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National Gallery of Ireland Collects Photographs

The National Gallery of Ireland will hold its first major photography exhibitions. The View of Ireland: Collecting Photography will introduce the National Gallery’s fledgling photography collection and opens in October. Moment in Time: A Legacy of Photographs | Works from the Bank of America Collection, an exhibition of photographs assembled by Nancy and Beaumont Newhall in the late 60s, opens in November.

The Gallery has 15,000 works on paper but until 2018 the collection included only 25 photographs. This comprised a selection of daguerreotypes including a notable image of 19th century Irish political leader Daniel O’Connell. The National Gallery’s 2018 Acquisition Policy mentions its intention to develop an ‘acquisitions strategy for photography, particularly of work with a connection to Ireland’, The policy also notes that ‘A longerterm aim should be to build an overview of the history of photography, most likely through identifying an existing collection and acquiring it by gift or purchase.’ The government provided €858,000 in 2018 for overall acquisitions. The National Gallery’s new approach will see its collection of photographs grow to around 150 by the end of 2019. This is being led by Anne Hodge, Curator of Prints and Drawings, alongside Curatorial Assistant, Sarah McAuliffe

Daniel O’Connell (between 1842 and 1845) daguerreotype by Alexander Doussin Dubreuil

After the Manner of Perugino (Mary Ryan), c.1865 Julia Margaret Cameron (1815-1879)

who has been working almost full time on the photography collection, researching and sourcing potential acquisitions. The two have worked closely on curating the forthcoming exhibitions and cataloguing the material as it has been acquired. McAuliffe and Sean Rainbird the Director of the National Gallery have been viewing material at Art Fairs in Basel and London and watching auctions.

Hodge says ‘We are looking at Irish photographers across the periods but also international photographers where there is some Irish connection’. This includes work by Evelyn Hofer, Dorothea Lange, Martin Parr, Julia Margaret Cameron’s image of Mary Ryan and Don McCullin’s Irish Homeless Man (the subject of an essay by Ian Walker in Source 83). Hodge acknowledges that although they would like to be able to give a history of photography, that it ‘will be difficult because the earlier material tends to be so expensive, but ultimately that is something we would like to be able to do’ and that ‘there is budget put aside specifically’ for photography.

Hodge also says that the new photography acquisitions will ‘help us to address areas of diversity that we are poor on, for example images of the travelling community by Inge Morath, as well as improving gender balance by the inclusion of women photographers’. In her opinion the gallery should in future be looking ‘at a dedicated department to photography’ while acknowledging and working closely alongside institutions including the National Library to ensure they are not bidding against each other for work. Local expertise has already been shared by people including Trish Lambe from The Gallery of Photography and Elizabeth Kirwan at the National Photographic Archive.

The possibility of collecting individual photographer’s complete archives has not been discussed but Hodge says ‘it’s something we would certainly bear in mind and we would hope also that people would consider bequeathing or gifting material to us, whether photographers or collectors, as we have benefited hugely from gifts and bequests over the centuries.’ Asked if there is a photograph or photographer at the top of her wish list for the collection she says, ‘Enda Bowe has been on my list for some time. On the opposite end of the scale, I’d love the gallery to acquire the amazing photograph of an Irish Labourer c.1855 which is in a private collection’.

— John Duncan

Irish Labourer (c.1855) private collection

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