Designer Niall Sweeney writes about his friend and collaborator, photographer Eamonn Doyle, on the occasion of their latest publication, for Fundación Mapfre Madrid, celebrating Doyle's background and practice, and documenting his formidable body of work to date.

Some time in late 2016, as the dust was failing in its attempts to settle on the success of the Dublin trilogy of books (i, ON, End.), and we were still reverberating from the passionate response to our exhibition of the trilogy at Rencontres d'Arles just that summer, myself and Eamonn were sitting in his flat just off Parnell Street in Dublin talking about Krass Clement and his 1996 book Drum. How this book of photographs taken on a single evening in a village pub in County Monaghan was a kind of modernist play about the granularity of time. How this gathering of men occupy the starkly furnished pub together over the course of the night; how the sequence of unspoken positions that they take in the room is as if they have each stalled in the process of acting out the very same sequence of scenes that they now appear in; how they seem to be afloat in the doldrums, waiting for the rhythm of time’s breathing to commence once again; and how all of it could have been staged in a confined set, constructed from once-new walls and dark doors roughly painted by an unknown chiaroscuro.

We were becoming increasingly aware that there was a proposition within Eamonn’s photographs of Dublin, one that had been there all along; one that, perhaps at least in part, had been a subliminal impetus in his urge to take the photographs in the first place; one that was asking, needing, to be addressed in some way in what we might do next.

In Eamonn’s trilogy we move through a kind of floating world of Dublin. We see the city’s inhabitants manoeuvring through a series of obstacles in unknown solo performances of a collective unconscious choreography; we see the city flattening out in front of them, but also becoming them, or rising up around them like false-perspective stage settings. We twist and turn and dive in a multiplicity of dimensional viewpoints. We stand still with them. We get up close, we see far away. We look outwards and inwards with them from behind their backs. We take their awkward position. We follow their gaze out to what lies ahead as they stride past us like giants. We get caught up in their stroboscopic loops and they repetitively walk the same paths. We hear their labyrinthine thoughts in the stillness. We hear Beckett giving dance instructions through their headphones. We inhabit the headscarves, the bags, the coats and shoes that they inhabit; the concrete they inhabit; the volumes of colour and the shapes they pull in the hard Dublin light. And almost all are on the move, each to their own version of the beat. Though there are life-worn faces and apparent hardships, these are not portraits, nor stolen characters; there is no judgement. We are them, embraced within the entropy of scattered objects, the pulled threads, the many cuts, the rounded corners, the rubbed fabric of it all, and even in the grain and pixels, in the code of the image itself — and all of it, all of us, bound together by the same forces that keep our feet on the street, an image in our heads, and the clock ticking.

What was emerging out of the Dublin work was something asking to be "staged", for Eamonn to deliberately place something, some one — a figure perhaps — somewhere between worlds, between states of being, on the layer of film that slips between the propositions of truth and experience.

So we talked about what the truth is, and that Eamonn is not really a "street photographer", with all the prescriptive notions that come with that title and its concepts of what defines a decisive moment. He does take photographs, on his local streets, and there is, of course, a decisive moment. But these are not really images of the man-made external world; of a reportage or a kind of portraiture; of isolated moments caught by some reflex action, somehow subjugated or transmitted in the image. The experience is more a process of "field-photography" — that field being the universal field of Michael Faraday and its electro-magnetic push-and-pull that acts upon all things — every grain of sand, every wave in the oceans, every radio transmission, every light ray through a lens, every pixel, every grain of time — that has lead to our understanding of the entirety of the universe as a kind of constant fabric of particles and fields. And that it is through movement, through the exchange of heat from one to the next, that we get our sense of time passing. That everything is everything, and that’s pretty much the way it all works. So what we are seeing in Eamonn’s images are the fabric, the field, the attraction of particles, the static hiss, the heat — in which he himself is a part, as we all are, and not just an observer — all of which play out in his images as a cumulation of the noisy relativity that comes from our day-to-day experience of it all as we walk down a Dublin street.

Eamonn had long been talking about Bob Quinn’s Atlantean. Quinn’s quartet of films and book explore the ancient cultural and trading connections between the Irish (specifically the seafaring Irish of the Connemara west coast) and the people of the Iberian peninsula and Northern Africa. In the Atlantean, Quinn reveals close similarities of form in traditional Irish music and song to those that echo across the Atlantic waves to the Islamic Mediterranean — in particular the windingly decorative Irish sean-nós style, with its instrumental use of unaccompanied solo voice, and the polyphonic atonal lamentation songs for the dead known as keening. He discovers that the Irish are not the Irish that they commonly like to think, but something far less limiting; a DNA that is not only unzipped from elite hordes of pale-skinned north-European warriors, but one that is also significantly Arabic in origin.

These distant lines of ancestry appear to be rising up once again on the inner-city streets of Eamonn’s contemporary Dublin, with their ever-changing, ever-evolving populations and burgeoning communities of every nation that is not exactly Celtic. But it also echoes with his own world-knowledge of music, in traditions old and new, of Ireland and of the "folk music" of our generation — electronic music — which he has himself been making, producing and distributing through his studio and label, D1 Recordings, for over 25 years. In turn, music is bound up in the fabric of Eamonn’s photographic work, quite literally as a fourth dimension of it, revealed through the ongoing collaborations with musician David Donohoe, whose compositions have become integral to the work and how it is communicated, whether individually or in the books, exhibitions, installations and films.

