Reviewing My Insolent Ontologies - The Family Album
The Family Album exhibition from the National Library of Ireland, was at the Linenhall Library, February 1995
Review by Nicholas Allen
If you take this as a study in planes you get the picture. In the background a wall, of a house with a quarter-window trapped between a spoked wheel and a carriage. In front of this and parallel, a skinny-haunched horse, arranged with the other family treasures, a beat-up chair and the living themselves. Which is what works for me.
In an odd way the photo realises that stratification which generations impose and are left behind by. The brick of the house suggests enclosure of the muddy spaces the faces inhabit, and the carriage with its decorative marks rests only half in frame, its most angular feature the chimney pipe, symbol of the travellers' nemesis, the serried ranks of the city. Then the horse, its rear still attached visually to the coach, its long body ending in the elder's hand, the steam from its mouth a last organic challenge to the boilers, pipes, engine-cogs of a modern Ireland. On top of this, a smirking John Wayne, stuck to his steed and gazing at a grandfather who looks askance, eyes slanted down, tied to the horse's mouth, a reality not realised by the boy, a horse for pleasure, power, reliant muscle. Disturbing as a symbol one tends to feel the knacker's yard will glue more than one of these folk into a bind already set.
In different angles, mostly pitched to the viewfinder, the other figures are displayed. Most informative are their feet; the curly haired boy at the front pulls his shorts up delicately like a Victorian lady mindful of her finery, his sandal sludging dirt with his shoe, and aerated like the rubber boots and high heels of the other faces. Time slides on and in the middle the proud parents, holding the baby, smiling and with a dirty white shoe nestled between mother's feet. Why you may ask and where from you may continue and, like the holes in the boots and father's trousers which are an alright length until he moves to the slightest angle from sheer vertical it rests in your mind as alone, unpreened for a photograph, stuck to the earth and pointing the same way as the readily redundant horse, whose hoof rests parallel behind it, intimating the way of the forgotten.
Which is an achievement of the photo, allowing the planes of reference to intimate their own sense of movements beyond the control or even realisation of the protagonists, a sense of life but ordered to the effects of states which consign them to some kind of social phenomena. Which brings me to one little teaser about a notion of intent behind the composition. As a photograph this was installed amongst many in the cafe and members' room [sic] of Belfast's Linenhall library. Between the portions and newspapers, three brothers, evicted tenants and moustachioed starch collars beamed their slice at the tired viewer who received them patched together, stuck to hoardings, prints of prints. By the time I stumbled onto them, years had elapsed with so many of their smiles and I wondered at their remnants, making their own sense given a little time. This little time signalled the prints' own vitality, that perhaps unconscious sublimation of so much, achieved initially only as an experiment in documentation.