Making it on Main Street
The beginning of my gallery was very humble: one window, one door and a buzzer that sounded when a rare set of feet wandered in. The buzzer was wired to the doormat and connected to my darkroom, and when it beeped (if it worked!), I had just enough time to finish a print, turn on the light and exit the darkroom before the place was robbed. Actually, it was never robbed and that should have told me something! Our humble beginning was the ideal beginning as the cheap rent could be met by a couple of nights working in my sister’s restaurant when gallery sales did not add up to a whole lot of beans, and this gave us the chance to learn and make mistakes, where as a bigger location may not have afforded us the time to survive.
As the footfall increased and my portfolio grew, the need for more space became apparent. Our next move in 1990 was a short stay at Guardwell, which was a fine building but a little off the track and after about 18 months there, we started looking for a new home. Kinsale was buzzing at the time with new shops and restaurants opening every month and vacant premises were at a premium, but we had our eye on one particular location and so our time at 45 Main Street began in 1992. A large premises with beautiful shopfront windows and high ceilings was now ours, and the gallery finally had the space to spread its wings. We were only tenants of the ground floor at this time and any renovations made were small and mostly cosmetic: white walls and ceilings, wrought-iron shelf brackets (made by a gentleman of the Glen, Michael Brennan), a counter rescued from the sad departure of Murphy's Stores a few doors down, and a picture rail to hang all my new images. At the back of the gallery was a small room just big enough for my darkroom; a black curtain was quickly hung across its door when unwanted light started to creep through from the gallery. We were up and running and happy in our new home.
I was always told that “location, location, location” was the most important factor in choosing a premises – and I don't doubt it – but I think I can add “window, window, window” to the success of our gallery. Looking at an old photograph of the shopfront when it was a hardware store called B A Robertson, I don’t think the window frame has changed in well over a hundred years, and its beauty and size has served us well.
In 1997, the building became available to buy, and Catherine and I realised we had a chance to secure our future, so we quickly sold where we were living, borrowed from our parents, put on our suits and visited the bank. I dared to think it could be ours and I struggled to see the finishing line, but Catherine managed to ignore all obstacles and got us there – the prize was ours and the building belonged to us.
There have been ups and downs, both figuratively and literally – my darkroom expanded and moved upstairs, and then it returned to the ground floor when it was downsized after moving to digital in 2016, and I only just recently moved my studio back upstairs. Where we once needed two wet darkrooms, we now only need one dry digital room, which leads me nicely on to 45 Main Street's latest transformation: the Giles Norman Townhouse.
The vacant darkrooms were just sitting there unused and we were asking ourselves: what should we do with this space? I suggested: “a guesthouse”. Catherine’s response was immediate and succinct: “no way”. I countered with a “let's think about it”, and she responded doubtfully with an “OK, maybe”. And so began a conversation that got us to where we are today, and once it became Catherine’s idea (!), the townhouse plan was in motion. Our beautiful building is a listed building at approximately 200 years old, so conservation architects were hired to make sure the integrity of the building was not compromised. Jack Coughlan Architects were our preferred partners with one of their directors, Gareth O’Callaghan, keeping an expert eye on all renovations and in 2017, the Giles Norman Townhouse was born.
So it's now 2022 – 30 years since we first moved into 45 Main Street – and our accommodation is in its sixth season. The upper floors of our beautiful building have found a new purpose as they live in perfect harmony with the gallery below.
The 45 Main Street Journey Through Images
45 Main Street as the B A Robertson hardware store
1995: Giles outside the gallery on 45 Main Street (still a tenant, but only a few years away from owning the building)
2002: Giles celebrating 20 years of photography with his first book outside the gallery on 45 Main Street
2017: The upper floors of 45 Main Street open as the Giles Norman Townhouse accommodation
2019: 45 Main Street hosts the launch of Giles's third book Wild Atlantic Way
2021: Giles and Catherine outside 45 Main Street after two years of the gallery's doors often being closed during the pandemic