How do you image a culture? How does a culture image itself—especially one as splintered as Ireland's in the time of "the Troubles?" "Ireland: A Troubled Mirror" offers provocative responses to these questions—through photographs made by Irish and non-Irish photographers over the last thirty years.
When Oisin came back to Ireland After three hundred years On one of those enchanted islands Somewhere in the Western Seas, He thought nothing of dismounting From his enchanted steed To be one again with the mountains, The bogs and the little fields.
Politics is happening inside these landscapes, and painful politics at that. And contemporary people live here.... In images like these the land vomits itself up; it rejects the identity fashioned for it—or the identity fashioned from it, and from its past.
The photographs many young Irish people would most like to see are not shown in galleries, museums, newspapers, or magazines. The sought-after photographs are those small, rigorously disciplined "identity shots" laminated onto every green card.
When I first heard the title I thought it appropriate for a monumental career retrospective. But when I paged through the book, autobiography took on a new meaning. This is autobiography in the sense that we speak of when, facing death, our lives are said to flash before our eyes.
With Indian Circus, Mary Ellen Mark continues her work documenting specific lives in difficult, self-contained environments to which gaining access is a challenge and communication crosses cultural boundaries. However, these photographs—of acrobats, clowns, contortionists, trainers, and animals of eighteen itinerant circuses throughout India—depict not only the resilience of spirit Mark has found in her past subjects, but a joyousness, a sense of pride, a rootedness, and an attuned physicality.
DAVID FRANKEL is senior editor at Artforum magazine, where he has worked for twelve years. His writing has appeared in Artforum, Aperture, Kunstforum, African Arts, New York, Rolling Stone, The Berlitz Guide to New York City, and elsewhere.