Street Performers of Dublin, by Ian Shipley
What started out as a simple task for twelve images for an internal corporate exhibition a decade ago has been slowly rolling along ever since and is now an archive of over a thousand images and growing. I continued the project as I could feel things changing on the key busking areas of Grafton Street, Temple Bar and Henry Street in Dublin. Where we used to have full bands playing a set for a few hours, regulations now limit amplification along with the requirement that street performers switch places on the street every hour. The upside of this is that for the watchers, you get a great variety of performers, the downside for the performers is that on a good day they can be waiting four hours or more for a prime busking slot. I’ve been lucky enough to photograph performers on the streets and then a few years later at venues where they are headlining.
The current crop of buskers are young, starting around seventeen years of age, and some of them have millions of views on Youtube to help them draw a crowd. Allie Sherlock is one of those who, having been seen on Youtube busking on Grafton Street was flown over to the USA to be on the Ellen show. She still busks most weeks in Dublin. At the other end of the scale is 81-year old Vincent Fottrell who is still busking and just moved on to using an amp - Youtube is a long way off for him. Then there is Mick McLoughlin aka Mick the Busker, who spent two years sleeping in Debenhams doorway while busking his way off the street. When you take the time to talk, there are endless back stories. For me it's often the interaction of the public with the performers that makes things interesting.
One aspect that keeps me going back at every opportunity is that every day is different; you never know what or who you will find. A normal day at the office for buskers may mean a street cleaner going by, someone riding a horse up the street and a multitude of other distractions from drunks to junkies and people who would like to join in, but they keep playing, rain or shine. It's not uncommon for me to photograph a performer only to find I previously shot them a few years earlier. Some of the buskers are regulars like Jacob Koopman who's been playing on Grafton Street for a decade now, while many more play here for a few weeks before continuing their global travels. On good days you will find performers who are Irish, Brazilian, German and Indonesian, all on a street no more than a few hundred metres long. The interaction between the buskers and the people on the street is on-going as is the camaraderie between fellow buskers (very similar to our own field).
When I am photographing, I don’t believe in hiding away or using a small pocket camera - the artists know I am there and over time it has allowed me to become accepted as part of the scene and allow me to get shots I otherwise wouldn't. My workhorse is a Canon 5d Mrk lll, primarily with a 24-70mm, and from time to time I’ll just work with a 50mm; it helps me to look differently if I have to move as opposed to zooming. There is an ongoing balancing act between the buskers, authorities, retailers and city dwellers, with the latter having forced a no playing prior to 11am rule for buskers, along with other restrictions. I can slowly see them getting squeezed out, certainly some of the larger groups like Keywest and Mutefish who used to perform, now cannot make it worthwhile with only an hour to play before moving on. Another element that makes the buskers’ lives harder is that too many people now have their earphones in 24/7 and simply walk on by, living life by their own soundtrack.
To see the many more photographs in this ongoing series, please see Ian's Instagram
Ian Shipley is a photographer and writer who has, amongst other career highlights, co-created the Violent Veg photographic cartoons, was lead photographer on the Irish Farmer Calendar shoots and created editorial features for numerous automotive magazines with some music photography thrown in for good measure.
Originally from Herefordshire in the UK, Ian has worked in Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland and can currently be found exploring the island of Ireland.
See more work by Ian Shipley