Audio Essays Photography

Convergence can hold photography back – Belfast Photo Festival panel discussion

The theme of this year’s Belfast Photo Festival is convergence – the act of artists mixing other forms of art, such as performance and sculpture, with photographic image making. A panel discussion, hosted at Belfast Exposed, explored these boundaries and overlaps, and mooted the way forward.

Francis Hodgson, a photography critic for the Financial Times, consultant and professor, chaired the 90-minute session, “Boundaries of Contemporary Photography”. Other panellists were: Karen McQuaid (Curator, The Photographers’ Gallery), Jim Casper (LensCulture), and Greg Hobson (Curator of Photographs, National Media Museum).

Prof. Hodgson placed the discussion in the context that only a relatively small segment of those who take photographs might be interested in the present and future status of contemporary photography.

Ms McQuaid presented examples of convergence, demonstrations of practicing photographers, past and present – the return of the printed photo, the physical manipulation of the print, “photo drawings”, and the hybridisation of the 2-dimensional image with a corresponding 3-dimensional object.

20150606 Boundaries Contemporary Photography - Jason Evans - Monkey Face
Monkey Face by Jason Evans

Prof. Hodgson replied by saying that he has seen these styles before, and isn’t it interesting that photography has to resort to reapplications of what has been done already? That is to say, why is it so difficult to stop and absorb an individual image?

Part of the answer lies in the classic debate between the application of craftsmanship and self-conscious artistry.

For example, visitors to a gallery of fine art (non-photographic) may stand in awe in front of works of obvious great craftsmanship and artistry. But in a room next door full of contemporary photos, viewers may hone in on the familiar – the object or setting that reminds them of a familiar place or time. The craftsmanship and artistic intent is more easily lost.

So what is the better perspective of photography as a means of communication – is it to make the photographer feel better (“a form of therapy”), or to impart a sentiment to the audience?

Mr Hobson replied that in this regard, photography need not be any different than writing or music. Anyone can write words on a sheet of paper, or whistle a melody, but the art lies in the ideas behind all of them. Photography as an expression of ideas is substantively different than photography as image making. (Subsequently, he suggested Ciaran Og Arnold’s book, I went to the worst of bars hoping to get killed but all I could do was get drunk again, which won the First Book Award.)

Prof. Hodgson developed this line of thinking by asking about photos as “mattering”; what makes a photo matter? How do we decide, “That photo is not as good as this one.”?

And who sets the standards – technical achievement, editorial approval, audience distribution?

After all, we don’t feel the need to have PhDs to appreciate and respond to images.

Mr Hobson countered by defending the role of the curator: “We have a job to do, to have people respond to images in a particular way,” for viewers to reflect and not resort to nostalgic resonance.

And could this explain why convergence is en vogue – to ensure that the viewer must reflect?

The question and answer session provided a profound epilogue. When asked about the value of convergence as a useful artistic application, Mr Hobson replied to the contrary: “Convergence holds photography back. If a photograph is embedded with strong and good ideas, and originality, then it is interesting and deserves attention.” An image’s strength validates it.

Another way of “mattering” is to say appreciation. What is to be appreciated about a photograph? Its craftsmanship? The single image, or series, or movie? The narrative?

The craftsmanship of image making is being attacked from many angles. Beginners now need not learn print making processes; their smartphone or computer software will produce a technically sufficient image. Advanced photographers are not required for fashion shoots or stock photography; automated cameras and 3-D scanning will sort that out.

Quality single images still matter, but they have always been difficult to appreciate. At least before the advent of digital photography and easy uploading (now provided automatically through various phone apps), getting any image distributed involved some mediator (newspaper editor, gallery curator, commissioned work). Now the self-published photo book (and Instagram and Tumblr feeds) circumvents editorial gatekeeping.

This leaves the narrative as the unresolved battlefield. What makes a good narrative? How best to demonstrate it? Who decides?

Convergence may be a re-enactment of photographic history, and should not be dismissed as such.

But convergence is just one way of expressing a self-conscious idea.

Mr Casper asked the panellists if they could identify artists who are using photography as a starting point for a new art form: “Who’s going to create the hip-hop of photography?” Mr Hobson cited a Dutch photographer, Jan Hoek, who meets people on the street and invites them to his apartment to perform particular roles, which he uses to create a narrative.

