I love street photography. It is immediate and energetic and often possesses a resonance lacking in more composed or artful shots.

While much of RTÉ Photographic Archive’s holdings are studio-based publicity shots with a high degree of polish, we do have some noteworthy street photography with a decidedly more gritty flavour, the vast majority of which was taken in Dublin.

The architectural changes and social change wrought in Dublin from the 1950s to the 1970s are well captured in the images captured by three different photographers – Nevill Johnson, Roy Bedell and Eve Holmes – of public housing on Corporation Place.

These flats, located off Corporation Street, were known locally as Corporation Buildings or ‘The Buildings’ and were knocked down in 1972 – a small public park now occupies the site. Corporation Street was originally named Mabbot Street and is now called James Joyce Street reflecting successive attempts at urban renewal undertaken by the city authorities.

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The earliest shot we have of the complex was taken by Nevill Johnson in either late 1952 or early 1953. There is an atmospheric moodiness to the photograph, in common with many of the images in the Johnson Collection. Better-known as a painter rather than a photographer, Johnson brought his artist’s eye to many of the photographs he took on Dublin’s streets, which often include slightly surreal shapes and shadows cast by buildings, railings and other architectural features.

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RTÉ Guide photographer Roy Bedell’s vivid shot, taken in July 1963, captures the liveliness of children’s street games, in keeping with his brief to take pictures for an article promoting a repeat broadcast of the Radio Éireann programme, ‘The Poor Old Flea’, on 6 August 1963. This programme was billed as a song-cycle for choir, piano and based on Dublin children’s street songs and composed by Gerard Victory. It’s fun deciphering what exactly the children are doing in this shot – are they playing to the camera or has Roy spontaneously captured them in the middle of a game?

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Our final picture of ‘The Buildings’ was taken by another Guide photographer, Eve Holmes, during their demolition in 1972. What is most remarkable is the free access the children have to a site which is clearly dangerous – note the ‘Danger No Floors’ sign on the doorway on the bottom left of shot and the intrepid boy on the third floor! A scene impossible to imagine now and adding still more to the archival value of this shot.

Pearl Quinn, RTÉ Photographic Archive

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