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Tony O’Shea’s yesteryear photographs of Ireland are at once bleak and beautiful

by Lucy White
01st Nov 2020

Divorce referendum protest at the GPO Dublin 1986 by Tony O'Shea/Courtesy of Gallery of Photography,

An upcoming photo book is a time capsule that highlights our immutable need for togetherness and ritual

“Tony O’Shea is interested in the moment where the ritual and the casual face each other in the complex light that comes from Irish skies. He likes gatherings and public spaces. And he is watching for the second when, even if his subjects are performing, a guard has been let down, and the camera becomes an uneasy, tentative, hesitant window into the soul. He seeks images of individual loneliness and isolation, figures in a state of reverie and contemplation, or figures in a state of excitement.”


Day of Action to reopen a border road closed by British security forces near Kiltyclogher, County Leitrim, 1993 © Tony O’Shea


Author Colm Tóbín waxes lyrical in an upcoming photo book, The Light of Day, which gathers together four decades’ of work by monochrome maestro Tony O’Shea. 

Shot in locations across Ireland from 1979 until 2019, this 90-image retrospective depicts communities engaged in ritual and camaraderie, such as political rallies, protests and commemorations, as well as lighter fare, including football fans welcoming the Irish team home from the Italia ’90 quarter finals. 


Painted pony, Smithfield, Dublin, 1989 © Tony O’Shea


O’Shea is also expert in picking out the extraordinary in the ordinary, for instance, capturing a youth carrying a kestrel while on the bus, or a pony painted in polka dots on Smithfield Square.

Shabby inner-city buildings, border-county gatherings and religious symbols create a frisson that’s at once ominous and compelling, while O’Shea’s unabashed subjects remind us how our self-image has been irreversibly transformed by social media.

The Light of Day by Tony O’Shea is published by RRB Photobooks / Gallery of Photography Ireland this November. The Tony O’Shea retrospective will also include an exhibition at Dublin’s Gallery of Photography in early 2021.


Good Friday, North Inner City, Dublin, 1984 © Tony O’Shea. Header photo: Divorce referendum protest at the GPO Dublin, 1986 © Tony O’Shea



Read more: Painter Francis Matthews’ deserted streetscapes are more prescient than ever

Read more: VIDEO: Inside the studio of Galway artist Finbar McHugh

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