Behind The Lens

John Baucher's iconic images of the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival reveal the stories behind the performances

It's a spring afternoon in Belfast and the sky is pavement grey. I nip into the John Hewitt Bar on Donegall Street as the rain begins, finding warmth in the photos hanging on the walls. John Baucher's Behind the Lens photographic exhibition, part of this year's Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival, shows nine images of iconic performers from each year of the festival's history.

I'm admiring a crisp black and white image of a dignified mystic, a long-haired man in hat and David Holmesembroidered cassock. He lifts a tasselled wrist and looks up into the distance as if conveying a profound truth or punchline.

'Worst gig ever,' Baucher says, stepping in from the rain. 'This guy - Will Moreau - I don't know what he was about. Neither did the audience. Neither did he, I think. You could just see the audience's faces dropping. Refunds were given that night.'

Will Moreau, a Washington native who specialises in 'independent films, fanciful characterisation and portrayals', might not have impressed the Belfast audience in 2003, but luckily his performance is an exception. In its ten-year history, the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival has matched the best indigenous talent with international names.

'At the time I hadn't really heard of David Holmes,' Baucher comments, looking at the 2001 image of the famed musician. 'But he was performing alongside the Sun Ra Arkestra. That was a brilliant night, in the Conor Hall.'

Ronnie DrewThe Conor Hall, previously the home of the University of Ulster's Student Union, was demolished for renovation in 2004. Another change in the Cathedral Quarter's landscape came before that, in 2003, when the festival lost years' worth of material and memorabilia in the North Street Arcade fire.

'That was a disaster,' continues Baucher. 'I lost a lot of negatives - remember the days of film? But we lost loads more, including more than a thousand copies of the photography book The Living Quarter.'

The determined regeneration of the Cathedral Quarter is matched by the festival's mission to bring bigger and better artists to Belfast every year. One of the most appealing musicians was Ronnie Drew of The Dubliners, described as 'a coup' in 2002. Baucher's sharp, straightforward image captures Drew's force and is a fitting testament to one of Ireland's most respected musicians.

'Over the years I've had licence to roam and mooch around, snapping the events and when lighting allows, the audiences. But at a performance like this, you look only at the performer. That's what it's all about, after all.'
Conor Lovett
Of the subjects photographed over the years Baucher describes Conor Lovett, actor with the Gare St Lazare Players, as one of the most powerful. Trained at Ecole Jaques Lecoq in Paris, Lovett is recognised as one of the finest proponents of Samuel Beckett.

'This one freaked me out,' Baucher concludes, 'because whatever extract he was doing for the soundcheck felt like it was as if they were aimed at me. I had to just stop and look at him... It was fantastic. He's one of the best actors I've seen.'

John Baucher's Behind the Lens retrospective photographic exhibition is on display at the John Hewitt Bar, Donegall Street, Belfast until May 10.

Kiran Acharya