Many of these photographs taken by respected photographer Michael Marten are all in the vicinity of Dublin Bay, from Howth in the north to Sandycove in the south. Sandycove is the location of the Martello tower that features in the opening episode of Ulysses and the famous Forty Foot pool where Buck Mulligan goes to bathe. People have been swimming there, in all seasons and all weathers, supposedly for some 250 years. When Marten photographed there in April this year, a bitter east wind was blowing and the sea was very cold. The regular Forty Foot bathers are a hardy lot, however, and they advanced purposefully into the water without flinch or pause. Some swam for 10 or 20 minutes, while others went in for a quick and bracing dunk – ‘doing a teabag’, they called it.
A number of Marten’s photographs are single images inspired by a phrase and place in Ulysses. An image of sunlight reflected on a silver sea came from a passage in Episode 1 where Buck Mulligan says: “God! Isn’t the sea … a great sweet mother?” The view towards Howth from Sandycove brings to mind the phrase, “The snotgreen sea. The scrotumtightening sea.”
Marten found real pleasure in exploring Dublin Bay: its well-to-do suburbs and Georgian terraces, the ferries and container ships coming and going into Dun Laoghaire and Dublin port, the peninsula of Howth with its wild cliffs and splendid lighthouse, the industrial neighbourhood of Ringsend at the mouth of the Liffey. In the strong easterly, the waves come galloping in with the rising tide over the vast strand just as Joyce described them: “The whitemaned seahorses, champing, brightwindbridled, the steeds of Mananaan.”
Another group of pictures play with the idea of ‘time frames’: there is a triptych of two bathers descending into the sea at the Forty Foot, and another triptych of a woman bather. A third triptych is inspired by Stephen Dedalus’ question: “Am I walking into eternity along Sandymount strand?” and shows a figure disappearing into the distance on the shell-strewn beach.
The last group of photographs compares identical low-tide and high-tide views towards the soaring chimneys of Poolbeg power station, colloquially known as the Pigeon House. In Ulysses, Dedalus “turned northeast and crossed the firmer sands towards the Pigeon House.” Originally a military barracks, the Pigeon House became Dublin’s first power station, generating electricity from 1903. It is located at the mouth of the Liffey, where the Great South Wall extends far out to sea to protect the approach to the port of Dublin. Today’s successor power station was built in the 1960s around the original. Its chimneys are amongst the tallest structures in Ireland, over 680 feet high, and draw the eye from all round Dublin Bay.
Michael Marten's latest book, 'Godrevy: Views to a Lighthouse', was published in 2015