Centenary Shadows: photographs of Samuel Beckett by John Minihan

29 March - 27 May 2006
National Photographic Archive

Beckett, Blvd. St Jacques, 1985. © J MinihanBeckett, Blvd. St Jacques, 1985. © J Minihan

Samuel Beckett was born in Dublin in 1906 but was to spend most of his adult life in Paris. One of the few experimental writers to become very well-known, his short stories, novels and plays had established his reputation as the greatest absurdist writer of the twentieth century by the time he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1969. His best-known work – the hugely influential drama En Attendant Godot (Waiting for Godot) – was first performed in Paris in 1953.

Throughout 2006, cultural institutions in many countries around the world hosted events to mark the 100th anniversary of Beckett's birth on 13 April 1906. Here in Ireland, one of the highlights of the centenary celebrations was a photographic exhibition focused on various aspects of his life and work; it opened at the National Photographic Archive on 29 March 2006.

The exhibition featured some 40 photographs, including many portraits of Beckett, taken by the Irish photographer John Minihan, who first met Beckett in 1980. Their friendship led to the creation of some of the most remarkable and iconic photographic images of the writer. Minihan's portraits of Beckett are world famous; their significance is further heightened by their relative rarity – the writer was a reluctant subject and rarely posed for photographers.

The images on show included the famous portrait of Beckett in Le Petit Café on the Boulevard Saint Jacques, Paris in December 1985, and a shot of Beckett, satchel across his back, walking away from the camera towards Hammersmith Tube Station, London, in 1984. Also featured in the exhibition were images recorded by Minihan during various productions of Beckett's plays, including photographs of Beckett directing Waiting for Godot at the Riverside Studios in London in 1984; Max Wall performing in Krapp's Last Tape at Riverside Studios, London 1987, and Billie Whitelaw in Rockabye, London 1987.

John Minihan at the exhibition launch.John Minihan at the exhibition launch.

John Minihan was born in Athy, County Kildare. His first job at the age of 15 was as a 'runner' in the London Daily Mail taking copy from specialist writers such as James Cameron and Bernard Levin, and making tea for sub-editors. At the age of 16, using his first camera, a Yashica-Mat, he began taking amateur shots. One of his earliest photographs of St Paul's Cathedral won him a London Evening Standard prize of five guineas. That 1962 prize win signalled the first of many accolades. His career, which has spanned 40 years, has been marked by a series of invitations to photograph some of the world's most famous and most reclusive figures.

The National Photographic Archive exhibition coincided with the publication of his book entitled Centenary Shadows, a photographic essay of Samuel Beckett.

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