Although predominantly known for his photography of jazz musicians, George Pickow’s shots of 1950s Ireland depict a beautiful innocence and the simplicity of daily life and as well as the craic that could be found in the folk music scene.
Pickow visited Ireland on an 18 month trip, during 1952 and 1953. He was accompanying his wife, the singer and folklorist Jean Richie, who, had been awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to undertake a music research project. During their travels, in Ireland and Britain, the couple recorded folk and traditional songs and captured scenes of everyday Irish life.
Pickow's photos took in the bird-market in Dublin, road-bowling, coursing, hunting, GAA games (including the craft of making sliotars), life on the Aran Islands, the Wren boys and other Christmas traditions, the Garda Síochána in Dublin Castle, the launch of Aer Lingus at the new Dublin Airport and a bustling O’Connell Street packed with cyclists.
He took over 2,000 photographs, including singers and musicians as his wife worked on her project to trace the roots of songs and tunes she had grown up with in the southern Appalachians, in the Cumberland Mountains of Kentucky.
Richie’s idea was to retrace her family’s steps as they traveled to America, from England, Ireland and Scotland. George paid his way by taking photos and writing picture stories for US magazines, including the New York Sunday News.
Among the musicians recorded and photographed were Séamus Ennis and Leo Rowsome on the uileann pipes, the singers Elizabeth Cronin, Sarah Makem, and Máire Áine Nic Dhonncha, the famous Traveller singer Margaret Barry, and many others. Their album of field-recordings from Ireland, "As I Roved Out," was released in 1960.
Pickow died in 2011 when he was 88. He had been born in Los Angeles, but grew up in Brooklyn, NY. He trained at Cooper Union and worked in various spheres of the media, from making training movies for the Navy during World War II to illustrating children’s books.
In 1950 Pickow married Richie after working with her on the production and illustration of her books such as the award-winning "Celebration of Life" and "The Swapping Song Book."
Pickow was well-known in the American music industry during the 1950s as a photographer for record-covers. Among his portrait photos are numerous Greenwich Village musicians, such as Tony Bennett, Dizzy Gillespie, Louis Jordan and Pete Seeger, and many famous visual artists, including Edward Hopper.
Digital access to the photographs Pickow took during his time in Ireland are available at the NUI Galway library.