THE GENIUS OF FATHER BROWNE is the second selection of Browne’s photographs to be published. The range of subjects represented is great and the photographs are of a uniformly high quality. All are captioned and dated by year. From time to time, Father O’Donnell, who made the selection and contributes a brief, informative, introduction, singles out a photograph for special praise of its technical accomplishment or cultural significance. Generally speaking, these comments are helpful, though not everybody will appreciate the sound of theological axe-grinding which is intermittently audible in them. And, while there is no denying the quality and value of Father Browne’s work, the term “genius” is applied too dogmatically, and without regard for photographic history in Ireland and elsewhere.
The choice of subjects ranges from landscapes to public occasions and from city drawing-rooms to country cottages. All areas of Ireland, and of Irish life, are represented. The earliest photographs date from the late 1920’s, the latest from the early 1950’s. The time-span reveals the extremely slow rate of change in the country during those three decades, and many of the pictures reveal poverty and neglect. The preservation of a permanent, visible record of such conditions is the basis for this volume’s significance. Father Browne’s approach to his material is essentially picturesque. Such an approach, however, enhances the pictures’ distinctive contributions to contemporary Ireland’s reassessment of its past.