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Malton’s Views of Dublin: The Story of a Georgian City

Trevor White and Djinn Von Noorden [Eds]
The Little Museum of Dublin, Martello Publishing, 2021
pp 104 fully illustrated h\b
€29.95 ISBN 978-1-99989-684-3
Angela Griffith

The Little Museum of Dublin’s handsomely produced hardback volume Malton’s Views of Dublin: The Story of a Georgian City provides readers with a welcome opportunity to revisit, re-evaluate, and reappreciate James Malton’s contemporaneous hand-coloured engravings of late-18th-century Dublin. The museum’s director, Trevor White, provides a lively commentary on each of Malton’s twenty-five views of Ireland’s capital. Essays by leading voices in Irish historical and cultural studies position the images within their social, political and cultural contexts.

Malton’s work celebrates the planning achievements of Dublin’s Wide Streets Commission and the city’s grand public and private buildings – which rivalled those of the empire’s capital, London – from the imposing monumentality of the Royal Exchange to the immense imperialism of the Custom House. However, as Diarmuid Ó Gráda’s uncompromising counter-narrative illustrates, the grandeur of Dublin’s urban improvements masked the harsh reality of lower-class lives. David Dickson expertly summarises Dublin’s political and economic landscape in the late 1700s. Using evidence provided by Malton, Merlo Kelly outlines how the city was constantly modernising and adapting to serve the needs of its ruling and middle classes. Through skilful visual analysis, Kathryn Milligan demonstrates how Malton’s detailed description of a merchant’s window display reflected how Dublin’s elite saw themselves: fashionable, progressive and fitting beneficiaries of the empire.

Many scholars, including contributors to this volume, acknowledge that artistic licence was taken in order to appeal to the values and ambitions of his upper-class market.

While Malton, in his preface to the original edition, claimed that his engravings represented a ‘perfect as possible semblance’, many scholars, including contributors to this volume, acknowledge that artistic licence was taken in order to appeal to the values and ambitions of his upper-class market. Malton’s streets are sanitised, the detritus of urban living removed. They are depopulated, especially of the poor. Architectural features are enhanced, distorted or reduced; some buildings are presented as designed rather than as executed. For all of that, Malton’s prints are a treasure trove for the architectural historian, as Graham Hickey’s essay explores.

While created for a general audience, there is an inconsistency of tone across the book. The language used in the commentaries is at times intemperate and incongruent with the scholarly essays within. The use of local parlance is perhaps confusing for the uninitiated. There is a notable error that suggests Robert Emmet died before the Act of Union in 1801. However, the volume is mindful of its readers, aiding their travels through 1790s Dublin with annotated maps and keys to panoramic prints. The processes used by Malton, etching and aquatint, and the subsequent addition of colour by hand, are clearly explained.
This book reminds us of the ambitions and achievements of Ireland’s capital as the Industrial Age was building a head of steam and the world was becoming increasingly global. Yet, despite appearances, readers are also reminded that the 1790s was a time of uncertainty. Malton’s Views of Dublin: The Story of a Georgian City celebrates the images as historical documents, as social commentaries (on the visible and the absent) and for their unquestionable aesthetic appeal.

Angela Griffith is Assistant Professor in the Department of History of Art and Architecture, Trinity College, Dublin.

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Silent space

Francis Matthews George’s 2019 oil on canvas 92 x 150cm

 

Dublin artist Francis Matthews manages to give the impression of reality without becoming enmeshed in itemising endless physical detail, writes Aidan Dunne

Who knows what lurks in the shadows when a painter ventures into depictions of the night? One of the most famous legal cases in the history of art provides a startling demonstration of how something apparently innocuous can provoke extreme reactions. John Ruskin was, for various reasons, so incensed by Whistler’s nighttime view of fireworks over the Thames, Nocturne in Black and Gold (c. 1875), that he published a letter describing the painter as ‘a coxcomb’, looking for 200 guineas ‘for flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face’. Whistler’s mistake was to sue in response. While he won derisory damages (a farthing), his painting became an object of public derision and he was driven to bankruptcy. Neither he nor Ruskin ever really recovered from the turmoil of the proceedings.