Kim in my House by Jan Hoek
Kim in my House by Jan Hoek; see also Supermodel Kim

Perhaps the future for contemporary photography is for more exploration of telling the narrative.

Essays Photography

Book review – Women of Vision (National Geographic)

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Women of Vision accompanies a travelling exhibition of the same title, curated by National Geographic. Both celebrate the work of eleven inspiring female photojournalists, featuring nearly 100 images, ranging from social issues, effects of war, and changes in our natural habitats.

Renowned American news journalist, Ann Curry, begins the foreword with words, “Henri Cartier-Bresson, considered the father of photojournalism…”, explaining how a photographer’s vision is influenced by one’s experiences and emotions. And how these will be different due to gender.

To a degree, that is certainly true. For example, I cannot imagine a male photographer gaining access to record moments such as young girls and their adult husbands (“Too Young to Wed”, Stephanie Sinclair), a woman-owned beauty shop in Zambia with a customer breast-feeding a child (Lynn Johnson), or a girl in diaper and makeup in advance of a beauty pageant (Jodi Cobb).

But none of the photographers fit any female typecast. Some may have had to accept a “girl’s” work assignment from their editors during their career. Indeed, Lynn Johnson stills sees a gender divide: “It’s an issue at every level: with what you decide to shoot and how you’re received. Then you have to decide, are you going to make it an issue?”

But all excel in the outstanding quality of their work on display here.

Indeed, this edited selection reveals the diversity of approaches and subject matter that one would expect in the wider genre. Why wouldn’t it?

For example, as Lynsey Addario explained: “Everyone covers wars for different reasons. Some are in it for the adrenaline rush, some for the exciting lifestyle, and others because they care. For me, it’s about telling the story of human suffering and getting those images to policy makers. I hope to effect change.”

Likewise, Maggie Steber said:  “To me, the story of Rhodesia was not about the front line, where I would have gotten killed. It was about how the society was changing.”

Storytelling is a compelling motivation for several of these photographers.

Describing her project photographing immigrant broccoli pickers in northern Maine, Amy Toensing said that it was the first time she realised that she could tell a story through a sequence of images.

Several others describe their method of familiarising themselves with the subject matter. Erika Larsen, for example, spent three years immersed with the Sami people of the Arctic Circle for that project. 

Meanwhile, I identify with Carolyn Drake’s midpoint approach: “The most interesting time on a project is when you’re on the border between being an outsider and an insider — able to separate from it, but also identify with it.”

Regardless, photography becomes addictive. 

As Lynn Johnson said: “I don’t think you understand; I have to do this.” Or as in Lynsey Addario’s just-published memoir, It’s What I Do.

And now we live in an age when so many more people are creating and consuming images, in which some fear the craft of photography is getting lost.

But Kitra Cahana would counter this, by her embracing of 21st century technology:  “My hope is to wed photography with more voices beyond my photographic voice, to be an all-in-one journalist, to tell stories that are fully rounded,” by meshing it with other mediums.

And as Diane Cook explained: “Taking pictures is not just pushing a button. Like a musician, you have to practice and be tuned and have the instinct to respond in the moment.”

Photography is about learning through experience (Carolyn Drake), and getting what’s inside your heart out onto the photograph (Amy Toensing).

So Henri Cartier-Bresson’s ‘decisive moment’ lives on. What Women of Vision achieves is a revelation of this process amongst an exemplary group of influential photographers of our day.

See following panel discussion among the photographers, chaired by Ann Curry:

Essays Photography

Book review – British Life Photography Awards

British Life Awards - British Life Photography Awards Portfolio 1

The British Life Photography Awards: Portfolio 1 is a catalogue book of the winners and finalists of an inaugural event “to capture and share” the perspectives of photographers from all walks of life.

The inspiration for the contest comes from the “amazing democratisation” of photography in the 21st century.

Homer Sykes, a self-described documentary photographer of half a century, provides a foreword, in which he describes the journey of discovery, “getting up before dawn, going to bed too late, being out there, experiencing, learning, thinking on your feet and trying to understand how we live, work and play.”

