Belfast Exposed is Northern Ireland’s premier contemporary photography organisation, commissioning, publishing and showing work by artists and photographers from Northern Ireland and across the world. Our vision is to enlighten our world through the power of photography.
We are an independent, non-profit organisation and registered charity situated in the Cathedral Quarter, Belfast. Founded in 1983 by a group of local photographers as a challenge to media representation of Belfast’s experience of conflict, our work continues to reflect a socially engaged ethos, while responding to contemporary currents in photography and politics further afield.
Belfast Exposed believe photography is for everyone, it is accessible, meaningful and has the ability to tell stories, allowing us to create dialogue and reflect upon our history, inform our present and inspire a positive future. Celebrating photography’s diversity and creativity, Belfast Exposed works with photographers, artists, academics, communities and business partners to explore photography’s powerful ability to make a meaningful contribution to the world.
Belfast Exposed provides a range of services including two public galleries exhibiting work by both internationally renowned and local photographers, and our ‘Futures’ project - a special programme for emerging artists. We maintain an archive recording the political, cultural and social change in Northern Ireland; we deliver an extensive educational and socially engaged outreach programme; we provide specialised and bespoke training courses for the public; we offer accredited educational programmes for schools and community groups, as well as a range of corporate packages for businesses.
Thirty years ago, in the period following the intense social and psychological trauma of the 1980-1981 Hunger Strikes, teacher, trade unionist and community activist Danny Burke brought together a small team of local photographers to initiate an exhibition of amateur photography reflecting the experience of Belfast from the inside. The exhibition was called 'Belfast Exposed', and initially comprised over 200 photographs and slides, articulating the life of the city from predominately working class perspectives.
Opening on 17 October 1983 at the People's Theatre, Conway Mill, on the nationalist side of the ‘peace wall’, the exhibition attracted interest from all over the city. Attempting to forge solidarities across Belfast's sectarian divide, Belfast Exposed, as the group came to be known, represented the work of photographers from a range of political backgrounds, while recruiting a 'cross community' steering committee and, wherever possible, bringing exhibitions to venues in neutral and loyalist areas of the city.
Opening the exhibition 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. In the years that followed, new photographic practices began to emerge in Northern Ireland, providing critical tools for reimagining the future in a rapidly changing region.
While community experience of conflict remained an important focus of our work, the challenge was to make this work more relevant and accessible for a new generation of audiences and photographers. Since moving to the city’s Cathedral Quarter in 2003, Belfast Exposed has engaged with many thousands of people: photographers, artists, activists, local communities, visitors to the city, students, school children and the public at large. Each has contributed to a substantial portfolio of exhibitions, publications and projects, often informed by questions that resonate with local experience: representation, identity, history, memory, commemoration and attachment to place.