Father Frank Browne's treasure trove of photographs captures the spirit of his times

The Jesuit's collection of 42,000 negatives was discovered 25 years after his death in 1960 - none of which had been printed by Browne

Gillian Orr@gillian_orr
Sunday 07 December 2014 01:00

During his lifetime, Father Francis Browne was known for the photographs he took aboard the Titanic, from which he – fortunately – disembarked at County Cork shortly before its sinking in 1912.

But 25 years after his death in 1960, a large trunk of negatives was discovered in the Jesuit house where he'd lived in County Laois. Browne had never printed his pictures. There were 42,000.

As most of his work in missions and retreats took place at night, during the day he was free to wander around whichever Irish town he happened to be in.

This shot was taken in 1929 of a fair in Boyle, County Roscommon, where Browne was staying for the reconsecration of the abbey.

"It's a typical Father Browne picture, an observation of real life," says Edwin Davison, who, along with his father, David, has edited a new book of the photographer's work.

Brown's calling took him all over Ireland, and people travelled from far and wide to hear him speak. "This was an Ireland that was heavily into religion at the time," notes Davison. "He had a great ability with people, a great personal relationship with people and they connected with him."

Having struck up a friendship with the head of Kodak, Father Browne was given free film for life, hence the sheer number of moments he captured. "It's a really important collection," says Davison. "On a worldwide basis, not just of Irish life. He was an extremely early photographer and way ahead of his time."

'Frank Browne: A Life Through the Lens', edited by David and Edwin Davison, is published by Yale University Press, priced £30

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