Smithfield... how I wish I'd seen it in its heyday. It was the sort of district I love to explore in other cities, but its body went up in flames in the early 70s. Its soul appears only in occasional glimpses. Sidelong, as Ciaran Carson would say. Old Smithfield, from Joe Graham's great site exploring old Belfast http://smithfieldmarket.rushlightmagazine.com/
Smithfield Market (Ciaran Carson)
Sidelong to the arcade, the glassed-in April cloud – fleeting, pewter-edged - Gets lost in shadowed aisles and inlets, branching into passages, into cul -de-sacs, Stalls, compartments, alcoves. Everything unstitched, unravelled – mouldy fabric, Rusted heaps of nuts and bolts, electrical spare parts: the ammunition dump In miniature. Maggots seethe between the ribs and corrugations.
Since everything went up in smoke, no entrances, no exits. But as the charred beams hissed and flickered, I glimpsed a map of Belfast In the ruins: obliterated streets, the faint impression of a key Something many-toothed, elaborate, stirred briefly in the labyrinth.
... the beauty of these 1950s women ... their dresses ... the natural light ... the smallest girl, in the middle, looking at the photographer ... the perfect composition of the image ... the familiar activity of church-going ... the relationship, perhaps not entirely easy, between the photographer and the subjects ... the thought that some of these women are probably still alive...
Visiting the Shankill Road in November, I hear voices from the past calling from every direction. From the Somme memorials. The ancient graveyard. The graffitied RIPs. The memorials to Troubles victims. The murals of historical characters. Amidst the disturbance of their calls, the living go about their business, walking their dogs, eating an egg soda, buying some braising steak, wishing each other happy birthday. It's a place where the layers of the past are clearly visible. You can see the Victorian splendour and utility behind today's decay. The eighteenth century is just a little out of focus, the sixteenth becoming hazy. We're walking this road together with those who trod it earlier, simultaneously mysterious and entirely without mystery.
Wounds (Michael Longley, 1973)
Here are two pictures from my father’s head —
I have kept them like secrets until now:
First, the Ulster Division at the Somme
Going over the top with ‘Fuck the Pope!’
‘No Surrender!’: a boy about to die,
Screaming ‘Give ’em one for the Shankill!’
‘Wilder than Gurkhas’ were my father’s words
Of admiration and bewilderment.
Next comes the London-Scottish padre
Resettling kilts with his swagger-stick,
With a stylish backhand and a prayer.
Over a landscape of dead buttocks
My father followed him for fifty years.
At last, a belated casualty,
He said — lead traces flaring till they hurt —
‘I am dying for King and Country, slowly.’
I touched his hand, his thin head I touched.
I first noticed years ago that being on my own, with my camera, made me seem approachable to people who wanted someone to talk to. I take it as a compliment and just listen. Yesterday I went out hoping to capture some old buildings/autumn leaves/sparkly Irish raindrop type photographs. Instead, as is often the case, I got diverted and ended up with a memory card full of abstract close-ups of a pretty white goat. And I also had a long conversation with a woman walking on her own around the same roads as me. She stopped to talk about the goat, but almost immediately told me that she used to walk her dog here every day. The dog died two weeks ago, and this was the first time she'd come here on her own. Such a sad and brave thing. I was glad we were able to talk about the much-loved dog and how much it always enjoyed being in this lovely rural area. I hope it helped, even a little bit, to soften the pain of what must have been a difficult outing.
Sometimes I find east-facing coasts a bit frightening. They seem cold and light and you're not always sure what's out there, as a new part of the day turns towards you. West coasts somehow seem more comfortable - warmer, maybe a little more nostalgic and emotional. Maybe it's living in Ireland - in a way, you can't get much further west. Is there such a thing as a "west-facing" personality? I don't know, but I might be one.
So I find east coasts a challenge, and sometimes a challenge is what I need. A visit to Aldeburgh, on the Suffolk coast, last week, was just that. I'd been there once before and knew how beautiful the light was, how unique its colours, how intriguing its combination of weathered details and huge emptiness. I wanted to look and listen and try to capture something of all that in my images.
I found my weathered textures.
My companions didn't worry about the looking east thing.
Before we went, I had a plan in which I'd buy a huge bunch of helium balloons and make my family members pose on the beach, holding them in romantic fashion. Probably everyone is glad that that didn't work out. But some of the buoys on the ships almost compensated for the lack of balloons.
Don't miss the little paper boat. There might be some kind of parable in this shot.
I did bring a single hydrangea bloom with me. I know, that might be a bit weird.
The quieter you become, the more you can hear. Sometimes that's most the case in very old places. The voices are still there. Look quietly and listen. Last week I spent a morning in Ely Cathedral, which dates back to the seventh century. It was time out with my dad, also a keen photographer, and a welcome chance to borrow his tripod and create some effective longer exposures. It's a remarkable building. The grandeur of its scale is balanced by the intricate detail of its surface decorations. The marks of its makers are everywhere and it's humbling to imagine their stories. My favourite part is Bishop Alcock's chapel, with its royal icing stalactites, battered and broken by time.
At Ely, I'm constantly looking upwards. I'm sure that was part of the original plan.
The face of Christ breaks the symmetry and forms the central point of the octagon tower's ceiling.
The angels are painted on huge wooden "doors" which allow closer access to the ceiling.
Textures and perspectives, combinations to draw the eye for hours.....
....and a sense of being very small, yet a part of something very big.