Shaped by history

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From the IAR Archive:

Elizabeth Kirwan looks at Gerry Andrews’ magisterial series tracing the activities of Limerick’s Milk Market

A fascinating record by Gerry Andrews of Limerick’s historic Milk Market that captures vignettes of the gritty atmosphere and social hub at the heart of the city has recently been donated to the National Photographic Archive. The series, which totals 95 black and white photographic portraits, documents the community of merchants, traders, and personalities in the 1970s. The Corn Market, latterly the Milk Market, was founded by Statute in 1852. Located in Limerick’s Irishtown area, the market sold fruit and vegetables, fowl, homemade butter, breads and cakes, and by the 1960s, it also sold bedding plants and shrubs and held the annual Christmas turkey market (Fig 2).

Born in Wolfe Tone Street in 1952, Gerry Andrews was a Process Engineer and later Works Manager with the Limerick Leader newspaper, and his series on the market developed over a seven-year period from 1971 until 1978. Andrews gave up photography in 1980 to concentrate on his printing career, a move that was rewarded and recognized in 2010 when he was inducted into the Printing Industry Hall of Fame for his services to the industry. Andrews resumed his interests in photography in 2004, after the death of his wife. He has since travelled extensively, establishing his reputation as a social documentary photographer, for which he was awarded a Fellowship for his work in social documentary photography by the Irish Photographic Federation.

The Limerick project was shot using a Pentax Spotmatic camera with a 135mm portraiture lens, onto 35mm black and white Tri X 400 ASA film. When  Limerick-born photographer Elinor Wiltshire photographed largely in Dublin in the 1950s and 1960s, she used a Rolleiflex camera held at waist level, so people were often unaware that their picture was being taken. In contrast, Andrews required his subjects to pose for his camera, reflecting a photojournalistic influence more akin to the work of acclaimed Irish Press photographer Colman Doyle. It is not surprising then that a small number of the ‘Shaped by History’ photographs were originally published in the Irish Times in 1979 and in the Limerick Leader in 1980. Yet, unlike much photojournalism, these are the photographs of ‘a local lad with a camera’, and his subjects seem unselfconscious and at ease, particularly as many of these pictures were the only photos ever taken of some of those photographed. The series displays a remarkable assurance and sensitivity when you consider the youth of the photographer at the time – Andrews was just nineteen when he began this self-directed project, but already a gifted amateur photographer.

A number of the portraits measure more than two-metres high or wide, testament to the high quality of the original 35mm negatives. These Milk Market studies are by turns stunning, evocative and challenging, documenting fleeting moments in Limerick’s history, as the broader Limerick area was on the cusp of major redevelopment. The clear frankness of these portraits ensures they transcend any potential sentimentality to appeal both locally and globally. Today the Milk Market is utterly transformed, having won a Public Choice architectural award in 2011 for its redesign making Andrews’ record of its appearance and social life in the 1970s all the more valuable.

All images ©Gerry Andrews

Elizabeth Kirwan is Curator of the National Library of Ireland’s National Photographic Archive.

From the IAR Archive
First published in the Irish Arts Review Vol 31, No 3, 2014