The Dublin of today and the Dublin of the 1990s are two completely separate entities. Today, the Irish capital is a place known for its thriving tourism and ridiculously low prices (which are no strangers to the thriving tourism industry). It’s a place that, despite its beauty, is increasingly a cold home for young Irish creatives, who can’t afford exorbitant real estate prices which crippled the rental market and left much of Dublin reserved for the extremely wealthy. Recent protests by the city’s young creatives have, in fact, warned that Dublin is fast becoming a “cultural wasteland” thanks to the skyrocketing cost of living and the eradication of artist studios, nightclubs and clubs. cultural spaces at the expense of building a seemingly endless parade of hotels. .
It wasn’t always like this. In the pre-Celtic Tiger era (an era of rapid economic growth in Ireland fueled by foreign investment) of the early 1990s, Dublin’s creative scene was thriving, albeit tiny. The modeling scene in the city was even smaller. It is this scene which is recounted in first face, a beautiful photographic testimony to a time of youthful dreams by photographer Paul Martin. They bear witness to a time when it seemed like everyone around him was either a model, actor, musician or photographer.
first face is the result of Martin’s early work to develop his photographic portfolio by testing new models, beginning in 1994. While shooting “first faces” began as a necessity for the young photographer, it quickly became a full-fledged passion; a way to capture fashion’s elusive fairytale transformation from ingenue to seasoned professional. The result is 70 black and white images of a world and scene that almost no longer exist, with familiar names (including from Belfast Caitriona Balfe) alongside periods with more anonymous faces forgotten by time. Each image captures the youthful optimism of creatives at the start of their careers, transporting us to a world that, even a small quarter of a century later, has already been lost.
What prompted you to collect these images in a photo book for the first time? To some extent, fashion photographers always have some kind of book, in that they have a portfolio, but it’s always a compromise. You take older photos because you want to keep your book up to date as a fashion photographer, but often at the expense of your personal style. Now I have the freedom to let go of all those commercial considerations and choose only the shots that reflect my style – the variations of shots that the magazines were, for some reason, unwilling to take a chance on.
What was the fashion scene in Dublin like in the 90s? I remember it was particularly dynamic and I guess in the setting of the scene it would have felt that way. But aside from the nostalgia for the rose-tinted glasses, I think it was a more creative time and everyone was a lot more engaged. Models jostled for jobs and there were plenty of magazines open to photographers telling stories. It was also quite a revolutionary time because photographers like Corinne Day broke the convention of professional photographers having large studios and introduced a more DIY real-world aesthetic.
I felt that in Dubin, although it was a very small scene in comparison, it was an important part of Irish culture. And yet, there was very little interest in trying to keep track of it, especially from the photographers themselves. Perhaps we were too close to realize its significance. I sincerely hope that, perhaps now that I’ve published this book at least, other photographers will follow.
How does fashion and arts culture in Dublin now compare to the 90s when these images were taken? To be fair, it seems that with a few notable exceptions, the fashion scene is almost non-existent – editorials seem to be a combination of e-comm and catalog. I feel very lucky to have had the experience of working in the 90s, of making films in a pre-digital era, with images that felt special to me.
First Face is available from The Library Project at 4 Temple Bar, Dublin and worldwide here, from May 2.