Street photography, humanism and the loss of innocence
Justin Carville draws on recent debates in relation to photography and the everyday in order to examine the role of street-photography in the cultural politics of religion as it was played out in the quotidian moments of social relations within Dublin’s urban and suburban spaces during the 1980s and 90s. The essay argues that photography was important in giving visual expression to the social contradictions within the relations between religion and the transformation of Irish social life, not through the dramatic and traumatic experiences that defined the nation’s increased secularism, but in the quiet, humdrum and sometimes monotonous routines of religious ceremonies and everyday social relations.
In the closing years of the Celtic-Tiger a number of Irish photographers increasingly began to turn to Ireland's post-agricultural and post-industrial landscapes to explore the social condition of the country's mythical economic prosperity. Within visual culture studies, the landscape has historically been identified as providing an iconographic sanctuary for national visual cultures, or a shelter of stability and solace in moments of impending crisis. As a subject matter and a symbolic force, it allows retreat to the tradition and familiarity of the national imaginary of place in the face of uncertainty. In this chapter, Carville explores the significance of the photograph's capacity to present a moment that is simultaneously both disappearing and becoming. Taking as a departure point Barthes’ reading of the photograph as an event transformed through the contingency of photography into an object, this essay discusses how the aesthetics of topography in Irish photography projected the future demise of Ireland's topographies of prosperity before they had become visibly present on the landscape. Drawing on recent debates on the accelerated distribution and circulation of media imagery and the gaze of contemporary photography, Carville opines that the aesthetics of topographical photography provided a visual critique of the cultural politics of the Celtic Tiger.