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The NLI through a New Lens

An interview with photographer Myles Shelly

21 April 2023
Photographer in Reading Room

Myles Shelly photographing a book in the Reading Room

This spring, the National Library of Ireland launched a new website, as part of our ongoing commitment to improving how users connect and engage with the NLI, both in person and online.

As a feature of our continuing efforts to capture the look and feel of our buildings, collections, activities and brand, we set out to visually record the NLI in present day.
We wanted to incorporate the unique and intimate details woven throughout our main building, from the plasterwork to the mosaic floors imbued with rich symbolism. Our mission also included providing a snapshot into the important work carried out by our various departments behind-the-scenes.
If you have explored our new website, you might have noticed an emphasis on photographs. Many of these images have been taken by Myles Shelly, a Dublin-based photographer specialising in portrait, landscape and editorial work. 


Image of Myles Shelly photographing the West Wing

We spoke with Myles about his experience of photographing the NLI: 


What did you know about the NLI before working with us?  

I’d previously used the library and accessed the collections at Kildare street and Temple Bar while working as an assistant to an artist earlier on in my career.


What would you say to someone who hasn’t visited or engaged with the NLI before?

It’s a great resource and very useful if you’re researching a project about Ireland. The space itself is incredible and well worth a visit just to experience the architecture.


How did the initial brief inform your work / What details do you believe make the best photographs?

The brief that the Communications and Development team approached me with was to communicate who the library are and what they do for the public, by depicting the different offerings they provide.

To do this we would need to shoot a mixture of people, architecture and still life imagery. I wanted the bank of images to have a consistency, so I achieved this by working only with natural light and colour grading the images for a consistent look and feel. I love photographing people, buildings and still lives with natural light, so I was really excited to work on the project!

After photographing the main images, I always like to try to get something more abstract or painterly. On this job, it was things like the light coming through the stained glass windows or images of people looking at the Yeats exhibition shot through glass. These often end up being my favourite images.


What was the most inspiring, uplifting or surprising moment when photographing the NLI?

A highlight was shooting at the National Photographic Archive, photographing some daguerreotypes. They have this really unique otherworldly quality because of the process used to make them, and the really long exposure times used by the photographers back then.

What are some of your personal favourites from the collection of images you’ve captured?

shadows moving across a mosaic floor

Light pool

The light streaming through the stained glass window in the reception of the NLI made this interesting abstract pattern on the mosaic floor.


view of the NLI's domed ceiling

The Reading Room's domed ceiling

One of the most impressive views inside the NLI.

photograph taken in the evening of Seamus Heaney: Listen Now Again at the Bank of Ireland Cultural & Heritage Centre

Seamus Heaney: Listen Now Again exhibition exterior

I love shooting at this time of day, right after sunset and just before the last trace of light disappears from the sky.


Abstract of a woman's profile

Emma Conway (NLI Communications and Development team)

Woman standing in Reading Room

Audrey Whitty - Director, NLI

Emma Conway (NLI Communications and Development team)

This was shot on the initial recce and I loved the abstract painterly look achieved through photographing through one of the glass display cabinets.


Audrey Whitty - Director, NLI

Photographed in the main library.


Photographer on floor of Seamus Heaney: Listen Now Again

To see more of his work, visit Myles Shelly’s website: www.mylesshelly.com