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Manuscripts in the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Cultures and Connections

Claire Breay & Joanna Story [Eds]
Four Courts Press, 2021
pp 256 fully illustrated h\b
€58.50 ISBN 978-1-84682-866-9
Roger Stalley

Three years have now gone by since the spectacular exhibition ‘Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War’ was held in the British Library. Covering six centuries of English history, it brought together under one roof almost all the most famous books of the era. Among the highlights was the Lindisfarne Gospels, along with many other highly decorated gospel books, including the Book of Durrow. The ultimate ‘show-stopper’, however, was the Codex Amiatinus, a gargantuan copy of the Bible, the size of a large suitcase, which was made in Northumbria shortly before ad 716, when it was carried to Rome as a present for the pope. It eventually ended up in Florence. The exhibition marked the first time it had returned to England after a lapse of 1,300 years.

The exhibition was accompanied by a conference, the proceedings of which have been published in a handsome volume that includes fourteen specialised essays, most of which focus on individual manuscripts, dealing with such matters as palaeography, textual content, provenance and the European context. It is well known that books were highly mobile and an essay by Francesca Tinti provides a fascinating insight into the way bishops and clerics travelled with their books, the latter packed away in chests along with their vestments.

It is well known that books were highly mobile and an essay by Francesca Tinti provides a fascinating insight into the way bishops and clerics travelled with their books, the latter packed away in chests along with their vestments.

Two of the essays have special relevance to Ireland. One is a breathtaking study by Dáibhí Ó Cróinín, who analyses a fragmentary manuscript (A II.10) in Durham Cathedral library. The surviving leaves come from what was once an ornate gospel book, the earliest of a series of decorated manuscripts that culminated with the Book of Kells. Here for the first time we find an elaborate coloured initial, along with a page decorated with exquisite interlaced patterns. The book originally belonged to the monastery at Lindisfarne, though that does not mean it was made there. Ó Cróinín concludes that it was written (and presumably decorated) by an Irish scribe, having detected numerous cases where the spelling was altered as if the scribe was pronouncing the words in Irish – a case of forensic scholarship at its best. Of course, scribes, like their patrons, moved around, so this tells us little about where the book was made. Ó Cróinín favours Iona and makes the intriguing suggestion that it was presented to Lindisfarne soon after its foundation in 635. If so, that would mean it was the precursor of the far more sumptuous Lindisfarne Gospels.

In several cases authors pay tribute to digital imaging, which is transforming the process of research by providing direct access to delicate material. Moreover, as Bernard Meehan explains in his essay, multispectral imaging can reveal much that is invisible to the naked eye. One hopes that before long such techniques will be applied to the Book of Kells, a process that will surely unlock some of that book’s many mysteries.

Roger Stalley is a fellow emeritus of Trinity College, Dublin, where he was Professor of History of Art.

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Scattered fractions

Francis Kelly Connemara c.1930 watercolour 41.8 x 59.5cm Collection of Waterford Museum of Hidden Treasure

 

Artist Frances Kelly didn’t aim for exact likenesses in her portraits of people or flowers, but rather for some inner, more abstract, significance, writes Hilary Pyle

Frances Kelly, in her day, was an extremely successful artist. During the 20th century Irish women artists came at last into their own. Those of the 1930s took strength from the determination of Mainie Jellett and Evie Hone, who came back to Dublin from regular visits to Paris in the 1920s, eager to persuade the Irish public to accept modern European practices. Jellett in particular drew attention to abstract precedents in early Irish art. Frances Kelly herself, a decade later, set out to study in Paris.

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Honouring St Brigid

Lisa Gingles, Barbara Allen, Jane Murtagh, Breda Burns

 

This year marks the third iteration of Hamilton Gallery’s St Brigid’s exhibition series, a group show by Irish women artists marking Lá Fhéile Bríde. Pagan goddess, patron saint and now feminist icon, St Brigid is a powerful figure in the Irish cultural imaginary. The series began in 2019 to coincide with the St Brigid’s Day festival, an initiative of the Department of Foreign Affairs to showcase the creativity of Irish women across the arts. Each year, the gallery’s director, Martina Hamilton, has commissioned a poet to respond to the history and legacy of Ireland’s foremost female saint. This year, eighty-six invited artists meditated on Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin’s new work, St Brigid’s Well.

