THE FACES OF CONFIDENCE AND CELEBRATION
Throughout my first week in Ireland, I felt as though I was plunged headfirst into an environment a thousand miles away from my comfort zone. I was hesitant and wondered how could I, a first generation, low-income student who had never traveled outside of the United States before, be a positive contribution to a community I have never lived in? I arrived at the Gallery of Photography, a not-for-profit organization which focuses on multiple social issues, with this hesitant mindset. I wanted to make myself useful. I wanted to be a positive force in my workplace and help advance the gallery’s social goals. Yet, I was unaware of how I could begin to accomplish this feat in unknown territory.
My fears were vanquished the moment I entered the gallery. I was greeted by smiling faces, colorful photographs covering every inch of the walls, and enough work to keep my mind too occupied to doubt myself. The gallery always has a new event occurring. They feature exhibits on photographs from students who have recently graduated from art schools in Dublin, migrant issues in the form of photographed borders and digitized family albums, and LGBT+ rights. My first 2 weeks working were centered around constructing a new exhibit around this last theme.
Gay Community News (GCN) is Ireland’s oldest LGBT+ magazine. Originally established in 1988, it was founded by Tonie Walsh and Catherine Glendon when homosexuality was criminalised in Ireland. GCN began as an 8-page black-and-white newspaper and has grown to be a 130-page magazine sent to thousands of individuals across Ireland for free every month. Each issue of this magazine has become bolder. GCN continues to grow and challenge the norm. In their history, there is a clear trend from asking for acceptance to challenging social norms and paving the way for a happier “rainbow society,” as Tonie Walsh loves to say.
The Gallery of Photography made it possible for members and supporters of the LGBT+ community in Dublin to see the culmination of 30 years worth of struggle, sacrifice, and victory framed for all of Ireland to witness. Individuals such as Senator David Norris, who fought for the decriminalization of homosexuality in Ireland, were able to witness this symbol of respect and progress for the LGBT+ community. In addition, the names of contributors to GCN surrounded the walls in red and black text. Photographs of active members of the LGBT+ community in Dublin surround three walls and parts of the ceiling.
The Gallery of Photography contributed to this community by showcasing their accomplishments in a beautiful manner easily accessible to the public. I was a part of this experience. I witnessed the effects of photography firsthand. I saw it in the faces of every individual who walked into the gallery. I saw it in crying faces who could not believe they were seeing their community represented. I saw it in couples laughing and holding each other when they saw themselves framed on the walls. I saw it in myself, when I realized I developed the confidence to walk into the gallery, do what was needed, and ask a senator to take his photograph.
Photography changes the lives of those who see themselves, their communities, and their identities reflected through the lens of a camera. It has the power to change lives by leading social and cultural change. I was wrong to worry about being a positive contribution. At the Gallery of Photography, there is so much work to be done for the community that time to worry is a luxury we cannot afford. I am grateful to the gallery for the opportunity to work there and show Ireland the faces of silent communities. I am excited for the work that is to come.