“Ulysses reveals what it is like to be a person – man, woman, woman-man, man-woman – inhabiting a sometimes unruly, but always mutable, body. The book deftly records all the sensual movements and machinations of mortals as they attempt to navigate their sliver of this planet. These same concerns resonate in Deirdre’s photographs.”—Nuala O’Connor.
by Deirdre Brennan
Following Ulysses is the culmination of a 10-year photographic project. After my first reading of Ulysses, I was inspired to use the structure of James Joyce’s novel to explore the themes of culture, politics, character and social struggle in modern Dublin. Each photograph corresponds to one of the 18 episodes in Ulysses.
I wanted my photographs to recreate the feel, language and mood of Dublin today by retracing the wanderings of Leopold Bloom and the other characters in Ulysses. In keeping with the style of the novel I strove for my photographs to reflect both a social and magical realism.
I combined several photographic genres in this project, from street photography, portraiture, photojournalism through to landscape photography. I found it very liberating in the storytelling process to be freed from the usual restrictive confines of the photo essay.
Setting out on my journey I used the notes that I had made whilst reading the book. I have an intuitive reaction to people and places; the minute they cross my path I recognise something in them that I want to capture. I have a natural curiosity about the person on the street and I really enjoy hearing their life’s stories. I would see people and places reminiscent of scenes from the novel and Joyce’s biography pass before my eyes.
A lot of my influences also come from growing up on Camden Street, surrounded by a cast of characters that would not have been out of place in Ulysses.
1. Cover Photograph
Daniel O’Connell The Liberator affords Dubliners some rest as the city emerges from the first Covid-19 lockdown on Bloomsday 2022. A straight in camera double referential to the surreal times we lived through.
The pandemic has many parallels with Ulysses: Joyce had a fear of germs; Ulysses was written during the Spanish Flu epidemic; 1904 was the highest year for tuberculosis deaths in Ireland.
2. John Byrne & Dogs
To me this photograph is the epitome of my Ulysses project. I feel John would have been someone who Bloom would have greeted as he crossed O’Connell Bridge on July 16th 1904. This photograph is a testament to John’s resilience on the streets of Dublin and his love of animals. I have been talking to John for years on the street about his dogs. I previously never wanted to take his picture. However one day I was talking with John and everyone was so perfectly composed, like a Pre-Raphaelite painting, that I had to ask if I could take a photograph—which John loves.
3. This woman is in Victorian dress campaigning for the repeal of the 8th amendment. Oxen of The Sun has many resonances with the referendum; in this episode of Ulysses the medical students are discussing issues of contraception, fertility and abortion. It took a century for women to win the right of choice over their bodies.
4. John & Joyce
In this picture John Oliver Nugent sits on the statue of James Joyce in North Earl Street. To me this image is the epitome of Joyce’s Everyman. John is one of those increasingly rare characters you see around Dublin and he often features in my photographs. I always give him prints which he is very pleased with.
In January 2022 I was walking up O’Connell Street on my way to catch the bus to the airport for my exhibition of Following Ulysses at the Centre Culturel Irlandais in Paris.
I saw John sitting outside a Cafe and I told him I was on my way to Paris for the exhibition that he was featured in. He started laughing, saying “oh the fame of it all!’ As I walked away I though this was a very Joycean moment; the encounter would not be out of place in Ulysses.
5. In this photograph a young Irish woman protests President Donald Trump’s visit to Ireland with wit and wisdom. A scene that Bloom would have witnessed as his carriage made its way to Glasnevin Cemetery for Paddy Dignam’s funeral.
Following Ulysses is published by Hi Tone Books with an accompanying text by Nuala O’Connor to coincide with the 100 year anniversary of the publication of Ulysses.