Dublin’s Inner City Reconstructed Through Photography by David Jazay
- By: Tim Kok
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
To see more of David’s work, visit his website.