Dublin’s Inner City Reconstructed Through Photography by David Jazay

David Jazay is a photographer and filmmaker whose work centers around our changing rural and urban environments. In his photography, he tries to recreate space and time in both a geographical and psychological sense. This long-term process of recreation requires him to revisit places and reassess his previous work.

On the technical side, David uses both medium format and digital capture and, for large-scale architectural work, a complex post-process routine in which multiple images are combined (or ‘stitched’) into a final high-resolution image.

Auction House and Antique Dealers on Lower Ormond Quay, Dublin, 1991. Ultra High Resolution image stitched from 12 medium format negatives taken in 1991.

Auction House and Antique Dealers on Lower Ormond Quay, Dublin, 1991.
Ultra High Resolution image stitched from 12 medium format negatives taken in 1991.

In ‘Dublin Before the Tiger‘, David set out to document Dublin’s Inner City before it would be irreversibly changed by the ‘Celtic Tiger,’ the name used for the Irish economy when it was rapidly growing between 1995 and 2000. During this time, Dublin was changing quickly and many of the old buildings were scheduled for demolition. So, from the 1980s to the early 1990s, David paid annual visits to the city to photograph the last corner shops, antique furniture businesses and auction houses along the Liffey river, as well as the people living and working in this area.

Maurice, a Dubliner, was on friendly terms with the marketers of Iveagh Market, Dublin. Here, he is seen showing the photographer around his old haunts in and near the Liberties.

Maurice, a Dubliner, was on friendly terms with the marketers of Iveagh Market, Dublin. Here, he is seen showing the photographer around his old haunts in and near the Liberties.

To capture as much detail as possible, David used fine-grained medium format film. Only in 2014, however, did he have sufficient computer image processing power to turn his media format negatives into high resolution panoramas with an incredible amount of detail. These panoramas, along with David’s other photos, allow the viewer to step back into Dublin’s past and visually experience a period that has been lost in time.

Here’s a selection of photos from David’s reconstructed memory of Dublin’s inner city, together with a few questions we asked him about this fascinating project.

William Gallagher of Martin+Joyce's Butcher shop, the last working premise in this block of Benburb Street, Dublin. Photograph taken in 1992, diptych assembly in 2014

Patrick Gallagher of Martin+Joyce’s Butcher shop, the last working premise in this block of Benburb Street, Dublin. Photograph taken in 1992, diptych assembly in 2014

What’s your connection to Dublin?
I first came to Dublin on a three month school exchange in 1982, enjoying some fascinating teachers at the progressive Newpark Comprehensive school, Dun Laoghaire, then became friends with my lovely host family, and began to visit almost yearly. After so much time of my formative years spent in Dublin, parts of the city certainly still feel like home to me. My first visit also coincided with my earliest experiments in photography, and soon thereafter I discovered the Bechers‘ work in industrial archeology, which left quite an impression.

T.J. Downing's grocery shop on Benburb Street, Dublin, with Mr. Downing. Photographs taken in 1992, assembled to diptych in 2014

T.J. Downing’s grocery shop on Benburb Street, Dublin, with Mr. Downing. Photographs taken in 1992, assembled to diptych in 2014

Hunter's grocery shop, near Benburb Street, Dublin, with Ms Patricia Hunter. Photograph taken in 1992, assembled to diptych in 2014.

Hunter’s grocery shop, near Benburb Street, Dublin, with Ms Patricia Hunter.
Photograph taken in 1992, assembled to diptych in 2014.

What did it feel like to work on this project? Was it a rush against time?
It definitely felt like a rush against time back then. As I soon learned, there existed all sorts of crackpot re-development plans from the 70s and 80s, some of which would have led to the near-total demolition and re-structuring of Inner Dublin’s appearance. In 1989, while at film school, I directed a 70 minute documentary (Bargaintown : Dublin, Liffey Quays), all the while continuing with my long-term photography project.

On the other hand, I really enjoyed spending time in Dublin, meeting and interviewing locals, and wouldn’t want to miss those endless hours, just waiting for the right light.

Catherine Walsh, of Walsh's Takeaway, King Street North, Dublin, 1988

Catherine Walsh, of Walsh’s Takeaway, King Street North, Dublin, 1988

Dublin Bazaar, Thomas Street West, showing typical period advertising, and a salesman. photographs taken in August 1988, combined into a diptych in 2014.

Dublin Bazaar, Thomas Street West, showing typical period advertising, and a salesman. photographs taken in August 1988, combined into a diptych in 2014.

