Hillen has been photographing them in that in-between condition. He uses a strategy of an ultra-wide lens with the camera aimed at 45 degrees so not only is the outside world reflected in the glass, but often the architectural details of the outside and inside seem to intermix as the various levels of lighting compete with each other. Strangely, the reflected view of the street gives us a point-of-view from actually inside the shops, and we look out on the ‘living’ world in the street outside.
In the photos retail dreams are found dashed and hollow on the rocks of the current economic conditions, as businesses, long-established or fresh from the ‘boom’ have tumbled under high rents and diminishing incomes.
The result, often mesmerising, can also be disorienting, like the economic crisis itself, as you try to get your bearings and the elements of the image fade in and out of attention as the eye scans the picture, searching for something familiar to cling on to.
With thanks to Inspirational Arts Fine Art Print
Opening day: 6pm 12 July
12-30 July – EXTENDED UNTIL AUGUST 14th
Mon to Sat 10am-6pm
108-109 Middle Abbey Street, Dublin 1
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The images are ghostly, and ill-defined human figures are often glimpsed. These are indeed ghost-shoppers, as they pass, mostly blithely unaware of the dusty windows they don’t even see anymore. “I found that myself, weirdly, that even I could easily walk past and not notice a recently-closed shop.” says Hillen.
Often objects are left behind in the hurry of leaving, or simply abandoned- items of furniture, exquisite but empty display cases or rows of carefully-designed shelves and counters, and the detritus of cleanout- a ladder, dismounted and abandoned lighting rails, or a lonely table and chair.
Often too, as Hillen’s camera peers through grubby windows, one glimpses an open doorway inside, occasionally lit, with the eerie suggestion of invisible occupants.
Laid bare of much of the stage-like dressing of their functioning lives, the breeze-block construction and drooping powerless cables in these spaces show a different face to the retail boom experienced in the recent past, as they await new occupants.
Hillen hopes at least that this project will stimulate conversation about the loss of highstreet shops, which has become a significant political issue in Britain, and looks like it may here, especially if nothing is done to mitigate it.
The story however is not completely gloomy, thankfully, Hillen says: “In fact photographing these spaces over the last two years I’ve noticed a proportion of them returning to daily use as a retail or other space again, so hope, one may hope, persists.” “And in the meantime, there are great examples of individuals groups and organisations making use of these almost-ideal buildings as pop-up exhibition spaces and for other purposes”
In fact Hillen’s exhibition is itself being held in a bright and airy gallery which is the second floor of ‘Base Camp’, an otherwise busy shop in Abbey Street Dublin. In this case it was the shop owner himself who offered the space, and intends to continue to let it for exhibition use.
About Seán Hillen
Seán Hillen is a well-known Irish artist whose work has centered on photography, in ‘traditional’ photo-collages which have become widely studied as examples of the medium.
His ‘straight’ photography is less well known and this is one of a number of ongoing photographic projects. More information at www.seanhillen.com