Celebration

The ghost of photographers past is waiting for you at Belfast Exposed Gallery

Celebration at Belfast Exposed Gallery in Belfast is an oddly effective exhibition. It is stark, simple – almost simplistic – and about as rustic as you can get with photography.

The images are all drawn from the Belfast Exposed Photographic Archive, and are a mixture of posed photographs and candid snap shots, capturing parties and children playing.

Developed in black-and-white in the gallery's own dark-room, the A4 photographs are hung in a straight line. Perhaps, as a result, the exhibit lacks the professional curatorial polish of the Taryn Simon exhibition, Contraband, on the floor below.

Yet the bare-line minimalism works for the exhibition in a way that slick presentation wouldn’t. There is a vulnerability to these images that evokes a positive reaction. Despite the echoing space and bare white walls, there is an odd intimacy here.

Somehow it feels like flicking through an old family album. There is a sense of familiarity in the poses and situations. And there is something powerful about observing these children staring out at the viewer in unforgiving black and white.

Most of the photographs look like amateur snaps, but a few have a sharpness that suggests a more professional finger on the button.

One particular image that captures the eye is of children playing in front of a sectarian mural. In it a small boy is caught mid-jump, dangling like a ghost from a gallows, while the other children run around him. Whether the final effect is deliberate or accidental, it is, nevertheless, an eerie, suggestive image.

A few pages down the line, one photograph prompts a double-take. A row of kissing couples are lined up on the street, their hair, clothes and postures almost identical. Perhaps Photoshop was involved, and yet, on closure inspection, the bewildered expressions on the white-jacketed onlooker's faces suggest it is a genuine moment.

Another compelling image, although for a different reason, is a print from a damaged negative. Half of the image has been blistered away into white space, leaving the surviving faces grinning into corrosive emptiness. What is missing is more compelling that what can be seen.

Other images include a street party’s refreshment table, an elderly woman worn tiny with age, showing off her ‘Happy 100th’ birthday card, and children break-dancing on cobbles.

Celebration is a simple exhibition, but there is something cheerful and communal about it. Unlike previous Belfast Exposed exhibitions, which have focused on Troubles imagery, the smiling faces and moments of genuine warmth make this an exhibition that draws you back for a second viewing.

At Christmas, a bit of festive cheer is most welcome. Even if it is in black and white.

Celebration runs at Belfast Exposed until January 7.