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Space, Intermediality, and the Visual Arts

The Visible and the Invisible: Photographic Works by Patrick Hogan, Ailbhe Ní Bhriain and David Creedon

Le visible et l’invisible: œuvres photographiques de Patrick Hogan, Ailbhe Ní Bhriain et de David Creedon
Valérie Morisson


Les trois séries de photographies considérées oscillent entre style documentaire et poétique, entre réalisme et imaginaire. Fruits de projets et recherches longues, elles condensent l’expérience de l’exil. Les maisons vides, ou ruines, qu’elles montrent témoignent de l’émigration irlandaise et des marques que cette dernière a laissées dans le paysage et les mémoires. En dépit de l’effet réaliste des détails, ces photographies d’espaces empoussiérés matérialisent une absence et donnent à voir le temps. La sérialité induisant une narration, le spectateur reconstruit une histoire elliptique et non linéaire à partir des vestiges photographiés. Empruntant à la traduction picturale de la nature morte, ces trois séries constituent des memento mori. Elles confirment que les nouvelles pratiques photographiques remettent en cause l’indexicalité de l’image : représentations et non reproductions, elles ouvrent à nouveau un dialogue avec la peinture et l’imaginaire.

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Introduction: photography and imagination

  • 1 Roland Barthes, Phillipe Dubois, or Rosalind Krauss argue that photography is indexical. For a crit (...)
  • 2 See writings by Susan Sontag, Allan Sekula, Serge Tisseron, or André Rouillé.

1Photography’s privileged relation with the real has long been overemphasized.1 However, in the 1970s, photographic formalism contributed to erasing the boundary between photography-as-document and photography-as-art. Besides, since the 1990s, many photographers have worked at the crossroads between straight and artistic photography thereby renewing the documentary tradition. New critical approaches,2 museographical changes, and technologies have fuelled the debates on the referentiality or indexicality of photography. Although photography, being at once referential and compositional, has always oscillated between objectivity and subjectivity, the visible and the invisible, the real and the imaginary, these developments have altered the way we perceive the relation between photography, reality, and imagination.

  • 3 Hogan received the Dublin Gallery of Photography Artist Award in 2011.
  • 4 Creedon contributes images to newspapers and magazines and has exhibited at the National Portrait G (...)
  • 5 The two series were first exhibited at Domoobal Gallery, London, 2007.
  • 6 Like all the other quotes from the artist, this one is from an unpublished interview, September 201 (...)

2Displaying obvious formal qualities, the three sets of works this paper examines—Solitary, Half-Mad (2010) by Patrick Hogan,3 Ghosts of the Faithful Departed (2011) by David Creedon,4 Aftermath (2007) and Perimeter (2007) by Ailbhe Ní Bhriain5—waver between the real and the fictitious, the visible and the invisible, the documentary and the poetic. The dilapidated houses photographed in these series were formerly inhabited and do retain a sense of homeliness if not coziness. In this respect, these anthropological places differ from the social and political cityscapes and non-places characterizing recent Irish photography (Graham) in that they offer, as Hogan explains, ‘a more personal, self-reflective and subjective use of the medium which separates it from objective social commentary’.6 The three photographers, from the West of Ireland, draw their inspiration from the local landscape and its historical scars. Their series testify to a renewed interest in local landscapes and the intimate. The small size of the works fosters experiential and personal perceptions of the once lived-in places. As Justin Carville argues, ‘at times of crisis nations frequently return to nature and the land for familiarity, comfort, and security. Photographic representations of the picturesque landscape become important in rediscovering lost identities and re-imagining a sense of place. In . . . recent photographic representations the landscape is familiar but the perspective is troubling’ (Carville 89).

3However familiar the homes photographed by the three artists may seem, their materiality dissipates: what remains absent, or invisible, is as perceptible as what is photographed. If rural Ireland has long been ‘an imaginary place made real through the photograph’ (Carville 187), our contention is that the photographs show real places made imaginary through photography. The latter is used to desubstantiate observable realities in an act of mourning.

The Image as Crystallization

4The three works under scrutiny are long-term investigative projects in which the overly detailed image materializes as the synthesis of a long but eventually invisible experience.

Fig. 1: Patrick Hogan, Solitary, Half Mad, courtesy of the artist

Fig. 1: Patrick Hogan, Solitary, Half Mad, courtesy of the artist

5Patrick Hogan’s intention in Solitary, Half Mad (Fig. 1) was to ponder solitary existence. Over a period of six months, he took pictures of rooms where people lived or died on their own. The ten images he selected for this series encapsulate his own solitary experience as he identified with the lonesome inhabitant of the place. The selection of images as well as their being woven into a narrative is the result of a long process: the works never are instantaneous reflections of a directly observable reality. Living alone for six months on a very tight budget enabled Hogan to imbue his work with a particular mood. ‘The work is always a reaction to that place, a kind of encounter between the self and place’, he explains. Although the spaces photographed by the three artists are fragments, the works evidence what George Didi-Huberman calls spatial empathy (2001, 75).

