Harry Thullier, being an artist and a rare “Thank you” for Rodney!

9 August 2012

A recent meeting of the SPS involved a showing of a ( I presume BBC documentary) on the life of Harry Thullier. I considered myself relatively interested in photography and photographers,  but this was a name that I had not heard of,so I took a keen interest.

Harry was an Irish photographer, has a brother and seemed to come from a reasonably well to do I Dublin family. The film described  his life: how he went to Memphis to study photographer. It details how he was part of an almost family environment and was surrounded by like minded people who shared his passion for fine art photography. He then moved to Boston but struggled both with the realities of making a living as an artist and being a foreigner in a larger, unfamiliar and stand offish city. Alcohol, some drugs and broken relationships all followed. Then a period of rehab, an improvement and some stability and a period of some fine artistic work. It was then disaster struck with a fairly random accident  which involved  being attacked by some punks (whom he and his girlfriend were photographing) who smashed a bottle over his eye with the result that he became effectively blind in his dominant eye. Imagine the effect of that on anyone, but for a photographer and someone who was psychologically brittle it was in retrospect  a tipping point. Harry adapted and continued to work had some good times and  an intense relationship with an Italian lady, but when this finished he struggled to cope with life and died somewhat mysteriously and tragically early in Milan in December 1997 following a drug “overdose”. His pre-occupation during his life was with death, what happened; how, what, why and then what? It is ironic then that he had a premature death and that his work took on a greater status with his passing. THese themes, I feel come through in his images as to a celebration of womanhood.

There are many points of interest for me to this story. THe phenomenom of tipping points, the struggle to adapt to change, loneliness, mental illness, brilliance and how and why did he die? But for me the fascinating thing is to learn the story of another artist and to hear of a life characterised by ups and down and by tremendous inner personal turmoil and suffering. I cast my mind back to Van Gogh, Turner or in photography Edward Weston, Ansell Adams or Walker Evans. All had lives littered with tragedy, suffering or broken relationship.
Then there are the great works and one that comes to mind is Guernica: Picasso’s famous depiction of the atrocious bombing of this town and it’s innocent  citizens at the behest of their own leader, General Franco in the 1930s. The work is full of  images of suffering, anguish, symbols of death and a dash of humour. Out of depravity comes something amazing in terms of art.

And so I can’t help but think that much of good art is about the human condition and whilst that can be positive, the tragedy of that condition is either more powerful or easier to portray.

A question to finish on, how possible is it to produce good or great art without the artist going through suffering themselves? Is that the way to appreciate the meaning.

So thank you Rodney for showing the DVD. We may not have all liked the images we saw and it may have gone on a bit late, but I for one enjoyed it and it made me think!

For those who are interested check out