Northern Ireland: 30 Years of Photography by Colin Graham – review
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This catalogue of recent Northern Irish photography shows a determination to leave the documentary style of the Troubles behind
Until relatively recently Northern Ireland was defined in photography by images of the Troubles. It is the photojournalism of the late 1960s and 70s, then, that provides the starting point for Colin Graham’s survey of recent art and documentary photography that challenges, or works outside of, the increasingly exhausted reportage tradition.
That tradition, all kids hurling petrol bombs, burning buildings and beleaguered riot police, casts a long shadow but, within it, there are moments of deeper, almost reflective looking that point the way to the more outward-facing, self-questioning photography that began with the likes of Paul Seawright and Victor Sloan in the 80s and continues in the work of Donovan Wylie, Hannah Starkey and Gareth McConnell.
One of the most striking images made in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, for instance, is Philip Jones Griffiths‘s 1973 portrait of a British soldier taken though his scratched and smeared Plexiglas riot shield. On one level, it looks like a conceptual art photograph that has been worked on in post-production. The fact that it isn’t, that it is instead a record of a snatched moment in time, says much about Jones Griffiths’s acute ability to capture stillness amid the chaos of conflict, but also about how an image can, through time, become metaphorical. As Seawright noted recently, it is as if we “are looking back at ourselves, at our past, at something we wish to forget that is slowly receding into memory”.
Victor Sloan’s photographs approach this psychic territory in a much more self-conscious way. Born in Northern Ireland in 1945, Sloan is a relatively unsung pioneer of conceptualism, who often works over his photographs with paint, ink and dyes so that images of Orange marchers or even family portraits become canvases whose obvious meanings are occluded. This desire to challenge the parameters of photography drives most of the photographers included here, from the stripped-back serialism of Donovan Wylie’s images of the Maze prison or British army hill forts to Mary McIntyre‘s landscapes that draw on historical paintings.
Not all the photographers in the book hail from Northern Ireland, though, and sometimes those that do are represented by work that is not about Northern Ireland at all. South Africans Broomberg and Chanarin raided an archive of press images of the Troubles to produce their revealing series, People in Trouble Laughing Pushed to the Ground , while Northern Irish Gareth McConnell’s 10-year portrait project documenting young ravers in Ibiza is, in part, an autobiographical attempt to investigate the escapism of his own chemical youth in the early 1990s.
This is an ambitious book that might have benefited from the inclusion of other critical voices to debate some of the issues raised about place, identity and representation. But it shows Northern Irish photography as a healthy, vibrant and characteristically sceptical medium in tune with global, rather than parochial, concerns. In that, it is ahead of the game.
Northern Ireland: 30 Years of Photography is available from belfastexposed.org
via Art and design: Photography | guardian.co.uk http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2013/jun/08/colin-graham-30-years-ireland-review Sean O’Hagan Thanks for reading Jay
Posted on June 8, 2013, in Photography News and tagged Art and design: Photography | guardian.co.uk, arts, guardian, IFTTT, info, information, journal, news, newspaper, photo, photography, Sean O'Hagan. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.