Fig. 2: David Creedon, Ghosts of the Faithful Departed, courtesy of the artist

Fig. 2: David Creedon, Ghosts of the Faithful Departed, courtesy of the artist
  • 7 Unpublished interview with the artist. Quoted with his permission.

6Going beyond the documentary and the surface of things is also what David Creedon intended to do in Ghosts of the Faithful Departed (Fig. 2). He first came across an abandoned house in Mayo in 2005 and then started visiting deserted houses in the West of Ireland over a period of two years. He explored the rooms carefully and sat down for a long time waiting for natural light to come through the dusty windows or reading letters and documents providing clues about the inhabitants (Creedon 2012). He worked with Dr. Breada Grey (University College Cork) who archives stories from people who stayed at home at a time of mass emigration. ‘As time went on, the project changed from being one not only of photographs but a historic story’.7 The artist’s awareness of widespread depopulation, family disruption, mental health issues, inheritance problems, or religiosity permitted him to focus his lens on meaningful traces. Only after he had finished photographing these houses, did he find a title for the series, which highlights the importance of time in the elaboration of the artistic project.

Fig. 3: Ailbhe Ní Bhriain, Perimeter, courtesy The Domobal Gallery

Fig. 3: Ailbhe Ní Bhriain, Perimeter, courtesy The Domobal Gallery

Fig. 4: Ailbhe Ní Bhriain, Aftermath, detail, courtesy The Domobal Gallery

Fig. 4: Ailbhe Ní Bhriain, Aftermath, detail, courtesy The Domobal Gallery
  • 8 Except when other references are indicated, all quotations are from an unpublished paper by the art (...)

7In her two photographic works, Perimeter (Fig. 3) and Aftermath (Fig. 4), Ailbhe Ní Bhriain combined incompatible spaces, scales, and perspectives to create imaginary dwellings made up of walls and fragments of ocean or forest. Collection and accumulation through time are crucial to the artist’s poïetics: ‘site serves as an important starting point: I am always looking for locations and trying to wrangle access to them. . . . I like to gather imagery and objects as possibilities that I don’t fully understand yet. Often I’ll live with these for years, they sit around the studio together until long exposure weaves its own logic and they find their way into a work (or not)’.8 The investigative practices favoured by the three artists and their wandering in historically and emotionally loaded spaces that they reconfigure account for the minuteness of details.

8Solitary Half Mad, Ghosts of the Faithful Departed, Aftermath and Perimeter are endowed with a compelling reality effect as the artists opt for frontal points of view, precision, large angle views, and seriality. Sharing these devices with documentary photographers, they make fragments of our environment that are overlooked or forgotten visible. Exhaustiveness, precision, clarity, and transparency, still increased thanks to the high resolution of digital images, do provide an impression of truth.

Fig. 5: Patrick Hogan, Solitary, Half Mad, courtesy of the artist

Fig. 5: Patrick Hogan, Solitary, Half Mad, courtesy of the artist

9The forensic lighting in Hogan’s Prayers, the low angle point of view magnifying the marks and scratches on the table in Mustard (Fig. 5), the heightened lighting contrasts in the exterior scenes, or the use of a wide-angle lens anchor the photographs deep into reality.

10The eye can rummage through the rooms that Creedon photographs almost endlessly as many objects are strewn on the floor or lie forgotten in cupboards, on mantelpieces, and windowsills. The photographs, drawing attention to familiar objects, labels, and brand-names, bring back to mind memories of everyday life in the 1960s and 70s. The memorabilia, at times shot in close-ups, generates a sense of familiarity. The faded or broken religious icons, which constitute the Ariadne thread in the series, evidence the secularization of a once deeply devout country. These countless fragments of wrecked life constitute a form of social archaeology resuscitating bygone times in a globalized modern Ireland. The long exposures (from thirty seconds to fourteen minutes), the use of natural light and reflectors at times, as well as the amount of time the artist spends on the spot enable him to enhance the textures of the surfaces and the dust covering the objects or obstructing the windows.

11In spite of the darkness that shrouds Ní Bhriain’s images, the shapes are clear-cut and the edges eerily neat. In her much-detailed foregrounds, one may make out weeds growing in the fissures of the walls (a classical motif in the poetics of ruins), traces of leaks or dereliction. Particular attention is paid to textures though material roughness is not perceptible at first sight. The bewildering minuteness of the details and the thinness of the lines, possible only thanks to digital photography, beguile the viewer into exploring the inset miniature worlds that compose these imaginary houses. ‘Looking more closely at Ní Bhriain’s photographs, a series of uncanny details unhooks them from any frame of objective reality’, Maximillian Le Cain observes. A minute scrutiny of these surrealist places discloses the constructedness of the images. Aftermath and Perimeter result from the layering of photographs taken in Vietnam or Cambodia that are digitally reworked and superposed to photographic, collaged, painted and drawn elements related to the Irish landscape (Fig. 6).

