Monday, September 13, 2010

'Power and Privilege: photographs of the Big House in Ireland 1858-1922'

Dave and I went to see this exhibition in the National Photographic Archive in Temple Bar yesterday. I'd never been to that part of the National Library before: it's a great little space.
The photos come from 5 different collections that belong to the National Library, who has the largest collection of 19th century photographs of Ireland (though that isn't surprising at all!)

What they have chosen are quite astonishing. Themes include staff, family events, gardens, transport and science. The landed gentry and aristocracy classes were the only people who afford to indulge in amateur photography during this period. They took photos of whatever they fancied but it's notable that very little of what they shot was away from home, though perhaps this was because of the huge diversity in subject matter available on their doorstep.
I was really drawn to the formal photographs of staff - particularly those attached to Curraghmore, the home of the Marquis of Waterford. Incidentally, the 1911 census return for that house is one of the largest in the country and a fascinating read in its own right.
The photographs of hunting and shooting look very similar to modern hunting, though naturally it has declined in popularity as a hobby.
The changes in fashion during that time, especially for women, are striking. Massive big hooped skirts in the 1860s give way to slimmer versions over time, as women's attire needed to be more practical. However, their clothes in the photograph of women participating in an otter hunt look don't look ideal for walking in a forest!
Notable too is a photo of the "leviathan" telescope at Birr Castle....the Earl of Rosse was an amateur photographer as well as a stargazer.

The photos have been produced by scanning the original plates and printed on archival paper.
Admission is free and it runs until December. Well worth your time.

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