The Incredible Life’s Work of an Irish Street Photographer

Dublin Bus, 1989

A retrospective of an Irish street photographer’s life works offers an unvarnished view of 1980s Dublin and beyond.

The Light of Day by Tony O’Shea depicts Ireland’s working classes in gritty urban environments. O’Shea’s images have both religious and political themes.

O’Shea became interested in photographing deprived people after a friend wondered aloud what it is like for people who travel by bus.

Welcoming home the Irish Team after Italia 90
Good Friday, Dublin, 1984
Divorce referendum protest, 1986

“It was not just about poverty. These people were survivors despite the deprivation and lack of money and conditions they lived in. They survived and got through life, with gusto,” he tells The Irish Times.

“There are layers of meaning and interpretation. When you photograph human beings, it’s just not evidence or a record. There are certain things you can feel when looking at an image. You strive for images that have a resonance.”

O’Shea is described as “an unassuming man” and his style of photography follows his personality as he unobtrusively goes about his business.

None of his shots are posed as he trains his camera on people who live on the periphery of society: the poor, travelers, and the elderly.

Reopening of broder crossings, 1993
Painted pony in Dublin, 1989
Delivering fuel in Dublin, 1987
25th anniverary of Bloody Sunday in Derry, 1997

Ireland has a complicated political past, echoes of which run through O’Shea’s photos: such as his photo of the 25th anniversary of Bloody Sunday marking when British soldiers shot 26 unarmed civilians during a protest in Derry.

While modern attitudes are changing in Ireland, in the 1980s it was a deeply catholic country. O’Shea’s photos of marching crowds on Good Friday carrying crosses speak to people’s devoutness.

In 1986, Ireland held a referendum on the question of divorce. A photo of a stern-looking elderly woman resolutely standing in Dublin town center as two other women look on dubiously.

Reopening of broder crossings, 1993
County Leitrim, 1993
Gathering for a drag hunt, Kerry, 2015
Christmas turkey market, Dublin, 1991

Not all of O’Shea’s photos carry such heavy themes. A photo of a boy standing on a painted pony in Dublin, 1989, speaks to a sense of humor. Similarly, a row of Christmas turkeys tied up to a grim row of railings as a little girl walks by with a balloon tickles the funny bone.

The Light of Day by Tony O’Shea will be published as a book that will coincide with an exhibition at the Gallery of Photography in Ireland.

The book is available for purchase here.

Image credits: All photos by Tony O’Shea.