David Stephenson: from SLANT; courtesy Gallery of Photography, Dublin

During the recent Irish European elections, there wasn’t a street in the Republic of Ireland which wasn’t emblazoned with lurid posters of politicians appealing for our trust and votes. A walk throughout town became a who’s who of Irish politics, with posters at best conveying a sense of personality and at worst provoking the odd insult or act of indiscriminate vandalism. Then there were the unfortunate candidates whose photographs were printed using a lower quality of paper and who, after a few weeks of constant weather, exposure began to take on an unflattering green hue.

The life cycle of the political poster is explored in a new series of photographs by David Stephenson entitled SLANT, at the Gallery of Photography in Dublin [1]. With more than a touch of humour and pathos, Stephenson’s images capture the fall from grace of posters which once held power to influence and which ultimately end up on the rubbish tip.

Stephenson’s series of images begins with the 2002 Irish General Election and concludes with the most recent local and European elections. It’s a subject matter that will be fresh in the memory of many of those that view it. A couple of months on since the elections and the odd, stray poster can still be seen lurking at the side of a canal or street.

David Stephenson: from SLANT; courtesy Gallery of Photography, Dublin

From a single portrait we create instant judgements about the character of the sitter. Every gesture and facial expression is open for scrutiny. The campaign poster elevates the politician to celebrity, airbrushed and blown up in scale, stuck up on the top of a lamp post.

In one image, a man appears to be hiding behind a tree, in a game of political hide and seek. Faces peek out of rubbish bags, others lie discarded and trampled. Ripped-up posters create deformed faces with four eyes and sinister grins. A disembodied face lies face up on grass like a discarded mask. All that remains is a collection of macabre body parts. Isolated from context, political tag lines become meaningless or ridiculous. Phrases such as ÒAt your serviceÓ appear like desperate pleas.

David Stephenson: from SLANT; courtesy Gallery of Photography, Dublin

At times Stephenson’s concept is stronger than the final image. A photograph of a Green Party poster surrounded by rubbish bags seems over contrived. Nevertheless there are key, stand-out images which hold this exhibition together. Most interestingly, the show ends with striking abstract studies of posters, mangled and unidentifiable, waiting to be recycled.

Jacqui McIntosh is a freelance writer.

[1] David Stephen had a project, Slant, in CIRCA 102, Winter 2002, which showed some of the same images. There is an accompanying text by Belinda McKeon.