The Belfast Photo Factory is Open Now

This thematically diverse, international photography exhibition has everything from deer ears to bug eaters

These days everyone is a photographer. You don’t need expensive equipment, a dedicated dark room or chemicals. All you need is a phone and an instagram app. Point and click, and any neophyte has an acceptable image. Try doing that with sculpture.

It is the most accessible visual art form, and that can make it easy to forget it is an artform.Until you see an exhibition like the Belfast Photo Factory’s Open Now. The photographs on display are thematically diverse, but all have that ineffable something that elevates them over the holiday snap. Ineffable, because it is something different in every photograph.

Some are conceptually interesting, others are technically superb and some are visceral in their impact. They all invite a second look, though. Some of them demand it.

Andrew Rankin, chair of the Belfast Photo Factory, notes that he has been delighted with the submissions to the exhibition. ‘We have had submissions from 32 countries,’ he says. ‘We had one from New Zealand, which is about as far away as you can get.’

Vice-chair Jim McKeever says that while he wasn’t as impressed with New Zealand (‘It’s all about the distance for me,’ Rankin admits with a grin), he was delighted with the geographic spread.

‘We had submissions from Croatia, Serbia and the Czech Republic. There is a vast global spread of people who, like ourselves, are interested in the photographic fine arts and looking for a platform.’

Both men were impressed with the quality of the photographs submitted to the exhibition. ‘We had over 270 submissions, and we could have easily had 60 more people in the show. It was fantastic.’

Some of Rankin’s favourites in the exhibition are Emer Gillespie, Kayung Lai and Davide Maione.

Kayung’s submissions are over-exposed stills taken from childhood family videos. In them a family sketched in lines and shadows are caught frozen, faces blanched out to leave white-space. It represents Lai’s feelings of alienation from her cultural heritage.

Rankin says he could ‘look at the images all day’.

By contrast Gillespie’s photos epitomise the closeness of famial bonds. It consists of a series of diptychs, each side almost identical to the other except for the subject. The right hand side pictures are taken by Gillespie, while the left are taken by her daughter. It is a delightful idea and one that works well.

Less delightful, but no less effective, is Maione’s three images. Unlike other artists, his images don’t seem to follow a particular theme. In one he stares blankly through a metal mask, like a horror movie villain with a camera instead of an axe, while in another it looks like he is licking a black beetle from his thumb. It is called ‘Bug Eater’.

Rankin describes the work as ‘playful’, if hard to read, but McKeever remarks that many people would ‘find them disturbing’.

Other photographs in the exhibition include Patricia Eichart’s ‘Wait Here’ (seen above), a beige and blue image of a woman caught in the midst of touching up her make-up. It is an intimate moment, but doesn’t feel like one. Instead it seems deliberately staged, almost like a screengrab from Mad Men.

It could have been a pleasant, but conceptually empty, photograph, but there is a drama implicit in the moment. Something is about to happen, in just the next frame.

Then there is Anne Ackermann’s Francis – a stark image of a naked woman with a sutured line from hip to hip – and Patricia Van De Camp’s inexplicably disturbing picture of a deer

During the selection process McKeever deliberately avoided getting involved. He wanted to see the final exhibition as a complete thing, rather than in dribs and drabs. However, that meant that until today he had only seen fleeting glimpses of some of the images.

He points out a set of photographs, close-up images of sycamore seeds, by Saba Ferrari. ‘You know what I thought those were? Ears from a deer. I did think that was a rather interesting selection.’

Open Now is at the Belfast Photo Factory from May 3 - 24