Contributed by Ciara Breathnach
The Kennelly archive represents a 20-year photo-documentary record of social change in Ireland from 1953-1973, with a particular focus on County Kerry. The enterprising photographers, Pádraig and Joan Kennelly, had a studio in Tralee but did not limit their business to its confines. Apart from studio shots, the Kennellys toured the county taking photographs at various social, church, sporting events and fairs. In 1959 they diversified into the postcard business and shortly after that Pádraig became a freelance cameraman for RTÉ. He established the Kerry’s Eye, which is still a thriving local newspaper, in 1974. Needless to add his media interests influenced his photographic oeuvre and consequently, the archive features the more serious photo journalistic coverage of events like the Moss Moore murder in 1958 (John B. Keane’s 1966 play The Field, was based on this tragic affair, Jim Sheridan’s iconic movie of the same name, was released in 1990).
Although the ‘about us’ section clearly explains that the photographs of ‘social events’ were taken as a commercial endeavour, for historians of visual culture, the lack of personal names is disappointing. Dates, placenames, event names and some search terms like thatcher, doctor, and priest are recognised but overall the searchability is poor. I approached this archive with an agenda for finding a specific image armed with both the date and the event name but failed to find the photograph I was looking for. Instead I was faced with the prospect of trawling through about 1,000 images, which were not organised chronologically or in any systematic way, making research difficult. When I returned to refine my search I found that the search engine did not remember my last query. No doubt such difficulties will be encountered by others and the Kennelly archive will respond accordingly. Such technical issues should have been detected in the pre-launch phase especially considering the fact that their son is stock photography tycoon, Jerry Kennelly, who sold his former company, Stockbyte, to Getty images for $135m in 2006. The costs associated with the Kennelly archive are steep compared to the National Photographic Archive or the http://www.lawrencecollection.com pricing system. The online versions are carefully watermarked to encourage sales of high quality prints; I note also that e-versions are not a purchasing option.
Notwithstanding costs, searchability and metadata limitations, the breadth of Pádraig and Joan Kennelly’s keen photographic eye should not be underestimated and it is without doubt a valuable record. It will be an invaluable resource for historians of visual and youth culture in modern Ireland. Overall the advantages of this photo-archive outweigh the disadvantages.