Eamonn Doyle, One

JTF (just the facts): Published in 2021 by D1/self-published (here). Unbound with silkscreened cover, 70x50cm (folded), with 24 black-and-white images. There are no texts or essays included. In an edition of 300 copies. (Cover and spread shots below.)

Comments/Context: As the months of the pandemic continue to click by, we are slowly starting to see the emergence of the work made by artists during the past 18 months of uncertainty. For some, the lockdowns led to a noticeable turn inward, toward working alone in the studio or within more constrained circumstances; for others, who continued to work outside on the streets or in the landscape, the mood is most often what has changed.

Eamonn Doyle’s recent photobook One is the Irish photographer’s (hopefully first and only) Covid-era artistic project. A native of northern Dublin, Doyle has spent the past decade pulling elegantly pared down details out of life on the streets, and pushing the serendipity of street photography toward something more deliberately controlled and refined. Working in both black-and-white and color, he has produced a string of well-crafted and innovative photobooks (including On from 2015 reviewed here and End from 2016 reviewed here, among others) that have proven him to be a consistent photographic risk taker.

One returns Doyle to the familiar, multi-cultural streets of his hometown, where he gets up close to the passing movement of pedestrians and notices the singular textures and surfaces of the bustling city. And while there is some aesthetic continuity and similarity between Doyle’s previous photographs and the new images, the feel of this project is much darker and more ominous.

Doyle achieves this spirit of quiet sadness and poignancy not just from shooting in black-and-white, but by encouraging his compositions to drift toward deep darkness, like the 1950s work of Harry Callahan and Ray Metzker. He’s then gone on to make large-scale contact prints from his negatives, amplifying the tactile grittiness to be found in the shadows. One is perhaps the largest photobook in terms of external dimensions that I have seen, and when opened up, the spreads (at roughly 24×36 inches each) expand into physical space with muscular authority, pulling us into these dark overlooked corners of the city.

Doyle’s most common compositional arrangement is to capture a fleeting glance of people walking, where the figures are momentarily caught, blurred, or turned into silhouettes and set against the surrounding contrasts and textures. And while a few moments of muted potential joy come from a family with a soccer ball, a girl in a heart-covered sweater, and a pair of chatting young women, most of Doyle’s images of people fall into a deeper funk of shadowy solitude.

In a sense, the people in these pictures have been reduced to anonymous indistinct textures. While we can identify the hunch of an elderly man, a woman smoking, a boy running down a ramp, a mother in a headscarf, and a bare-chested man with a crutch, their placement within the surrounding urban environment is perhaps more the subject. Doyle’s ephemeral portraits situate the people near scratched walls of concrete, in dark passageways, in front of the repeated vertical lines of an iron bar fence, passing by a shiny corrugated steel security gate, and underneath the dark geometries of a trestle bridge. Even when the sleek lines of modern buildings or the softer textures of nearby trees provide the context, the scene is never entirely inviting or comforting; it seems we are being continually reminded that there is no parking here, and that barriers have been put up everywhere to keep us apart. That the figures are so often blurred makes this sense of dislocation and alienation all the more gloomy.

When Doyle turns his attention to more inanimate objects found in the fabric of the city, his dark gravely palette pulls his images toward those made by Anders Petersen or Daido Moriyama in similarly seedy locales. A doorway emblazoned with lucky 7s, a pair of spooky metallic mannequins, and some black plastic tubing left on the sidewalk all become vaguely menacing, and tall buildings towering overhead take on a forbidding edge. Even when Doyle zooms in on the insistent pattern of a floral dress (the kind of picture he has made so successfully previously), it now takes on a more exaggerated bite, as if the whole mood of the city has been amplified a few notches.

Doyle finds his way back to stylish grace with his images of light. He captures sparkles of light reflected in the hood of a car, perforated circles that march upward in orderly patterns, metal stairs up to what looks like carnival ride lights, and a cascade of small dots that falls down empty blackness, and each of these moments feels quietly magical, especially when in the midst of so much darkness. It’s as if his eye has been caught by these unexpected sparks, and redirected him back toward the land of the living.

Few bookshelves will accommodate the massiveness of One with anything but awkwardness, but Doyle’s choice to reproduce his images at one-to-one scale (on particularly rich black paper) feels like the right one. It takes an entire arm to flip the pages of this behemoth, but that engaged physical motion brings us back into immediate dialogue with the imagery in a way that a normally sized photobook would have missed. The scale makes the photographs all the more enveloping, dragging us more fully into the world of darkness Doyle has created.

For so many of us, the pandemic made our existing worlds feel altogether abnormal, and Doyle’s One does the same for his native Dublin. As seen with a decidedly dark stare, its streets have a grimmer disposition than before, and our presence feels less welcome. Doyle has executed this transformation of perspective with a thoughtful set of photographic and design choices, leveraging the strengths of the book form to make his switch from light to dark. His resulting portrait of Dublin tingles with estrangement, adding an air of incongruous mystery to the familiar.

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

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