D James Galbraith was one of the most celebrated American photographers of the 20th century. Accolades included a Pulitzer Prize nomination for his work on documenting Hartland, a small town in Michigan; his work has also featured in a series of 50-year retrospective exhibitions held in museums, libraries and arts centres across America.
Born in 1930, Galbraith began his career as a photographer for the US Air Force; later he worked for newspapers in Ann Arbor, Michigan as well as for other Michigan newspapers. Most of his work, including A Common Eye, An Uncommon Vision and Slainte: an Irish Portfolio has been exhibited in various Michigan libraries and museums.
In 2006, the National Photographic Archive (NPA) acquired a significant collection of photographs taken by him during his visits to Ireland in 1970, 1978 and 1997. The NPA's forthcoming exhibition, D James Galbraith's Ireland: 1970-1997, features a selection of these photographs and captures various aspects of Irish life that changed dramatically during a period spanning almost thirty years. In particular, the photographs provide insights into daily life in rural areas as well as in small towns and villages in Cork, Kerry and Clare. For example, they include images of a market day in Kenmare, gathering kindling, and the transportation of milk churns by horse and cart.
The exhibition also features images of street activities, pub life and the traditional Irish music scene. It includes photographs of well-known traditional musicians Micho and Gussie Russell pictured at home as well as performing in O'Connor's pub, Doolin, Co Clare; Mickey O'Shea in his haberdashery shop and the community of Cistercian monks in Mount Melleray Abbey, Co Waterford depicted both at prayer and at work.
The NPA's collection, which comprises some 1,272 negatives (both black and white and colour) and 131 archival and exhibition-quality prints, represents a hugely important body of work - both in terms of the quality of the photography and the significance of the subject matter. An additional benefit is that much of the Galbraith subject matter is not represented elsewhere in the NPA collections.
One outstanding feature of Galbraith's approach to photography and portraiture was the way in which he consistently tried to capture the spirit and humanity of his subjects; his images reflect the close ties that link individuals to the land, to family, to friends, and the community. The sense of lightness of touch and sensitivity that he displayed in all his work is particularly evident in the current NPA exhibition. As a result, the portraits are invariably highly engaging.
The exhibition runs from 7 March - 2 June 2009.