I first saw the work of Alen MacWeeney at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in late 2007...(or so I thought). The PMA's exhibit Particulars of Place showcased six artists who had created portfolios that had captured a sense of place, and MacWeeney's work contained the only portraits among the exhibit. I was captivated by the images of rural Irish itinerants known as Tinkers, or Travellers.
(Bernie Ward, Cherry Orchard by Alen MacWeeney)
As soon as I got home I searched the internet for Alen MacWeeney....found his website and discovered he had a book soon to be released....
Irish Travellers: Tinkers No More
I ordered the book and even emailed MacWeeney to compliment him on the portfolio and how compelling the images were. He was good enough to answer back and even offered to sign the book the next time I was in New York. (which I still need to have him do)
The book is a gorgeous portrayal of the vanishing culture and daily life of these Travellers that MacWeeney documented while living among them for over five years, and I have enjoyed it immensely.
Which brings me to the "or so I thought" aspect of never having seen MacWeeney's work prior to the PMA exhibit. Just this week I was browsing through some of my set of the 1971 Time-Life Library of Photography. I have the complete set of 17 and I consider them the foundation of my photo book collection. I grew up with these books, and my love of photographic art is largely due to this series.
While turning the pages of Photographing Children I was pleasantly surprised to recognize the work of Alen MacWeeney. A portrait titled Gypsy Child in the Time-Life book is identified as Nell Ward in the Irish Travellers book...
And a photograph titled I can see you, but you can't see me is used on the cover of the Irish Travellers book...
So I had seen MacWeeney's work before. I studied every page of every volume of the Library of Photography dozens of times in the mid-1970's, and yet I had no recollection of these portraits when I saw them again in 2007. I do wonder if my strongly positive reaction to seeing them last year had anything to do with subconscious memories of this work. Regardless, I am very happy to be reacquainted with such remarkable portraiture.
Particulars of Place exhibit details
Alen MacWeeney's web site