Belfast Photo Festival’s dynamic programme focuses on underrepresented voices and subverting photographic archives

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Above Image: © Zora J Murff

Ripping up the rule book, the festival tackles some of the most pressing issues of our time in a city that maintains a complex relationship to photography.

Since its inaugural event in 2011, Belfast Photo Festival has steadily grown in both reputation and scale. For the month of June, the photography festival returns with a programme of local and international artists. It presents a series of innovative and urgent exhibitions curated around the theme, The Verge. Eclectic and ambitious, it spotlights photography that pushes against dominant social, historical, and visual frameworks to propose perspectives on the world.

This year’s programme probes at Belfast’s complicated relationship with photography. A group exhibition titled A Bigger Picture at Golden Thread Gallery invites us to view Northern Ireland through the underrepresented gaze of feminist and queer artists. The exhibition, developed in partnership with the Belfast School of Art, presents a perspective on the city that has been all but omitted from the dominant narratives around Northern Irish photography. This important exhibition offers an alternative perspective and makes an inquiry into the construction of gender and identity in Northern Ireland.

The city’s complex photographic history continues in a major new commission, Alternative Ulster by Japanese artist Kensuke Koike. Koike’s interventions were drawn from the photographic archives of the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland and the National Museums of Northern Ireland. They are as inventive and compelling as they are radically subversive in their re-imagining of The Troubles, a conflict that was often played out through the lens of a camera. The public nature of this work, presented within the Queen’s University campus, invites a dialogue around the veracity and authority of the photographic image.

©Shannon Ritchie
©Kensuke Koike

In addition to responding to local contexts, the festival programme equally connects to global contemporary concerns. Against the Image: Photography. Media. Manipulation., on show at the Ulster Museum, features artists Victor Sloan, Tabitha Soren, Alexandra Rose Howland and collective Now You See Me Moria. The work responds to a wide range of global events and conflicts from around the world. The artists reference photography’s subjective and highly mediated nature by subverting the medium using a number of techniques to intervene on the surface of the photograph. By doing so, they pose a challenge to a representational reading of the medium and encourage the viewer to question our passive consumption of photography. 

This year, in a new partnership with 1854 Media and British Journal of Photography, the festival presents Decade of Change. On display at the City Quays Gallery, the exhibition highlights work from around the world reflecting on climate concerns. Elsewhere, we see newly commissioned work by Alexandra Lethbridge, as well as Guido Mocafico’s celebrated still life photography, and Marta Bogdanska’s imaginative project on animal spies. Plus, exhibitions from Nico Krijno, Thomas Albdorf, Rebecca Najdowski and Zora J Murff.

Many of the key issues raised across the programme are brought together through a central events programme which has been co-organised with the British Journal of Photography. Taking place online and in person, the events open up photography’s ever evolving role in our changing world.

Belfast Photo Festival is open between 2 – 30 | Find out more here

©Rafael Heygster
©Tabitha Soren