Photographer Gregory Dunn has lived in Stoneybatter for almost 30 years. He reflects on his relationship with the neighbourhood and his new body of work Portrayed.
“It was mainly old ladies cleaning their brasses watched over by the ubiquitous Child of Prague”
Back in 1991, as a newly-wed originally from Deal on the East Kent coast, I bought a modest two-up, two-down house in Stoneybatter on the northside of Dublin. The house had horrid wallpaper, was dark and came with a slug who carried on living there rent-free. I waited tables at a restaurant in town and was always made to feel fortunate to have a job. I was, by the same token made to feel less fortunate to reside in the former Viking enclave.
I was surprised at the level of geographical ignorance when it came to Stoneybatter from my fellow city dwellers, most of whom were native Dubliners. “Is that on the coast?” one contemporary asked me. “Isn’t it dangerous?” inquired another. Having just spent a couple of years living on the Lower East Side of a seemingly lawless Manhattan, the latter question seemed laughable; it was mainly old ladies cleaning their brasses, watched over by the ubiquitous Child of Prague, rather than crack dealers and their clientele. I thought that my new neighbourhood was charming and personally couldn’t understand why young people would prefer a homogenised, characterless 1970’s-style location in the Deep South of Dublin City. At that time, my choice of locale certainly wasn’t speculative. Once, around ’94, an acquaintance pointed to an ordinary-looking German motor car and proclaimed, “that motor’s worth two of your houses.” Sadly, things have changed dramatically.
From around 2005, I started messing with my wife’s digital camera. It would appear that I am now a photographer (of sorts). I only use a compact camera. I always carry one and am constantly on the lookout for an image. Some people who are more accustomed to my other work are surprised to see I’ve produced a collection of portraits. I will, within reason, photograph anything or anyone.
A lot of subjects in my second book, Portrayed were photographed at O’Devaney Gardens, a recently deceased social housing complex that, since 1954 was very much part of the neighbourhood. ODG’s 13 blocks have now disappeared along with its equine tradition, Halloween bonfire and holy statue.
Other faces that feature in Portrayed were found on my walks around the city or other parts of the country. A handful are well-known to some, but most aren’t. I’m extremely lucky to have a highly talented collaborator in Ciarán Ó’Gaora of design agency Zero-G who has made this book and my previous publication, Here: A Photographic Record a reality.
Words and Images: Gregory Dunn
A selection of Dunn’s work will also feature as part of Where Art Thou?, a new exhibition of work by Dublin 7 creatives, which is to be displayed in the windows of Manor Street’s shops from June 15.
Gregory will be speaking about his practice with local photographer Andy Sheridan and Dr Fidelma Mullane, curator of the upcoming exhibition Henri Cartier-Bresson and Ireland at the National Musuem, Collins Barracks on Saturday June 22 at 2.30pm.