This is complemented by a brief introduction by Caroline Metcalfe, who calls upon photographers in Britain, “Rather than look overseas for potential material, … stay at home and shoot stories that we know are just waiting to be made.”

The judging panel reveals an impressive collection of accomplished photographers, many with work for various travel and lifestyle magazines and newspaper supplements.

And this is the shortcoming of this presented portfolio of work.

The images are all good, but like much of British life itself, it’s an eclectic mix of the editorial and the artistic. Many images would easily grace a Condé Nast publication or a Sunday magazine; I don’t need to buy a book to discover this talent.

What interested me more were the fewer images that demonstrated some individuality of the photographer, one’s own perspective on life in Britain.

Yellow Rain (c) Linda Wisdom @CreativeWisdom_
Yellow Rain; used with permission (c) Linda Wisdom @CreativeWisdom_

Images such as Heather Buckley’s “Tea at Birling Gap”, with a hatted women’s head emerging from a teapot; Linda Wisdom’s “Yellow Rain” (one of the best in the volume, in my opinion); Gerard Collett’s “Orange, White and Blue”, of two identical older women, sitting across from each other, putting on makeup at the same time; and Zoe Barker’s “Lazy Days”, not an Instagram tilt-shift filter, but authentic 120-format film print.

So while I don’t regret acquiring this first edition — I’d like to learn more about the next contest — I can’t recommend it. The pictures may be pleasing, but the selection incoherent (why so many from a single naked bike ride event?). A more critical slimmer volume of images and/or photographers may have brought more inspiration for the rest of us about to go out to shoot more stories of British life.

Photography Projects

A festival photobook

20150310 Photobook IMG_0067

As part of the Ulster Festival of Art & Design at Ulster University, I dropped in on a 30-minute photobook lab. Inside a pop-up style workspace on the ground floor of the Belfast campus were a few tables strewn with miscellaneous books, magazines and newspapers.

The objective was to create your own photobook with these random objects.

20150310 Photobook IMG_0066

It reminded me of David Campany’s article, “So what is a photobook?”, published in Source magazine, in which he discusses the relatively recent development of the term ‘photobook’ to describe publications where the photograph is the main subject, not just books with photos in them:

“What chancer would dare try to coin the term ‘wordbook’ to make something coherent of all books with words in them? But here we are. The field needs a name and until we find a better one we’re stuck with ‘photobook’.”

So I started with a prepared, stitched orange covered A5 booklet. Grabbed a few publications and tore out images that stuck out for one reason or another.

Found the aforementioned source article and knew that would be my cover image.

I stalled on my editing process — like the black thread holding my booklet together physically, what theme could I weave through my eclectic selection of images?

Among my pile was a small publication, Favourite Irish Proverbs. Folksy expressions were juxtaposed with calm and cute images of idyllic countryside and heartwarming poses of people. It is a type of item that one gets as a wee gift for one’s auntie who admires the quaint.

I decided to subvert it, by substituting some of the expressions with more insightful images. Or at least to cause a double-think on the ordinary. Here, the conceptual artist Barbara Kruger came to mind.

The result is nine images with nine Irish proverbs.

Concluded with an index pulled from a world atlas.

So what is a photobook? I don’t know. But I’ve made my first one.

@SharedFuture Essays Photography

“Don’t see migrant community as ‘them and us’”: High Sheriff of Belfast

“Don’t see migrant community as ‘them and us’”: High Sheriff of Belfast
by Allan LEONARD for Shared Future News
6 March 2015

At a launch event for a photography exhibition at Belfast City Hall, the High Sheriff of Belfast, Councillor Gareth McKee, told the audience not to see the migrant community in Northern Ireland with a ‘them and us’ attitude, but instead “identify with migrants on a more personal level as one human being to another”.

Essays Photography

Book review – World Atlas of Street Photography (Jackie Higgins)

20150525 World Atlas

I have not studied photography formally, but take solace that many of the 100 photographers featured in this thorough volume of the urban landscape and its people have learned their craft from the harsh realities of the street.

Nevertheless I may be utterly under-qualified to provide a meaningful critique of this very considered book, The World Atlas of Street Photography, published by Thames & Hudson.

