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Kennys since 1940

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Exhibition of Photographs
by Joe O'Shaughnessy
Apr 16th - May 6th 2004

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Exhibition Notes by Tom Kenny

John McGahern once said that the most intimate act of all is that of reading. Nothing can interfere with what goes on between the readers mind and the printed page. The author is not involved. It is a recognised fact that the best writer is the one that disappears behind the story. Yet, an integral part of any book - for the reader - is the author's photograph in the dust jacket.

Some writers would love to be invisible; to have a double who would do the public work for them - interviews, signings, photo shoots etc. - while they themselves get on with the lonely business of writing. But writers are not faceless, and in a sense, the photograph provides a vital link between the reader and the writer.

The difficulty for the photographer is to isolate the image of the sitter, and present it in terms of space and time so that it becomes a satisfactory presence, without banality or loss of dignity.

Photographic portraits are necessarily static images, and so the challenge for the photographer is to trap more than one aspect of people who are not easily definable; to draw from the camera contradictory and changing facets of the sitter; to track down the inside as well as the outside of the sitter. It requires exquisite timing and the deftest of touches to make not only the outward appearance, but the character and personality of the sitter emerge as well.

The shutter clicks, and time is frozen. The image is held forever, but that does not make it easy. The perfect portrait is elusive. It can be governed by strong emotion such as admiration or dislike. The sitter may wish to show the effects of an intense and intellectually exhausting life. They may wish to gain several inches in height, or lose a stone in weight. They may cast long and languorous glances at the lens in order to appear sexier than they are in reality, and therefore please the image maker. They may wish to portray a 'laughing boy' image when, in reality they are reserved.

The camera can lie too...

Joe O'Shaughnessy's portraits are all of creative writers, both native and visitor, who have taken part in Cúirt or the Arts Festival, or just visited Galway.

There is a mixture of the familiar and the exotic; the young and the not so young, (some of the early images are historically important); Nobel Laureates and those in early stages of their careers. There are poets, playwrights, novelists, philosophers and scientists from many different parts of the world. These images are neither pretentious nor dramatic. All of the sitters are relaxed in the presence of the camera; the cameraman does not intrude.

There are no masks, no clichés, no gimmicks. Simplicity is the order of the day. Everyone is treated with respect.

Joe is very modest about his work, but despite this he has a formidable reputation as an artist with a keen perceptive vision, sensitivity and a great ability to read people and situations. Above all he is gifted with a wonderful sense of humour.

Cuairteóirí is an apt title for this collection of authors who have not only visited our city, but whom we have already met through their books.