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This man took over 185,000 photos of people. Are you in his collection?

Arthur Fields was an icon in Dublin. A programme on his life is to be aired on RTÉ.

Arthur Fields on O'Connell Street Bridge
Arthur Fields on O'Connell Street Bridge

WELL-KNOWN photographer Arthur Fields took photos of passersby on O’Connell Bridge from the 1930s until he retired in 1985 at age 84.

If he didn’t take a photo of you, most likely there is a picture of one of your relatives in a shoebox somewhere. In his lifetime, he has taken over 185,000 photos.

When I first wrote about Fields, I talked to my mother about him, only to be told, that we had one or two photos taken by him of our relatives – my grand aunts, Eileen and Bridie, dating from the 1950s.

Man on Bridge 

It is no surprise then that so many people have come forward to support the ‘Man on Bridge’ project.

Originally, film-maker Ciaran Deeney was looking for funding from the Arthur Guinness Fund to get his interactive photo collection project that gathers the photos and tells the story of Arthur Fields, off the ground.

He was successful, and the project has come to fruition.

Following an appeal by RTÉ’s The Late Late show people to send in their family photos taken by Fields over the years, over 1,800 photos were submitted in a week alone.

This Christmas, Man on Bridge, the story of Arthur Fields, will be aired on RTÉ.

So who was he?

Arthur Fields is one of those Dublin characters that made a huge impact on the city, and its people, documenting them through the decades.

The man, so often thought of as a Dubliner, is surprisingly not from Ireland. Fields, a Jewish man, fled the Ukraine amidst the breakout of World War Two, anglicised his name before becoming a Dublin institution making a living from selling photos.

Photography

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.

Arthur’s son David Fields said his father must have worked at least 12 hours a day, getting the bus into town from Raheny, standing on the bridge most of the day and then moving up to the Adelphi later on.

“I started to realise that it wasn’t just about taking photographs, it was part of their history and culture. And if we can look at my Dad in that light, that’s a new perception for me and it’s a nice one,” said David Fields.


Source: El Zorrero Films/Vimeo


Source: El Zorrero Films/Vimeo

Social history 

How did it work? Well, Arthur would mainly take photos of people walking over the bridge and then people would get a ticket. Arthur’s wife would develop them around the corner and people could collect them later that day.

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Deeney 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.

The reaction to this project has been phenomenal. From the initial idea, to getting funding from Guinness to the overwhelming number of photos that have been contributed from people all over the world.

Not only can you watch the programme this Christmas but you can actually go and see each and every photo that has been submitted at the Man on Bridge exhibition in the Gallery of Photography, Temple Bar.

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“Every photo we have received (yes every one) will be exhibited. It’s taken a lot of work to bring it all together.

The exhibition runs from 29 November – 8 January 2015.

Here is a selection of photos that you will be able to see:

This man took over 185,000 photos of people. Are you in his collection?
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The Man on Bridge documentary will be broadcast on the 28 December at 6.30pm on RTE One. 

Read: Do you remember photographer Arthur Fields of O’Connell Bridge?>

Read: Here’s what 1930s Dublin looked like in motion>

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