DUBLIN-born photographer Tadhg Devlin has used Liverpool’s River Mersey as inspiration for his evocating new project documenting the city’s Irish population.
Part of the wider exhibition Portfolio NW, which opened at the city’s Bluecoat Gallery on Friday, ‘Twelve Miles Out’ is a series of portrait images of Liverpool Irish people.
Some were taken on the ferry across the Mersey when it was twelve miles from shore, the backdrop of water serving as a metaphor for emigration. Devlin said: “The horizon is also twelve miles away, it’s this in-between state that I wanted to explore. When you leave Ireland, you never completely leave. Home is home, even if you look back at it with complex emotions. Part of it stays with you.”
Some of his subjects are part of the generation that left Ireland for Liverpool in the 1950s. “Those people suffered quite a lot when they arrived, mostly in how they were perceived. It was during the time of those famous signs, ‘No Blacks, No Dogs, No Irish.’”
Devlin’s encounters have proved eye-opening. One Cork woman he photographed said that, when she first arrived in Liverpool, nobody could understand her, and she couldn’t understand them. “She said she almost had to rethink how she spoke English so she could be understood.”
Organisations such as Irish Community Care Merseyside, the University of Liverpool and the St Michael’s Irish Centre helped put Devlin in touch with people he could approach. Convincing interested parties to get involved took considerable time, he says. “People looked at me a bit funny when I said I wanted to do photographs of people by the sea!”
It’s not only the older generation of immigrants that are captured by the photographer. His exhibit is made up of three walls, the first of which will feature 1950s-era immigrants, the second pictures of the sea and the horizon, and the final wall younger immigrants who have come over to Liverpool since 2010.
“A whole new generation of Irish, as we know, have left Ireland due to its recent economic problems and they’re equally part of the fabric of the Liverpool-Irish. Emigration is a constantly evolving thing.”
The project is in the early stages, and Devlin would like to start up an archive of each person he captures on camera. On 7 September again at the Bluecoat, he has invited to bring in old family photographs of Liverpool-Irish, which he will scan.
He said: “I want to interview every person I photograph at a later date, and create a larger collection of images and stories that I hope to work on for the next three years. My aim would be to put on a much larger exhibition at some point down the line. Do get in touch if you have photographs you think could be of interest, or you have moved to Liverpool from Ireland and would like to be photographed.”
Devlin left Dublin in 1993 and studied photography in Cornwall before moving to London, where he lived for 16 years. He has resided in Liverpool with his family since 2011.
Previous work includes The Fifth Province, which was shown in Dublin and Kerry as well as The Bluecoat Gallery, as part of last year’s Liverpool Irish Festival. “Ireland is made up of four provinces; the fifth province is where the Irish Diaspora resides. There are 70 million people with Irish roots in the world, and I was looking at how people who have left can look at the country in a sentimental, nostalgic way, as well as how Ireland is often ‘sold’ by the tourist industry.”
Portfolio NW, open daily between 10am and 6pm, features the work of eight artists including Devlin, and runs until September 15. See www.thebluecoat.org.uk.
If you have any images you would like to send, or have come to Liverpool from Ireland yourself at any time since the 1950s and would like to be photographed, you can email Tadhg Devln at firstname.lastname@example.org.