Small Town Portraits, Dennis Dinneen

Dennis Dinneen

Dennis Dinneen was a full-time publican, occasional taxi-man and photographer. A true Macrompian*, Main Streets Dennis Dinneen was hired for particular occasions such as communions, confirmations, weddings and so on, working from his studio in the back of the bar. He was driven by a humble and simplistic love for taking photographs, and a lot of his best work comes from the experimenting and playing around he did in his own free time. When he died in 1985, he left behind an incredible archive of over 20,000 negatives that were never fully, extensively explored, until now. Dennis Dinneen’s incredible archive of negatives commenced a much-awaited emergence into public recognition and discovery when in 2015 David Moore began work with Lawrence Dinneen, son of Dennis Dinneen, leading to an exhibition in UCC which received worldwide recognition. This prompted further exhibitions in Jackson Fine Art in Atlanta, USA, Landskrona Museum, Sweden and The Douglas Hyde Gallery, Dublin – which was voted in the top three best art exhibitions of 2017 by Irish Times readers, behind only Vermeer and Caravaggio.

*someone from or living in the town of Macroom, County Cork, Ireland.

He was driven by a humble and simplistic love for taking photographs, and a lot of his best work comes from the experimenting and playing around he did in his own free time.

In the last few years, these photographs are slowly but surely being brought to the light and recognition that their significance deserves. Dinneen’s Bar was and still is known for its walls being covered in black and white photographs which comprise several decades of local, rural history of the Lee Valley area and its inhabitants. The majority of people in Dennis’ photographs were unaware of how to pose; they remain true to the reality of the time and situation, are genuine and come straight across just as-they-were. These were the people, this was the way.

In 2019 the National Gallery purchased prints for their permanent collection, which were included in the gallery’s first-ever photography exhibition ‘Views of Ireland’ in 2019. This is an incredibly significant feat for the legacy of Dennis Dinneen; to go from being a modest, locally known publican and photographer in the Macroom area to having a collection displayed and kept in the National Gallery Collection – a permanent and historic collection that will outlive us all. Did Dennis Dinneen know exactly what he was doing when he was taking these photos? Did he purposely and carefully set them up in their own unique way like they are? Did he know that they would become so important, famous, even so far as iconic? Imagine him so unassuming and humble, with no idea of the historically as well as artistically significant legacy he would be leaving behind. Perhaps he knew exactly what it was he was doing. Or perhaps he was wonderfully unassuming, just like the people in the many portraits he took; many are set up and look as though they were meant to be used as ID headshots for passports, and so the faces of the people are solemn and unsmiling, yet so striking. Cleverly, Dennis didn’t limit these ‘mug-shot’ style photographs to just the face before an all-white screen or patterned curtain as a background; he used a wide range, including the room and its contents beyond the backdrop. 

Imagine him so unassuming and humble, with no idea of the historically as well as artistically significant legacy he would be leaving behind.

Recently released, a new book ‘Small Town Portraits’, comprises 75 of Dennis’ best portraits, many unseen before. It aims to build on his growing reputation in the photography world and introduce him to a wider audience abroad. While most of the portraits in the book were taken in his small studio in Dinneen’s Bar – images from local theatre productions that he photographed are inter-spliced between. The curtains in particular link the two scenes, but so does the element of ‘performance’. Whether they are in front of Dennis’ camera in the pub or on stage in front of the local community, perhaps the subjects all take on a character when eyes are focussed on them.

The growing legacy that Dennis Dinneen has left behind captures a little bit of local, rural Irish history yet also stands as a body of incredible artwork. It has brought me to come to know the grandfather I never met as somewhat of an unsung legend. This is not just incredible photographic artwork; this is a history, a legacy, a record of a heritage. He captured people, but he also captured a time in history, a way of life, a culturally rich heritage that I believe we, as treasurers of Dennis Dinneen’s archive, and as his family, have the responsibility to protect, preserve, and, at the same time, share with the Irish in Ireland and with everyone anywhere in the world.

One of my favourite photographs in the Dennis Dinneen Archive.
It is a portrait of my aunt and Dennis’ sister-in-law, Olive.
A portrait of John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy can be spotted in the background.

