Past Exhibition

British Watchtowers

Donovan Wylie - 25 May to 3 August 2007

The watchtowers were landmarks in the thirty-year conflict in and over Northern Ireland. Like the Long Kesh/Maze prison or the gable end murals in Belfast and Derry, they mark the site of conflict, define a frontline and are a component of an architecture of war, which has also become a representation of that war.
Louise Purbrick, British Watchtowers, Steidl, 2007

Observation, whether by the human eye, or the technical eye of a surveillance camera, requires an architectural structural that elevates the viewer into a position of command. The system of Iron Age hill forts, built across Britain from around 500 BC, used natural promontories to survey the surrounding landscape. Two thousand years later, the British army used a similar system of watchtowers to survey the territories of Northern Ireland, and to observe the actions of the local people. The lines of sight from the watchtowers generated a kind of virtual environment enveloping the border region of Northern Ireland. These high-tech towers, constructed in the mid 1980s, primarily in the mountainous border region of South Armagh, were landmarks in the thirty-year conflict in and over Northern Ireland. The towers were finally demolished between 2003 and 2007 as part of the British government’s demilitarization programme for Northern Ireland.

For a period of over a year, Donovan Wylie photographed the borderland watchtowers. Working entirely from an elevated position enabled by military helicopter he created a systematic survey of the towers, their positions and perspectives with in the landscape.

‘Using aerial photography, Donovan Wylie has produced spectacular landscape images, while also affording us the privileged, panoramic views once enjoyed only from the watchtowers. The demilitarization of these rural border regions is represented as part of a historical process; the structures that once occupied, surveyed and dominated the landscape are recorded before they disappear from view, from the present into the past. The end of the recent history of military surveillance is viewed from the perspective of a nascent era of peace and stability in the region.’
Karen Downey, Exhibitions Director, Belfast Exposed

An exhibition of large format photographs from this series will premiere at Belfast Exposed and will be accompanied by the launch of a book published by Steidl, edited by Liz Jobey and Donovan Wylie and featuring a substantial essay by Louise Purbrick.

Watchtowers is supported by Arts Council Northern Ireland, Esmee Fairbairn Foundation and Belfast City Council.

Donovan Wylie was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland in 1971. He is a photographer and filmmaker. In 2001 he won a BAFTA for his film, The Train and has previously had solo exhibitions at The Photographers' Gallery, London, PhotoEspana, Madrid, and the National Museum Film, Photography and Television, England. His has participated in numerous group shows held at, amongst other, Irish Museum Modern Art, V &A London, Centre Pompidou, Paris. This is his first publication since his book The Maze, published in 2004. He is a member of Magnum Photos