Return to Works


Margaret Sloan, back right, Dungannon, Co. Tyrone, 1961

Self-Portrait I, silver gelatin print, with coloured pencils, 60cms x 50cms, 1993

Self-Portrait II, silver gelatin print, with coloured pencils, 60cms x 50cms, 1993

Self-Portrait III, silver gelatin print, with coloured pencils, 60cms x 50cms, 1993

Sloan's mother was a keen photographer, who photographed everyone who called to the house. When he was invited to make a self-portrait he did it by arranging and re-photographing some of the studies his mother had made of him - her favourite images. Sorting through copious prints that she had made of so many people reminded him, he said, "of how fragile humans are, of how people just disappear, they fade away and that's it, they're gone." It's impossible not to look at his own work, as a sustained, sceptical assault on the apparent fixity of the photographic image, in the light of this remark.

Extract from "A Broken Surface: Victor Sloan's Photographic Work" by Aidan Dunne in Victor Sloan: Selected Works 1980-2000, published by Ormeau Baths Gallery and Orchard Gallery, January, 2001


The power of the photographic image in the context of political tension has been at the core of Victor Sloan’s work from the 1980s into the 1990s. Having started as an abstract painter, by 1981 he had begun to use the photograph systematically to make exploratory ‘statements’ on the political and cultural situation in Northern Ireland, an area acutely sensitive to the deceptive nuances of meaning in media reportage. Working in a sequence of separate series – Craigavon, Drumming, The Twelfth. Walls – he made a personal examination of iconic images and events in which the neutral illusionism of the photograph was increasingly invaded by his own subjective markings and scorings , brutally burlesquing the covert interventions behind the media image. In these works, the aesthetic dimension of the photograph is subordinated to its role as a communicative tool, its pristine finish assaulted by explosive, dynamic markings. Where a photojournalist’s image would be left to make its own impact, Sloan’s are heavily and openly manipulated: in Marching 1 from the Drumming series, all but one Orangeman is bleached or scratched from the composition, leaving behind him a road sign indicating a roundabout exit to Monaghan. The surface effects suggest an expressionistically reworked photograph, and give no hint of the private dimension that often operates; in this instance the street is that of Sloan’s father’s birthplace. His process has two equally important stages – his reaction to the subject expressed in the initial photograph, and then his response to the photograph, seen in the complex array of bleaching, dying, bleaching, scratching and reworking of both the negative and printed image.

His self-portrait has both accessible and private aspects. The artist is straightforwardly (if ironically) presented, with images suggesting family and childhood. We need his cue, however, to appreciate that the portrait was made shortly after his mother’s death, and that the framed photographs, arranged like an altarpiece predella, were among her own favourites. The arrangement of the artist’s hands was adopted to ‘conceal a camera cable release’. Again the photograph is obviously manipulated with toners, dyes and watercolour. The artist seems to join the framed shots as a fading photographic memory. His only self-portrait, ‘it is’, he writes, ‘a comment on the fragile nature of human life, about memory, family, identity and photography. Which photographs do we frame, which ones go in albums, which ones ignored?’

The National Self-Portrait Collection of Ireland, Limerick University, Additions, 1993

From The National Self-Portrait Collection of Ireland, Volume 2, 1989-1999 by William Gallagher, ISBN 0946846 332

Produced for University of Limerick Press by Gandon Editions, 2006

Margaret Sloan with Victor and Wilson

Margaret Sloan's Albums

Return to Works