Do you feel you’ve succeeded in preserving a moment in time, like James Joyce did with Ulysses? Or was it an impossible task?
I hope to have captured a strong sense of passing time. I was fortunate to witness the last ten years before the Celtic Tiger brought on numerous changes and altered the very fabric of Irish life. Joyce was frequently on my mind, as I felt the madness, and obligation, to capture a beautiful, but derelict cityscape that was vanishing before my eyes.

Apart from portraits of the local shopkeepers, children playing in the streets, and the homeless people I would meet, I also focused on seamless panoramas of the entire Liffey Quays, from Phoenix Park to Eden Quay.

Since I worked with a Rolleiflex medium format camera and highly-resolving, slow-speed film, there is a depth and resolution to my images that facilitates large prints, and will preserve the many details that made up life in the depopulated Inner city.

Part 5 of a continuous high resolution black and white panorama of Dublin´s North Liffey Quays from Sarsfield Quay to Eden Quay, taken in 1985, digitally combined in 2014.

Part 5 of a continuous high resolution black and white panorama of Dublin´s North Liffey Quays from Sarsfield Quay to Eden Quay, taken in 1985, digitally combined in 2014.

It was an era rich in historic layers, decaying Georgian ensembles that in engraver James Malton’s time would have been celebrated as proud architectural achievements, but now housed thriftstores, auction houses, and barber shops.

Apart from the high resolution panoramas and architectural ensembles (for which up to 12 medium format negatives were scanned at a resolution exceeding medium format’s native resolution, then painstakingly combined to form a seamless composite), I also revisited the same locations year after year, for “Before and After” shots showing the passing of time.

Heather's Footwear, Dublin, Arran Quay, was forced to move premises due to dereliction. Images taken in 1988, combined to a diptych in 2014.

Heather’s Footwear, Dublin, Arran Quay, was forced to move premises due to dereliction. Images taken in 1988, combined to a diptych in 2014.

Mac's Home Bakery in King Street, Dublin, has closed down. Images taken in 1991 and 1992, combined into a diptych in 2014.

Mac’s Home Bakery in King Street, Dublin, has closed down. Images taken in 1991 and 1992, combined into a diptych in 2014.

Like a one-man google car (with a heart), I managed to preserve the Liffey Quays, long before digital stitching techniques were invented. This is also the reason it took me 20 years to realise my vision of an immersive, high resolution photographic documentation of Dublin’s Inner City. I simply had to wait for computing power to catch up with what I had in mind.

So, yes – the Joyce of a future generation could actually take a stroll down the Liffey, to experience through my photographs the Dublin that was.

Umbrella Manufacturers: Derelict building on Essex Quay, Dublin, 1988. Medium format photographs taken in 1988, combined to panorama in 2014.

Umbrella Manufacturers: Derelict building on Essex Quay, Dublin, 1988. Medium format photographs taken in 1988, combined to panorama in 2014.

Dick Doran, a Dubliner who used to call himself "The Lord Mayor of Dublin", had been a bar pianist in the post-war years. Photograph taken in 1984.

Dick Doran, a Dubliner who used to call himself “The Lord Mayor of Dublin”, had been a bar pianist in the post-war years. Photograph taken in 1984.

Besides preserving a part of Dublin’s history, do you feel this project can have a broader significance?
“Dublin Before the Tiger” presents a completely new way to look at the past, not just in atmospheric, but random street shots, but in high resolution, perspective-corrected, colour tableaux, offering context and detail at the same time.

It was important to me to not paint the customarily bleak picture of urban decay, but to express the resourcefulness, quirkiness, resilience, and pride that these people, and buildings possessed. In an era of crisis, I think younger generations can find a lot to relate to in these people braving adversity with their small enterprises.

Michael Rynne's Barber shop (new premises), Ellis Quay, Dublin, 1991. A well-known character, Mr. Rynne opened this shop in 1992, a few hundred yards from his old premises, which had to be abandoned due to dereliction.

Michael Rynne’s Barber shop (new premises), Ellis Quay, Dublin, 1991. A well-known character, Mr. Rynne opened this shop in 1992, a few hundred yards from his old premises, which had to be abandoned due to dereliction.

A boy poses with two coins in North Dublin's Linenhall Street, 1988

A boy poses with two coins in North Dublin’s Linenhall Street, 1988

How did the people you photographed respond to your project?
I sent them prints and received hand-written letters which I still have. While the older ones probably have passed away, I hope I will be able to locate and invite some of the younger ones, once I have organised a show in Dublin.

