Nice Gaff: Smithfield Fruit and Vegetable Market

Posted November 23, 2016 in More


Henrietta Williams, an architectural photographer from London, moved to Dublin in 2001 to study sculpture at the National College of Art and Design. Then a stranger to the city, she zig-zagged across the river, beginning on Parliament Street where the bouncers of the Front Lounge would keep an eye on her, to living in the final year of her studies in a warehouse at the back of Capel Street. Her favourite building, the old Victorian fruit and vegetable market in Smithfield, was happened upon in the early mornings while walking to college, and at the tail end of wild parties that continued with the opening of the market’s early houses.

“I don’t think one building really does for me with Dublin to be honest,” announces Williams when quizzed about the specifics of her choice, “because I think that when I lived there – I wasn’t really that into architecture and I think that the reason I got into architecture was because of my experience in Dublin which was beginning to understand how cities functioned as a sum of their parts rather than as individual parts.”

“What’s so interesting about Dublin” continues Williams, “is that similarly to London there is loads of little villages all joined together but perhaps more interesting than in London is that all of those pockets are really, really tiny. So from my ten minute walk from home to college, I would walk through the market and the stalls would be just set up for the day and everything would be clean and swept and there’d be these aul’ fellas and old women out with piles of vegetables.”

“I could walk through the market; there was actually a route through. And then I would cross the Liffey, and you have all those grand buildings that line the Liffey and I would walk up that hill and walk towards the Liberties. And on that route I took in, I suppose three different areas in a ten minute walk. So it’s like there’s all of these different experiences that you’d have during the day because of your path. And I think that is something that happens when you’re walking. Whereas in London you’d tend to be on a bus or on the Tube and so even though you might be travelling greater distances, you’re not really aware of the areas you’re passing through. In Dublin I always felt really aware of the city fabric.”




The market proved a seminal structure in both Williams’ path to architectural photographer and in finding her place in the city. “By walking through that space I realised that it’s a brilliant building to do work in. I ended up doing a piece of work where I built a huge frame that filled a doorway of the fish market, right next door. I had a back projection and it ran for a couple of nights during the winter. And that totally came out of walking through these large apertures in the market and realising that, that was the frame through which I see the city.”

Now gone from Dublin a number of years, she’s not surprised to hear that the market has changed significantly in keeping with grand swathes of the city. It’s the people who populated the market’s peripheries, post-party and en route to the early house that she misses the most, deposited as they are, all over the globe; “that is the thing that I miss about Dublin,” she finishes. “When I go back now it’s like, I’m looking for that feeling but it’s no longer there.”

Henrietta Williams is an architectural photographer and videographer. Her work focuses on telling stories about the built environment and on security and surveillance within the UK. She has been invited to speak at the Royal College of Art, UCL, the University of Bergen, the University of Lyon, the University of Cambridge, and the Bauhaus in Weimar, Germany. She has recently begun a practice-based AHRC funded PhD in Architectural Design at the Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL.

Words: Jeanette Farrell


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