Eamonn Doyle is a Dublin-based street photographer who has found a way to refresh the increasingly predictable practice of shooting strangers in urban settings. Finding elevated angles that flatten his unsuspecting subjects onto reductive backgrounds beneath their tread, Doyle captures moments in the shuffling lives of mostly elderly pedestrians that are almost geometric in their purity. The vivid compositions, caught on the fly, balance the poignance of hunched, solitary citizens with formal figure-ground and chromatic interplay.
The most interesting of the photographs are those of people who appear to have been treated harshly by life, which raises questions about what draws photographers to their quarry. As with most street photographers, Doyle’s game is surreptitious. He occasionally speaks with his targets afterward but never lets on that he has photographed them. He enters their space so deftly, usually from behind, that they are endearingly devoid of the vanity that comes with self-conscious posing. “You get so close to them that they just presume you’re not photographing them. And I’m not using flash. It’s not the classic hard-flash New York kind of faces that you see now, where it’s quite aggressive.”
The hovering vantage puts the viewer on a plane that is, as it were, existentially superior to the subjects. We look down at them, not just as neutral observers but as implied judges of their lives. There is a melancholic tone to the parade of Dubliners making their way down the pitiless boulevards. One reviewer described it as a “mugger’s eye view” — but in fact it’s more a sense of them as belonging overall to a beleaguered underclass, even if they aren’t at all downtrodden in reality. Their isolation is enhanced by Doyle’s tactic of stripping away as much of the city’s visual noise as possible. “That was the most difficult part of the whole project; sometimes I’d have to follow them for a few minutes until they kind of found their own space.” At times, we are witness to a fragment of story, a life stranded for a moment between here and there, what Susan Sontag, in On Photography, called “the poetry of the turned back.”
Doyle began studying painting in college and while there discovered the work of Josef Koudelka, Bill Brandt, and Garry Winogrand, “people like that, sort of classic but with a darker edge.” He has been shooting pictures since the 1980s, though he detoured into the music business for 20 years — running a record label, music festival, and record shop along the way. In 2010, he quit that scene, bought a Leica, and shot in color, and digitally, for the first time. His home turf of central Dublin became his reentry point. When he published the images as a book, esteemed photographer-historian Martin Parr became a fan, and his support made the edition sell out in a flash. But Doyle so nimbly framed the human condition that his series would eventually have found an ardent audience.
Eamonn Doyle’s images were on view at Michael Hoppen Gallery’s booth at AIPAD in New York in April. His book, Eamonn Doyle: I, was designed and produced by Niall Sweeney and Nigel Truswell at Pony Ltd, with printing by MM Artbookprinting, Luxembourg, and binding by Van Waarden, Netherlands.
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