Friday, November 16, 2012

Small Lives: Photographs of Irish Childhood 1860-1970: Book Review

This extraordinary book, edited by Aoife O'Connor features photographs drawn from an exhibition curated by her, and presented in the National Photographic Archive of the National Library of Ireland (NLI). The book takes us on a journey through one hundred and ten years of photographs chosen from collections held by the NLI, and includes many images previously unpublished.

Children from all walks of life are featured, in images showing them at work, at play, or at prayer. O'Connor juxtaposes images of children from the highest ranks of privilege with those fated to the lowest rungs of poverty, giving us insight into the very different kinds of lives lived by these little ones. Particularly moving is an image of children in the workhouse. The filthy conditions and desperate faces stand in marked contrast to the calm repose of wealthy children pictured on the very next page of the book. In their lace trimmed clothing, seated in a garden for a family portrait, they look as though they haven't a care in the world.

Some of the photographs in the book were taken in studios, while others are candid shots. Both methods of presentation offer insight into the way in which children have been perceived and presented in Ireland over the course of these one hundred and ten years. I highly recommend this beautiful book.

Check out a collection of 'Small Lives' images on the National Library of Ireland Flickr page to view a sampling of the sort of photographs featured in the book.

Consider putting together a 'Small Lives' exhibit of those on your own family tree. Here is a collage of a few images of little ones from my family tree, along with an early photograph of yours truly.

Click on images to view larger versions.

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Cheers, Jennifer

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