News - 2010
7 May, 2010
The speech by Director of Belfast Exposed, Pauline Hadaway, delivered on Saturday 1st May at the official opening of Belfast Exchange archive gallery:
Nearly thirty years ago, in a period of intense social and political trauma, a small group of local photographers came together to initiate an exhibition of amateur photography reflecting the experience of Belfast from the inside. A call for work was made, with entry open to "any amateur photographer, wishing to explore any aspects of the city or its people", photographs being preferred on the basis of content rather than artistic or technical merit.
The exhibition was called 'Belfast Exposed', and initially comprised over 200 photographs and slides, articulating the life of the city from predominately working class (and at that time it's fair to say- male, nationalist) perspectives. Opening on 17 October 1983 at the People's Theatre, Conway Mill, off the Falls Road, with Irish News photographer Hugh Russell officiating, the exhibition attracted visitors from all over the city, including Shankill and East Belfast. In fact the Shankill Bulletin gave the exhibition an excellent review, as did the Irish News and Belfast Telegraph. Attempting to forge solidarities across Belfast's sectarian divide, Belfast Exposed, as the group itself came to be known, represented the work of photographers from a range of political backgrounds, while recruiting a 'cross community' steering committee and, where possible, bringing exhibitions to venues in neutral and in some cases to loyalist areas of the city.
The exhibition traveled all over the world and at its opening at the Bank of Ireland Gallery in Baggot Street, Dublin in 1984, Seamus Heaney remarked on the "powerful, democratic feel running through these photographs" which documented a common experience of unemployment, poor housing and economic deprivation, at once intensified by the effects of conflict and sectarian division and alleviated by the gritty humour of working class Belfast life.
Belfast's political landscape may have been exceptional, but Belfast Exposed's ambition to represent marginalized experience by inverting traditional evaluative criteria and privileging "the raw energy of untutored amateurs" bears more than a passing resemblance to more widely recognized and documented models of 1970s and 80s community photography practice: and over the years, this organization has (almost uniquely) struggled and agonized over its sense of identity and place and the truthfulness of its relationship to the communities in which it is rooted.
So here we are, back at the beginning of the Belfast Exposed project. Once again standing at an important landmark in its history and, more importantly, at the threshold of another future.
Welcome to Belfast Exchange.
I would like to acknowledge a few (it would be impossible to name them all) of the people and organisations that supported the realization of this new space and this important phase in our development:
Funders- Arts Council, Belfast City Council - provide our core support. Heritage Lottery Fund who are supporting the current phase of archive development. Department for Social Development- provided the resources for this new space and for the workshop, teaching room and digital suite. Carolyn Murphy, Cooperation Ireland for helping us through the labyrinth of paper work.
John Burke of Keys Monaghan Architects- who designed and project managed the building work. Decaln Hinfey, site manager with builders T&A Kernoghan who carried out the work. And all the builders who delivered the work on time and in budget and left the space cleaner that they found it.
Patricia Freedman, Cathedral Quarter Steering group, Noel Kelly and Visual Artists Ireland team, Iain Davidson (Arts Council), Kelly Crawford & Billy Dromond, Shankill Alternatives, Chris Bailey, NI Museums Council, Deirdre Mackel, Upper Springfield Development Trust, Belfast Film Festival, Northern Visions, Concord community centre, Jim Weir from Families against Substance Abuse, Ross Mall at the Spectrum centre, Dianne Rhodes Creative Youth, Nisha at Arts Ekta, Paul Collins- Cornerhouse, Joe Doherty at Parkside, Gary McNally at Groundwork, just a few of the many individuals and groups who wrote letters of support at the planning stage of the building project.
The photographers, artists and communities who contributed to the archive (and gallery, publications and outreach programmes) over the years and continue to involve us in their work.
The Belfast Exposed Board who generously give their time, energy and extensive knowledge to the project. And our multi talented, multi tasking team- Rachel and Bri, Kiri Barker, Karen Downey, Mervyn Smyth, Mirjami Schuppert & Acitore Artizione- for their loyalty, hard work and dedication over and above the call of duty. Thanks is specially due to Mervyn Smyth, who has been with the organization the longest of all of us. I would like to acknowledge the commitment and energy he puts into his work and the positive role he has played in sustaining and developing new relationships between Belfast Exposed and communities across the region. Mervyn's presence has kept us connected to our roots.
Also the many volunteers, some longstanding- William, Peter and Debbie Hoey without their help we couldn't keep going.
I'd also like to acknowledge Karen Quinn's contribution to the archive project, through her work with Warren Black and Radar Digital, developing the Gateways browsing system and also the work she put into developing a collections management plan that would help us to conserve the physical collection of film and slide for future generations. We have not yet succeeded in securing the support we need to protect the community archive from inevitable physical decay, but we hope that in making the material more visible we can demonstrate its value as a unique historical record of the city through a turbulent period of its history.
Finally, as many of you will know Danny Burke, sadly passed away on Friday 23 April. Danny was a teacher, photographer, trade union activist and director of Safehouse gallery. While Belfast Exposed, the organisation he helped found in 1983 subsequently moved in many different directions, its founding principles continue to shape and profoundly influence the way this organisation seeks to relate and respond to Belfast and its people.