herald

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Arthur Fields – the 'Man on the B ridge'

'He was arrested a few times and brought to the police station for peddling," says David Fields of his dad Arthur who, for 50 years, took photos of pedestrians on O'Connell Bridge and who was fondly known by Dubliners as the 'Man on the Bridge'.

"When he got a bit older, the sergeant would come out and say to the young policemen, 'Don't be bothering Arthur Fields'. At this point, Dad had become part of O'Connell Bridge," David says of his father, who died in 1994 and who is estimated to have taken 182,500 photographs of Dubliners during his photography career on the city's streets.

Recently, many Dubliners have been digging out photos of family members that were taken by Arthur down through the decades, to either give to David for his archive or to El Zorrero Films, which has just made a short online documentary on Arthur to enter into the Arthur Guinness Project Fund.

RECORDING

"He did a lot of things I'd be embarrassed to do myself," David says. "When they'd have exhibitions on in the RDS, he'd go up to take photos of the politicians and he would be turfed out because he wasn't supposed to be there. But he'd hide the camera under his mac and sneak back in again until they got tired of throwing him out," David says.

Born Abraham Feldman in 1901, Arthur was from a Ukrainian Jewish family that fled anti-semitism in Kiev in the early 1900s and settled in Dublin. Initially, he ran a sound studio, where people could make a recording of their own voice to take home, but it was when he bought a box camera that he began his life's work.

"In the beginning, my mum Doreen had a studio near O'Connell Bridge and she'd print the photos, and people would buy them. Many paid upfront, and I've never heard anyone complain that they didn't receive their photos as promised," David says.

"He changed from a box camera to a Polaroid instant camera in the 1960s, and was able to give people the photos there and then. He never lost his ability to approach complete strangers and get them smiling."

Arthur's photographs now provide a social history of Dublin down through the decades – from the teddy boys in the 1950s to women in miniskirts in the 1960s, and onto the skinheads of the 1970s.

And when it comes to things that make you go 'Aw... ', his photos are well up there, with their images of yellow double-decker buses going over the bridges and, lo and behold, lots of old-fashioned yellow telephone boxes.

Nelson's Pillar is often in the background of O'Connell Street in photos before it was blown up by republicans in 1966.

Arthur was such a fixture on the city's main bridge from the early 1930s to when he retired in 1985 at the age of 84, that the likes of actor Noel Purcell's family contacted David when he made a YouTube video all about his photographer dad.

"They'd several photos of Noel taken around town by my dad, which they really treasured and wanted to share with me. He seemed to have made an impression on the people he met," David says. "He would leave the house between 9am and 9.30am every morning seven days a week to head into town and take up his position on O'Connell Bridge.

"His brother, David, lived with us when we were growing up and he was also a photographer, and would work the other side of the bridge," says David, who was one of four children reared by Arthur and Doreen on the Howth Road in Raheny.

Today, David's son Nathan (26) is a freelance photographer and carrying on the family tradition, while David himself runs a cleaning business on the northside of the city ( www.abovethebest.ie) and on whose business website you'll find lots of photos of Dubliners taken by his dad.

David says: "Other famous people he photographed included Brendan Behan and the Miss Marple actress Margaret Rutherford. I think his legacy is the number of photos he took of ordinary Dubliners over the years.

PROUD

"At night, he would head to the cinema queues, which would be full of young men taking out their girls, so it was a likely bet that they'd want to get a photograph taken to impress their dates. People working in the restaurants near the Adelphi Cinema used to bring cups of tea out to him," David says.

"At that point he'd have been in his eighties and to many of the young people working around the place he might have looked like an old guy out to make a few pounds, but there was no getting him to retire," he says.

"As a family, we're proud that so many people remember him so fondly. He was out taking photos and, at the same time, he was creating memories for Dubliners. We heard from a man recently who was photographed on O'Connell Bridge with his girlfriend, then later with his wife – the same girl – and then later again with his children," David says.

"He was well-liked, and only had a bit of trouble on the bridge, when a couple of young fellas were showing off and took off his hat and threw it into the Liffey.

"It was innocent trouble, I suppose, compared to these days."

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