Picturing Derry unites photography from The Troubles in City of Culture 2013 show

By Culture24 Reporter | 04 June 2013

Exhibition preview: Picturing Derry, City Factory, Derry-Londonderry, until July 7 2013

A black and white photo of a woman standing among rubble in a war-torn city
Aftermath of riots between Catholics and the Ulster police, Londonderry, Northern Ireland (August 1969)© Gilles Caron, 2013 / Fondation Gilles Caron (Contact Press Images)
Derived from almost 30 years of photography of the Troubles, the core period of the largest exhibition to be devoted to the conflict in Northern Ireland also serves as a survey of various aspects of life in the city between 1969 and the late 1980s.

The four sections create a contrast between local and international artists. In the first, bringing together photographers from the city, the likes of Barney McMonagle, who was compelled to pick up a camera by the situation as a 24-year-old in 1968, stands alongside Eamon Melaugh, who captured many of the disturbances in Derry during the 1960s and early 1970s.

Their risks sharpen our appreciation of the volatility of the times: McMonagle was shot at by a soldier who mistook his camera for a gun, dodging the bullet by inches in a near miss which persuaded him never to portray a riot again.

Melaugh, meanwhile, was routinely arrested by security forces, partly because of his tendency to organise and participate in demonstrations.

Other domestic artists include Sean Hillen, whose book, Melancholy Witness – Images of the Troubles, will be published this year, former Turner Prize nominee Willie Doherty and versatile social commentator Victor Sloan.

Internationally, revered French photojournalist Gilles Caron takes on the Battle of Bogside, from 1969, in a previously unseen body of work forming a central part of the exhibition.

A witness to the Six Day War in Israel, Caron’s career ended when he went missing in a Khmer Rouge-controlled area of Cambodia in 1970. He’s in equally brave company here, joined by the likes of Brian J Gill – a dual Irish-American citizen who portrayed the Ku Klux Klan and Mexican gangs – and Clive Limpkin, whose photos from the Bogside won awards during his 35-year spell on Fleet Street.

McMonagle and others may have been originators, but by the 1980s residents were galvanising the medium to chart their experiences.

Camerawork Darkrooms Derry, to which a chamber of the show is devoted, was set up in 1983 by curator Trisha Ziff, creating a black and white still image processing facility in the Bogside. Thousands of images are stored in the archive it yielded.

Declan Sheehan, who has curated proceedings for the City of Culture, picks out Caron’s works as “a unique take on what was happening in the Bogside at that tumultuous time.”

“This is one of the most anticipated photographic exhibitions ever to have been held in this city,” he adds.

“Bringing together the work of these photographers, artists and communities in one exhibition for the first time gives a fascinating insight into the events that made headlines around the world at that time.

“But it’s also the daily life that was going on for the people here.”

  • The City Factory, Queen Stret, Derry. Open 11am-6pm (1pm-5pm Sunday, 8pm June 27, closed Monday). Admission free. Follow @derry2013 on Twitter.

More pictures:

A photo of a motorbiker on a debris-strewn street
Londonderry, Northern Ireland (August 1969)© Gilles Caron, 2013 / Fondation Gilles Caron (Contact Press Images)
A black and white photo of men in uniforms
Apprentice Boys of Derry parade, Londonderry, Northern Ireland (August 12 1969)© Gilles Caron, 2013 / Fondation Gilles Caron (Contact Press Images)
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