Original pictures of Samuel Beckett on display

Black-and-white shots by John Minihan capture daily life and famous people

Some rare original pictures of Irish writer Samuel Beckett are part of a small display currently at the Karolinum.

John Minihan: Beckett and the Wake
When: To March 25, daily 10 a.m.–6 p.m.
Where: Křížová chodba, Karolinum, Ovocný trh 3, Prague 1

The black-and-white photos by John Minihan also show aspects of life in Ireland in the 1960s and ’70s, capturing a moment in time and culture.

Minihan is also known for pictures of Lady Diana, Princess of Wales, and shot celebrities ranging from Andy Warhol to Patrick Stewart but those are not part of this modest exhibition.

Minihan still shoots pictures and when he was in Prague for the opening, said that he avoids digital photography and still prefers traditional cameras — not that he was unwilling to pose with people for selfies taken with telephones.

Minihan was able to shoot pictures of Beckett on a couple of occasions, and the one that is his favorite is in a café in Paris. The show was a bit difficult to get, as Beckett was a bit reclusive and avoided journalists in particular. He agreed to meet Minihan, but wanted to talk first. Beckett didn’t fully agree to a photo, but he didn’t disagree either.

Finally as the sun was setting and the artificial lights in the café came on, he agreed to have his picture taken. This was in 1985, just before Beckett’s 80th birthday. Film back then was slow, and shooting in low light was an iffy proposition. Minihan managed to get the shot, with Beckett, coffee and cigarettes all together. Minihan says that the picture benefits from capturing Beckett in his own chosen surrounding in his chosen city, Paris.

Printing the negative to bring out the detail took some skill as well in those days before Photoshop. Experts can see the places where Minihan used darkroom techniques to bring out the face and other details.

The exhibition has other shots of the Nobel Prize-winning author from earlier as well, when Beckett was in London to direct Endgame in 1980.

To win Beckett over the first time, Minihan showed him pictures he had shot of an Irish wake. They show a deceased elderly woman laying on a bed, and evidence of traditional mourning all around. These intrigued Beckett.

Some of these shots of the Wake of Katy Tyrrell are also in the exhibition, and are quite solemn. Those who were not raised in Irish traditions will likely find them very challenging.

The show is rounded out with some of Minihan’s earliest work capturing simple street scenes and passersby.

Minihan says that he still has an interest in Beckett, who died at age 83 in 1989. The photographer tries to get permission to shoot pictures of productions of Beckett’s work wherever he goes. And there is always a production of Waiting for Godot or Endgame going on someplace, he says.

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