Picks and Pans Review: Ireland

updated 05/09/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/09/1988 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Edited by Red Saunders and Syd Shelton

The subtitle of this extraordinary book of photography is "A Week in the Life of a Nation," and one reason it is so successful may be that Ireland lends itself to the now-familiar photo-survey treatment. Barely the size of Maine, even including Northern Ireland, the country is geographically manageable for a group of 50 photographers with a week to shoot their pictures. It is, in its contours and in the faces of its people, as photogenic as any land on earth, and political drama and tragedy have become an almost routine part of day-to-day life there. Saunders and Shelton, who have produced similar photo books on Los Angeles and London, include 250 photographs taken during a week in August 1985. That's probably too many, though it would be hard to decide what to cut. There is an intimate kitchen scene of two dairy farmers getting ready for their day near Skibbereen, County Cork, shot by Irishman Kevin O'Farrell. There is an abstract aerial view of peat wagons at Derrygreenagh Bog, County Offaly, by an American, Barrie Rokeach. A stunning two-page shot by Mike Abrahams of Liverpool shows normal life going on in the center of Crossmaglen, County Armagh, in the North, with the mail being delivered and a child holding a balloon as she strolls across a vacant lot; the photograph also shows two British soldiers on patrol in camouflage fatigues, one running, the other with his automatic rifle at the ready. The book's text, by Irish writer Anthony Cronin, is brief and, printed in white on a dark-gray background, hard to read. But it is provocative, arguing that "it may be that the Irish have got the name and the glory of being faithful unto death to their religions when it was really something else they were being faithful to, their class or their country or their social group or even their language." This book is a multipart portrait that invites and rewards serious scrutiny. (Century Hutchinson, distributed by David & Charles, $45)

From Our Partners