Eamonn Doyle, On

JTF (just the facts): Published by D1 (self-published) in 2015 (here). Hardcover, 104 pages, with 51 black and white photographs. The book has a vertical obi. In an edition of 999 copies (three different covers printed with color foils and deboss, each book is limited to 333 copies). There are no texts or essays. (Cover and spread shots below.)

Comments/Context: Like many classic genres, street photography (however we might define that unwieldy term) has repeatedly gone through periods of boom and bust, moving from moments of visual innovation to moments of cliche and back again in a seemingly endless evolutionary cycle. After studying photography earlier in his life, Eamonn Doyle took a detour and pursued a successful career producing music and working in the independent music business; he now lives in the center of Dublin and he has been there for the past 20 years. That Doyle could be a catalyst for new energy in street photography is perhaps an unexpected result, but his recent return to working with a camera has provided a surprisingly fresh take on the streets of Dublin and its residents.

Doyle’s first self-published photobook titled i (2014) showed elderly Dubliners photographed from the back and above, using a wide angle lens, and the book collected some high praise. It merged formal compositional rigor with attention to cultural detail in a way that felt elegantly controlled and delicately observant.

Doyle’s most recently published book On takes his photography a step further, as he explores another layer of the now multicultural city. Once again, he has produced a collection of photographs, in black and white, taken in a single place: around Parnell and O’Connell Streets, close to the Gate Theatre, Dublin’s landmark building. This location is essential, as The Gate became the first theater in the world to present a full retrospective of Samuel Beckett’s work, and Doyle often mentions Beckett as a source of inspiration and influence. The title of the book references Beckett’s novel The Unnamable (the very last line): “It will be I? It will be the silence, where I am? I don’t know, I’ll never know: in the silence you don’t know. You must go on. I can’t go on. I’ll go on.” As a reference to a struggle to overcome the impossible, it brings together the city’s rich history and present, and infuses his images with a sense of immediate (and often urgent and determined) forward motion.

The first image in the book, in full bleed, starts right from the end pages, suggesting a continuous visual flow picked up in the middle. Three young men seem to move in a perfect unison – shot from below, their figures appear solid and imposing. For a second, they might look like gang members, yet a closer look makes it clear that they don’t even know each other. The only things they have in common is the street they are walking on and their busy, focused air of moving to a known destination. This first image sets the mood for the whole book: dynamic, dramatic, and often subtly grandiose.

Many of Doyle’s portraits are framed from underneath using a sharply low angle, often also capturing the sky with the clouds, parts of buildings, the invisible energy of the street, and other curious isolated details. One image depicts just the hat of a gentleman in the lower right corner of the photo; the repeated lines of a modern building overhang on the left and the ominous sky (and a lonely bird) takes the rest of the space, balancing the murky light and the monumental in one shot. Toward the end, another image captures an older man in a black leather jacket, perhaps crossing the street with his walking cane and a package under his arm; the black circles under his eyes, his protruding white tooth, and his sullen gaze create a grimly creepy atmosphere.  

Doyle also repeatedly goes for unusual (and awkward) up close cropping, often playing with its grotesque effect. The wide shirtless back of an anonymous man takes up almost the whole frame in one picture, while the little remaining space is filled with the slashing road markings and a few distant silhouettes; we don’t see his face or even his head, and the arms are wide apart riding a bike. Another almost surreal image of a woman bending over her fast food is equally disorienting; the close up of her fat arm decorated with a bra strip gets our attention first, as it takes few good seconds to grasp the whole situation. When these close-in images veer toward the gently comic, they recall Leon Levinstein; when they dive deeper toward the ugly, they connect back to Lisette Model.

The book format itself provides a well-matched context for the work. On is a large format book, and its bulky physicality takes up space and encourages absorbing engagement with its scaled images. A foiled and embossed graphic cover echoes Henri Matisse’s famous cut out Blue Nude IV, and the cover comes in three different bold colors (red, green and blue), adding a jolt of brash energy. In addition to the smart graphic design, the book also plays with its typography placement –  all the text, including the edition number, is masterfully placed on the book spine, so as not to intervene with the dynamic visual narrative. 

While Doyle’s newest photographs are more similar to the standards of the street photography genre than his last project, they undeniably document contemporary Dublin with brisk (and sometimes grim) vitality. The photographs are steeped in a sense of dark hyper sensitive alertness, where the unceasing momentum of the city expresses itself as a flow of personalities and ephemeral arrangements. His Dublin is more diverse than we might have imagined, and he’s turned its inhabitants into vivid visual characters, each with an identifying characteristic. It’s a place where a cheetah print dress, a headscarf, and a dangling cigarette capture the complex essence of modern life.

Collector’s POV: Eamonn Doyle is represented by Michael Hoppen Gallery in London (here). His work has little secondary market history at this point, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

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