The Shifting Lens

Next week, on Monday 8th and Tuesday 9th May,  the 21st annual Historic Houses Conference takes place at Maynooth University, County Kildare with the theme ‘Picturing the Country House’. The Irish Aesthete will be among this year’s speakers, giving a talk entitled The shifting lens: A Century of Photographing Ireland’s Ruined Country Houses.
Over the past 100 years, many of these historic properties have been either destroyed or left to fall into ruin. During the same period, how such houses are represented in photographs has also changed. In the early 1920s, pictures were taken to provide objective evidence of damage and loss: their primary purpose was functional. However, gradually other, more personal responses to ruined houses began to emerge, so that today it might be said there is a pocket industry in recording decay and neglect (the Irish Aesthete is guilty as charged). Might this change in approach have affected attitudes towards Ireland’s country houses, perhaps encouraging perception of them less as emblems of a foreign oppressor and more as gracious remnants of a former era, their loss more a source of regret than delight. Over 100 years, have these photographs helped to alter ways of thinking, or do they reflect the evolution of a different mindset? To be discussed at next week’s conference…

For further information on the 21st annual Historic Houses Conference, please see 21st CSHIHE Conference flyer.pdf (


5 comments on “The Shifting Lens

  1. Eileen Wickham says:

    Very much looking forward to hearing your talk, Robert!

  2. Toby Cole says:

    “emblems of a foreign oppressor” That will never go away. But they can now be used for better things.

    • Deborah T. Sena says:

      I agree, particularly the more grandiose the property. The status of taking over these properties as a way of saying the opressor has been conquered, however, is being replaced by an abhorrence of being anyway assoicated with the lifestyle.
      As to reuse, some have already been recycled as hospitals, educational institutions, hotels- too many, as well as (could be considered a double whammy) orphanages and are looking for another rebirth. But just as the 17th century houses were replaced by more modern styles in the 18-19th, they are up against the urge/’ego to build new.

  3. Stephen Barker says:

    The conference is certainly covering a lot of ground.

  4. says:

    An ‘evolution of a different mindset’ is greatly welcomed.

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