Fig. 6: Ailbhe Ní Bhriain, Aftermath, courtesy The Domobal Gallery

Fig. 6: Ailbhe Ní Bhriain, Aftermath, courtesy The Domobal Gallery

12Ní Bhriain deliberately combines devices reinforcing the alleged authenticity of the photographic image and devices betraying its artificiality. The artist confesses:

It is a way of questioning authenticity, within the medium and likewise within the subject of place and of landscape, which is also full of nostalgic and romantic connotations. . . . I like that the strangeness of the work doesn’t declare itself too readily, but rather emerges on closer inspection.

13As some photographers’ renewed interest in object-photography, texture, and materiality suggests, digital photography has bred nostalgia for the old daguerreotypes and the antiquated materiality of chemical processes. The three photographers’ material poetry is not tantamount to realism, nor is it primarily driven by the desire to archive landscapes. For a long time, photography was used and celebrated for its ability to record fine details (Tratchenberg 169–178). Even though the image is a construct unable to infallibly record the truth (Rouillé 17), details do heighten the verisimilitude of the image. In the three series, accumulated evidence of dereliction and exile brings to mind the Irish diaspora while bringing forth epiphanic meditation. As a matter of fact, both repetitions and the hyperesthesia or hypersensitivity springing from the overpowering presence of details lead the viewers beyond the visible. The extreme concreteness of the textures, enhanced both by lighting and composition, verges on dream-related hypersensitivity. Paradoxically, the unnatural material clarity of the rooms makes them swing to the poetic and the unreal. The palpable details, the punctum of the image, stir our imagination.

Photographic Paintings

  • 9 If analog photographers used development, exposure, framing and cropping as means to personalize th (...)

14Being non-indexical, digital photography has shattered many beliefs about the fiction of the photographic real (Rouillé 28). Enjoying an uncertain status, it cannot have any particular claim at veracity. It has made irrelevant Cartier-Bresson’s notion of the instantaneity of photographs, which rooted them deeper into the phantasm of the real. Even though it aims at representing a referent and imitating the primary indexical image (Barboza 112), it is not ‘a trace, something directly stencilled off the real’ (Sontag 154), nor is it, like analog photography, a transfer of reality from the thing to its reproduction (Bazin). By facilitating manipulation, digital photography puts the intentionality of the author to the fore. ‘Thanks to such an emancipation, digital photography does not open a new period in the history of images but reintroduces the freedom of the imaginary and a representational regime in this history’, Barbosa concludes (113). Digital photography does not strictly reproduce reality: it represents it (Barboza 14). Precision and accuracy are still conducive to the impression truth-to-lifeness but fail to guarantee the truthfulness of the image. William J. Mitchell goes as far as to say that digital photography ‘differs as profoundly from a traditional photograph as does a photograph from a painting’ (4)9. Admittedly, the relation between photography and painting has changed. ‘Computational tools for transforming, combining, altering, and analyzing images are as essential to the digital artist as brushes and pigments are to a painter’ (Mitchell 7). Digital photographs are totally pictorial and totally photographic at the same time (Rouillé 456) as the three works evidence.

15Patrick Hogan, who is also a painter, draws parallels between his practice as a photographer and as a painter: ‘The link between photography and the unconscious mind was something I began to think more about while making this work. This is also how I worked when I painted’. He explores the tension between reality and fantasy by juxtaposing unstaged and staged photographs. His photographs of interiors were pre-planned and evolved from drawings and scenarios he had imagined. ‘By paying particular attention to how these interiors were composed and lit, I could bring a sense of theatre to these very real situations’ the artist notes (Tierney). Photographic lighting devices, such as reflectors or soft-boxes, and long exposures intensify the light and ‘bring a subtle sense of fantasy to these natural spaces’ (Tierney). Light, shadows, and colours are reworked using Aperture.

16The images making up Ghosts of the Faithful Departed are also utterly photographic and pictorial. David Creedon was enthralled by the vibrant colours of the rooms that he discovered; thanks to the Canon digital camera and the printer he used they came out accurately (Creedon 2012). Light is crucial to the effect of the images: ‘As a teenager I was fascinated by the effect of theatrical lighting singling out an actor or musician’, he confessed (Creedon 2011). The long exposures, the echoes in the series, the forensic atmosphere, and the mystery in the work bestow a dream-like quality upon the scenes. Though the photographer does not alter the rooms, he studies the framing for a long time, hence the sense of theatricality, with partly hidden second rooms, windows, or corridors adding to the stage-like appearance of the rooms (Fig. 7).

