Belfast Photo Festival Launches

The inaugural festival welcomes entries from around the world

For Michael Weir, Director of the inaugural Belfast Photo Festival, it’s all about inspiration and 'lighting fires'. The first major photography festival of its kind in Northern Ireland, the Belfast Photo Festival launched this week in Belfast's Black Box and will take place in venues across the city from August 4-14.

'It's really exciting,' Weir said before the launch. 'Photographers who have never been in Northern Ireland are looking forward to visiting. We want to showcase what's happening photographically here in Northern Ireland. I saw the potential and thought, "This has never been done before".'

Two years in the planning, and launched with very little fanfare, the festival programme has attracted interest from across the globe. Indeed, Time magazine has already been in touch, as have a number of other publications including, perhaps most surprisingly, a magazine from Iran.

'Europe' by Christof Pluemacher


Clearly, Weir and his team have hit the ground running. And a partnership with the Northern Ireland Tourist Board will also help in promoting the festival to outside audiences. At the programme launch, Howard Hastings, NITB Chairman, was enthusiastic about the festival's potential.

'Exciting new events such as the Belfast Photo Festival are very important in attracting domestic and international visitors to spend time in our vibrant cities. The visitors that come to these events, and the financial benefit they bring, are of vital importance in stimulating growth and delivering economic value to many sectors of the local economy.'

The plan is to hold the festival every two years. In its inaugural season, it has a strong team on which to depend. Belfast-based photographer Paul Seawright is one of three curators who will be assessing the open submissions, along with Magnum photographer Donovan Wylie and Trish Lambe from the Gallery of Photography in Dublin.

Simon Norfolk is perhaps the biggest name to be exhibiting, and will be launching his latest tome, Burke and Norfolk: Photographs from the war in Afghanistan at the festival. Burke is an overlooked Irish photographer who documented the 2nd Anglo-Afghan War in 1878-80 to produce the first ever photographs of the troubled country.

Judging from Weirs comments, the festival is going to 'provoke debate, inspiration and opportunities.  History is something we aim to highlight,' he adds, 'while also embracing and showcasing emerging talent.' Christof Pluemacher's Europe exhibition (pictured above) is sure to get people talking.

A series of portfolio reviews will also take place at the three major festival ‘hubs’, at Belfast Exposed photographic gallery, the Crescent Arts Centre (which is also the festival Darkroom) and upstairs at the Spaniard Bar.

Open Submissions

Weirs' passion and understanding of photography is evident, and he argues that the time is right for a photography festival of this kind in Belfast, which is fast becoming the City of Festivals on these islands.

The biggest surprise for Weir thus far has been the standard of submissions, from photographers as far afield as India, Russia, the Caribbean, Iran and, of course, Northern Ireland (see one of these entries pictured above).

All three curators agree that the work is 'fresh' and will provide viewers with surprises. The 55 selected images from 14 photographers will fill the main gallery at the Waterfront Hall, displaying a range of photographic genres. This centre piece exhibition is perhaps the most interesting feature of the festival programme.

Photographers and visitors can look forward to thought provoking exhibitions that should inspire every one to follow up on their own ideas. Check out the website below for more information.