Sean Hillen: Photographs from the North of Ireland 1979 - 1990

Sean Hillen: Photographs from the North of Ireland 1979 - 1990

National Photographic Archive 27 July- 30 September

Part of PhotoIreland Festival 2012

The National Library’s Photographic Archive (NPA) celebrated its third year of collaborating with the PhotoIreland Festiva with two exhibitions, Living-Leaving featuring works by David Monahan and Maurice Gunning in July 2012 and Sean Hillen Photographs from the North of Ireland 1979 - 1990 in August and September.The 2012 PhotoIreland theme was ‘Migrations: Diaspora & Cultural Identity’.

In 2011, the National Library of Ireland (NLI) acquired The Seán Hillen Collection. This collection consists of 530 original 35mm black/white negatives taken by Newry-born photographer Seán Hillen in the North of Ireland between 1979 and 1990.  The Seán Hillen Collection  is a significant addition to NLI’s photographic collections, currently containing an estimated 4.5m photographs.

The photographs in the Seán Hillen Collection are unique local insights and are largely unpublished. In 1979,  18 year old artist Seán Hillen began taking mostly black-and-white photographs recording the “already surreal” life as he saw it in Northern Ireland and between then and 1990 created a collection of several hundred photographs.

Seán Hillen has indicated that he will make donations of further related material to the NLI, in the coming years.

More about Seán Hillen

Born in Newry in 1961, Sean studied at the Belfast College of Art. In 1982, he travelled to London to continue his studies at the London College of Printing, and then at the Slade School of Fine Art. He traveled back and forth between Ireland and England over the course of several years. He photographed scenes related to the conflict in Northern Ireland.  He later incorporated these photographs into photomontage work. In 1993, Hillen returned to Ireland. Between 1994 and 1997, he created a new body of work entitled Irelantis.  He co-designed the Omagh Bomb Memorial.

His work is in many private and public collections including the Irish State Collection, the Imperial War Museum, the European Central Bank, The Irish Central Bank, Citigroup, Aspen Re., the BBC and Microsoft. He has won several awards and prizes.

His work can be seen on the Seán Hillen website and he is represented by Oliver Sears Gallery.

Seamus Heaney said of the work: "The photographs are like black and white time machines that bring back the desolation and danger of the Troubles."
"The images have a documentary accuracy but it is the aura of melancholy witness that marks them as the work of Seán Hillen."

Roy Foster, Yeats’ biographer and Carroll professor of Irish History at Oxford said the exhibition “demonstrates once more Seán Hillen's unique vision, and his eye for a powerful and disturbing conjunction of images- applied to the stark tragedy of the Northern Ireland experience thirty years ago.. striking, haunting sometimes bleakly beautiful: a record of historical importance but also much more.”