Fig. 7: David Creedon, Ghosts of the Faithful Departed, courtesy of the artist

Fig. 7: David Creedon, Ghosts of the Faithful Departed, courtesy of the artist

17Owing to the subdued light in his tableaux, Creedon has been acclaimed as the Irish Vermeer. The peeling wall-papers in his photographs are reminiscent of the curtains that frame the Old Master’s paintings, the inset images, the doors and the windows, as well as the natural lighting of the interior scenes bring the Flemish master to mind. However, in Vermeer’s canvases the sitter occupies a central place while, in Ghosts of the Faithful Departed, the rooms are haunted by invisible inhabitants.

18Ailbhe Ní Bhriain trained as an engraver, which may account for the strong contrasting in her black and white images as well as for her interest in texture and the poïetics of the image. The artist others space by blending real and imaginary spaces. Her use of black and white is a tribute to photographic pictorialism or formalism exploring the possibilities of soft-focus lenses and painterly darkroom techniques. It distances the images from reality. Her use of transparency, rather than collage, recalls painterly techniques. The exquisitely rich palette of black and white shades, as well as the contrast between hazy areas and neat lines or shadows, is reminiscent of etchings and Chinese paintings. The minuteness of details and texture, and the concentric horizontal and vertical framings in her compositions generate a surrealist effect not unlike the truncated perspectives in René Magritte or De Chirico’s works. Her works confirm that ‘as we enter the post-photographic era, we must face once again the ineradicable fragility of our ontological distinctions between the imaginary and the real’ (Mitchell 225).

19Whether the three artists photograph or photographically paint fragments of the Irish landscape, what their works reveal is primarily absence. The impression of abandonment and forlornness, a metaphor for the semiotic unfathomability of the photographic image, is heightened by the numerous doors, windows, or open drawers in the three series. These openings metaphorically invite the viewers to imagine stories that are deliberately only half told.

Photographs as Elliptical Narratives

  • 10 Unpublished interview. Quoted with the artist’s permission.

20Lucy Lippard’s claim that ‘every landscape is a hermetic narrative’ (33) forcefully applies to the works under scrutiny. Their narrativity is heightened by the emphasis on time as worn-out fabrics, broken pots, derelict walls, peeling paint or wall-paper, and left-overs testify to the unfurling of human existence. As a matter of fact, ‘within ruins, several histories and distinct temporalities interweave’ (Gadoin 7). The conflation of the past and the present in these images of ruins, as well as the reminiscences generated by these personal geographies, testify to the polychronic, heterochronic, and anachronistic essence of artworks (Didi-Huberman 2000, 22). Such polychrony is equally related to the Nietzschean idea of the eternal return and to the Freudian notion of repetition, both notions being relevant to the series under scrutiny. The suspension in time that the images instil through their eerie stillness also opens a breach for personal memories. As David Creedon explains, ‘quite a number of people approached me in galleries with tears streaming down their cheeks. Some object in a picture would remind them of their youth and their home’.10 The dead inhabitants’ personal belongings conjure up uncanny present images of themselves. The temporal disjunction provoked by ruin gazing is thereby heightened.

21Although no one lives in the houses photographed, the works do tell the story of fictitious people, being therefore akin to portraits. Assuredly, ‘even in places we’ve never been before, human lives can eerily bubble up from beneath the ground and haunt us’ (Lippard 8). In these images, one may perceive the spectral: ‘le souffle de l’absence, la respiration du lieu lui-même. Le fantôme’ (Didi-Huberman 2001, 125). As the photographed objects were once used, they metonymically conjure up the hazy portraits of their owners, as still lives do (Grigorjeva). By telling the ‘infraordinary stories’ (Rouillé 488) of the departed inhabitants, the three sets of photographs commemorate ordinary exiles whose tragic lives have long been overlooked. Photography has always privileged the particular over the general and has proved instrumental in individualizing or personalizing great historical narratives. Being unmonumental in size and content, the three works are on the side of memory rather than history, with their uncertain indexical status mirroring the hybridity of memory (Didi-Huberman 2000, 37).

