My Wallet of Photographs

Potato Pickers at Tomriland, near Annamoe
JM Synge courtesy of TCD Digital Collection
Blacksmiths Forge at Roundwood
JM Synge courtesy of TCD Digital Collection

John Millington Synge – A Pioneer of Photography


John Millington Synge was a musician and a writer, but also a pioneer of photography. He bought his first camera in 1898 during a stay on the Aran Islands from a fellow tourist, and about 55 pictures are still existing today – glass plate or celluloid negatives – as part of Synge’s estate preserved by the manuscript department of Trinity College Library, Dublin. The collection may be viewed online here

On his frequent travels through Ireland he took photographs especially of rural scenes, whereas he didn’t take many pictures of his family or friends. He was mainly interested in the people living in the country and the small towns, their work and conditions of life – subjects you will also find in his literary work. Synge had strong family links with County Wicklow, in particular with Glanmore, Castlekevin and Greystones.

Lilo Stephens, the wife of Edward Stephens, John Millington Synge’s nephew and first biographer, made the photographs available for the first time when she published her book “My Wallet of Photographs: The Collected Photographs of J.M. Synge” in 1971. The book was printed in a limited edition of only 1,100 copies so only a small interested public could be reached.

As late as 2009, 100 years after Synge had died, the photographs were displayed for the next time. Ciaran Walsh had organized an exhibition with all existing photographs which was displayed on the Aran Islands, at the Centre Culturel Irlandais in Paris, and at the IrishMuseum of Modern Art in Dublin.

Our exhibition shows the photographs John Millington Synge took during his walks and cycling tours in Wicklow. Würzburg is German partner of County Wicklow & Bray. The photographs are on display for the first time in Wicklow as part of an exhibition in County Buildings, Wicklow Town from 9th to end of April 2015

We would particularly like to thank The Board of Trinity College Dublin for providing Synge’s photographs for this exhibition. We also thank the German-Irish Association of Wurzburg, Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane , Würzburg City Archive and Wicklow County Council for their support and co-operation.

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