Of course if you, reader, recognise somebody, I’d be glad to be put in touch.

Children playing at Mountjoy Square, Dublin, 1992

Children playing at Mountjoy Square, Dublin, 1992

Dublin, Liffey Quays Panorama, detail from pt 5/8 Upper Ormond Quay

Dublin, Liffey Quays Panorama, detail from pt 5/8 Upper Ormond Quay

What has been the response to your photos afterwards, now that the inner city of Dublin has changed?
I will first present this project at the portfolio reviews at Photoireland 2014, in July, and hope to find suitable partners, curators, sponsors or publishers for launching it. My dream is to start with Dublin, as I owe the city so much inspiration, but also to introduce the project to other territories.

Due to the large size of the prints, I will need to attract funding to be able to bring this project to Ireland. An event-oriented venue would be ideal, maybe even a combination of venues. I’d want as many Dubliners as possible to share in this re-visiting of their past.

The subtitle of my work is “Memory Reconstructed”, and I hope to provide a new, immersive way to experience a pivotal time in recent European history.

The Post Office is the last house standing in this block of Upper Ormond Quay. Photograph taken in August 1988, digitally combined from medium format negative scans in 2014.

The Post Office is the last house standing in this block of Upper Ormond Quay. Photograph taken in August 1988, digitally combined from medium format negative scans in 2014.

Robin, a busker in Grafton Street, Dublin 1992

Robin, a busker in Grafton Street, Dublin 1992

What’s it like for you to visit these parts of Dublin today?
It’s quite a different city, now. I am still in love with Dublin, though I have since lived in Munich, Leeds, London, and currently Berlin. I am excited by the new, open, multicultural society, and still find Dublin an amazingly friendly, young, and lively European capital.

And, boy, am I glad they didn’t pave the Liffey over to make it into a car park!

Winding Stair Bookshop and Woollen Mills, Lower Ormond Quay, Dublin, 1991. Image stitched from 6 medium format negative scans in 2014

Winding Stair Bookshop and Woollen Mills, Lower Ormond Quay, Dublin, 1991.
Image stitched from 6 medium format negative scans in 2014

Panorama of Lower Ormond Quay, Dublin

Panorama of Lower Ormond Quay, Dublin

To see more of David’s work, visit his website.




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7 Comments on "Dublin’s Inner City Reconstructed Through Photography by David Jazay"

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Linda Leigh
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Hi David…..I really enjoyed your older photos of Dublin as I am a Vintage Photographer and appreciate the older buildings better than the new ones that they replace them with. I have never visited Dublin and was hoping that I would still find some of the older structures that I heard were so famous in Europe.

Thanks for the memories….:) Linda Leigh

David Jazay
Guest

Hi Linda,

thanks for your comment. I, too, loved the Georgian buildings in their elegant proportions. Also the craftsmanship of signwriters, and the bold colour schemes are to be missed. One can only hope that younger generations of Irish craftspeople will appreciate the simple beauty of the classical Irish shopfront, and feel inspired by this glimpse of the past.
Ireland is such a great country for amazing design:)
Best, David

Terry Crosbie.
Guest

Those pictures are amazing,well done on having the foresight to take them,l’m from Church St,and know the photographed areas well, l have fond memories of getting flakey apples cake in Mrs Macs shop on Northking St,and buying my comics in Martins on Benburb St,also, as a butcher boy,l delivered beef heads to Martin+Joyce,thanks for the memories, regards Terry…xx

David Jazay
Guest

Hi Terry,

thanks for sharing your memories. Personally, I loved the chippie on Ellis Quay, and also the Winding Stair, when they occupied 3 floors. I would often have a scone and tea there while walking the Quays.
I am very happy about the overwhelming response from Dubliners to my project. There are many more pictures, and once I have a show in Dublin, you can look forward to revisiting the Iveagh Markets and other places.
Btw, I heard Martin+Joyce’s is about to be restored to its former glory, as a place selling craftwork by locals.
Best wishes,
David

Patricia
Guest

Great images David. I lived for a few years in Stoneybatter and remember passing Martin and Joyce and the the cows tongues hanging in the window. also remember Mr Downing’s shop he was from Kenmare, Co Kerry.

David Jazay
Guest

Thank you, Patricia, for sharing your experiences. I heard many a kind word about Mr Downing and Mr Gallagher (the butcher) these last few days:)

Jay Long
Guest

Beautiful images; very inspiring project.

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