News for Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Photography Exhibit—A Certain Peace: Acceptance and Defiance in Northern Ireland

Photography Exhibit, SAR Boardroom Hallway

March 1, 2013–July 25, 2013, 10:00 am–4:00 pm weekdays

Belfast youth, Falls Road, at Rockville StreetBelfast youth, Falls Road, at Rockville StreetPhotograph by Martin J. DeshtBelfast youth, Falls Road, at Rockville StreetPhotograph by Martin J. Desht

A Certain Peace: Acceptance and Defiance in Northern Ireland illuminates two competing objects of desire in contemporary Northern Ireland: one for social change needed to complement Belfast’s role as a member of the European Union, and one for political-sectarian status quo to ensure loyalty to historic precedence. Paradoxically, whether it’s social breakthrough or social obedience, pictorial evidence suggests neither object is likely to prove easy to achieve or utopian if achieved.

By documenting scenes available to the public eye, the exhibit depicts the psychological and social geography of Ireland’s second city: a mid-sized, post-industrial community in an era of post-sectarian violence now wanting to fully compete as a bright, rediscovered European financial and tourist destination. Cash infusions from London for arts and tourism development, and for social welfare and higher education promote Belfast as a cosmopolitan city ready for the twenty-first century; and the arms ‘decommissioning’ announcements by both Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams and Ulster’s Rev. Ian Paisley with subsequent moves to integrate schools are clear signs of promise. Belfast is building upward, a kind of boom not seen since the nineteenth century. Yet in a world rife with historic conflict and socio-political paralysis, it is likely that this city’s future rests on its determination to re-evaluate neighborhood oaths, neighborhood conformity, and neighborhood inertia largely imposed by centuries of religiously observed historic tradition.


My approach to documentary photography is deliberately through the literary imagination, an approach that is conscious of darkness in relation to light, of camera point of view, of human subjects and ordinary physical objects for their own interests and for their symbolic conveyances. It includes an awareness of an image’s visual and symbolic direction of movement, whether from down to up, or from left to right indicative of the forward passage of time, or from right to left indicative of regression or the ceasing of time— a recalcitrant honoring of a historic past, for example. The establishment of foreground and background parity is also important, depth-of-field being another unique dimension offered to the human eye through the aid of optical mechanics. In composition, I strive to avoid the simply ironic unless it reveals a deeper meaning, and strive to avoid repeating the daily news. Because of its relevance in socially and politically charged Northern Ireland, I sought to extend the perception and the definition of the word mural.

Photographs were made with either a medium-format or 35mm film camera, many taken from a bus or an automobile. None have been digitally altered or manipulated. My voice observations and some interviews with human subjects encountered on daily shoots were recorded on tape as were the locations of images, which were then recorded in a log book.

Martin J. DeshtMartin J. DeshtPhotograph courtesy of Martin J. DeshtMartin J. DeshtPhotograph courtesy of Martin J. Desht

About Martin J. Desht

Martin J. Desht began documenting urban post-industrialism in 1989. Born in Allentown, Pennsylvania, he is the grandson of Czech and Polish immigrants who arrived at Ellis Island and took work in Pennsylvania’s anthracite mines. For many years he lived within sight and sound of steel mills and assembly lines, which led to a keen awareness of industrial culture, particularly in Philadelphia and rural Pennsylvania. His exhibit Faces From An American Dream documents America’s economic transition from industrial manufacturing to service and information in the late twentieth century. Of importance is how this transition redefined the American industrial city and what impact it had on the American dream for skilled and unskilled workers.

A Certain Peace: Acceptance and Defiance in Northern Ireland records the post-industrial “social geography” of Northern Ireland’s largest city. In 2006, Desht was photographer-in-residence at Queens University, Belfast, where he was invited to photograph Belfast’s transition from an economy shattered by sectarian hostility and deindustrialization, to a new economy based in higher education, medical training, banking and tourism, in an era of sectarian peace. What interested Desht weren’t scenes of urban abandonment, but scenes depicting, say, the country of the mind and the tenacity of tradition despite the hard-won progress for social change in Northern Ireland.

Desht’s work has been exhibited at over forty venues, including Harvard University, New York University’s Stern School of Business, Dartmouth College, Fordham University, Cornell University, the United States Senate, and the United States Department of Labor.

All work gelatin-silver, 11x14, framed 20 x 16, Belfast, Northern Ireland, 2006. 

Follow us: