Selected as one of the Best Books of 2015 by 10x10 Photobooks, Hannah Watson
Eamonn Doyle’s second photo-book, ‘ON, follows last year’s ‘i’, a collection of street portraits from Dublin city centre. In ‘ON’, black and white figures stalk across Dublin streetscapes, by turns lost, menacing, wary, browbeaten or entranced – but always at odds in some way with their environment. As in ‘i’, the photographs were mostly taken on Dublin’s Parnell Street and O’Connell Street. But here the historic role of those two streets as zones of resistance, protest and insurrection is far more present. The very title of the book itself evokes a resistance – that doggedly existential kind identified by Samuel Beckett’s narrator in ‘The Unnameable’: ‘You must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on.’
The figures are dynamic – muscles taut, heads in mid-turn, bodies in motion. Some flee the photographic gaze itself. Others stare challengingly down the barrel of the lens. Most appear caught up in projects so intensely private that they have an air of total inaccessibility. Rarely does the photographic act intrude so little on the lives of its subjects. Paradoxically, the energy is sought at precisely those moments when the unruly subjects look most likely to tear the images asunder.
The central drama of the book could thus be said to be its subjects’ struggle with representation – not necessarily against it, but writhing, wriggling, jockeying with it. The resulting images invariably draw attention to the photographic act. One never forgets that these images have been selected, framed, constructed. One is never tempted to identify the image with the subject of the image or to respond ‘I know exactly how that person feels.’ The interiority of the subjects is preserved; their dignity remains intact.
‘ON’ opens out to history more directly than its predecessor. Whereas ‘I’ was preoccupied with figures consumed by introspection, the dramas in ‘ON’ are far more environmental. Dublin’s hermetic seal has cracked open and the rest of the world has somehow spilled in. These subjects are photographed mostly from the front and from a lower angle. It’s a presentation that opens out their world, contextualising them by placing them against an architectural backdrop. Where the mysterious, often faceless figures of ‘i’ were often flattened against their worlds, the subjects of ‘ON’ stand out and strike out against their environments, often looming against skies in a way that speaks of possibility, even as they nurse wounds or eye each other suspiciously.