This is not just incredible photographic artwork; this is a history, a legacy, a record of a heritage.

This piece was originally published in the Lee Valley Outlook magazine, Vol. 17 Edition 23, on Thursday 19th November 2020.

DeVINE right

You know what it is. Vine; the twitter of videos. When they were around, they were gold; six seconds of brilliance. Now they’re gone, but even still, two years since Vine was shutdown, we are still talking about them and using them; we quote Vines, we watch the infinite compilations on YouTube of everyone’s favourites, and it seems that even though the app may be gone, the love for Vines and the trend in and of itself lives on through our constant reference to and quotation of them.

Why was Vine so brilliant? In this day and age, the ‘too long, don’t read’ generation, we want things to be immediate, or at least quick; if we see that a video is any longer than 2 minutes we are instinctively turned off. It fascinates me, how we can spend so much of our time scrolling, but want to limit the time we spend concentrating on the one thing. Vine videos were 6 seconds long, and so the brilliance was not only in their comedy or effect, but the fact that they were short, and as such so sweet. As well as this short and sweet quality, Vine was the perfect platform for hilarious people to share their talents. It was a wholesome community of brilliantly and cleverly funny people where no one took themselves too seriously and everyone enjoyed a good laugh. It posed a challenge, an invitation to be as creative as possible, as you had to fit an intensely funny bit into a six second window.

We saw this in Zach King, who blew audiences away with his mindboggling magic tricks. How did he do it? Personalities like Amanda Cerny and Logan Paul fit comedy mini-movies and relatable moments into their six second squares. Jérôme Jarre took his comedy bits to the next level by not letting those that feature in them, in on them. If you know Jérôme, you’ll know what I mean by that. If you don’t, check him out. It’s worth it. MelvinGregg, Reggie COUX, and DeStorm Power are just a few more of the many stars of Vine, and worth noting too is Josh Peck, start of Drake & Josh, who showcased his solo comedic brilliance on Vine to the delight of those of us who watched Drake & Josh religiously on Nickelodeon every evening during our supper of fish-fingers and oven chips, or a bowl of cereal (shreddies or cheerios) at snack time. You can still watch all of the vines ever recorded and posted, as an archive website was set up after the shutdown of the app in January 2017. Vine.co is the archived website, and all you need to do is put the name of the person whose vines you wish to watch after that like so; vine.co/joshpeck.

Vine created a community, a culturally relevant community, of culturally relevant things; things we as millennial consumers can relate to and enjoy in the context of our fast-paced world of immediate and vast information at our fingertips; they thrive, and we drive them. In this way, Vine must be an exception to this ‘popularity of culturally relevant things’ concept, because it was undoubtedly popular, but it didn’t survive.

So, whatever happened to Vine? Founded in June 2012, it was bought by Twitter in 2012 for, reportedly, $30 million, and officially launched as a free app in the Apple store in January 2013. It became available for Android users shortly after, and within a matter of months quickly grew to be the most popular short video sharing platform in the world. One must wonder how something that was doing so well shut down after such a short-lived time in the spotlight? There are a few reasons. Firstly, Twitter had no money. That is a slight exaggeration, of course Twitter had and has money, but at the time they were struggling to turn over a significant profit, which means, as it does for most companies during times if financial difficulty, they had to make cutbacks. Twitter had to look at where they weren’t making enough money, and unfortunately Vine was cut.

Another contributing factor to the downfall of Vine was competing companies, like Instagram, who were making it possible for people to record and share short videos on their apps too. Vine stars were probably the biggest part of Vine’s success, but of course when you get big in one place, you move on to conquering or breaking it in the next. Although many remained loyal, the Vine stars that left Vine really didn’t help the situation. A third element to the downfall was that there was no room for advertisements, or at least advertisers cared little for advertising on Vine. Perhaps because the audience predominantly consisted of young teenagers, or perhaps there was no room on the app itself – where could you put the ads? Regardless of the reason for a lack of advertising sponsors, the result was the same as that foundational reason for Vine closing down: Vine wasn’t making enough money for Twitter.

