Meet Sean Sexton, the photo collector framing Irish history.
Thanks to my good friend Iain McEwan from Kirkcudbright, Scotland, [an attractive town with a colourful blend of medieval, Georgian and Victorian buildings, now know as The Artists’ Town ] for sharing this very interesting article about Irish related photography in his most recent email sent to my inbox.
Published by RTÉ and signed by Dr Orla Fitzpatrick, Ireland’s Border Culture Research Fellow at the Trinity Long Room Hub Arts & Humanities Research Institute at TCD, this article reveals the story behind Sean Sexton‘s collection of over 20,000 images spanning the history of photography.
“ Clare-born Sean Sexton’s collection of over 20,000 images spans the history of photography. The subject of a forthcoming documentary, Sexton’s keen eye has identified gems covering post-famine Ireland right through to the turbulent revolutionary years. He was ahead of the curve when he started this collection in 1970s London. Photography has not, until recently, received its rightful institutional recognition either in Ireland or elsewhere. For example, the Tate Modern in London did not begin to collect the medium seriously until 2009.”
Sexton’s collection has been the subject of two publications: one with an introduction by the historian J.J. Lee was published by Laurence King in 1994 and the other was published by Thames & Hudson in 2004. Selections from the collection have been exhibited in Sweden, Switzerland, Italy, Ireland, Britain and the United States.
These books are also available on Amazon:
Paperback – Illustrated, May 1, 2013 by Sean Sexton (Author), Christine Kinealy (Author)
“An eloquent portrait of a long century of struggle in what was one of Europe’s poorest countries.” ―Publishers Weekly
The first Irish photographs date from 1840, a year after Louis Daguerre announced his discovery of the photographic process.
In the century that followed, Ireland was to know tragedy and triumph, bitter struggle and agonized compromise.
The Great Famine killed over a million Irish poor between 1846 and 1851, and forced an even greater number to flee the horrors of their homeland.
In the following decades, Irish political life was dominated by the struggle for land rights, for Home Rule, and ultimately for independence.
These images do more than tell a gripping political story. They give an insight into a people, a landscape, and a lost way of life.
They evoke the grandeur of life in the Big House, home and symbol of the Anglo-Irish elite.
They reveal the hard labor of rural survival: cutting peat for fuel, fishing, and tilling the soil against an often harsh landscape.
And they show the transforming impact of modernity, as industry, railways, and urban expansion slowly brought Ireland into a new era.
These works provide a vivid depiction of Ireland’s history from its earliest photographs in 1840, through the Great Famine, political struggles, and the transformation into modernity. The collection not only tells a political story but also offers insights into the Irish people, their landscape, and lifestyle changes over time.
The documentary “Framing Irish History – The Sean Sexton Collection” is set to air on RTÉ 1 and RTÉ Player on December 28, 2023, offering a visual journey through this unique photographic archive.
I’m Janice Dugas, amateur photographer, philatelist and always looking
for storytelling with photography and postage stamps.
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