Wednesday 19 May 2010

Dorothea Lange - County Clare captured in photos in 1954

Michael Patsy FlanaganDorothea Lange is one of the most influential photographers of all time. She is most associated with her iconic photographs of the Great Depression in the USA, but in 1954 she spent a month in Ireland and took 2,400 photographs. Part of that archive was published in the book, Dorothea Lange’s Ireland, edited by Gerry Mullins, which was a bestseller in 1996. It was also the basis for the documentary film Photos to Send , which won Best Documentary awards in Galway and nine other film festivals around the world. During that trip in 1954 she spent a few days in Dublin, and a month in County Clare, on the farms, and at the fairs, hurling matches, churches, villages and towns. She was accompanied by her journalist son, Daniel Dixon, who wrote the essay to go with her Irish photos in Life Magazine in March 1955. According to Daniel Dixon, “the photographs Dorothea Lange took during her time in Clare have become part of the heritage and history of the county. She looked at and into the people of Clare. There are photographs of the Clare people at hurling matches, at snug gatherings. She also made beautiful portraits of the eternal landscape of Clare. There are photographs of faith, age, strength and eternity. She also captured the future of Clare in 1954. She believed in the children of the county. She knew the people because they were rooted in the land and they made her feel at home”.

Dorothea Lange was drawn to Clare through the work of Harvard scholar Conrad Arensberg who lived outside Doolin from 1932 to 1934 in order to experience rural life in Ireland. Arensberg’s experience in Clare was recorded in The Irish Countryman, a celebrated book that painted word pictures of the social and economic traditions of rural living. It was this publication that resulted in Lange capturing close to 2,000 images of Clare. Arensberg also published Family and Community in Ireland with Solon T. Kimball as part of the 'Harvard Irish Study, a three-stranded study undertaken by researchers from Harvard University in Ireland between 1931 and 1936'.

Contact prints of the 20,820 photos in the "Early Years (1918- ) Portraits & Lange Personal Photos" can be viewed on the Online Archive of California website at;developer=local;style=oac4;doc.view=items

Limiting the collection by searching for 'Ireland' brings up 2,400 images:;developer=local;style=oac4;doc.view=items#onlineitems=/search%3Frelation%3Dark%3A/13030/ft3f59n5wt%3Bstyle%3Dattached%3Bquery%3DIreland

Or selecting the 'Ireland' subsection of the 'Collection Contents' brings up;dsc.position=30001;style=oac4;view=dsc#omca_742
which also includes descriptions of the photos and links to thumbnail and larger versions of the contact prints, many of which of course feature people and places in County Clare in 1954.

The late Michael Patsy Flanagan, from Barrtra, Lahinch, was one of those photographed working on his farm by Dorothea Lange in 1954 as she travelled through County Clare. Michael Patsy was the drummer with the Tulla Céilí Band for more than fifty years.

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