22Patrick Hogan’s series is ‘an experiment in narrative photography’ as it is haunted by an imaginary solitary character. The black and white landscapes ‘are intended to depict a kind of psychological state of mind. Maybe the dream state of the character as I dreamed it might be’, Hogan notes. Though the title of the work explicitly refers to the inhabitant of the hut, ‘this is purely fiction’. The man is never shown because ‘this would have tipped the work into a kind of social documentary’, Hogan explains, considering that the places and landscapes ‘could hold more meaning than a portrait’. The combination of colour and black and white pictures, interior and exterior scenes, gives rhythm to the work. Hogan, who admires Chekov’s short stories and their inconclusive endings intended to translate this literary short format into photography. ‘I liked how he could create something profound from a rather ordinary subject matter wherein nothing much really happens’, the artist states. The series is an anti-climactic elliptical narrative as the artist sees ‘this balance between the hidden and visible elements in a sequence as a kind of aesthetics of absence, where the real power of the sequence lies in those parts that you can’t see’. Some of Hogan’s photographs are accompanied with fragments of texts which never simply dub the images.

23In Ghosts of the Faithful Departed, seriality entails repetition rather succession and narration yet the artist admitted: ‘photographing these houses I felt there was a story behind each one’ (Creedon 2011, introduction). The photographer tried to reconstruct the stories of the inhabitants out of letters or local documents:

  • 11 Unpublished interview.

I became something like a forensic scientist going through old letters, bills in order to build up a picture of the people’, the artist explains.11 Like the places photographed by Hogan or Ní Bhriain, his interior scenes confirm that ‘a place can be peopled by ghosts more real than living inhabitants. (Lippard 23)

24A sense of intimacy prevails thanks to muted colours and the presence of private belongings, whether it be dresses and hats still hanging in the wardrobes, or cups left unwashed on the tables. Security and insecurity collide in these half-told stories. The chimneys, ovens, tea-pots, sewing machines, or prams are redolent of domestic warmth. As they stand out against derelict walls, time-worn and broken, these emblems of homeliness become nothing but fragile traces of vulnerability.

25Like all ruins, the places conceived by Ailbhe Ní Bhriain bring together different times and spur us to imagine a story. It is hard to decide whether the images represent the same place seen from different angles or different places for similar fragments are re-used in the compositions. Human presence is evoked through empty floating shirts in one image from the Perimeter series. The images projected on the walls, which transmogrify the houses, could be spun out of an emigrant’s mind trying to reconcile the reminiscences of his homeland and his new abode. The hybridity of the works suggests that ‘we imagine that we remember things as they were, while in fact all we carry into the future are fragments which reconstruct a wholly illusory past…’ (Banville 12). Ní Bhriain’s imaginary ruins, like many others, are a way of acknowledging the trauma of exile and engaging with ‘the shattered self’ (Gadoin 6). In the 2007 exhibition of Aftermath, the gallery housed still portraits and images of bodies that gradually disappeared. These ghosts of the departed haunted the abandoned houses. If the artist’s images tell a story, it is one that follows a cyclical not a linear pattern.

Housing Metaphors

26The three photographic works explore exile—as imposed by economic circumstances, as chosen, or as an internal state. Though they are shaped by Irish local history, they sketch a poetics of home which acquires a universal metaphorical dimension.

27Abandoned houses are a familiar sight in Ireland: ‘it is a country haunted by ruined houses. The ruins of the big house of the Anglo-Irish ascendancy or the abandoned cottage of the evicted tenant or the emigrant haunt the landscape’ (Hanafin). Ireland’s population trends in the mid-twentieth century had ‘a pathological quality’ (Breda Grey in Creedon 2011). The three artists explore exile, isolation, and separation but Creedon delves into personal souvenirs to sketch social memory, Hogan focuses on individuals to raise anthropological questions, while Ní Bhrian maps outs interiorized spaces which outline the exile’s internal state. Given the prevalence of emigration in Western Ireland, these photographs are sites of memory (Nora). Creedon’s photographs of abandoned public houses and shops testify to the disruption of social life in Irish villages hit by emigration. A couple of images, featuring suitcases with American airline tags, letters from America, as well as photographic portraits commemorate the Irish diaspora and the painful separation from the family. ‘Photographs are about memory—or perhaps about the absence of memory, providing pictures to fill voids, illustrating our collective memory so they are an excellent means to trigger concern and soothe anxieties about history and place, even when the means they employ resemble conventional landscape art’ (Lippard 19). While the three photographic series can be construed as the Irish counterparts of the ruined Anglo-Irish Big House, they also respond to the property boom and renovating fever of the 1990s which had transformed the ancestral landscape as well as to the 2008 economic meltdown. As economic up and downs bring swift, unpredictable changes in people’s life, the impression of vulnerability that emerges from the three works seems timely.

