Dennis Dinneen (1927–1985) earned his living as a publican and taxi driver in Macroom, Co. Cork. But as a side line he also acted as a local photographer, making images of the local people to mark family events, communions, weddings, emigration, and for official purposes – he lived into the era of photo ID, alas.
But these images were as often as not taken against a backcloth, then enlarged and trimmed to meet the customers’ needs, from the family sideboard to a passport.
The images now on display in the Douglas Hyde Gallery however are made from the full negatives, and as result they have a strange effect. Surrounding by the bits and pieces of everyday living in a pub, the reveal very ordinary people in an extraordinary situation.
Dinneen’s photographs, taken largely during the 1950s-70s, depict local people in Macroom, fairly typical of the Irish small town. As the catalogue says: “His kind and humorous perspective allowed his sitters to appear at ease as they posed within the informal studio in a room adjacent to the bar of the main street pub”.
The recently produced enlargements from the original negatives and careful hand printing reveals many aspects of life little more than half a century ago, a relatively recent but now for many lost past.
Certainly some images reveal anxiety, over economic matters and emigration largely, but by no means all. There is a charming family group [above], the daughter making sure that her dolly is part of the group; a touching picture of a boy in his altar boy vestments; a 20-year-old in her best party frock [below]; one too of an informal snap of a group after an evening in the pub; and a portrait of a rather well fed parish priest, perhaps a little too fond of himself in those days of clerical confidence. What we see is not nostalgia, but the realities of ordinary life.
Those who are old enough to remember the 1950s and ‘60s will find these images deeply moving. Those to whom they are merely history or stories of the grandparents, they will be a revelation.
The exhibition is accompanied by the first publication devoted to Dennis Dinneen’s ‘Small Town Portraits’.
The exhibition ‘Small Town Portraits’ from the Dennis Dinneen Archive, runs until May 27, 2017.