Author Jackie Higgins has done a masterful job. The structure of the book is geographical, by world region. Each photographer gets a page or two, with a pertinent selection of his or her work.

As one would expect, most images feature people. Some are candid; others are posed. And some photographers concentrate more on the physical environment — the human influence without the presence of any inhabitants themselves.

What I like is that there’s no need to read the book from cover-to-cover. You can peruse the pages and stop and inspect more of what captures your eye. (Perhaps not unlike the behaviour of a practiced street photographer.) The biographical entries are well written and easy to digest.

Max Kozloff sets the global scene in his foreword. I particularly like his statement of how “photographers have reacted with a discursive strategy of their own”, including a response to “post-modernist scepticism towards documentary forms”.

Because street photography tells stories, of the photographer and the photographed. Some stories are easier to decipher from the images than others, but story telling is one of man’s longest-running habits. Long live the documentary style, updated for the 21st century.

And that is my only mild criticism — there is no modern signposting of any of the photographers. Perhaps these acclaimed artists are beyond Flickr and Tumblr, but I would have appreciated links to at least portfolio websites. There’s also no bibliography or further reading section.

Yet The World Atlas of Street Photography should be on any self-respecting street photographer’s bookshelf. Jackie Higgins achieves her objective of showcasing illuminating juxtapositions, as she puts it, providing the reader with ample inspiration and insight of a wide variety of techniques and styles.

It is a true atlas of the street genre.

Essays Photography

My favourite photo locations

Recently my brother asked me where were my favourite photo locations.

I don’t know if “favourite” is the right word. Photography encompasses many genres, and photojournalists let their curiosity and ambitions take them wherever they’re called, whether on assignments or self-motivated journeys.

My photography journey started at home, in the rural village in northwest Ohio. I’d go out and image document where I went running — the roads, fields and barns. The local folk at the summer fairs.

Then, with camera in hand, the urban discoveries of New York, Washington, and Boston.

Onwards to my first solo journey to Ireland — and while the images I took are not so aesthetically remarkable, they are a recording of a significant moment of my life (see also Flickr set):

Beyond the personal to the newsworthy — I took myself to Berlin in December 1989. Although I wasn’t there for the original event, there was a reprise of the opening of Brandenberg Gate, with hundreds of thousands of people exhilarated with new freedoms (see also Flickr set):

My profession isn’t photography; but I am a photographer, in my desire to capture the aesthetic in my world. I have a camera with me wherever I go.

This allows me to bring an added dimension to my vocation of politics and peace making.

For example, my international work has placed me in Mitrovica (Kosovo), Baghdad (Iraq), and Kaduna (Nigeria) (see also Flickr set):

Like press photographers before, I’ll take images for official purposes, as well as for my own pursuit.

So “favourite” for me is anywhere, to make the most of my innate curiosity yet learning as rapidly as possible the essence a new place. People are universal in their fundamental hopes and fears, but behaviour is conditioned by culture and environment. Trying to capture this on a short-term visit is not easy! On the other hand, I have found that if you wait too long, your inquisitive eye gets too normalised.

It’s a challenge. But one I enjoy. It’s called discovery.

Essays Photography

Book review – Frank Browne: A Life through the Lens (David and Edwin DAVISON)

God can sanctify photography. With a poem by Pope Leo XIII, Colin Ford explains the basis for how Irish Jesuit Frank Browne acquired a camera from his bishop uncle, at the age of 17, and kept making images throughout his priestly life.

Browne took his camera everywhere. His early trips to Europe were the apparent source of his self-teaching of technique, analysing the works of Masters’ painters in Venice and Florence.

He travelled widely, to the front lines in France and Flanders during World War One (serving as chaplain) and further to Australia (where he went to recuperate after suffering mustard gassing).

Yet I would argue that it is his persistent images of Ireland over the decades, emerging as a new republic, that leaves a significantly valuable legacy. Photos of countryside life are complemented with ones of industrialisation.

20150127 Frank Browne - Titanic Cobh

Browne is known primarily for photos that he took during the maiden voyage of the Titanic. His first class ticket was only for Southampton-Cherbourg-Cobh (his uncle never intended for him to emigrate to America!). With the sinking of the ship, his precious images were in highest demand by newspapers.