28Emigration, the loss of home and homeliness, in other words dis-homing, is far from being uniquely Irish. Gaston Bachelard and Carl Gustave Jung have referred to the house as a metaphor of the human psyche. Jean-Louis Chrétien expounds on the architectural paradigm which, from Saint Augustine to Freud, has shaped our understanding of the human soul. Bedrooms, cells, and cabinets are metaphorical loci for the soul, or in a Freudian perspective, consciousness. The intimacy of the rooms photographed, strewn with personal belongings, substantiates the conflation of the home with the psyche. The contemplation of these ruined interior spaces leads to a rêverie or day-dream as is the case in Baudelaire’s poem, The Double Room (Paris Spleen). The open drawers and cupboards in Creedon’s photographs, as well as the doors ajar in Hogan’s and Ni Bhriain’s compositions, illustrate the aesthetics of the hidden that Bachelard associates with our secret inner life (Bachelard 19). In Solitary, Half Mad, the larger size of outdoor views, compared to the small format of the interior scenes, heightens the homeliness of the makeshift abode. In Ní Bhriain’s reconstructed places, as the inside and the outside blend, the mind loses its geometrical bearing and is left adrift or floating to borrow from Bachelard (197). The artist is deeply interested in exile as a social reality but also as a psychological state of estrangement: she is aware that adriftness and unmooring may be states of mind (Morisson 199-200). While some of Creedon’s houses are located, Ní Bhriain’s landscapes-cum-mindscapes are devoid of topographical anchorage. As a matter of fact, the three series of photographs, which put spectrality to the fore, trigger meditation.

The Photograph as memento mori

29Artistic photography, as it has developed since the 1980s, participates in the renewal of the allegorical; it tends to deliver debris, fragments, incomplete or imperfect images (Rouillé 516–523). Works such as the ones under scrutiny, which do not merely record the truth but immortalize the past through collections of visual fragments, partake of the aesthetics of fragments that Jean-Luc Nancy analyzes. The photographic process itself becomes more allegorical than indexical as it is, like Benjamin’s allegory, ‘the wrenching of things from their familiar contexts’ (in Cowan 63). It must be borne in mind that the ruin, in Walter Benjamin’s redefinition of allegory, exemplifies the fragmentariness and ambiguity of the allegorical: the allegory is a sudden intuition of transitoriness, a moment when the world ceases to be purely physical to become an aggregation of signs (Cowan 63). In that they condense time in series made up of fragments and extract remnants of ruination eliciting an experience of transitoriness, the three works under discussion are allegorical. They operate like memento mori. Susan Sontag wrote that ‘certain photographs—emblems of suffering . . .—can be used as memento-mori, as objects of contemplation to deepen one’s sense of reality, as secular icons, if you will’ (119). The dust, the spider webs, the dead insects, the mirrors and portraits, as well as the clocks included in Creedon’s compositions are obvious memento mori motifs (Fig. 8).

Fig. 8: David Creedon, Ghosts of the Faithful Departed, courtesy of the artist

Fig. 8: David Creedon, Ghosts of the Faithful Departed, courtesy of the artist

30The scratches on the photographic surfaces of Ní Bhriain’s works, the sand and creeping vegetation, the dry shrubs, and dilapidated walls in her images are also keyed to ideas of ephemerality. Survival nonetheless surfaces: one of David Creedon’s photographs of a trunk is a reminder of Mary’s life, an Irish emigrant who left for New York, did well, but returned to her native Ireland to die. Hogan’s work shows that one may recreate a home even when living alone in a forest. The three sets of photographs echo Rainer Maria Rilke’s description of his visit of an age-old dwelling where life obstinately clang to the walls:

What was most unforgettable, though, were the walls themselves. The dogged life that had been lived in these rooms refused to be obliterated. It was still there; it clung to the nails that were left, it lingered on the remaining strip of floor-boarding, it was huddled up under the little that was left of a corner section. You could see in the paintwork how, slowly, year by year, it had changed blue into a mildewy green, green into grey, and yellow into an old, stagnant, putrefying white. . . . And from these surfaces that had been blue, green and yellow and were now framed by broken ruins of demolished partition wall, arose the air from these lives, this tenacious, shiftless, foggy air that no wind had yet dispersed.

31In his essay on Parmiggiani, Georges Didi-Huberman underscores the haunting presence of dust, emblematizing the interplay of past and present in images (2001, 56). He defines dust as a ‘matière pulvérisée de la mémoire, silence gris de l’absent, vent de psyché ayant trouvé sur quatre murs sa passagère possibilité d’empreinte’ (147). A biblical presence, dust is redolent of distress and mourning, dereliction and destruction. In the photographs, dust evidences abandonment while enhancing the presence as well as the absence of objects. In many respects, and not unlike photography itself, dust is dialectical for it makes visible what we cannot touch anymore. The three photographic works eventually confirm that images are an absence-presence, since their phenomenological presence brings forth nothing but ontological absence (Blanchot 341). The dilapidated houses photographed and the photographs are like Blanchot’s cadavers, or like relics endowed with physical and spiritual qualities (Fig. 9).

