‘Here – A Photographic Record’ by Gregory Dunn
Published by Zero G
Originally developed as a Viking annex following the Battle of Clontarf in 1014, the neighbourhood of Stoneybatter was a mostly rundown, ignored, working class enclave in Dublin’s north inner city by the mid 1990s. Last year, a travel article in The Guardian described the area as “the cool neighbourhood to explore – if you want a taste of little Williamsburg by the Liffey”.
With its affordable rentals, popup-friendly spaces, mountain beards and craft beer watering holes it’s hardly surprising Stoneybatter has become synonymous with Dublin hipsterdom in recent years. But the area has been at the heart of artisan life in Dublin for over a century now – housing artists, musicians and working class families – at one stage the area was so over-colonised with begrudging, out of work actors it was endearingly referred to as ‘Bitterbatter’.
It’s also the home to photographer, filmmaker, sound recordist and “sometime artist” Gregory Dunn.
Dunn was born in Hammersmith, London in 1960 “in the same hospital as two members of the Sex Pistols”, he says proudly and from the age of three grew up in a town called Deal on the Kent coast.
Boasting more listed Regency buildings in the county and a back-breaking shingle beach, Deal lacked the allure of the sun, sea and A+E rivals Margate or Folkstone. Since 1861, it was also home to the Royal Marines (the barracks, tragically, made the headlines in 1989 when the IRA exploded a time bomb, ripping through a three-storey recreational centre and killing eleven men).
“Deal was a funny town. It had that really rough, ‘broken bottle in the face’ element mixed with a lot of gay antique dealers from London,” Dunn tells Murmur.
Following a brief stint in New York, Gregory Dunn arrived in Dublin in 1990 and never left.
Work on his latest book Here – A Photographic Record began four years ago. Originally intended as a photographic document looking back at a recession-ravaged Ireland, Dunn has since broadened the collection’s narrative. “Even in such a short period of time, the book has become an historic document. If you go through the collection of images, most of the things I photographed have either been knocked down or altered – the pace of change has been rapid”, he says.
During the pre-press proofing stages the photographer describes how affected he was by how much Catholicism and religion was present, even in such a so-called secular and modern Ireland: “I’m not a religious or spiritual person at all. I was brought up in a rural, Church of England tradition where we’d all sing Onward Christian Soldiers at morning assembly”.
After 27 years of living in Dublin, Dunn still observes and visualises the vernacular like an outsider and it’s clearly evident this has been a benefit to his work rather than a burden.
“I still see things slightly differently than the way Irish people see their environment’, says Dunn. “Just up the road from me is O’Devaney Gardens. Today, the place is falling to bits – like the South Bronx in the 1980s – but the one thing that’s remained in tact is the statue of Our Lady. That is respected by everybody and maintained by a handful of old ladies.”
While talking to the photographer/filmmaker, it’s hardly surprising to hear the Kentish seaside town of his youth has, in recent years, risen up the culture charts of desirable places to live in England. Maybe Kent’s new ‘Williamsburg on Sea’? “It’s become a super-hardcore, desirable hipster getaway … gentrified and unaffordable,” Dunn quips.
You can find more of Gregory Dunn’s extensive film and photography work at www.stoneybutter.com
Words: Edwin Bowe