“May you live in interesting times” is an old proverb that rings true at this particular time.
But there is something comforting about speaking to people who have lived through all sorts of different times. And it’s important that those experiences and stories are kept alive as much as possible for future generations.
Annie Holland, a photographer and artist from Durrow, is someone who has put considerable time into this whole area.
And her project ‘Children of the Free State’ is currently running as an exhibition in the Dunamaise Arts Centre.
Having initially interviewed some of the county’s older people in relation to the 1916 Rising, she has since moved it on and over the past two years, she has been meeting older people from rural Laois born before or just after 1922, taking portraits of them and having conversations about the past and the present.
These conversations create the framework for her exhibition ‘Children of the Free State’ which is running at the Dunamaise Arts Centre, Portlaoise until Saturday, September 19, and will be part of Culture Night and open to the public until 11pm on Friday, September 18, only.
Using photography and video, Annie focuses on how the process of documentation and storytelling can itself create space, physically and emotionally, for real dialogue and the narration of personal stories – past and present.
In creating this body of work she visited the homes of 13 elderly participants, taking portraits of them and having conversations about their past and present life.
She incorporates old family photos, dating back generations into the exhibition, as a tangible bridge that connects the past with the present, and her exhibition of portraits will connect current and future generations.
“I am very well placed to gain a valuable insight into the changes that have taken place in rural life over the generations as I am not an outsider and hopefully have gained the trust of my participants where they can speak openly and intimately with me,” she said.
Annie has listened to first-hand accounts of how it was for the participants to live through the peaks of emigration recorded during the 1930s, 1950s and 1980s and the decline of the Irish economy.
Their impressions of and feelings during the extremes of the Celtic Tiger and subsequent recession. She asked questions about what it was like to go from horse and cart to motorisation, and what’s it now like having to make the huge leap into the digital age.
The exhibition in a series of photographic portraits and video recordings is not just a nostalgic revisiting or a documentation of a passing way of life but attempts to explore the role of these older people and their continued relevance in rural Ireland today.
The overall project encompasses and articulates the socio-cultural heritage of Laois from 1922 and the photography and video materials are being donated in perpetuity to Laois County Library Digital Archive.
Annie plans to interview more people later this year in Abbeyleix Library about the pandemic experience.
You can watch her full interview with Steven Miller on the video below.