Vine was more than a Twitter for videos. After all, it wasn’t created by Twitter, it was bought by Twitter just before its release. Vine was one of the few apps that stayed true to its original form and intent, with only ever so slight updates and changes. It remained a sharing platform for six second videos, no fancy add-ons. You know the like; Snapchat changing its layout and getting rid of the ability to view other people’s top-friends caused absolute uproar. Vine was never criticised for such things, and even its shutdown was on outward force, for Vine was adopted and had no control over the actions and decisions of its guardian. Not that Twitter is to blame. Simply put, shit happens and things don’t work out in the real world of capital sometimes. I simply mean to point to the organic and unwavering authenticity and community-driven nature of Vine in and of itself. Ironic, how Vine couldn’t do it for the Vine, in the end.

Do it for the Vine, lives on, however. We still love it, and maybe its short life was a good thing; the silver lining being that it can’t be changed. Vine had no time to develop in to something more than what it so simply was. There were no annoying updates or layout changes, no additional functions that took away from the simple six minute snippet video. We keep Vine and its pure simplicity alive with our subtle references to its best moments, our laughs as we mimic the comedy and voices of its greatest stars, and with our occasional binge watching of the compilations in ode to the best of the best of Vine that remain alive and popular to this day.

This article was originally published in the UCC Express in September 2018 in the Features section, authored by Ciara Dinneen.

Do you like drugs?

I thought maybe it was just me; that now I am in my early twenties and in college I am more exposed to the drug culture that is most prevalent amongst college students and has always been there. But settling for this assumption, the assumption that this is just the way it is and always has been and I just haven’t been exposed to it up until now, doesn’t satisfy me. It doesn’t dampen the niggling thought that hovers above the surface of my consciousness, the thought that there is a sinisterly dangerous wave of drug culture on the rise.

So I did some investigating; up until 2010 the most reliable research shows that the rise has been an overall one; that is, the rise in drug use in Ireland has been evenly spread among people of a wide range of ages, between 15 and 64. However in more recent years, if you look at 2010/11 to 2014/15 in isolation, the age considered to be young adults, people aged between 15 and 24, has seen the biggest percentage rise in drug use. I also read that a national student survey carried out by campus.ie in 2014 revealed that UCC students are more likely to have taken illegal drugs than students of UCD and Trinity. What is most frightening about young college students taking these highly dangerous drugs is that, a lot of the time, people don’t know exactly what it is they are taking; they don’t fully understand what these drugs are actually doing to their bodies.

Similar to the way alcohol and fast foods being bad for our health doesn’t stop us from consuming them, drugs being dangerous doesn’t stop people from doing them. As such, as a community in which the majority of us are young adults aged between the ages of 18 and 24, we need to carefully consider a drug policy that focuses on education and safety. UCC Students for Sensible Drug Policy Society are taking initiative in their own way; last year they handed out drug testing kits to students, advocating for smarter, safer use and for decriminalisation. The message seems to be: if you are going to take drugs, do them smart.

You should know exactly what you are taking; you should know exactly where the drug is coming from and trust the source you are getting it from. As well as that you need to understand what the drug is going to do to your body, in particular your brain. It is unlikely you’ll find any one single person in college that doesn’t have at least one friend who has experimented with drugs. Therefore, even if you yourself don’t partake, there is no harm in knowing a bit about the most commonly used drugs. While marijuana is by far the most popular illegal drug, more and more college students are beginning to experiment with hallucinogens, sedatives and stimulants; the most popular being MDMA (3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine) aka Ecstasy, Ketamine which is horse tranquiliser, and Cocaine. What I have here is short and vague and only a very simplistic synopsis of the information out there and you should do a lot more research before you consider experimenting.

