David Monahan, 2014
pp 304 156 photographs h/b
€60.00 ISBN: 978-0-956949-33-2
The New York Times used a phrase ‘crash art’ to describe the substantial body of work born of the recent recession. We have seen the illusion of prosperity evaporate, exposing an all-too-familiar empty landscape bearing the scars of our material folly. It is however a sign of hope that we can make art about this at all.
David Monahan has been determinedly engaged in his widely reported-on project Leaving Dublin since 2010. Arising from a measured anger at politicians’ brushing aside of the hardship of emigration, he has sought and photographed those leaving Dublin for a better life elsewhere. Following a successful series of exhibitions, he has collected this work in On Leaving. Superbly produced, it is set out in three sections: ‘Empty spaces’ – large format images made at dawn of locations that Monahan describes as sacred to his subjects; ‘Leaving Dublin’ – 84 night-time images of individuals, couples and families on the cusp of leaving; ‘Visitation’ – a series of images produced during Monahan’s follow-up visits to the émigrés, some of whom have returned.
The book has contributing essays and poetry by Sarah Maria Griffin, Piaras Mac Éinrí, Noreen Bowden and Jennifer Redmond, as well as text by Monahan. These are set out so that both text and images can be read in parallel, without them referring specifically to one another. None of the main plates are titled, but forbearance is rewarded by a richly detailed appendix with dates, locations, names and anecdotes.
The central images of the book are the stylized night portraits from Leaving Dublin. Rigorously constructed and playfully lit, they exhibit a theatricality that prepares the ground for their stories to be sought out and read. A final text by Monahan shows the personal connection he has made with his subjects and the endeavour of his commitment over the last five years. His encyclopaedic blog – the lilliputian – is a must for further enquiry.
Visual Notes from the Recession Time, Ireland 2008 – 2013, is a series of black and white images reflecting Szustek’s take on Ireland during this period. Originally from Poland, he has thrown himself into the melee of street culture and daily life in the capital and its surrounds. There is a sharp sense of composition and immediacy seen in images from protest marches and urban landscapes. Desolation is portrayed with drawn faces, grey skies and ruined buildings. He throws a light on the masses of horses and ponies that have suffered and died as a result of the recession, an image of a dead horse beside an industrial estate being the most poignant of the book.
Szustek’s unrelenting exposition of the misery experienced in our community is tempered by the fact that he is approaching it from the same level – the rainy street, the angry crowd, the muddy field. It is an honest approach, and even though it could be viewed as one-sided, it does bring home that all this does happen; we need to take account of it.
Ros Kavanagh is a Dublin-based photographer of architecture, performance and visual art.