Eamonn Doyle’s new book ON is like the picture album of a somnambulist. The images are dreamlike and unexpected but as with all the best dreams, no matter how surreal, are always based in reality. The photographs are alien and, at the same time, deeply familiar. Here is a selection of work taken from the new book and others he produced at around the same time.
Interview with photographer Eamonn Doyle
What were you doing before photography?
I studied photography in the late 80s but ended up working in the independent music business for the next 20 years, producing music, running record labels [Dead Elvis and D1 Recordings] and also an arts festival – DEAF [Dublin Electronic Arts Festival].
Was i your first project?
Yes, although it wasn’t initially conceived as a project. The series evolved quite naturally out of my day-to-day photography on the street. Quite a few images already existed before I started to recognise the patterns emerging.
Who did you approach first with the work?
I submitted the project to a few magazines, galleries, festivals, and one international publisher. It didn’t get much attention until I went ahead and published the book myself.
Did you have a high level of confidence in the project when you first started to show it?
I was confident enough myself to submit the work, but had no idea what the reaction would be. There seems to be an over saturation of street photography online, but very little in the art photography world so it was difficult to gauge what the reaction might be.
With no track record in the fine art photography world how were you received initially ?
It hadn’t really reached an international audience until the book was published. Martin Parr picked up on it straight away and after that the reaction was instant and mostly positive.
The quality of print and design in i is very high. Did you see it as a risk to commit so much resources to your first book?
The images, design and print are all integral to the final work, so it was always a priority for me to make sure we didn’t cut any corners. The printing was very expensive so it was a huge risk, but in hindsight, well worth taking.
It could be argued that revealing so few faces results in a ‘turning away’ from the people in these photographs. My intention is quite the opposite.
Personality and identity have been removed from most of your subjects in i. Why?
In taking these photographs, I tried to strip away many of the elements often expected in street photography – context, obvious biographical cues and signifiers, general ‘background noise’. I shot from above, mostly, and tried to flatten the figures into the pavements and roads, and I usually tried to avoid showing the face. Not showing faces seemed to be a way to evoke the very unknowability of these people and, perhaps, by implication, of all those with whom we have such fleeting, urban encounters.
It could be argued that revealing so few faces results in a ‘turning away’ from the people in these photographs. My intention is quite the opposite. Portrait photography usually finds its expressiveness in faces; I want the viewer to look elsewhere, to find cues other than the obvious ones, to look harder and, if needs be, to infer the missing faces.
I was also conscious of the tradition of aniconism – the ban in certain religions on figuratively depicting the realm of the sacred, understood to include gods themselves, but also the human figure or aspects of the human, such as the face. Not showing the faces of most of the people I photographed seemed to express an attitude of ‘hushed reverence’ towards them, which seemed appropriate for subjects about whom I knew nothing, or almost nothing. They are hidden, the better to be respected.
The prints you exhibited last year on the hoarding of the Carlton site on O’Connell street are very close to where you actually took the pictures, do you see this as returning the images back to wild?
Well, there’s definitely a sense that the images have found their way back home. It’s been great having them exhibited in such a public space, especially the exact location where they were made.
Your success has been very rapid, What’s that like then?
It’s been much quicker than expected. Most people have been great, really encouraging and supportive, especially the other photographers I’ve been meeting here in Ireland and overseas.
Was Martin Parr giving i a good review on his blog the big breakthrough?
Very much so! His influence in the world of photography seems quite unique. I was starting to get some interest in the book in the first few weeks of publication, but after Martin got behind it everything changed.
What did you show in Paris Photo?
I showed a grid of nine prints from the i series.
Who represents your work now?
The Michael Hoppen Gallery in London.
Have collectors started to take an interest ?
There was quite a lot of interest at Paris Photo for i and, most recently, at the Arles 2015 festival – Les Rencontres de la Photographie for ON. So the prints seem to have found their way into some interesting collections already.
This edition of Murmur features a selection of black and white work that appears in the new book ON. There’s also some colour work done around the same time. How far have your new projects advanced and what can we expect?
There seem to be a few different strands developing in my recent street work that may end up as coherent groups of images, I’d like to make some new street books over the next couple of years.
After the success of i do you feel more pressure for your new book ON to be a hit?
There’s certainly a lot of interest in the new book. I made the last project for myself, so I’ll just keep working that way and see how things go from there.