WELL-KNOWN photographer Arthur Fields took photos of passersby on O’Connell Bridge from the 1930s until he retired in 1985 at age 84. The Jewish man fled the Ukraine amidst the breakout of World War Two and became a Dublin institution. It is estimated he took more than 182,500 photographs throughout his career.
If he didn’t take a photo of you, most likely there is a picture of one of your relatives in a shoebox somewhere.
An online documentary called ‘Man on Bridge’ aims to tell the story of Arthur Fields. Film-maker Ciaran Deeney says they want this to be an interactive project. “We thought that as this is all about the visual this would be great to do online. There is no where that will fund an online, new media project like this so we hope to get funding from the Arthur Guinness Project Fund.”
(Via El Zorrero Films/Vimeo)
“Arthur was an extraordinary man. We have done many interviews and there are countless stories about him and the people that he took photos of. We want to create a space where people can learn about him, but where they can become part of the story too. We want people to be able to interact with the project, tell their stories about the their photos, and to upload their pictures too,” said Deeney.
He said that while many people might have a photo taken by Arthur, including George Harrison from The Beatles. “But people might not know much about Arthur,” he said.
George Harrison as a child (left) photographed by Arthur Fields.
Fleeing from Ukraine
“He had to flee his home in the Ukraine in the 1930s. When he arrived in Dublin he first started taking photos using a box camera, then he moved on to a 35 mm black and white camera and then polaroids. What is interesting is that as cameras came more accessible over the years, the other street photographers started to drop off, but Arthur was the was last one,” he said.
Deeney explained that Arthur would mainly take photos of people walking over the bridge, mainly couples, “as they were a good market to sell to”. People would get a ticket and Arthur’s wife would develop them around the corner and they could be collected later that day or the next day. He added:
In the 1930s, O’Connell Street was a thoroughfare, so their were lots of people that would be out taking a stroll. It was a place to be seen. Through his photos, Arthur created a social narrative of the bridge and the people that crossed it. By the time he came to the end in the 80s, lots had changed.
In the earlier pictures you can see it is a well-to-do place to be seen, but in the photos of the 1980s McDonalds and other chain establishments can be seen in the background. At that point though, Arthur didn’t go there to work or to earn money – he continued to go everyday as this was his life’s work.
Deeney adds that Arthur’s photos were never magnificent, but they are “natural” and capture a sense of each era, he says. “You can see the style of the 30s is conservative, then there is the 60s short skirts and in the 80s you had the punks and the Doc Martins. Arthur created a social history of Dublin through his photos,” he said.