Kodak thanked him by offering a lifelong supply of film. Yet Browne was responsible for developing the film and paying for any prints. Consequently, many of his photos remained unpublished, until Father Edward O’Donnell discovered a large trunk, long after Browne’s death.

Father O’Donnell proceeded to publish a series of Frank Browne photo books, including Frank Browne’s Titanic Album. More recently he has written a full biography in The Life and Lens of Father Browne.

20150127 Frank Browne - At Keem Beach

But Frank Browne: A Life through the Lens, by Donald and Edwin Davison and the subject of this review, is a more artistic critique of his best work, copiously illustrated and drawn from his trove of 42,000 images.

In a chapter titled “Father Browne photographer of the twentieth Century”, Donald Davison explains how Father Browne was influenced initially by pictorialism but also with modernism.

Browne was not constrained by any particular photographic style, though reportage-style stands out. Even here, he didn’t always obey the decisive moment – sometimes he would get children and take off their shoes and socks for his more desired, rustic look of the countryside.

One could argue that because Browne did not concentrate on any particular method, he never mastered his craft.

But I don’t believe Father Brown was ever seeking photography perfection; his formal training was spiritual, remember.

Instead, we’ve been blessed with the vision of a man who understood tone and mood, natural and human, who recorded the matter of life wherever he found himself.

I highly recommend Frank Browne: A Life through the Lens, by Donald and Edwin Davison, for its approach to the subject from a photographer’s perspective.

Frank Browne: A Life through the Lens accompanies an exhibition at the Andrews Gallery, Titanic Building, Belfast, 14 January-31 March 2015.

Essays Photography

Mr Ulster enters a photo competition: Urban Picnic Street Photography

20140607 UPSP

Nothing like a competition to focus the mind. Urban Picnic Street Photography organises an annual competition, with entrants allowed to submit three of their finest. I don’t fancy my chances, as I’m relatively new to this game. But if it generates any constructive criticism, then the £10 entry fee will have paid for itself.

Here is my submission. Photo descriptions are additional (not part of the UPSP entry).

20131107 Kaduna Street IMG_4643
Bird Heads

A lucky shot, taken while in a small bus transporting us delegates back to our accommodation. Numerous street vendors selling all sorts of goods, including animals.

It Is Well
It Is Well

The brightly coloured vehicle is not so unusual in Kaduna, nor an observing passenger, nor a decal message. But put together, and particularly on these streets that has witnessed inter-ethnic violence, compelled me.

Death 2 America
Death 2 America

On our return from a rural neighbourhood that has been attacked by communal rivals. The relative poverty was acute. Like sectarian graffiti I’m used to seeing in the streets of Belfast, I was not surprised to see scrawls of “Death 2 America” in this Muslim-populated area.

Additional Information:

Part of a series, Kaduna Street, taken November 2013 during international conference of peace makers in Kaduna, Nigeria, a place of inter-ethnic conflict. Delegates were provided with 24-hour security from police and military services. Images taken during transport from local site visits. Worth noting that as we visitors came from other places of contested spaces (Forum for Cities in Transition), no one was fazed by the communal tensions or geopolitics; the abnormal becomes normal.

Essays Photography

Review – Jacques LOWE: My Kennedy Years (Proud Gallery)


Thanks to an article published in British Airways’ in-flight magazine, High Life, I learned of a photo exhibition of the work of Jacques Lowe, who was a personal and professional photographer for John F. Kennedy.

On display at the Proud Gallery, King James’s Street (Sloan Square), are a series of prints of JFK and other Kennedy clan members.

These several dozen prints, all silver gelatin, are for sale, from £3,000-£7,500.

Why so costly? Because they are the very last remaining prints by the deceased photographer.

This is because Lowe’s archive of negatives was completely destroyed in the collapse of the World Trade Centre on 9/11. They were kept in a safe in the custody of JP Morgan. While the safe was recovered, its contents perished.

As the gallery assistant explained to me, the prints labelled “vintage” are one-offs — a single, original print made at the time of its taking. A print that is numbered as part of a series is the last one. For example, 12/75 means that eleven previous prints were made — the one numbered 12 is it; there are no 13-75.

What of the prints themselves?