As befits a showcase of work by contemporary Irish artists, the resulting exhibition, although dominated by painting, is eclectic and energising. Ní Chuilleanáin’s poem offers vivid imagery for respondents; the pink trousers and red sandals of a visitor to the well generate a vibrant composition in Barbara Allen’s Pink Jean Thing as glowing, saturated strokes of colour, while in Lisa Gingle’s The Rag Tree, crimson appears as a glowing ribbon tied around a winter branch.

The holy wells scattered throughout the country are sites of female pilgrimage and ritual and provide a motif for many of the contributors.

Like many of Ireland’s other Christian saints, Brigid predates Christianity. In pagan myth Brigid was a triple goddess – of healing, fire and poetry – and the saint who took her name carried some of those same associations – healing, power over water and protection during pregnancy. The holy wells scattered throughout the country are sites of female pilgrimage and ritual and provide a motif for many of the contributors. Jane Murtagh’s The Well, a geometric abstraction of this place of power, visualises a pure rectangle of gold leaf against a dappled, copper background, while Breda Burns’ photographic Words to the Well overlays fragments of text on a water-rippled background.

Next year, St Brigid will be honoured with an official state holiday in her name. ‘St Brigid’s Well’ runs until 26 March.

Sarah Kelleher

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Auctions dates 2021

Adam’s 11.01.2021 No. 1 Wellington Road – The Property of Mr Peter White
Adam’s 23.02.2021 At Home
Adam’s 03.03.2021 Online Auction
Adam’s 24.03.2021 Important Irish Art
Adam’s 14.04.2021 The Library Collection
Adam’s 21.04.2021 Fergus O’Ryan RHA – Travels: Painter & Palette – Paintings from the Artist Studio
Adam’s 11.05.201 Mid Century Modern
Adam’s 02.06.2021 Important Irish Art
Adam’s 29.09.2021 Important Irish Art
Adam’s 18.10.2021 Country House Collections at Townley Hall
Adams 19.10.2021 Country House Collections at Townley Hall
Adams 02.11.2021 Mid Century Modern
Adams 08.12.2021 Important Irish Art
Bonhams 24.02.2021 Post-War and Contemporary Art
Bonhams 28.04.2021 Modern British & Irish Art
Bonhams 27.04.2021 Contemporary Art
Bonhams 16.06.2021 The Male Form
Bonhams 30.06.2021 Modern British & Irish Art
Bonhams 21.07.2021 Modern British & Irish Art
Bonhams 23.11.2021 Modern British & Irish Art
Bonhams 24.11.2021 Modern British & Irish Art
Christie’s 09.07.2021 The B.J. Eastwood Collection: Important Sporting and Irish Art
Christie’s 20.10.2021 Modern British and Irish Art Evening Sale
Christie’s 21.10.2021 Modern British and Irish Art Day Sale
De Veres 30.03.2021 Irish Art Auction
De Veres 18.05.2021 Design Auction
De Veres 15.06.2021 Outstanding Irish Art & Sculpture
De Veres 20.10.2021 Irish Art & Design Auction including the studio of Reginald Gray
De Veres 23.11.2021 Outstanding Irish Art
Morgan O’ Driscoll 25.01.2021 Irish Art Online
Morgan O’ Driscoll 08.03.2021 Irish Art Online
Morgan O’ Driscoll 19.04.2021 Irish and International Art Online
Morgan O’ Driscoll 24.05.2021 Irish Art Online Auction
Morgan O’ Driscoll 28.06.2021 Important Irish Art
Morgan O’ Driscoll 03.08.2021 Irish Art Online
Morgan O’ Driscoll 13.09.2021 Irish Art Online
Morgan O’ Driscoll 26.10.2021 Irish and International Art Online
Morgan O’ Driscoll 30.11.2021 Important Irish Art
Morgan O’ Driscoll 06.12.2021 Off the Wall Online Auction
Sotheby’s 16.03.2021 Made in Britain
Sotheby’s 26.03.2021 Contemporary Art Day Auction
Sotheby’s 03.06.2021 British Art Evening Sale: Modern/Contemporary
Sotheby’s 14.07.2021 European & British Art
Sotheby’s 14.09.2021 Made in Britain
Sotheby’s 14.10.2021 Contemporary Curated
Sotheby’s 22.11.2021 Modern British & Irish Art
Sotheby’s 24.11.2021 Modern British & Irish Art
Whyte’s 01.03.2021 Spring Online Art Sale
Whyte’s 22.03.2021 Irish & International Art
Whyte’s 31.05.2021 Irish & International Art
Whyte’s 14.06.2021 Summer Online Art Auction
Whyte’s 27.09.2021 Irish & International Art
Whyte’s 18.10.2021 Autumn Online Art Auction
Whyte’s 29.11.2021 Important Irish Art
Whyte’s 13.12.2021 Christmas Sale of Art & Collectables
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Review of Results for Irish Art at Auction in 2021

