Iconic exhibition to make Northern Ireland debut at Titanic Belfast

Robert Douglas Spedden, watched by his Father Frederic, playing on deck of the Titanic with a spinning top.'' One of a selection of iconic images from a new exhibition: ''Frank Browne ' Through The Lens'.
Robert Douglas Spedden, watched by his Father Frederic, playing on deck of the Titanic with a spinning top.'' One of a selection of iconic images from a new exhibition: ''Frank Browne ' Through The Lens'.

A selection of iconic images taken by one of the most significant photographers of the 20th century are on display in Northern Ireland for the first time.

‘Frank Browne – Through The Lens’ is an exhibition of more than 100 photographs taken by the renowned Titanic passenger Father Frank Browne who is often described as the “father of photo journalism”.

The free exhibition, which opened at Titanic Belfast on Friday, 15 January, includes striking images taken by Fr Browne during his lifetime - from serving as a chaplain in the First World War, and a range of pictures from his travels.

Cork born Frank Browne took his first photographs during a European tour in 1897, just before joining the Jesuits. In 1912 he earned worldwide fame when his Titanic photographs were published by a host of newspapers.

By 1916 he was a First World War chaplain to the Irish Guards and in 1921 he took his final vows and still suffering from war wounds he went to Australia to recuperate and made a superb series of photographs of life in that country. On his return to Ireland he continued to record aspects of Irish ways of life both personal and corporate which, when added to his pictures in South Africa, Sri Lanka, Egypt, Spain and England, constitute a fascinating interpretation of a rapidly evolving world.

He was active in the photo-exhibition world and wrote articles for “The Kodak Magazine”. During this time he made 41,500 negatives. He died in 1960 and his work was largely forgotten.

The images lay undiscovered until 1985 when Father Edward O’Donnell came across a large trunk in the Irish Jesuit Provincial’s house and found it packed with negatives. When the trunk was opened in 1985 he was compared him to the greats such as Henri Cartier Bresson and Robert Doisneau, but his work predated theirs by decades.

All of the negatives have now been meticulously restored and categorised by David and Edwin Davison and remastered to print at a quality not possible twenty five years ago.

Launching the exhibition, Titanic Belfast CEO Tim Husbands MBE said: “Father Browne’s images from the Titanic have been seen around the world and are some of the most iconic images to have emerged from the 20th century in Ireland. The fact that these photographs may never have been recovered if Father Browne had made the onward journey to New York – as he had hoped to do – make these photographs even more poignant.

“While some of the Titanic images are on display in our galleries, this exhibition will enable Titanic Belfast visitors to appreciate his large body of international work which constitutes a fascinating appreciation of a rapidly-evolving world. I’ve no doubt this exhibition will prove to be one of the highlights of Northern Ireland’s arts calendar this year.”

Among the photographs in the exhibition is one showing a group of priests playing cards on an upturned box at the edge of Lough Gill in Co Sligo while on an outing in 1933, while another shows a little boy on a toy car with a gun talking to a policeman at an otherwise traffic-free Cowper Gardens in Dublin in 1942.

There is even a ‘selfie’ of Fr Browne, taken using a mirror while he was getting a haircut at a barber in 1940.

Edwin Davison of Davidson and Associates commented: “The exhibition was a resounding success in Dublin at the end of last year and we are sure it will strike a chord with Northern Ireland audiences at Titanic Belfast, which is a perfect venue for such a selection of works.”

‘Frank Browne –Through The Lens’ is free of charge and is on display at the Andrews Gallery in Titanic Belfast until 31st March, 2015. For more information, visit www.titanicbelfast.com