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Willie Donoghue and Children, Cherry Orchard

© Elliott Erwitt. Photo by Peter Paul Geoffrion

Willie Donoghue and Children, Cherry Orchard

Artist: Alen MacWeeney (Born in Dublin, Ireland, 1939)
Culture: Irish
Date: 1965–1966 (printed 1979)
Medium: Gelatin silver print
Image: 11 3/4 x 11 3/4 inches (29.8 x 29.8 cm)
Sheet: 19 7/8 x 16 inches (50.5 x 40.6 cm)
State: 90
Edition: 33
Classification: Photograph
Credit Line: Gift of James R. McNab, Jr.
Label Text:This work is from the series Irish Travellers by Alen MacWeeney. The “Irish Tinkers” or “Travellers” are an indigenous ethnic minority in Ireland, marginalized by mainstream Irish society; traditionally they are nomadic and maintain a unique language, Shelta, related to Gaelic (and unrelated to the Roma). From 1965 to 1971, MacWeeney photographed clans of Travellers in their encampments from Dublin to the west of Ireland, spending countless evenings in their caravans and by their campfires, drinking tea and listening to, as well as recording, their tales, songs, and music.

Cherry Orchard was an improvised camp site on the outskirts of Dublin, dotted with sheds and metal scraps. Here Willie Donoghue and an older girl look on as a young boy confronts the photographer. In other works of his, such as White Horse or Flies in the Window, everything is in clear focus up to the far background. But the sharply focused part of this photograph is a narrow strip across the middle ground, with the immediate foreground as well as background radically out of focus. While many might consider this to result in a failed photograph, MacWeeney embraces its lack of realism and conventionality, which exaggerates gaps between the vast experience of old age, the savvy of the older child, and the innocence of this small boy, unaware yet of his position in the larger world.

Object number: 1984.55.16