Twenty Twenty-one was a very good year for Irish art at auction both here and in the UK as buyers emerged from the their Covid cocoons. The easing of restrictions on physical viewing, the pent-up demand and most significantly the high volume of available funds through lack of spending opportunities all payed a part. A significant number of artists, both living and dead, achieved record prices.

The dominant figures again in terms of hammer prices were Paul Henry and Jack B. Yeats, with William Orpen, Sean Scully and John Lavery also prominent. In the UK auction houses, Barry Flanagan achieved a series of spectacular results with Thinker on Rock topping them (£780,000 at Christie’s) . William Scott had a quieter year than usual due perhaps to the paucity of major works consigned. His pears however proved popular with his two best results being for Five Pears (£150,000 at Bonham’s) and Pear Study (£130,000 at Christie’s).

The highest price for an Irish work of art at auction in 2021 was the €1,400,000 paid at Whyte’s in November for Shouting, a late period Jack B. Yeats’ painting. It features three figures who appear to be drunkenly carousing – perhaps after a night of revelry. At 101.6 x 152.4 cms it is one of the largest paintings completed by the artist. While various publications claimed this as a world record for Yeats, this is not quite true. It equals the world record for the painter at an Irish auction house. The artist’s Reverie sold for exactly the same price (at Whyte’s in association with Christie’s) in 2019. And, due to the vagaries of the exchange rate between Sterling and the Euro, the £1,120,000 (€1,700,000) hammer price for The Wild Ones at Sotheby’s in 1999 remains the record price for a Yeats. In an auspicious year for the artist (the 150th centenary of his birth) he supplied six of the top ten best-selling works sold at Irish auction houses in 2021.

A surprising addition to the very select list of Irish artists who have exceeded €500,000 at auction was the little known John Fergus O’Hea

A surprising addition to the very select list of Irish artists who have exceeded €500,000 at auction was the little known John Fergus O’Hea. To say that he is a rare figure at auction is to overstate his presence. He has been non-existent up to July of this year when Christie’s sold the Barney Eastwood collection. Amidst works by Alfred Munnings and Jack B. Yeats lurked Punchestown Races, a rare oil painting by the Cork-born political cartoonist. Despite being condemned as “an out and out nationalist” by the British press, O’Hea made a living from his cartoon work in both Ireland and England. This painting is a fine historical record of the colourful crowd attending the racecourse in 1868. It was estimated at £100,000 to £150,000 but finally went under the hammer at £560,000. One suspects that some very deep pockets associated with the Irish racing scene may have been competing.

Amongst those achieving record prices for their work in 2021 was Grace Henry – long and unfairly seen as a satellite around her erstwhile husband Paul Henry, with whom she spent a mere 20 of her 85 years. Grace was a considerable talent in her own right with a style more infused with European influences than Paul. Her painting The Fortune Teller on offer with a modest estimate of €5,000 to €7,000 sold at Whyte’s for a handsome €37,000. Another female artist, Katherine MacCausland, who has also largely travelled under the radar, equalled her record price of €30,000 at Adam’s in March. MacCausland was born in Dublin but spent the bulk of her artistic career in France where she moved in circles that included Gauguin and Roderic O’Conor. Although much influenced by Impressionism, this work was painted in the Realist style. Another record-breaker was Harry Clarke whose exquisite stained-glass work Bluebeard’s Last Wife sold for €165,000 at Adam’s in March. This was double the best price previously achieved by Clarke.

