The Big Issue : Edition 468
THEBIGISSUE26SEP–9OCT2014 27 FOR THOSE LIVING in Western cities, the sight of horse-drawn carriages in peak-hour traffic is a juxtaposition or, at least, a novelty. Couples and tourists pay to be transported not only from place to place, but into the fantasy of a more romantic period before cars replaced beasts. The appeal is of quaintness set against stark modern realities. James Horan’s Irish Horse series evokes a similar response. Families in tracksuits pose with horses against graffiti-sprayed brick walls. Teenage boys with mischievous grins straddle ponies bareback outside housing estates. The effect is otherworldly: in an unlikely reality, the old has clashed with the new, the rural with the urban. Yet Horan’s photos document a long-held tradition among many communities of Travellers in his native Ireland. Since the 17th century, Irish Travellers have met to socialise and sell horses at Dublin’s Smithfield Fair. The fair’s location, in a cobblestone lot, has remained the same while surrounding housing developments have emerged. Each year, hundreds gather to do business and share stories. Horan, who now lives in Sydney, grew up on a housing estate in Limerick, in Ireland’s southwest. On return trips to Ireland, Horan saw the horse fairs and those who assembled at them through the eyes of an outsider. He decided to document the Smithfield Fair as well as the fairs in rural Ballinasloe and Spancilhill. The result is a striking series that employs aspects of photojournalism and portraiture. Many of the images depict families, turning the series into an exploration of how Traveller families project themselves outwardly to the world. The horses serve primarily as props for the human subjects: young men and women express pride, bravado, boredom and kindness in their faces. The horses can be viewed variously as pets, assets, transport and toys, depending on the image. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the series, then, is the range of experience and emotion Horan has captured in his subjects. As a photographer, he lends a large amount of empathy to the Travellers and those who interact with them, and in doing so, circumvents many of the stereotypes often associated with a community commonly referred to derogatorily as ‘gypsies’ and ‘pikeys’ and portrayed as dangerous or conniving. The Irish Horse series allows for many differing images of Irish Travellers, valuing them as humans with individual lives and features, rather than as characters in a predetermined story. It could be said that Horan has managed to find the unremarkable in a modern fantasy, the common humanity in a spectacle. by Adam Curley » See also jameshoranshootspeople.com.