Enriching people’s lives through photography
Belfast Exposed is Northern Ireland's leading photography organisation. We make photography accessible and enjoyable for everyone. If you walk through our doors – be it for a course, event or exhibition – our aim is that you feel welcomed and have an enriching experience.
Born out of cross-community activism and with four decades of history, we are now home to a range of activities and services. These include: four public galleries exhibiting world class work; a unique programme supporting mental health & wellbeing; a diverse, socially engaged public programme; an Archive of international significance; our Futures programme for emerging artists; training programmes for the public and businesses; a bookshop selling self-published and limited-edition titles and venue hire facilities suitable for meetings and workshops, to product launches and drinks receptions.
Who are we?
Belfast Exposed is an independent, non-profit photography organisation situated in Belfast’s Cathedral Quarter. Founded in 1983 by a group of photographers & activists to challenge media representation of Belfast’s experience of conflict, our work continues to be highly socially engaged, while also responding to contemporary currents in photography and politics more broadly.
We believe photography is for everyone. It should be accessible, meaningful and serve as a catalyst for dialogue, storytelling & reflection. Historically, this vision has driven our work and to this day, we continue to work with photographers, artists, academics and community partners to take the vision to a wider audience.
Nearly 40 years ago, following the intense social unrest and trauma of the 1980-1981 Hunger Strikes, teacher, trade unionist and community activist Danny Burke brought together a collective of local photographers to initiate an exhibition of photography reflecting Belfast from the inside. The exhibition was called 'Belfast Exposed' and initially comprised over 200 photographs and slides, documenting daily life in the city from a predominately working-class perspective.
Opening in October 1983 at Conway Mill - on the nationalist side of the Belfast’s main ‘Peace Wall’ - the exhibition attracted interest from all over the city. It later moved to the Bank of Ireland Gallery, Dublin, where 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 sectarian conflict and alleviated by the gritty humour of working-class Belfast.
Following the exhibition’s success and attempting to forge solidarities across Belfast's sectarian divide, Belfast Exposed – now a burgeoning visual arts organisation - represented the work of photographers from a range of backgrounds, while recruiting a cross community steering committee and bringing exhibitions to venues in all areas of the city. Over the following years, new photographic practices began to emerge in Northern Ireland, providing critical tools for documenting and reimagining a rapidly changing region. However, in many ways, the approach and aims of the original 1983 exhibitions set the tone for our ethos from that day until the present.
While community experience of conflict remains an important focus of our work, the ongoing challenge is to keep this relevant and accessible for a new generation of audiences and photographers. Since moving to Cathedral Quarter in 2003, Belfast Exposed has engaged with thousands of people every year: photographers, artists, activists, local communities, tourists, students, school children and the general public. Each group 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.