After the Yeats painting the next highest price at auction was for John Lavery’s The Terrace, Cap d’Ail. This study of gracious living on the Cote D’Azur also came from the Barney Eastwood collection at Christie’s in July. It sold for £950,000 after guiding at £400,000 to £600,000.

The results for Dan O’Neill in 2021 continued to disappoint. His best price was the €40,000 paid at Adam’s for Looking West. Apart from the €125,000 paid for Summer at Morgan O’Driscoll in 2020 he has never recaptured the heady days from 2005 to 2008 where he regularly commanded substantial six-figure sums.

There were striking results for two of our contemporary artists. Cian McLoughlin was invited to consign a work by Sotheby’s for its Irish Art auction in November. He submitted Eruption, one of his crowd paintings, full of energy and colour. It guided at £12,000 to £18,000 and sold for £42,000 – by some way his best price at auction. John Shinnors’ Scarecrow Heads attracted a lot of attention at De Veres’ June auction. The work consisted of 18 individual canvases, each measuring 91 x 91 cms. Although many felt that each individual piece could stand on its own, the artist insisted that they be sold as a unit and not broken up. To this end the wily Limerick man had only signed the last of the 18 pieces. For those of a speculative nature the €70,000 to €100,000 estimate must have been tempting. In the end the lot went for €125,000, comfortably surpassing his previous best of €70,000.

Donald Teskey continued to be much in demand, and his recurring crashing waves over rocks motif proved especially popular. His highest prices were the €40,000 paid for Coastal Report III at De Veres in November and €38,000 for The Tempest at Morgan O’Driscoll.

The most startling rise at auction in recent years amongst living Irish artists has been that of Genieve Figgis. However, her works are largely confined to auction houses in New York and Hong Kong. Born in Dublin in 1972, she attended Gorey School of Art in 2006 as a mature student. She first emerged on the auction scene in 2019 when her Birth of Venus sold at Philip’s in Hong Kong for an extraordinary €220,000 (HKD 1,900,000). She continued to achieve spectacular six-figure results in 2021 for her highly-coloured, Ensoresque paintings. Her best result was $190,000 for Victoria and Albert (The Royal Family) at Christie’s in New York. On this side of the world she achieved £48,000 for Family Portrait at Bonham’s in April.

Auction coup of the year has to go to the individual who purchased William Orpen’s After the Ball at Cobb’s Auctioneers in New Hampshire for $60,000 (€51,000) in August 2021. New Hampshire is a state where I suspect those conversant with the Irish art market are thin on the ground. The purchaser wasted no time in consigning the piece to De Veres where it sold for €310,000 in its Outstanding Irish Art auction in November. On the subject of Orpen I noticed that his Still Life of Mushrooms Falling from a Basket sold at Gardiner Houlgate in Corsham, a town near Bath, for €1,880. This seems an extraordinarily low price for an oil (40 x 60 cms) by one of our most celebrated artists. Shop around folks.

John P O’Sullivan.

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The Dignity Of Everyday Life: Celebrating Michael Scott’s Busáras

Eoin Ó Broin & Mal Mccann
Merrion Press, 2021
pp 224 fully illustrated h\b
€35/£30 ISBN 978-1-78537-418-0
Stephen Best

Busáras has always sparked public imagination. From the start, its design, scandalised by scale and cost, became a cause célèbre for the then-leading Irish politicians. This resulted in a ten-year delay, reams of competing newspaper commentary and erosion of vision. While dogged at home by petty political squabbles, opinions were very different internationally. The design, construction and political ideas behind it were celebrated by a world looking for a bright new future after the horrors of war.

The building, today, is a little careworn, with a faint whiff of tragedy around it. Taken for granted, the architecture is invisible to most Dubliners. Busáras has become a hoary ghost of unfulfilled potential; the interesting social spaces long since closed to the public and the once-vibrant polychrome exterior are crumbling and dulled by apathetic maintenance. Yet undoubtedly it remains Ireland’s most important Modernist building. Nothing else in the city matches its vision or execution, and those who use it love it.

