Like many people, I was sorry to hear recently of the death of Elinor O’ Brien Wiltshire through the National Library of Ireland. Born in Limerick in 1918, she and her husband Reginald Wiltshire (d.1968) took many remarkable photographs of Irish life throughout the 1950s and 60s, which are thankfully maintained today by the NLI. The collection is as vast as it is important, containing some 1,000 negatives and 300 prints.
The collection includes some famous faces,for example capturing Anthony Cronin and Patrick Kavanagh as they celebrated the first Bloomsday together. We have often drawn on the Wiltshire collection to illustrate articles on the blog, and the images are often particularly useful to social historians, as Wiltshire captured wonderful images of ordinary working class life in the city. Some of the finest images in the collection show street traders on Moore Street for example.
In the programme for an exhibition of her photos that was hosted in the National Photographic Archive, her style was described thus:
Over a period of about fifteen years, using a Rolleiflex camera which she acquired in 1955, Elinor Wiltshire captured images of a changing city and its people. The Rolleiflex camera was held at waist level and the scenes or images to be captured were viewed through a 6x6cm ground-glass screen. As a result, many of those featured in the portraits in the exhibition were completely unaware that a camera was trained on them – hence the natural and uninhibited manner in which they are depicted.