Unearthing photos from a bygone era

Story highlights

  • Late photographer Dennis Dinneen left behind about 20,000 negatives from 1950-1970
  • Many of them come from a studio he had set up in the pub he owned in Ireland

(CNN)From 1950 to 1970, Dennis Dinneen photographed people who would visit his pub in Macroom, Ireland, a small town of about 3,800 people.

Using a small studio at the back of the pub, Dinneen made everything from portraits to ID and passport photos.
The photographer would also shoot sports, weddings, religious ceremonies and crime scenes for police. He passed away in 1985, but he left behind about 20,000 negatives that David J. Moore, alongside Dinneen's son Lawrence, is working to develop and archive.
    The images show the old, the young and the in-between -- those sitting and those standing, the smiling and the unsmiling. It's an experience in togetherness, with viewers being introduced to a new detail and fresh face wherever they lay their eyes.
    Photographer Dennis Dinneen
    Moore is working with images taken by a man he never knew, during an era he did not live, of people he has no connection to. Because of this, the process of preserving Dinneen's images is essentially one of discovery and revelation.
    "The image of the group of people in the pub (photo No. 7 in the gallery above) ... was one of the first images I discovered that really caught my attention," Moore said. "It has this incredible relaxed feel to it, yet it's very balanced and well-composed. The positioning of the people, the cigarette in the woman's hand, the little card with the cat in the background. It has so much going on, it's almost like a painting."
    So far, Moore and Lawrence Dinneen have developed and archived 6,000 photos.
    "I want to do as little as possible to the images and try to remain as removed and objective as possible," Moore said. "Obviously, this is hard, so I set a general rule that if Dennis couldn't do it in his darkroom, I won't do it."

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    For example, Moore said that when scanning the negatives, he only removes dust but not scratches. And he may adjust the contrast if necessary, but only because these are techniques that Dinneen would have been able to utilize in a darkroom at the time the images were created.
    Moore describes Dinneen's work as "unusual and off-kilter," saying some have a "strangeness" to them. In many, Moore says, there is also a sense of humor that is difficult to find in photography.
    Moore focuses on the content and quality of Dinneen's photographic surfaces instead of trying to uncover the photographer's inner thoughts and ideas. He presents viewers with a picture book of sorts, leaving them to write their own infinite interpretations.
    "The mystery, the ambiguity and the ability for the viewer to be able to create their own narrative" is what's most important, Moore said. "There's nothing I'm trying to convey other than the photographic genius of Dennis Dinneen."