniform may indicate that nursing represented paid employment for her. The census shows that her sister had to earn her living as she is listed as an ‘Art Teacher and Governess.’

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This post is about photography but it doesn’t include any photographs! The graphics used by Victorian photographers on the backs of their cartes-de-visite were often as interesting as their photographs.

The earliest were backed by copperplate signatures or simple coloured logos. In later decades, Victorian ornamentation intertwined elaborate fonts around stylised flowers and patterns. Art Nouveau influences are to be found in the early 20th century before a return to plainer modernist styles in the 1920s and 30s. The backs I have featured here are all from Irish studios of the 1860s and 70s.

During this period printers often used different coloured inks for photographers’ logos and the ones featured here include an attractive aquamarine, chocolate brown and indigo.

Several of the logos include line drawings of the large box cameras which were used in studios during this period. In addition to the expected camera motif various signs and symbols recur such as the sun and artists’ easels and palettes. Palettes are visible on three of the Irish cards emphasising the artistic nature of photographers.

In attempt to give their studios prestige and pedigree two of the above studios have adopted mottoes. Adolphe of Grafton Street uses ‘Nunquam non paratus’  meaning ‘never unprepared.’ and Thomas North, also of Grafton Street used ‘animo et fide’ which means ‘courageously and faithfully’. One wonders how much courage was required to run a photographic studio during the period?

Other heraldic devices include the belt and buckle which encircles the box camera on the carte by Adolphe and the griffin like creature which appears on the example from A.D. Roche in Cork.

Early designs were probably commissioned from local printers using designs copied from other cards. As the industry grew and progressed specialised firms, based mainly in France and Germany, mass-produced cards which could be customised to include the local studio details. An example by one such company, Marion, was used by Hugh Kerr from Northern Ireland. Roger Vaughan has written a very detailed guide to dating the cards produced by this company which is available here and shows that the card above was from the company’s earlier period of the 1860s or 70s.

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I was hoping to post this cabinet card for International Women’s Day but didn’t get the scan ready on time. This proud graduate marked her conferral by commissioning a portrait from Kilpatrick photographers of 8 Donegall Place, Belfast. Street directories show that the business was based there in the 1880s and the tight fitting bodice and high neckline of her outfit are in keeping with the fashions of that period.  

The lace detailing looks like either ribbon or Guipure lace and her slim silhouette was most likely created by corseting. Other nice details include the almond-shaped brooch, possible made of bog oak, which was worn high on her neckline. The hood of her academic gown was lined with either ermine or rabbit fur and you can also see a cane and the academic scroll in the image.

The cabinet card format (16.5 cm x 11.4cm) was larger than the carte-de-visite (10.5 cm  x 6.3 cm) and peaked in popularity in the 1880s. There are some fine examples on the excellent blog The Cabinet Card Gallery.

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