My photographic essay on Cork City was first published in 2001 by the Collins Press. Below is the Foreword, written by Fiona Shaw.
‘All photographs are accurate none of them are the truth’
-Richard Avedon, 1985
The same could be said of memories particularly of a landscape which often claims a kind of permanence in the mind, but in fact the moment of the memory like the moment of the photograph is its only accurate moment. Places change minute by minute and the pleasure of revisiting place and picture is in the reassessment of old information with the new. Also good photographs are not made by the camera but by the mind of the photographer. I have visited Cork annually over twenty years and the changes have not been gradual. The town remained static and then jumped forward in a leap.
This book is a view of Cork by someone who saw it with new eyes over an extended period and I, like all émigrés, see the city with old and shifting eyes. My ritual of reassessment of the city is a run on Christmas day with my brother. This year we took a route into the city down Wellington Road from Montenotte (I remember every paving crack from my daily trudge to and from school), running across the knife edge of Patrick’s Hill, glimpsing the grand boulevard of Patrick’s Street, down Coburg Street, passed O’Connor’s Funeral home, solemn and busy, and up the tumbled down steps to the miniature world of streets that lie like lace around the petticoat of Shandon Cathedral.
Shandon is so small when one stands underneath it and its prominent focus in the cityscape seems fraudulent. Nearby the rotunda of the Firkin Crane stands like a good friend. Then, plunging down into the town, one is struck by the paint box that has so changed the city in the past twenty years. Yellow on so many confident buildings, Patrick Street stands waving to the new guest its own bunting, the vibrancy of its optimism.
The Grand Parade has little of its frail pretension left. The crescent of Woodford Bourne, once the importers of fine wines for the gentry, now boasts McDonald’s, brash and rude. Passing the cinema one glimpses the murderous red brick of Washington Street shunning all but lawyers who dominate the courthouse hiding in its midst. The Mall intact and virtually unchanged but the market town feel of Princes Street and Oliver Plunkett Street has transformed, drapers have given way to excited shoe shops and cafés. Way off in the Albanian-style bus station, as yet overlooked by the re-shapers, the view heads down to the bond hall on the river, the old Custom House and the sleeping monster of the railway station. And the photographs show the people have changed. The youth population exploding and staying in town, clothing, attitudes, the excitement of a new century.
This book is the view of someone who steeped himself in its angles while retaining the eye of the visitor. The photographs have a fresh clarity, the light of morning and evening making the buildings and people glow with warmth. The steeples in these pictures are shimmering in this moment of change. The town is familiar and unfamiliar all at once. The Opera House at times beleaguered by its style and size has become a witty playful place and in all the pictures the sky, with its inimitable opaque blues, is sometimes so pale as to make the town lonely as a desert, sometimes sensuous. The city seems on the move with the gentleness of the second child, it neither competes nor thrusts. It is full of secret roads and streets and if you are still you can imagine the other times it held itself proud, its Napoleonic grace, its autonomous confidence. Like Florence, its river is its identity and its grand houses on undefended hills its mystery.
Photographs have the power to make one realise that what we look at is the way we look at it.
Our perspectives shifted, our hopes raised.
Fiona Shaw, March 2001