A scene that might have happened had James Joyce and Nora Barnacle married in Dublin, and not London, and walked out on O’Connell Bridge. There, they may have been accosted by photographer Arthur Fields, the Man on the Bridge. Fields, a Dublin fixture for fifty years, would have had a thing or two in common with Joyce, and indeed his best known character, Leopold Bloom.
Arthur Fields was born in Dublin in 1901. His family fled antisemitism in Ukraine in the 19th Century and came to settle in Ireland. He lived in Raheny and used to walk into the city centre each morning to ply his trade. He would stand on O’Connell bridge, taking photographs of passersby, then offer a ticket. The prints were made by his wife in their home darkroom and those who chose could pick them up later. This created a snapshot history of the bridge from the early thirties to his retirement in 1984. A half century of snaps, up to a hundred and fifty thousand in all. Within this great parade, the bridge also became, in many ways, Dublin’s gondola; where young love, even older love, was displayed and immortalised against the dramatic backdrop of the city.
James Joyce and Nora had long gone by Fields’ day. Joyce the young boulevardier, the ultimate flaneur, had first seen Nora in June 16, 1904. The date has since been immortalised as Bloomsday, the twenty four hours in the life of fictional Dubliner Leopold Bloom, in Joyce’s humdrum epic Ulysses. Bloom, though actually (albeit fictionally) an Irish born Catholic, is cast as the Wandering Jew, his father having been a Central European immigrant. In reality, Joyce and Nora went to Ringsend, where Nora gave him a hand with a recurrent problem.
They left for Trieste later that year. Joyce returned to Dublin to manage the city’s first Cinema, the Volta, in 1909. The venture failed and he returned to Trieste. There was one brief return to Dublin in 1912 to fight with the publisher of Dubliners. Nora and Joyce lived together in Italy, France and Switzerland and had two children, Giorgio and Lucia., but they only married in 1931 in London. Ten years after, Joyce died in Zurich, aged fifty eight.
Amongst those who were captured by Fields’ lens are writer Brendan Behan, boxer Jack Doyle and musician George Harrison. With George it was the portrait of the artist as a young man. He was photographed in the early fifties with his mother Louise (nee French) whose family lived in Drumcondra. George was obsessed with the guitar, and his parents bought him an Egmond Toledo guitar on his thirteenth birthday. The rest, as they say, is history. I have something in common with George so, beyond a shared surname. My parents also bought me an Egmond for my thirteenth birthday, and the rest is three chords and a lot of strangled roaring. Within three years, however, George was playing guitar with The Beatles. Following their breakup, his success continued as a singer and songwriter until the end of the century. George Harrison died on 29th November, 2001 aged 58.
I look from the wings
At the play you are staging
While my guitar gently weeps
As I’m sitting here
Doing nothing but ageing
Still my guitar gently weeps
While My Guitar Gently Weeps was recorded in 1968 for the double album, the Beatles, or the White Album as it’s known. There is a deeply personal thread woven through the song, including the personification of the guitar which acts both as Harrison’s alter ego and lover. The guitar featured was a red Gibson Les Paul, called Lucy. It was a gift from Eric Clapton, who played it on the recording.