Ireland in Frame – Retrospective

We find ourselves in an era of postponement – the postponed holiday, the
postponed gig, the postponed return to the hedonistic abandon of our favourite clubs
and festivals. Yet some global trends continue at an unabated pace – the shift to a
digitally-based world, the obsoletion of traditional jobs and ways of life, and the
changed appearance to our city centres. Where does art fit into all this? Usually it
serves either to provide escape from the worrying aspects of our lives, or to provide
cultural edification and sustenance in times of turmoil. We need it more than ever to
provide clarity, substance and guidance to navigate the knotty, changing realities of
our everyday existences. But where can we find art in these days of social-distancing
and uncertainty?

Ireland in Frame is a street photography exhibition trail that has cleverly
circumvented the strictures of lockdown to give us cultural nourishment in our
troubled times. A striking photographic survey of modern life in Ireland curated by
Berlin-based musician Candice Gordon, who stepped into the role of cultural officer
at the Irish Embassy in Berlin earlier this year, the exhibition has a clear objective in
mind: to depict an Ireland devoid of clichés for curious Berliners, and online for a
global audience of art lovers. Candice manages this by assembling the works of six
photographers, whose collective work gives a startling, cross-demographic glimpse
into the lives of Irish people against a multitude of shifting rural and urban backdrops.
And rather than confining the work to one location, the exhibition scatters the photos
between screens in six Irish-run establishments peppered around Prenzlauer Berg,
Neukölln and Friedrichshain. This pulls off the feat of allowing us to enjoy a spectrum
of photography in six appealing cafes, bars and shops, meaning that what sets out to
be a window into real Irish life doubles as a Covid-friendly, miniature tour of some of
Berlin’s most celebrated districts.

Wheel of Life by Laura Jean Zito

Thrilled by the prospect of getting to visit some of my favourite parts of Berlin in one
day, I embark on the exhibition trail with fellow Irish Culture Berlin writer John one
windswept evening in September. We start off at Curious Fox, a cosy bookshop
situated between the dozy languor of Tempelhofer Feld and the multicultural splurge
of Karl-Marx-Strasse which turns out to be a fitting setting for the photography of
Laura Jean Zito, whose dynamic photos of fishermen in the mists of the Arans and
shepherds in Connemara are juxtaposed with schoolchildren on Achill island. The
photos effortlessly evoke the passing of time, detailing our former reliance on fishing
boats and horses and their supplanting by bicycles and cars. One picture in
particular encapsulates this generational shift: a boy cycling past an elderly man with
a wheelbarrow laden with wood on a country lane, showing a literal overtaking of old
traditions by modernity.

Croagh Patrick By Kenneth O’Halloran

In some ways, “motion” and “change” comes across as prevailing themes in the
photos we see on the trail, and pervade the works of Kenneth O’Halloran, whose
pictures are screened above a shelf of spicy wares at Crazy Bastard Sauce, our next
port of call. A young, hip clientele dine and chat away while the photos flicker from
the television above, depicting pilgrims to Croagh Patrick and chic young attendees
to the Trinity College Ball in Dublin. Echoing the vibrant splurge of cultures and
identities in Neukölln, O’Halloran’s photos are cinematic in scope, distinguished by
their bold colours and presentation of an array of people from different walks of life.

By Eamonn Doyle

As the sun sets, John and I set off for Friedrichshain, where we take a drink in the
spartan, low-lit bowels of the third venue on our trail, Badfish bar on Krossener
Strasse. Badfish dispenses with decorative frills, concentrating rather on craft beers,
cocktails and whiskey. And the accompanying photos here, courtesy of Eamonn
Doyle, are all in gritty, high-contrast monochrome, showing a multi-ethnic community
of Dubliners, usually in profile, against a series of soot-black buildings and
monuments, nicely echoing the equal importance of Friedrichshain’s aspirational and
multicultural population to the district’s identity as its rapidly gentrifying architecture.

Meath Street Salon by Lorcan Finnegan

With this in mind, we cycle on to Prenzlauer Berg for the final three venues on the
trail, where the warm, lamp-lit cobbled streets seem even more jarringly contrastive
to the run-down charm of Friedrichshain than usual. Shorn of the the rough-and-
ready punk aesthetic of Friedrichshain, it’s nonetheless easy to forget that
Prenzlauer Berg was originally a predominately working-class district, and its
reputation as a swanky, ‘bourgeois’ neighbourhood is still relatively recent. This
conflicted identity in some ways makes it the perfect setting for Lorcan Finnegan’s
collection, which beams from a television outside the original, flagship Badfish bar on
Stargarder Straße – a series of expressive and candid faces of predominately elderly
Dubliners in a city on the cusp of change. There is a sense of a colossal number of
stories waiting to be told in each face, just as a stripping back of each layer of paint
on a refurbished building may reveals something new and unexpected.

Italian Restaurant by Jeanette Lowe

The sense that a building has a huge story to tell and varies according to the eyes of
the beholder is central to the photos of Jeanette Lowe, whose photos are shown
outside Salt’n Bone, a gastro bar serving hearty Irish food on Schliemannstraße.
Lowe’s photos magically echo the sentiment of cosiness, showing cafes, bars,
restaurants and housing estates in Dublin’s centre with names omitted, and bathed
in pastel colours which bring the paintings of Edward Hopper to mind, exuding a
sense of timelessness and spirituality. The establishments come across as little
harbours of warmth and translucence in inky midnight blackness: small communities
of inner-city residents left to keep the depleted, pandemic-stricken centre alive, while
its usual office workers and shoppers are made to stay home in the suburbs.

Above image and featured cover picture both by Birte Kaufmann’ The Travellers series.

In some ways the final venue on the trail provides a perfect summary of the themes
explored in Ireland in Frame. In the warm and welcoming Misirlou bar on
Dunckerstrasse, in the midst of Prenzlauer Berg, which has long been celebrated for
its inclusiveness and internationalism,
Köln-based Birte Kaufmann’s striking photos of Irish Travellers shine a light on an
oft neglected and maligned aspect of Irish culture. The photos, shot in stark,
unblemished tones, show a world of caravans, horses and a shivering lack of
amenities. Yet it’s also a familiar world of dolls, dressing up and laughter. One
striking image shows two young children in school uniform, with a boy sitting on the
back of a caravan munching a biscuit, and a girl hanging up washing on a clothesline
lost in roadside brambles. It’s an evocation of a familiar childhood scene in an
unfamiliar setting. Where the photos here express societal isolation, they also show
instantly recognisable emotions that bind us all: boredom, uncertainties about the
future, kinship, and loyalty.

Put together, the photos offer a rich mosaic of sensations, traditions and
experiences. Just as it is impossible to reduce the sensation of living in Berlin to a
few words and images, the wealth of diversity shown in Ireland in Frame is an echo
of all our unpredictable, complicated, nuanced and ephemeral lives, and show that
there is far more to link us in our glorious multifariousness than separate us. By
showcasing such a wealth of talent while also drawing our attention to a handful of
standout Irish-run establishments in Berlin, Candice Gordon has achieved something
quite remarkable, demonstrating that cultural enrichment during this difficult year is
still possible when we dare to think outside the box.

Ireland in Frame ran in Berlin 18th September – 2nd October 2020
All photos from the exhibition can be viewed here:

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