Easter Rising 1916

Exhibition on the theme of the Easter Rising in Dublin in 1916 at The Photographers’ Gallery.

Date: 24th January, 2016.

The exhibition had photographs taken from the Sean Sexton collection, & included portraits of executed leaders,scrapbooks, collages & images of rebellion sites all ranging from the key events before & after the rebellion: 1840 – 1930.  The photographers included women.

Curator: Luke Dodd

Location, setting & atmosphere:

I saw 4 very different exhibitions at TPG on that Sunday & making a mental transition from one to the other was quite extraordinary.  The histories, raisons d’être , perspectives and subjects could not have been more different.  All 4 had different effects on me from indifference (Wolf Suschitzky) to engagement (Saul Leiter) to curiously participating ( Rosangela Renno) to alienation(Easter Rising 1916).

The atmosphere in this room was one of feeling swamped by the sheer volume and variety of images: whimsical bridges


to images of murdered leaders in coffins:


to picture postcards of the damage & souvenir cards: (why would you send postcards of destruction? why not?)





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Three positives on the exhibition:

  •  Vast
  • Different sources: scrapbooks, postcards, collages, film strips & photographs.
  • Copious historical notes.

One wish:

  • The use of a wheelchair to get around the vast collection: perhaps it could have been subdivided based on historical or political perspectives.

Example of work:

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  • educational: finding out about a part of GB history I knew almost nothing about

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  • discovering the use of postcards as part of a documentary / propaganda discipline.
  • the importance of vernacular culture reflected in its natural landscape images morphing in to the social vernacular too.


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  • the use of images to rebuild Irish society at every level, following colonialism reflected in Irish architectural expression.


What I took away with me about the work:

  • The  use of photography for blatant
  • propaganda purposes became evident before the FSA (USA) early years of photography.
  • The use of images and how they are collected & used to reconstruct social history.
  • Stanza IV of the poem Easter 1916  by W.B.Yeats seems apt, in my opinion:
  • IV
    Too long a sacrifice
    Can make a stone of the heart.
    O when may it suffice?
    That is heaven’s part, our part
    To murmur name upon name,
    As a mother names her child
    When sleep at last has come
    On limbs that had run wild.
    What is it but nightfall?
    No, no, not night but death.
    Was it needless death after all?
    For England may keep faith
    For all that is done and said.
    We know their dream; enough
    To know they dreamed and are dead.
    And what if excess of love
    Bewildered them till they died?
    I write it out in a verse —
    MacDonagh and MacBride
    And Connolly and Pearse
    Now and in time to be,
    Wherever green is worn,
    Are changed, changed utterly:
    A terrible beauty is born.


The following quote in Feral Keane’s “The difficulty if marking Ireland’s 1916 Easter rising seems to support the last 4 lines of the poem:

“Almost every state exists because of violence. Over the centuries world wars, civil wars, revolutions and genocide have helped create nation-states across the world. Great empires were built on the violence of superior firepower.

Yet commemorating the violent birth of the modern Irish state raises difficult questions because the legacy of killing is so very recent, and because of the deep divisions which remain on the island.”


What I took away with me about me:

  • To what extent can my photography be considered political?  Should I get politically involved in what is going on through my image making?
  • Involving people in my images gives them a social context & therefore more relent in historical terms than if I expunge all human traces from them.


Reflections on the exhibition:

  • I disliked the exhibition because of the mass of information I had to assimilate & as such I was often confused as to what was being said & why.  I felt alienated by what I read and saw.
  •  Analytical assessment: ‘who’ (the artist or creator), ‘what’ (the subject, medium, key formal qualities like colour, shape and style), ‘where’, ‘when’ (the historical, social and cultural issues that underpin the work), and ‘why’ (exploring the purpose or ‘meaning’ of the image).  Who: There were so many, often unknown authors, that this added to my confusion.  What:The subject was uniform: the history leading up to & following after the 1916 Easter Uprising: a history in images by a collection of authors but collected by Sean Sexton, known as “the photo historian of Ireland”.  I need to find other Irish historians before I can comment on how the subject was treated in this exhibition. Why:The purpose or meaning of the exhibition was “to investigate the significant role played by photography in informing the national consciousness that led to Irish independence , using the 1916 rebellion as a central focal point.” (TPG’s Press release)
  • Having lived in South Africa & Zimbabwe with their recent history of rebellions, terrorist attacks and guerrilla warfare, I found myself trying to figure out where my allegiances were vis-a-vis this set of images.  Who were the heroes?  Those in coffins?  Those who emerged in political parties in the rebellion’s aftermath?

Next steps:

  • If I have the time, investigate Irish history, but I don’t think that is going to happen.
  • In my own work, try to see what i am trying to say.

Exhibition star rating: 3* purely because of the confusion it caused in me.















2 thoughts on “Easter Rising 1916”

  1. Maybe the confusion you experienced was a reflection of the confusion of the times as evoked through the way the Exhibition was curated.
    Seems like there’s a lot of threads for you to follow here should you be inclined. An exhibition where a second or third visit is probably much more likely to aid understanding and make sense of it all.


    1. Yes, the confusion issue may be as you say. I relived the exhibition through my notes & photos & I still felt alienated – there may be quite a few threads to follow – you are right. There is so much history to absorb & political complexities still being felt today & many people I speak to are not aware of the history – it’s too far away & does not affect many here.


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