Fig. 9: David Creedon, Ghosts of the Faithful Departed, courtesy of the artist

Fig. 9: David Creedon, Ghosts of the Faithful Departed, courtesy of the artist

Conclusion: Envisioning Space

32Lucy Lippard argues that photography can play a role in the constitution of a humanisitic geography ‘to recover the geographical imagination… and to introduce moral discourse…’ She writes: ‘Artists can make the connections visible. They can guide us through sensuous kinesthetic response to topography, lead us from archaeology and land-based social history into alternative relationships to place’ (19). She conceives of artists as ‘envisionaries’ (19), a word relevant to the photographers whose works this paper has examined as they do not objectively archive space but en-vision anthropological places. The fragile walls and partitions that map out interior spaces in the three series are thick with hushed stories which the viewers, like the artists before them, have to re-figure. Allegorical both in form and content, the three works substantiate Walter Benjamin’s claim that ‘in the ruin, history has physically merged into the setting’ (Cowan 63). Behind the peeling paint, in the crevices of the walls, or underneath the dilapidated floors one may watch out for the imaginary phantoms of Irish history, unless it is the much-feared transitorisness of our existences that lies hidden behind these walls…

Graham, Colin, ‘Motionless Monotony: New Nowheres in Irish Photography’, In/Print: 1.21 (2012), Dublin Institute of Technology, available at​cgi/​viewcontent.cgi?article=1004&context=aaschadpart. Reprinted in LISA, 12:3 (2014)​5963 last accessed October, 2014.

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Fig. 1: Patrick Hogan, Solitary, Half Mad, courtesy of the artist.

Fig. 2: David Creedon, Ghosts of the Faithful Departed, courtesy of the artist.

Fig. 3: Ailbhe Ní Bhriain, Perimeter, courtesy The Domobal Gallery.

Fig. 4: Ailbhe Ní Bhriain, Aftermath, detail, courtesy The Domobal Gallery.

Fig. 5: Patrick Hogan, Solitary, Half Mad, courtesy of the artist.

Fig. 6: Ailbhe Ní Bhriain, Aftermath, courtesy The Domobal Gallery.

Fig. 7: David Creedon, Ghosts of the Faithful Departed, courtesy of the artist.

Fig. 8: David Creedon, Ghosts of the Faithful Departed, courtesy of the artist.

Fig. 9: David Creedon, Ghosts of the Faithful Departed, courtesy of the artist.

Artists’ websites

Patrick Hogan:

David Creedon:

Ailbhe Ní Bhrian:

Bachelard, Gaston, La Poétique de l’espace (1957), Paris: PUF, 1992.

Banville, John, Birchwood, London: Secker & Warburg, 1973.

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Barthes, Roland, La Chambre claire, Paris: Gallimard, 1980.

Bazin, André, ‘The Ontology of the Photographic Image’, trans. Hugh Gray, Film Quarterly, 13.4 (Summer 1960): 4–9.

Blanchot, Maurice, ‘Les Deux versions de l’imaginaire’, L’Espace Littéraire, Paris: Gallimard, Folio Essais, 1955.

Carville, Justin, Photography and Ireland, London: Reaktion Books, 2011.

Chretien, Jean-Louis, L’Espace intérieur, Paris: Editions de Minuit, 2014.

Cowan, Bainard, ‘Walter Benjamin’s Theory of Allegory’, Walter Benjamin, Critical Evaluation in Cultural Theory, ed. Peter Osborne New York: Routledge, 2005, 56–58 (originally published in New German Critique 22 (1981): 109–122).

Creedon, David, ‘Research, Depth and Understanding’, The Documentary Photographer Podcast, Episode 9, 2012,, last accessed October, 2014.

———, Ghosts of the Faithful Departed, An exhibition of Photographic Prints by David Creedon, The Collins Press, 2011, n.p.

Didi-Huberman, Georges, Génie du Non Lieu, Paris: Éditions de Minuit, 2001.

———, Devant le temps, Paris: Éditions de Minuit, 2000.

Dubois, Phillipe, L’Acte Photographique, Paris: Nathan, 1983.

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Grigorjeva, Jelena, ‘Meaning in Still Lives’, Amsterdam International Electric Journal for Cultural Narratology,, last accessed on July 12, 2014.

Hanafin, Patrick, ‘Building in the Imagin(ed)(n)ation: An Essay Inspired by W.B.Yeats’ “Meditations in time of Civil War”’, Philopolis 1 (2007),, last accessed on July 12, 2014.

Hanrahan, Siún, ‘Ghost of the Faithful Departed’, Irish Arts Review (Spring 2008): 92–95.

Jung, Carl Gustave, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, trans. R. and C. Winston, London: Fontana Press, 1995.

Krauss, Rosalind, Le Photographique: pour une théorie des écarts, Paris: Macula, 1990.