The cartographer and artist Tim Robinson, once resident of the Aran Islands off the coast of Galway, had published a number of books that delved into the psycho/historic geographies of the landscape of the far west through a process of walking as a means of deep mapping, just as Eamonn would walk the streets of Dublin to photograph, following threads. Robinson’s Connemara trilogy of books had been weighing on Eamonn’s mind as we talked about the Atlantean — adding further layers to this emerging longing to head west — how they uncoiled the geologic space-time of this region of the country, at once connecting the soil beneath to the people around and then reaching out to the cosmos, closing the circle of everything.

And so we talked about him photographing in the landscapes of the west of Ireland, perhaps setting up some kind of quiet, staged intervention, something akin to theatre, and perhaps with locals as some sort of actors. But would they be performing themselves, or be strangers from elsewhere? Something distantly connected or layered; not quite acting, just being there; and to see what happened when he photographed that. And then of course there was the land itself, Connemara, a place that weighs against the Atlantic with a ballast of history. The worry was that it would all turn out to be just western landscape versions of the Dublin work. We talked of interiors, of the sea itself — or moving somewhere between. There was definitely something lurking in the deep waters — but, what?

In the spring of 2017, Eamonn’s mother, Kathryn, died. His brother, Ciarán, had died suddenly at age 33 in 1999 and their mum had never managed to escape the all-consuming grief triggered by this time reversal in the order of things. And now all felt released, unmoored, becoming quite elemental and primordial from thereon in, Eamonn operating in a kind of parallel state of anxiety. Throughout the 18 years from Ciarán’s death to her own, Kathryn had written many letters, addressed to her dead son, talking directly to him; hoping he was okay, asking him to keep an eye on the rest of the family while she struggled to understand. Eamonn began layering images of these letters on top of each other like stratified geological maps or phonetic compositions for lament.

Later that summer Eamonn found himself on a beach in Connemara, having placed himself in the layered locations of both Quinn’s Atlantean and Robinson’s The Last Pool of Darkness.

The cover for Eamonn Doyle's new publication

He had gone down with a friend whose family have a cottage there right behind Kylemore Abbey and whose mother knew a man who sold fish that he bought direct from local fishermen; so he thought this could be a good start, to get to talk to people and work out something to photograph. Connemara is other-worldly, so much so that there is often just nobody there, and he felt he needed to make some kind of connection simply as a means of beginning. The plan was to meet the fish-trader in the evening. Eamonn spent the morning on the beach photographing the rocks and the wet sand — just there right by the house where the Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein had spent some time in 1948 writing seminal texts that sought to break open the limitations and absolutes of language. The wet sand looking like the carved fabric of mausoleum statues, the worn stones half-buried in the beach like unknown bodies slowly emerging from the dark matter of space — in a way that often literally happens in the eroding graveyards teetering on the edges of the rough west coast as they tumble into the sea like they are trying to escape.

He went to meet the fish-trader at Renvyle House, famous as the place where W. B. Yeats gathered with his clique to practice séances and automatic writing. He was standing in the car park outside  — the light in the west sometimes comes in even harder than Dublin as it arrives unchallenged by borders across land and sea — when a woman in a long black dress ran past in front of him and into the house. It turned out that the man he was meeting was putting on a play in the house that night with his partner (the woman in the black dress) in a tiny room upstairs. So Eamonn sat there with the sparse audience at the back of the room, and began to feel like he was slipping into a zone of surrealism he wasn’t quite prepared for.

The play was about Yeats and his seven muses. The fish-trader narrated, while his partner, the woman in the black dress, played each of the seven muses, changing only her coloured headscarf for each of the seven. Later he exchanged some New York stories with the playwright, also named Eamonn, and who was originally from the area but had moved to New York in the 1960s. Plans were made to meet again to talk through the Atlantean idea.

The next morning Eamonn drove eight hours to the Valentia Island slate quarry that hangs off the tip of one of the long peninsula fingers that test the waters of the south west. The island is famous for its fossilised prehistoric tetrapod footprints and is where you get the boat to the Skellig Islands. We had been working on an intricate design for his mother’s headstone, and the slate from Valentia is unique and world-renowned for its qualities, how it cuts and weathers. He got to the quarry late that night. High above its Atlantic-facing gaping entrance to the underworld, and unsurprisingly for Ireland, stands a statue — a woman and universal mother figure — in a body-length veil painted pale blue, braced against the salt-sodden air. He spent the night wandering around local graveyards, studying the variety of designs and shapes and typography of headstones.

Driving back home to Dublin the next day, across the central plains of Ireland, Eamonn kept seeing a figure, a body, entirely shrouded in a red veil, moving ahead in front of him.

Eamonn Doyle, published by Fundación MAPFRE Madrid, is out now - find out more here.