Assignment 5: Untroubled

Click for Tutor Report

Brief: Produce 12 images for the National Geographic magazine that illustrate how Derry-Londonderry has accepted it's troubled past to secure, what appears to be, a lasting peace. The images should include, where possible, references to The Troubles.

Time is a great healer, and now 16 years after the Good Friday Agreement, it is all too easy for the outsider to forget the struggle endured by all those seeking their own resolution in Northern Ireland. When researching for photographers of the Troubles, it can be quite alarming to find that they are those same ones who specialise in photographing war zones.

It was the Nobel Peace Prize winner, John Hume, who said that 'In Northern Ireland, we should have institutions that respected the differences of the people and gave no victory to either side.' He summed up the conflict as being not to do with religion or politics, but to do with identity. Tolerating these differences, accepting the past, and moving forward has resulted in a 'Peace Dividend' for Northern Ireland. That there are great rewards from the peace that has been forged between nationalists and unionists. In a place where division and sectarianism has previously fragmented this society, it now appears to fit together quite harmoniously. Derry-Londonderry's dark, and not so distant, past is not hidden away inside a museum or history book. It adorns the streets and places as a reminder of a time that nobody ever wants to go back to.

In order to reflect this, I intended to produce images that contain references to Derry's past and sought opportunities to divide the frame. It is a city that I have visited lots of times, so I knew it extremely well and had a wide variety of images to choose from in order to complete this assignment.

The remnants of the Troubles have been the subject of many photographers. For example Cathal McNaughton photographed objects that had been thrown at the police by rioters. Belfast Exposed was an exhibition that celebrated 30 years of photography that related to Northern Ireland's troubled past. The peace process of the 1990s had caused photographers to reflect on the past and consider an untroubled Ireland. Adam Patterson's 'Men and My Daddy' project explores how loyalist paramilitary organisations are attempting to re-invent themselves as community-friendly, toning down the violent references in their murals and convincing boys and young men not to follow in their violent footsteps.

My assignment focuses on how the 'place' contains references to divisions that have become so commonplace that they are becoming blurred and part of normality.

1. Young Boy in a Gas Mask mural   [f/16   1/6   ISO 100   40mm]

1. On 30th January 1972 the Bogside was the scene for the Bloody Sunday atrocity. The murals there depict scenes from this era, and so I wanted to use them in some of my own images for this assignment. Popular with tourists, it would be quite easy to fall into the trap of taking predictable, replica photographs of these key pieces of art work that can be seen in many different forms. In fact I have taken lots of those sorts of photographs, so in a way I've got these 'out of my system' and have been able to think of alternative viewpoints and compositions. I nearly included the image below, showing part of the Free Derry Corner wall. The image contained lots of references to past and present conflicts but it didn't seem to quite portray the area it was in. Whereas the image above (my first for this assignment) shows a different, less common viewpoint of the area. The mural is a copy of Clive Limpkin's photograph of a Young boy in a gas mask, which won the Robert Capa Gold Medal for best photographic reporting in 1972. Limpkin took the photograph of a nationalist youth wearing a WW2 gas mask during the Battle of the Bogside. Therefore my first image represents the same place at different points in time. I chose to wait for someone to walk into the frame to make it look as though the youth in the mural is looking at the passerby, connecting the two events together and to create some tension in the image.

Carville refers to the purpose of those images created by photographers such as Limpkin. That the photo-journalistic image goes beyond its intention of reporting, to that of commemorating. What was a one off event has become part of the everyday.

[f/4   1/4000   ISO 400   36mm]

2. Rooftops of Fahan Street   [f/11   1/60   ISO 200   76mm]

The photograph above shows the roof tops of Fahan Street, with tightly packed buildings of the Bogside in the background. The image is a reference to the overcrowding that existed in the city which led to Civil Rights marches.

3. Glenfada Park mural   [f/9.5   1/350   ISO 200   50mm]  

The area around Glenfada Park was one of the main killing grounds on Bloody Sunday. This is commemorated in the mural above. I chose this viewpoint for the photograph above because it presents a juxtaposition between the men running for their lives, being chased by armoured cars and the present day car peacefully parked outside an apartment block, with a satellite dish. The frame is divided into the past (right) and present (left). 

4. The Derry Wall, looking towards the Bogside   [f/4   1/2000   ISO 800   55mm]

A 'Maiden City', Derry's walls were never breached. They wrap around the city and dominate its skyline, a constant reminder of its rich and divisive history.  I chose to use a very shallow depth of field in order to create a clear and obvious division between the wall and the Bogside.

5. A bonfire in the Fountain estate   [f/13   1/20   ISO 200   55mm]

As a city that is recognised internationally as a model of peace and reconciliation, parts of the community have adopted the cause of others in a similar situation. The image above shows a youth putting the finishing touches to a bonfire, in the loyalist Fountain estate, that is lit to commemorate the Apprentice Boys role in the siege of Derry. 'Free Gaza' signs have also been added to the bonfire. Meanwhile the sign on the right of the frame expresses the loyalist view of still being under siege.

6. Westland Street cuts through the Bogside, viewed from the city wall. [f/11   1/125   ISO 800   64mm]

Whilst walking along the Derry Walls I came across this view of the Bogside. I had been thinking about the idea of divisions and how they continue to exist. It was a striking view of the Westland Street cutting through the Bogside. I positioned my camera so that it divided the frame into two halves, illustrating how even the same community can be divisions within itself.

