Book Review ON By Eamonn Doyle Reviewed by Colin Pantall Eamonn Doyle’s first photobook, i, made street photography personal. That’s a strange thing to say of a book that consisted of high-angle pictures of the backs of Dublin’s elderly pedestrians. In i, the street was reduced to sidewalk and roadway, the minimal textures of the tarmac and concrete echoed by those of the headscarves and coats that Doyle’s subjects wore.
Reviewed by Colin Pantall
Photographs by Eamonn Doyle
Self-published, Luxembourg, Belgium, 2015. In English. 104 pp., 51 Black & White tritone printed illustrations printed on Lessebo design naturel 150 gm paper.
Eamonn Doyle’s first photobook, i, made street photography personal. That’s a strange thing to say of a book that consisted of high-angle pictures of the backs of Dublin’s elderly pedestrians. In i, the street was reduced to sidewalk and roadway, the minimal textures of the tarmac and concrete echoed by those of the headscarves and coats that Doyle’s subjects wore. i was a homage to the old people of Dublin, an Eleanor Rigby of our times with worn wool and hunched backs providing the peg on which we could hide out empathy.
I remember looking at i and then walking the streets of Bristol, Bath and Brussels. And there I’d see them again, all these old people with those same hunched backs and headscarves that they were wearing in Dublin. When you start seeing the pictures for yourself, that’s when you know a photographer is hitting a sweet spot.
When Doyle published his second book, ON, the guess was that he would continue down this path of street minimalism, that he would continue to focus on the details of dress and poise, the public presentations of self, that reveal so much of who one wants to be and who one ends up being.
But no such luck. Instead ON is a return to the Street with a capital S. It’s Street Photography writ large, with more than a nod towards the great street work of Klein, Moriayama and Gilden.
To that end, it’s shot using a variety of strategies; low-shot panoramas capturing both figure and background and straighter, longer shots isolating heads against walls and buildings. There are close-ups, crops, diagonals and a slightly overcooked feel to it all, the sense that someone was cranking the channel settings way too far down the scale on Photoshop, Lightroom or Camera Raw.
But Doyle is not shy of the grand gesture and maybe that is what helps him get away with it. It’s quite an ambitious book, and it has a grandness to it. The grandness starts with the size of the book (it’s big) and continues with the cover (you can have red, green or blue — all with a foil-stamped paper-cut-like design).
And then the book starts, with a simple shot of 3 young men walking down a Dublin street. One wears a Liverpool jacket, another is shaven-headed with big muscles and the third is of East Asian origin but dressed in track pants and jacket that are straight out of the Sports Direct line of budget clothing. He might look Asian, but he’s dressed like Dublin.
And that’s the message throughout the book. This isn’t i, where nearly all the photographs were of white working class men and women. It’s the new Dublin, one where Trinity students walk the same streets as Somalis, Pakistanis and Kurds. Young seagulls (a street trope if ever there was one) fly overhead and the new ways come to town. And the City of Dublin comes to them and embraces them, enfolds them and makes them, however awkwardly (or not – we don’t really know), its own.
ON presents the cosmopolitan side of the city’s streets; there are students, there are tourists, there are migrants and there are refugees in there, each walking to a slightly different beat. And mixed in with them is a little bit of what appears to be an old Ireland (if such a thing exists and maybe that is what Doyle is questioning); the droopy jowled man with the heavy lids who smokes a cigarette, the battered face of the short-haired man inspecting his nails, and in one of several references back to i, the lady clutching her headscarf as she looks down at the crouching Doyle.
Of course all of this is just a guessing game. I have no clue who or where the people in the book come from and I have no idea of the demographics of Dublin. But part of the fun is from guessing, and that is what Doyle begs us to do. So in my imagination I spot people of Polish, Greek, Pakistani, Kurdish, Egyptian, Sudanese, Somali, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Congolese, Nepali, Sierra Leonean, Bengali, English, Caribbean and Thai backgrounds.
So it’s a book of street photography with a visual (and limited) documentary element that portrays a new Dublin, a Dublin that is of new arrivals who are now living and settling in the city. He’s telling a story here and in that story he also connects back to i through visual connections that reprise the textures of Doyle’s first book. There are fleshy arms and bare backs, all freckled as they should be, there are stretching legs and the patterns of skirt and headscarf and hat. And there is a similar consideration of dress, class and the material structure of street.
ON doesn’t have the visual purity of i. In some ways it looks like a series of different projects put together. But at the same time, it is striking out into something altogether more ambitious; street photography that captures a mood and a time and works both with and against expectations, a book where photography, demographics and global politics come together.—COLIN PANTALL
COLIN PANTALL is a UK-based writer and photographer. He is a contributing writer for the British Journal of Photography and a Senior Lecturer in Photography at the University of Wales, Newport. http://colinpantall.blogspot.com
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