Here is the very basics of what you need to know:

You might be peer-assured into believing the naïve assumption that drugs are a relatively harmless bit of fun; you only live once, and you may as well have a laugh and enjoy it while you can, right? I’m sorry, but when did it become only possible to have real fun and a proper young adult experience through partaking in this ever-growing drug culture, and who decided this? ‘Enjoy it while you can?’ Yes, because any minute now you might be sending yourself into cardiac arrest by going for that ‘one more line’, or damaging your brain in some way, quite possibly definitely. This attitude reflects a kind of mental dysfunctionality; how some have come to be desensitised to natural highs from life because of over-reliance on synthetic highs. To be frank, it is not only dangerous to insist on the so-wrongly-called harmlessness of synthetic drugs, it is also just pure and utter stupidity.

Chemicals are not a foreign substance to the brain. Our brains function through the process of natural chemical reactions, by sending out chemical information from one neuron or nerve cell to another. These chemical messaging that take place in the brain control and result in our bodily functions such as generating movement, speaking, thinking, listening, regulating the systems of the body, and so on. When we take drugs, we are interfering with this process, and no matter what way you look at this or no matter how small the dose, this is not a good thing.

MD anyone? Great craic, apparently. What does it do exactly? It effects the brain by increasing the chemical activity and production of three major chemical hormones: serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. MDMA enhances the release of these chemical hormones from nerve endings and/or blocks their re-uptake, resulting in increased levels between the neurons at a synapse. The increase in the levels of dopamine in the brain leads to euphoric spike in energy levels, while serotonin is connected to mood. Now, as MD exhausts our brains in the rapid and intense production of both serotonin and dopamine, the come down is not pleasant. Your brain, because it is left depleted, has to reduce its rate of production and uptake of these chemicals in order to replenish its levels. This explains the depressed state in which users are left in for up to several days after taking MD.

Coke. Similar to MDMA, Cocaine wreaks havoc on the brain’s levels of dopamine. Normally, the brain releases dopamine in response to potential rewards, like the smell of good food. It then recycles back into the cell that released it, shutting off the signal between nerve cells; re-uptake like above. Cocaine prevents the re-uptake of dopamine, causing excessive amounts to build up between nerve cells. This influx of dopamine interferes with normal brain communication causes cocaine’s high; extreme happiness, energy and mental alertness. Users may also experience intense paranoia, irritability and hypersensitivity to sound, light and touch. The comedown can feel a lot like the flu; runny nose, feeling generally run down, aches and pains and headaches… as such, the best thing you can do is get plenty of rest, drink lots of water, replenish your body with nutritious food and naturally, do not take cocaine again, ideally at all, but at the very least not any time soon.

Ket-outta here. Are you serious like? Horse tranquilliser? Honestly already rolling my eyes at whatever random ass substance it is that pops its head round into popularity next. As an anaesthetising drug, ket results in feelings of dizziness and light headedness but can also induce hallucinations. It has been said to result in schizophrenic-like characteristics in its users. Ketamine disinhibits the brain’s circuitry system, essentially putting a sort of brake on the system, which causes the brain to enter into a state of over-excitation in response to a stimulus. The comedown from Ket can include symptoms such as cravings, anxiety, sweating, shaking, increased heart rate, and is just over all a not pleasant experience.

Alex’s Adventure of a Lifetime

In 2016, Nicole Ryan’s brother, Alex, passed away after taking a synthetic drug at a house party in Cork City which he believed to have been a less potent drug, but which turned out to be the lethal N-Bomb. Since, Nicole has set up an organisation called Alex’s Adventure of a Lifetime. Nicole works with students from secondary school level to college level carrying out workshops that aim to teach the young people of Ireland of the dangers of drug misuse. Nicole feels passionately about the need for education and the encouragement of safe use. Recently Nicole launched a harm-reduction card that clearly outlines what to do should anyone find themselves in a situation where someone has pass out after taking a substance. It includes a QR code that can be scanned in a matter of seconds, bringing up a a step-by-step video and what to do to help the person in trouble.

At the end of the day, the safest way to take drugs is simply not to take them. But if you’re going to do it, do it with a bit of education and cop on. If you’re going to do drugs, do so with caution. www.drugsand.me is a harm reduction guide for safer use of drugs and is a good place to go to get more information and learn more about the drugs you are taking, the effects they could have, how to handle the comedown and what to do when things go wrong.