News Article

NIVAL at the Museum of Contemporary Photography of Ireland

Published: Tuesday 09 July 2019 Age: 4 yrs

Viewfinder to File | Documents on photography in Ireland from NIVAL: National Irish Visual Arts Library

All material on display in Viewfinder to File has been selected from the collections at NIVAL, in particular the artist files, gallery files, journals and exhibition catalogues.  

Our point of departure was to consider photography as it has been documented and preserved within the context of an Irish visual arts library. Pivotal texts by Justin CarvilleLuke Gibbons and Dorothy Walker provided criteria through which to view the development of photography in Ireland from a tool for constructing a touristic visual identity to an accredited art form.

Early Bord Fáilte photographs (circa 1940s) pointedly illustrate Luke Gibbon’s much quoted assertion that ‘the absence of a visual tradition in Ireland, equal in stature to its powerful literary counterpart, has meant that the dominant images of Ireland have, for the most part, emanated from outside the country, or have been produced at home with an eye on the foreign (or tourist) market.’

The Hindesight exhibition at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in 1993 both celebrated and exposed the John Hinde photographic practice and its mythification of Ireland and Irishness in ubiquitous tourist postcard images including the clichéd red-haired children with donkeys. Hindesight provoked polemical debate and positioned national identity to the fore of contemporaneous discourse. Sean Hillen’s irreverent montages and reconfigurations of John Hinde postcards in his IRELANTIS series (1994-1997) became synonymous with the pursuant cultural debate.       

The Source Commissions (Autumn 1999) Justin Carville text, Dominant Style / Variant Practices - Photography and Contemporary Art in Ireland, observes the preponderance of photography as a medium for contemporary artists shortlisted for The Turner Prize and The Glen Dimplex Artists Award during the 1990s. In fact, two Northern Irish artists, Willie Doherty and Paul Seawright won the latter award in 1995 and 1997. The work of these artists, fellow nominees and contemporaries has prompted a considerable part of this presentation.

Carville notes the precedence of the use of photography in conceptual and performative art practices from the 1960s, and its continuing archival role in contemporary art to document processes and activities. Hence a number of artists are represented by photographic documentation of ephemeral works and archival material rather than by photography per se.

The selection of material is based upon the strength of holdings within the library and in no way represents a comprehensive view of photography in Ireland or a preference on the part of NIVAL. It is a brief and time-constrained foray into the subject that leaves a great deal more to be unearthed and revealed in the vast collections of NIVAL. We hope that this brief introduction will impart a sense of the variety of information resources within the library and the potential for deeper and more extensive research around photography as a medium or as a documentary resource within the archive.      

We wish to thank the artists and writers for their continuing support of NIVAL through advocacy and contributions of material.  We also thank Bord Fáilte, Source, IMMA, Gallery of Photography and Kerlin Gallery for permission to display material.

This exhibition has been selected and arranged by Ruth McHugh.


The Museum of Contemporary Photography of Ireland is open from 4 – 28 July at The Printworks, Dublin Castle, as part of the PhotoIreland Festival 2019.