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Children stand beside a corrugated iron fence, Dublin. Nevill Johnson captured history. Photo by: RTE Archives

Poignant 1950s photos capture powerful images of Dubliners

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Children stand beside a corrugated iron fence, Dublin. Nevill Johnson captured history. Photo by: RTE Archives

English born Irish artist Nevill Johnson (1911-1999) captured the “unofficial” Dublin of its inhabitants from 1952 to 1953. In a time before television, this painter and photographer trapped lighting in a bottle and his photos are now a historic reference for the nation.

The images of tenements, markets, shops and children's street games, provide a valuable social record of the everyday lives of ordinary Dubliners. Comprising over 1,500 photographs the full collection of Nevill Johnson's photography is held at RTÉ Archives.

Nevill Johnson was born in England in 1911.  He was taught to paint by John Luke in Belfast and moved to Dublin in the late 1940s  He exhibited regularly at the Victor Waddington Gallery, alongside Louise LeBrocquy, Colin Middleton, Gerard Dillion and Daniel O’Neill.  During this period he also photographed Dublin, capturing the city before its dramatic architectural and cultural decline in a series of poignant images.

A recurring theme throughout Johnson’s photographs, which came about through an Arts Council grant for the purchase of a Leica, is a sympathetic view of a poverty stricken Dublin in the mid 1950s.  The Arts grant allowed Johnson to focus on photography for the better part of two years and the result is an extraordinary and fascinating glimpse into a long forgotten Dublin.

To coincide with the inauguration of the Nevill Johnson Scholarship, and the presentation of the Nevill Johnson Archive, a new exhibition “Nevill Johnson: The Dublin Legacy” has opened at UCD Newman House, on Stephen’s Green. The multimedia show will run until the end of the summer.

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