Eamonn Doyle – “I, On , End”
When Heraclitus voices that change is the only constant, it is an oxymoron. The three photo books, i (2014), ON (2015) and End. (2016) by Irish photographer Eamonn Doyle demonstrate with a befitting articulation of staccato this modern rhythm of the city of Dublin. To and from the cityscape at the same time diversifies and stabilises in its unique equilibrium under the colours and textures in Doyle’s street photography.
Dipped in a delicious saturation of colours, Irish photographer Eamonn Doyle’s quiet and slumberous exposition of the lithe and aging figures in his i series (2014) is the adagio opening movement to his unique 21st century photographic symphony. Serene and controlled in his elevated primary hues, dynamic and dramatic in his monochrome, Doyle shows exceeding range to street photography in his three consecutive self-published photo books, i (2014), ON (2015), End. (2016). His technique, from the photo book medium, his multidisciplinary collaborations to the unexpected camera positions and his subjects, communicate a strong theatrical element of the urban lives in his native Dublin.
“When you are trying to get to the core of something, it is often questioning how much you can take out while still keeping its essence whether that is the person you photograph,” Doyle justifies the glimpses of a Beckettian reticence and ambiguity in the i series. Shot in the early hours of four Monday mornings on Dublin’s main thoroughfare O’Connell Street, it is the photographer’s intent to strip away as much background noise as possible even the loaded identity of the faces of his subjects. The result is a beautiful cocktail of anonymity of these literary tropes balanced with the visual impregnation of colours and the palpable textures of the clothings portrayed.
Doyle points directly to Nobel laureate Samuel Beckett’s 1972 dramatic monologue Not I in naming his first series after the 20-year hiatus from photography he took upon graduating from art college. Echoing the relentless inner outpour of the septuagenarian protagonist in Not I, the photographer’s characters seem to be trapped in a moment of self-observation by Doyle’s stylistic choice to shoot from behind and above. By framing the subject matter in a centralised position, sometimes filling up the image, in a vertical composition and a minimalistic background, the viewer is compelled to inspect the weight of the mustard duster coat against the airy blonde curls or the crinkly polyester suit in harmony with the crinkles of the paper bag. In the emptiness and the silence of i, there is a non-attendant, looming presence oscillating between the realms of authenticity and artifice.
While the buttery smoothness of the silk head scarf draped on top of the muted synthetic textile in Untitled 01 is highlighted by the vibrancy of the colour photography, the i series evokes with an exceeding sense of fictitious caricature of a certain type of people that frequents the Northern side of Dublin. In contrast, the grittiness of Doyle’s black and white photographs in the series ON (2015) redirects the viewer’s eyes towards its context and its surroundings. Take Untitled 27 from the ON series for example. Similar to Untitled 01 from i (2014), the image features a person yet the visual motif of the metal railing and the interplay between the light and the shadow imprinted onto the back of the person obscure the importance of the individual. Instead, it becomes a study of the classic compositional rigour of photographs of the street.
Upon receiving welcoming responses from the public for the i series, Doyle switches up his photographic style. “The i style has become very recognisable so I shot in black and white and from below. What happened was the city just completely opened up again.” On the same O’Connell Street, during the same period, the ON series resembles much more like a sonata-allegro than the photographer’s previous slow and elegant entrance. Framed in a horizontal wide angle from underneath, Doyle captures what he so vehemently avoided for i: the movement of clouds, effects of wind, the stoicism of the historic architecture in Dublin and its inhabitants.
Doyle effectively employs the tarnishing effect of the sunlight on top of his often overwhelming close cropping to multiply the bodies of his subject matters in the series. The discolouration and the sagginess of the knobbly skin and the misshapen folds of the body in Untitled 44 of the ON series (2015) are exaggerated by the high contrast of light and shadow, revealing a grotesque yet highly comic effect to the photographer’s image of the city.
This second series bears witness to Doyle’s more daring and experimental take on the photo book format. The first image, Untitled 01 of the ON series, skewed toward the right, starts in media res. Three men, their dominant stance in perfect unison, form a fortuitous triangle. The sunken gaze adds to the illusion of them belonging to a triad. The invisible energy sets the tone in a grandiose display of vitality and confidence to the three “individual plays”, in the photographer’s own words, that corresponds to the cultural diversity, the urban development and the socio-economic problems of the area.
The End. series (2016) is undoubtedly the intelligent culmination of the two projects before. Doyle’s appreciation for the Japanese artisanship in book-making translates into albums of photo-compilations in total coherence with the illustrations by Niall Sweeney and the music score by David Donohoe. A playfulness is elicited through the graphic element in his colour photography and the eerie suspense in his monochrome prints. Such is best executed in the split second time dilation of the two girls falling in Twins. The parallel swiftness of the hair from inertia and the synchronicity of the fall towards the left are detailedly captured in a suspended dance movement.
Doyle’s vision is the most audacious in End.. The illusory flatness of the torso created by the sombreness of the dark navy fleece assimilates the body into the background. The electric blue paint of the Grafton Door further distorts the viewer’s perspective, suspending in a space between the two- and the three-dimensional. Much like the foreshadowing device in literature, the bentness of the knee in Red Leg creates tension and its obtuse angle breaks the linearity of the architectural structures. The accumulation of such motors expresses itself as a visual serenade or even a minuet of the modern life.
“The book is the work and the prints that happen afterwards are quotes from the book,” Doyle summarises his aesthetic in a most charming and illustrative way. From the photographer’s first-person narration, the viewer sees a Dublin in its varying beauty. Yet, like German literary scholar Wolfgang Iser once written on Beckett’s trilogy of novels that the first-person narrator would eventually retreat into anonymity, there is space for everyone to infer an original perspective to Doyle’s photographs.
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