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  • What to Wear for a Revolution?Countess Constance Markievicz in Military Dress*
  • Gail Baylis (bio)

Constance Markievicz (1868–1927) remains a contentious figure in the memory of the 1916 Easter Rising, not least because of her wholehearted advocacy of violence. With such a legacy how should we understand her premeditated act of commissioning photographs of herself in military-style dress just weeks before the insurrection? What to wear for a revolution might appear to be a frivolous dilemma, but it preoccupied Markievicz in the run-up to the Rising. This essay argues that recognizing these military portraits as the conscious production of what historian Guy Beiner might label a prememory text—as an attempt to preempt history—offers a means of accessing the hopes and anxieties of those aspiring to shape history.1

By commissioning the self-portraits, Markievicz sought to write herself into history—and to control how that history would be remembered. How then is her performative act to be understood as a shaping of memory formation? Drawing on the affective quality of photography, Marianne Hirsch distinguishes between the lived memories of those who have experienced trauma and their descendants who are positioned by "generational distance" to be "attuned by narratives that preceded their birth"; Hirsch terms the memory of the latter "postmemory."2 Beiner offers a somewhat different conceptualization of postmemory, viewing its necessary counterpart to be prememory. [End Page 94] Memory, he argues, does not necessarily start after an event but rather is molded by preceding occurrences drawn upon with the intention of securing future remembrance. In other words, modern memory, which we can class as mediated memory, is never pure or neutral; it is constructed by reviving older memories with a view to affecting future recall. Here, Beiner, unlike Hirsch, contends that if we accept "that memory persists in a continuous present," then "it also has a past in the form of prememory." In short, "the vitality of memory is not dependent on proximity to historical events."3

This essay explores how Beiner's conceptualization of memory might contribute to an understanding of the historical photograph—a subject he does not himself consider. On one level, all photography is about postmemory, a conscious capturing of an image to construct future memories. Family photography, with its conventions of smiling faces and the recording of generational milestones, is an obvious example. The promise of the photograph might well constitute, according to Douwe Draaisma, "the immutability of what is stored as a memory," suggesting a "memory that forgets nothing."4 However, despite such assumed promises of permanence, memory is far less reliable: it is a "narrative rather than a replica of an experience that can be retrieved and relived."5 Thus the anxiety of prememory, for Marita Sturken, is that "forgetting" is a necessary part of remembering.6 The political or propaganda photograph, for example, suggests anxieties about guaranteeing memory in the future, for the creation of such photographs is prompted by a lack of assurance about post-memory. The focus of this essay will, therefore, be on the military portraits that Markievicz commissioned, as well as on other sorts of photographic portraiture through which she or others sought to create her public persona. Viewed together, these constitute alternative images of her in the immediate aftermath of the Rising. [End Page 95]

Having Oneself Photographed

As the Anglo-Irish daughter of the Gore-Booth family of Lissadell House, Co. Sligo, Markievicz was no stranger to photography. Both studio portraits and location shots by Lafayette Photography—photographer to royalty and elites—turn up frequently in the Gore-Booth archive. Notable are the variety of the poses that she adopted: the Irish colleen, the debutante, and the accomplished horsewoman. Other photographs illustrate her self-presentation as bohemian artist, Ukrainian peasant girl (on a visit to Zywotowka, the estate of her husband, Count Casimir Markievicz; see figure 1), and in the guise of a number of acting roles.7 Markievicz commissioned the military portraits, however, not from Lafayette Photography but from the Keogh Brothers, a commercial firm that actively participated in constructing the visual representation of the Rising and catered to a lesser social strata than...


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