Eoin Ó Broin’s book, with photography by Mal McCann, is a work of literary non-fiction that attempts to outline the life of Busáras, punctuating it with architectural detail and leavening it with digressions about everything from personal testimony, political intrigue and air conditioning to drag queen Panti Bliss.

It is not like other architecture books I have read. And that is a good thing. Ó Broin is not an architect, an academic or a writer, but a politician adept at writing. He joins some very disparate dots, skirting around the history of modern Ireland, its successes and failures.

Those who designed and supported Busáras demolished the stereotype at home and abroad of the censorious, protectionist, narrowly nationalist Free State

In particular, Ó Broin draws attention to the role Busáras played in symbolically pre-empting a shift from the isolated ‘austere republicanism of de Valera’, with its fairytale of economic self-sufficiency, to Keynesian common sense. Those who designed and supported Busáras demolished the stereotype at home and abroad of the censorious, protectionist, narrowly nationalist Free State.

Whereas the political, cultural and social readings are fluent and engaging, the chapters on architecture and design are more tentative and unsure, relying heavily on a small footprint of texts and one-to-one interviews. This is understandable and is not where the strength of the book lies.

Mal McCann’s photographs play an important role in telling the story. There is a plain, everyday quality to them. Snapped from eye level, most are dim and lack the trained architectural photographer’s obsession with perspective correction. This unpolished style reinforces the idea that this is a building in desperate need of our love, care and attention.

The enigmatic cover photo of gorgeous terrazzo elegantly adorned with exquisite shadows – but also social-distancing stickers – encapsulates the notion of beauty among uncertainty. The Dignity of Everyday Life ends up resembling both a eulogy and a distress signal, but is never clearly either. Are we to wonder at its creation or worry about the future?

Stephen Best is a senior lecturer at the Dublin School of Architecture, TU Dublin.

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Sister Mary’s illuminations

 

Síghle Bhreathnach-Lynch reveals Sr Mary Concepta’s design and decoration of the Oratory of the Sacred Heart in Dún Laoghaire

Behind a large two-storey shopping centre in Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin is an unusual, brightly coloured capsule building which functions as an all-weather shell for a small oratory. The oratory was erected in 1919 and is dedicated to the young men of the borough who had died in the recent war, in thanksgiving for the peace that followed.

This small sanctuary, a place for prayer and quiet reflection, measures a mere 5.85 x 3.60m. The exterior features a simple pitched slate roof surmounted by a Celtic cross, recalling in part the Church of St Kevin at Glendalough in Wicklow. A painted inscription in Gaelic script above the entrance doorway proclaims its dedication to the Sacred Heart. Below the inscription, a humorous zoomorphic interlacing of serpentine figures, evocative of early Celtic design, hints at the decorative scheme of the interior.

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Following Ulysses

Deirdre Brennan The Wandering Rocks, Covid-19 Double exposure 16 June 2020 digital c-type print

 

Stephanie McBride explores Deirdre Brennan’s photographic response to James Joyce’s Ulysses

Umberto Eco once described James Joyce’s Ulysses as a prime example of an ‘open work’, with ‘an indefinite reserve of meanings’. With its rich infusion of literary styles, stories and characters, the novel and its openness have generated their own ever-expanding iconographic universe since first publication in 1922: for example, in stage and film adaptations, numerous art projects, Eve Arnold’s 1955 photo of Marilyn Monroe reading a copy, the boaters and bow ties of today’s Bloomsday pilgrims.

Irish photographer Deirdre Brennan says that ‘growing up on Camden Street, surrounded by a cast of characters that would not have been out of place in Ulysses’ prompted her Following Ulysses project. Setting out on her journey on Bloomsday in 2004, she found it liberating to shift beyond the rigid photo essay to reflect what she sees as ‘a social and magical realism’ in the novel. In her creative interpretation, which combines street photography, landscape, portraiture and photojournalism, she aims ‘to explore the themes of class, culture, race and social struggle in modern Dublin’.

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