Many are familiar, not surprising as Jacques Lowe was the President’s official photographer. For example: a family photo of John and Jackie, with baby Caroline grabbing her mother’s pearl necklace; JFK standing in a boat, looking reflectively into the water; another of his anguish, hand on face, phone in other hand, upon hearing the news of the assassination of the Prime Minister of the Republic of Congo; and the solemn march of Robert, Jackie and Ted Kennedy, at JFK’s funeral.

My favourite on display was one of Robert Kennedy. He is looking dead straight into the camera lens: a close-up profile image:

20131022 JFK Proud RFK

It reminded me of a personal photograph. We lived in California, and my father went to one of RFK’s outdoor political rallies. He got close to the platform, and took a wonderful image of Robert at the podium, with his left foot resting on it toes.

Seeing this image as a young man must have made an impression upon me, not only because of the familial but also for the value of documenting history. I’ve had the opportunities to record public speaking by Presidents Carter, Reagan, Clinton and Obama.

This exhibition at the Proud Gallery is accompanied by a beautiful, large hardcover book, My Kennedy Years: A Memoir, posthumously published. It is just as well, because while these final prints will exist in other people’s private possession, with the disappearance of the original negatives, there’s not likely to be another Lowe exhibition anytime soon. This exhibition runs until 24th November. I recommend the book as an eternal keepsake.

Audio Essays Photography

Northern Ireland – 30 Years of Photography. Discuss.

To mark its 30th anniversary, Belfast Exposed has organised an extensive exhibition of photographic work, displayed both at its premises on Donegall Street as well as at The MAC. The exhibition — Northern Ireland: 30 Years of Photography — “focuses on the growth of new, fine art documentary practices, more often produced for the gallery space and the photo book rather than for a press or media context”.

There is also a large publication of the same title, written by Colin Graham.

Also there are a series of events to examine the exhibition and book in more detail.

I attended a public discussion event, featuring curator Karen Downey, book author Colin Graham, and photographers Donovan Wylie, John Duncan, Mary McIntyre and Sylvia Grace Borda.

20130517 Belfast Exposed - Karen Downey
Karen Downey (Senior Curator, Belfast Exposed)

Karen Downey was late from finishing a curator’s tour of the exhibition, as well as from being interviewed for BBC Radio Ulster’s Arts Extra programme (above). She described the background of the anniversary project and introduced the guest speakers.

Colin Graham was previously a Reader in English at Queen’s University Belfast, and he described how his specialism in literature influences his critiques of photography. For example, he made the point that “the shape of something [presented] is as important as its context”. Also, that the act of photography is a self-conscious decision, literally snapshots of a journey made by the photographer.

In reviewing 30 years of photography in Northern Ireland, he listed a broad spectrum that included press photography, archive photographers, landscape photo books, Flickr photostreams and the more recent proliferation of Instagram and general increase in non-professional photography. In compiling the book, he didn’t attempt to survey them all, but to select and explain “why I liked what I liked”.

20130517 Belfast Exposed - Donovan Wylie
Donovan Wylie presentation of his Maze project work.

Donovan Wylie explained how he returned to photography after he “lost faith in the single image”: making films was far more difficult.

Describing the invitation to undertake the Maze project work, he said that he repeatedly said no: “It represented everything I didn’t like about Northern Ireland.” But taking encouragement from others, he ultimately agreed. Yet he struggled to find a satisfactory strategy until, as he put it, he surrendered his resistance to the place, and worked with the logic of its design. Interestingly, here he described feeling less a photographer and more like an operator — a mixture of artist and documentarian.

20130517 Belfast Exposed - John Duncan - Boom Town
Boom Town II series by John Duncan.

John Duncan, co-editor of Source magazine, introduced himself as someone who has been dwelling on Belfast for the past 25 years.

He showed a projected image of the first known photograph of Belfast, the clearing of buildings to make way for the construction of Custom House. This was part of his motivation for his Boom Town II project, photographs of billboard signs advertising “developers’ visions of what they think their patch of Belfast should look like”.

20130517 Belfast Exposed - Mary McIntyre - Aura of Crisis
Aura of Crisis by Mary McIntyre.

Mary McIntyre was educated in fine art and sculpture, and identified herself as “an artist who uses photography”. Indeed, she said that her influences are more cinematic than photographic.