7. Bishop Street  [f/13   1/8   ISO 200   55mm]

Fences and security barriers were another feature of the Troubles at the interface between different communities. Standing on the Derry Wall, overlooking bishop Street, enabled me to get considerably close to the fencing. My choice of viewpoint was to make the barrier dominate the frame, whilst allowing some space and freedom for those walking by. The fencing remains as a reminder to the past and an accepted part of the present, whereby people go about their daily business.

8. A lamp post painted in Nationalist colours.   [f/1.8   1/8000   ISO 200   50mm]

Nationalist and Unionist territory is marked out by painting the colours of their respective flags. Again I wanted to divide the frame by placing it in the centre. I went about this assignment by thinking of it as a series of photographs that are connected either by the theme or how they are composed. This image inspired me to take the next photograph (below) of yarn bombing on Shipquay Street. People had knitted various features of the street, including this tree. I positioned it in the same part of the frame as the lamp post. It represents some of the humour and laid-back nature of the people.

9. Yarn Bombing on Shipquay Street   [f/6.7   1/125   ISO 100   60mm]

10. Shipquay Street   [f/16   1/60   ISO 400   161mm]

The image above is contrast to Photograph 7. People look relaxed, walking along the street with no obvious references to the Troubles.

11. Celtic dancers   [f/6.7   1/750   ISO 800   181mm]

Derry-Londonderry was the European City of Culture 2013, and various events have continued to unite the city. Whilst I was photographing these dancers I thought back to a statue, 'Hands Across the Divide' (below), which was reminiscent of how their hands are almost together. I had also waited until the girl was looking towards the camera, to connect the viewer to the subject.

Hands Across the Divide   [f/9.5   1/250   ISO 200   200mm]

12. Looking across the Peace Bridge   [f/11   1/125   ISO 100   17mm]

My final image for this assignment was purposely made to be spacious, with no apparent division in the frame. It looks across to the Peace Bridge with a single figure looking towards the camera. Following the City of Culture events there is an air of expectancy and high hopes for the city's future.

Conclusion

These photographs are intended to be viewed as a complete set. They begin with intense images that are strongly connected to the Troubles and end with relaxed, open images. I have tried to include a range of viewpoints, but also images that convey a similar concept.

In terms of my previous assignments, I believe that I have had a much more considered approach to this project. Whereas before I have put too much time in planning and preparing for the photographs I was going to take, this time I used my instincts and allowed the assignment to develop whilst I was taking the photographs. This enabled me to take more photographs, so that I had more images to choose from.

My Response to Tutor Feedback

Overall I was very pleased with the telephone conversation that I had with my tutor and the feedback that he gave me. After looking through my previous Tutor Reports, I felt that this was my best one. This is what I would have hoped to achieve when I began People and Place. That my final assignment would be better than the others.

One thing I have learnt from doing this assignment, is taking the time to think through an interesting, achievable brief. My tutor thought my idea was good and an interesting perspective. 

Another thing that I have learnt, which helped with this assignment, was to approach the brief with an open mind. The images that I submitted were a culmination of a few days walking around various parts of the city, looking for ways to illustrate the brief. This enabled me to be open to unexpected happenings. For example, I hadn't planned to photograph a bonfire, but when I saw it, I made the most of the opportunity. Also, my tutor encouraged me to shoot, shoot, shoot as many images as I could. This meant that I had a wealth of material to refer to when making my final selection. It also meant I could choose replacement images following my tutor's feedback. 

Finally, I have also learnt to spend more time reflecting and considering my final set of images as a connected series of photographs, rather than separate entities. Below are images that I would include in my assignment following my conversation with my tutor.   

11. Celtic Dancers lacked something in the image and it was quite dark. Conversely the image above is much brighter and shows the dancers in motion. It creates a sense of positivity that I wanted to portray. 

4. The Derry wall didn't show enough focussed detail to provide a context for the image. Luckily I had taken a number of alternative compositions of this view. The image above shows the wall blurred and the political murals in focus below. The image gives a sense of being beyond the walls.

12. 'Looking across the peace bridge' was quite a static image which gave a sense of the wider city. Above is a closer view of the Peace Bridge. I purposely chose this viewpoint to show the beams of the bridge wrapped around the Guildhall. 

5. 'Bonfire on the Fountain estate' didn't really do justice to the scale of the structure. When I walked around the corner of the wall and saw it, it was an intimidating presence. This view (above), with the boy perched precariously on the top, shows the scale of the bonfire, squashed into the frame. 

Suggested Viewing

My tutor also signposted me to other photographers that have covered a similar subject. Jonathan Olley's work is very stereotypical of many people's view of the Troubles of Northern Ireland and the greyish tones of monochrome images that could be seen in newspapers and on the television. I had thought about creating black and white photographs for this assignment, but I felt that coloured versions would be more representative of a forward thinking place that has put the past behind it. 

Meanwhile, Paul Seawright's 'Margins' visited the remnants of fires burnt on the edges of Belfast housing estates. The scorched remains document the previous existence of fears and anxieties. These are scenes are not as closely tied to any political or religious affiliation, but they have encouraged me to think deeper into a brief. I am sure this will help me when I begin Level 2: Landscape.   

References

Carville, J. http://www.photoconflict.com/case-studies/conflict-photography-northern-ireland/