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BILLYMONK(I937-I982)
Las catacumbas
William John (Bílly) Monk nació en Johanesburgo, Sudáfrica, en !937.Tuvo una infancia difícil, con una educación formal escasa,/ fue encarcelado en su juventud por intento de atraco a una tienda de comestibles. Posteriormente, probó suerte con diversas ocupaciones, entre ellas la de policía de tráfico. Este pintoresco personaje, descrito por sus amigos como "feo, cuadrado como un tanque, de cara dura y curtida tan blanca como la nieve, pelo cano y escaso y cejas blancas e hirsutas" nos dejó un impresionante legado de imágenes documentales enormemente penetrantes.
Después de trasladarse a Ciudad del Cabo, a principios de la década de los sesenta, y ponerse a trabajar como buceador y pescador, consiguió empleos de gorila en varios clubes nocturnos en pleno corazón del área portuaria. El más notorio de ellos, el "Catacombs Club", era frecuentado por marineros, prostitutas, travestidos, empresarios que lucían corbatas de colorines y demás público en busca de aventuras. A primera hora de la mañana, Billy sacaba su cámara y fotografiaba a los parroquianos en todo su desinhibido abandono. Sin asomo alguno de voyeur, captaba su realidad desnuda con el duro brillo de la luz del flash, mientras dirigían su mirada indiferente abiertamente a la cámara.
Hay quien ha sugerido que Billy Monk plasmaba estas imágenes con fines puramente comerciales, pero un examen detallado revela que, para él, tenían un alcance mucho mayor. Procesaba la película en blanco y negro de grano fino con revelador diluido para grano fino y la lavaba meticulosamente. Archivaba cuidadosamente todos sus negativos, junto con las hojas de contactos correspondientes. Trató de ganarse la vida dedicándose en exclusiva a la fotografía y abrió su propio estudio en el centro de Ciudad del Cabo. Una década después de la apertura, se hallaron en el estudio sus negativos, tras muchos años de abandono.
El fotógrafo Jac de Villiers, al descubrir sus archivos, percibió inmediatamente el potencial de las imágenes. Con el consentimiento de Monk, sacó copias y las organizó para que fueran expuestas en el Market Theatre Complex de Johanesburgo. En esa época, Monk vivía en la desolada y ventosa ciudad costera de Port Nolloth, donde era muy admirado por los pescadores locales por su jactancia y sus habilidades como pescador y buceador buscador de diamantes. No era consciente de su creciente fama, generada por el interés en su obra.
Billy Monk murió trágicamente en la noche del 31 de julio de 1982, cuando estaba a punto de partir para ver su exposición.Trató de parar una pelea entre dos buenos amigos y recibió dos tiros de pistola disparados a quemarropa, muriendo en el acto.
Su cuerpo fue entregado al mar, en un funeral tan poco convencional como su propia vida. Sus parientes y amigos alquilaron una embarcación de recreo y, a cinco kilómetros mar adentro, lanzaron su cuerpo por la borda tras leer pasajes del poema "Sea Fever" de Masefield. En el viaje de vuelta, se sirvió champagne. Monk fue conocido como mariscador, pescador, reventador de cajas fuertes aficionado, músico, buceador buscador de diamantes y gorila de mala vida pero, por encima de todo, pervive en el recuerdo como un asombroso fotógrafo.
Con la colaboración de: The South African National Gallery.
The Catacombs: Photographs by Billy Monk (1937- 1982)
WilHam John (Billy) Monk was born in Johannesburg, South África in 1937, He had a difficylt childhood widl limited fonnal education and as a young adult he was imprisoned for trying to rob a grocery store. He subsequently tried his hand at various occupations even spending time as a traffic cop. This colourful character later described by friends as 'ugly, built like a tank, with a hard, weather-beaten face as white as snow, balding white hair and bushy white eyebrows' left an astonishing legacy of the most insightful documentary images. After relocating to Cape Town ¡n early 1960 and starting out as a diver and fisherman he was employed as a bouncer for various night clubs in the heat of the dockland área. The most notorious of these, the "Catacombs Club", was frequented by sailors, prostitutes, transvestites, business men sporting paisley ties and those generlly out looking for adventure. It was ¡n the early hours of the morning that Billy Monk took out this camera and photographed the patrons ¡n all their uninhibited
abandon. Withthout a hint of the voyeur, he captured their stark reality ¡n the harsh glare of the flash light as with their level gaze they looked directly into the camera.