She “photographs atmospheres”, describing her work as a dialogue, where sometimes the subject matter speaks to her. “I take the image and it’s instinctive. I don’t know why I’ve taken it until later, sometimes much later, when it communicates with me.”

20130517 Belfast Exposed - Sylvia Grace Borda - Churches
Churches by Sylvia Grace Borda.

Sylvia Grace Borda is a Canadian-born artist who spent five years in Northern Ireland, lecturing at Queen’s University Belfast between 2007-2009. She described how while she was able to guide her students towards successful projects, she found it more difficult to identify one that would satisfy herself. Her interest in documentary topography, by the likes of Charles Marville and Eugene Atget, combined with a fascination in Modernist architecture, led her to produce Churches.

In her travels back and forth to Canada, people there would ask her questions about Northern Ireland. As part of trying to satisfy their curiosity, she realised that Northern Ireland’s Modernist churches offered a visual symbol of its religious divide: “However, since the buildings are Modernist and were originally designed to be undecipherable in terms of faith association — the viewer is left confounded.”

She presented this symbol in the form of photographic images on dinner plates — a set of 16 (“not 12: too religious”). Why plates? Because they are tactile not monumental, and because they are fragile objects, “much like the political arrangements at Stormont”.

The subsequent Q&A session started with a big question, what will the next 30 years of photography in Northern Ireland look like? Colin Graham answered with suggestions of internationalisation (mutual influences from home and abroad), portraiture without identity labelling (e.g. the work of Gareth McConnell), and landscape photography as an existential project.

In a question regarding the interests of the next generation of photographers in Northern Ireland, Donovan Wylie said that his course students at the University of Ulster are talking more about global issues than parochial ones. But a reply from the audience said that this was perhaps because such young people are consciously electing not to deal with the intricacies of communal politics in Northern Ireland. This provoked a quick review of Hannah Starkey’s work: she is from Northern Ireland but is it obvious in her work?

20130517 Belfast Exposed - Malcolm Craig Gilbert - Post Traumatic Exorcism
Post Traumatic Exorcism series by Malcom Craig Gilbert.

Here, Colin Graham suggested the work of Malcolm Craig Gilbert, Post Traumatic Exorcism, which Gilbert describes as images of the dreams inside his head. As a former RUC officer, the Northern Ireland influences are there to be seen. Yet the chosen theme of trauma can be interpreted and understood by a wider audience.

With a sense of wryness, Colin Graham mooted whether “Northern Ireland: 30 Years of Photography” condemned those exhibited to history. He looks forward to the next 30 years of photography in Northern Ireland, but wants new photographers to react to what has been done so far, not imitate it.

Northern Ireland: 30 Years of Photography exhibition is held at Belfast Exposed (21 Donegall Street) and The MAC (Saint Anne’s Square), from 10th May to 7th July. The accompanying book is available to purchase (£30) at both venues.

Photography Projects

POTD 2012/366


At the start of 2012, I resolved to take a photo a day, a 365-day project (actually, 366 days with the leap year).

I did it.

Most of the time the daily image presented itself subconsciously, whether walking to or from my office. In fact, when an opportunity presented itself whilst driving, I’d pull the car over and get the shot.

There were days, though, when the requisite shot hadn’t yet been taken by the daily midnight deadline, I’d search around the house for something of interest — not duplicating subject matter was one of my rules, so repeated self-portraits were out of the question.

So it was with a sense of relief when I took a photo of my gift bottle of port on New Year’s Eve (my favoured tipple).

I’m not repeating the exercise for 2013.

I don’t regret the discipline of visually recording my year. Indeed, I now have some beloved images that would have otherwise been stored in the recesses of my mind only.

It’s just that there are new creative endeavours that will demand time and attention this year (more on that later).

I’ve gained respect for those photographers who persist in image making, and been inspired by the work of others.

Although I posted the images daily on this blog, I’ve decided to consolidate them all into a slideshow for this posting (for anyone who would be interested in viewing them). I’m reverting to using Mr Ulster for the written word — thanks for stopping by!

(You can find my regular photography at Flickr.)