When I first saw portraits taken by Patrick Dunne I was intrigued to know more. I’m not hugely into portraiture in general and while I have great respect for the likes of Diane Arbus and Nan Goldin, so many college students seem to follow that route without in the end, developing onwards with their own sense of direction; identification. I like to look at images as gateways to the mind of the photographer, how they connect outwardly with their world, somewhat above and beyond how much they apparently succeed in bringing out the character of those photographed.. an obsession which sometimes seems to saturate the minds of portrait photographers. In the words of Oscar Wilde “A portrait painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist.”
Usually in photography, I’m sure many will agree that its pretty easy to notice photographic influences in someone’s work, so long as you’re aware of those influences, be it past masters such as Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank, William Eggleston, Cindy Sherman, Richard Avedon, Jeff Wall.. the list goes on and on. Its also not hard to notice how much someone’s work has been affected by social media influences, in my opinion only occasionally in a positive sense. Photography in practice is the most repetitive of the arts. Composing an image and clicking the shutter can take not much longer than a single brush stroke.. especially when choosing to deal with candid reality. Because of this many things we gradually learn to do in the moment of shooting we end up doing habitually without seeking to question why or apply reason. These habits become part of our unique characteristics as photographers and fascinatingly they yield vastly different results in similar scenarios. Like learning to drive a car, its very hard to unlearn habits in photography and that includes the things and people that influenced our practice from the beginning.
While acutely aware of many of the differences between classical painting and photography, Patrick has transposed his influences from the former to his own interpretation of photographic practice seemingly without great influence from within the photography world. Something that struck me however is that while the images had the look of formal portraiture, he seemed to be catching something quite candid and natural about the moment also.
When Patrick asked me did I want to drop by to his house for some portraits I quickly took him up on the offer as I was so curious to know more about his unique practice as well as how he would portray me. Patrick is a very down to earth modest guy yet you get the sense he does things his own way, relatively unconcerned about social expectation. You could just tell he’d spent much of his life in the company of artistic types. He recounted for me with great satisfaction his time in art college many years ago. He since spent many years in construction, quite happy to work manually while keeping his mind free to wonder away from the endless monotonies of regimented living. When he retired he decided to buy a Fuji x100 digital camera and things just developed from there. I didn’t get the impression he had bought the camera to become someone or something, more that the camera was bought so he could express something he already knew was in there.
After a cup of tea and a chat, Patrick ushered me up the stairs of his plain and modest terraced house and as soon as I entered the room I felt transformed to this other world. Every one of the props seemed to have meaning in the context of its surroundings. Nothing was out of place. I felt like a child on a film set, except this wasn’t the work of a team of people who create sets, it was somehow more genuine and meaningful. Patrick would simply continue the conversation while shooting pictures and occasionally suggesting different props and changing how the natural light entered the room. He never told me to do anything or act in a specific way. Every prop once in my hands evoked a memory of something from my past. Things just flowed naturally and I was quickly aware that I was free to act as I wished without being judged. This was in complete contrast to the feeling in public today, where most people tend to act specific ways out of a sense of self conscious fear of being the different one, the one pointed at. It was this complete chasm between the little world Patrick had created for his photo shoots and the social norm of the high street which made it so poignant.
Patrick does little to get his work published in the wider world. He didn’t come looking to publish them here at OnEdgeStreet. He’s evidently quite happy to be immersed in the process and is modest in his dealings with people. Willy Harrington, a well known local artist here in Cork sits for images and signs limited edition prints which have fetched quite some money. Patrick makes sure to pay Willy for every signature and some money has also gone to charity from the sales. Everything points to the idea that he’s really found a place in photography for the pleasure of doing it and genuinely has little reason to look beyond that. For me the quality and uniqueness of his work speaks for itself and is in a total sense a reflection of Patrick himself.
I did ask Patrick whether there were any photographers he took particular influence from and he answered with this quote from Cecil Beaton “Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary.”
You can contact Patrick via his email at: [email protected]