It has been suggested that Billy Monk produced theses images as a purely commercial venture but on closer examination ¡t ¡s apparent that they had a far greater significance for him. His fine grain black and white film was processed ¡n diluted fine grain developer and carefullly washed. All his negatives were meticulously filed along with the corresponding contact sheets. He tried to survive purelgy as a photographer by opening his own studio ¡n the centre of Cape Town. It was here that some IO years later, after abandoning the studio many years previously, that his negatives were found. The photographer, Jac de Villiers, on discovering this archive, immediately saw the images potential. With Monkons' consent, he printed up the works and arranged for them to be exhibited at the Market Theatre Complex ¡n Johannesburg. At the time, Monk was living in the bleak, wind swept coastal town of Port Nolloth were he was greatly admired by local fisherman for his bravado and his fishing and diamond diving skills. He was unaware of his rising fame generated by the interest in his work.
Billy Monk died tragically on the night of the 31 July 1982 just as he was about to leve to see his exhibition. He intervened to stop a fight between two cióse friends and was shot twice at cióse range
with a hand gun. He died at the scene.
His sea burial was an unconventional as life. Relatives and friends hired a pleasure craft and 5 kilometres off the coast his body was thrown overboard after passages from Masefield's poem "Sea Fever" had been read. Champagne was served on the return journey. Monk was know as a crayfish poacher, fisherman, amateur safe-cracker, musician, diamond diver and hard living bouncer but most of all, his memory lives on, astounding photographer.

 

The lie of the latid
Anyone living in or ¡nterested ¡n Ireland cannot but be aware of the enormous changes that have occurred in recent years in our perception of ourselves and our society. The visual clichés, fostered
for decades by native advertising and tourism and only too easily accepted as a comforting represention of reality are clearly no longer able to explain contemporary complexities. The social and political upheavals of recent years have created a much altered socio-cultural environment that demands a fresh approach from photographers, a new visual grammar. It is the diversity of contemporary Irish photography's response to these evolving conditions that this work represents.
The Lie of the Land, co-curated with Ute Eskildsen of the Folkwang Museum, Essen, presents the work of John Duncan, Anthony Haughey, Pádraig Murphy, Mick O'Kelly, Paul Seawright and Víctor Sloan. Each artist carries the diverse cultural baggage of their Irish inheritance, yet images in this publication and exhibition may not strike the viewer as overtly Irish, far removed as they are from conventional visual conceptions of Irishness.
I would like to thank Ute Eskildsen of the Folkwang Museum for her co-curation, generous advice and assistance.
I would also like to express thahks to the following people who have supported us in the past: Sarah Finlay of the Arts Council; Mary Banotti MEP; Violet Bell; Emmet -Bergin; Liam Blake plus van; Chris Boot of Magnum; Cordón Campbell; Dr Ken Churchill; Michael Corrigan; Joel d'Anjou; Robert Delpire; Harold Fish British Council; Ken Grant; Donal Brenda Higgins; Paul Hill of the Photographers' Place Derbyshíre; Chris Killip; Ken Langan; Brígítte Lardinois; David Lee; Sean McCrum; Mairtin McCullough; Jim Maginn; Frank Miller; Aine Nic Ghoille Coille; Joe O'Callaghan of Comel; Kevin O'Farrell; Tim O'Neill; Tony O'Shea; Martin Parr; Walter Pfeiffer; Brian Redmond; Daragh Scaife; Amelia Stein; Joe Sterling; Paul Redmond; Geoff White; Val Williams; and to Alan Ward of Axis Design who was a pleasure to work with. I am also ¡ndebted to Pintan OToole for his thoughtful and informed essay. This publication, apart from celebrating the work of the six artists, also marks the launch of a new purpose-built spácé here in Dublin. Founded in 1978 byjohn Osman, the Gallery of Photography remains the only dedicated space for the showing of photography in Ireland.
On behalf of the the Board of the Gallery, I would like to thank Temple Bar Properties, whose visión and enterprise has made possible the development of the Temple Bar área into a cultural quarter unique ¡n Europe. In particular thanks are due to Laura Magahy, Managing Director; Patricia Quinn, Cultural Manager; Una Johnston and Joe Melvin. And finally thanks to a dedicated staff who have made this possible; Trish Lambe, Mairead Forristal, Michael Lawlor and John Osman.
Christine Redmond