Lacoue-Labarthe, Philippe and Jean-Luc Nancy, L’Absolu littéraire, théorie de la littérature du romantisme allemand, Paris: Seuil, 1978.

Le Cain, Maximillan, ‘Aftermath (2007): an Exhibition by Ailbhe Ni Bhrian’, Experimental Conversations 1 (Summer 2008),, last accessed on July 12, 2014.

Lippard, Lucy L., The Lure of the Local, Senses of Places in a Multicentered Society, New York: The New Press, 1997.

Mitchell, William J., The Reconfigured Eye. Visual Truth in the Post-photographic Era, Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1992.

Morisson, Valérie, ‘Poeïtic Adriftness in Ailbhe Ní Bhriain’s Video Art: Dissolved Points’, Point, Dot, Period … The Dynamics of Punctuation in Text and Image, ed. Pascale Tollance, Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars, 2014.

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Sontag, Susan, On Photography, New York: Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1977.

Tierney, Stephen, Interview with Patrick Hogan,, last accessed on July 12, 2014.

Trachtenberg, Alan, Classic Essays on Photography, New Haven: Leete’s Island Books, 1980.

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1 Roland Barthes, Phillipe Dubois, or Rosalind Krauss argue that photography is indexical. For a criticism of these approaches to photography, see André Rouillé.

2 See writings by Susan Sontag, Allan Sekula, Serge Tisseron, or André Rouillé.

3 Hogan received the Dublin Gallery of Photography Artist Award in 2011.

4 Creedon contributes images to newspapers and magazines and has exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery (London), the Irish Museum of Modern Art and the Royal Hibernian Academy (Dublin). He has been nominated for various prestigious Prizes.

5 The two series were first exhibited at Domoobal Gallery, London, 2007.

6 Like all the other quotes from the artist, this one is from an unpublished interview, September 2013. Quoted with his kind permission.

7 Unpublished interview with the artist. Quoted with his permission.

8 Except when other references are indicated, all quotations are from an unpublished paper by the artist. Quoted with her permission.

9 If analog photographers used development, exposure, framing and cropping as means to personalize their images, photographic images remained, on the whole, internally coherent and manipulation was considered unphotographic (Mitchell 7).

10 Unpublished interview. Quoted with the artist’s permission.

11 Unpublished interview.

12 Special thanks to the three artists, Ailbhe Ní Bhriain, Patrick Hogan, and David Creedon for their kind collaboration and help.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1: Patrick Hogan, Solitary, Half Mad, courtesy of the artist
Fichier image/jpeg, 36k
Titre Fig. 2: David Creedon, Ghosts of the Faithful Departed, courtesy of the artist
Fichier image/jpeg, 108k
Titre Fig. 3: Ailbhe Ní Bhriain, Perimeter, courtesy The Domobal Gallery
Fichier image/jpeg, 200k
Titre Fig. 4: Ailbhe Ní Bhriain, Aftermath, detail, courtesy The Domobal Gallery
Fichier image/jpeg, 364k
Titre Fig. 5: Patrick Hogan, Solitary, Half Mad, courtesy of the artist
Fichier image/jpeg, 172k
Titre Fig. 6: Ailbhe Ní Bhriain, Aftermath, courtesy The Domobal Gallery
Fichier image/jpeg, 56k
Titre Fig. 7: David Creedon, Ghosts of the Faithful Departed, courtesy of the artist
Fichier image/jpeg, 364k
Titre Fig. 8: David Creedon, Ghosts of the Faithful Departed, courtesy of the artist
Fichier image/jpeg, 264k
Titre Fig. 9: David Creedon, Ghosts of the Faithful Departed, courtesy of the artist
Fichier image/jpeg, 243k
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Valérie Morisson, « The Visible and the Invisible: Photographic Works by Patrick Hogan, Ailbhe Ní Bhriain and David Creedon »Études britanniques contemporaines [En ligne], 47 | 2014, mis en ligne le 01 décembre 2014, consulté le 01 décembre 2023. URL : ; DOI :

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Valérie Morisson

Valérie Morisson, maître de conférences en anglais à l’Université de Bourgogne, Dijon, est l’auteure d’une thèse portant sur l’art irlandais contemporain et ses rapports à l’identité nationale. Elle a publié plusieurs articles relatifs à la culture visuelle irlandaise (arts visuels, photographie et illustration, bande-dessinée) mettant en exergue le passage du nationalisme au postnationalisme culturel. Ses recherches sur la photographie contemporaine irlandaise et sur l’œuvre d’artistes féministes montrent que l’art et les pratiques artistiques interrogent l’histoire, la mémoire et les pouvoirs de l’image.

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Le texte seul est utilisable sous licence CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. Les autres éléments (illustrations, fichiers annexes importés) sont « Tous droits réservés », sauf mention contraire.

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